Yak soap and icy socks, spending Christmas dirtbag style.
I took the opportunity to travel to a country where 90% of the people are Hindus, where Christmas is not celebrated en masse, as a way to escape the western frivolities that I find somewhat claustrophobic. I saw myself high up in the snowy Himalayas on the Annapurna Circuit of Nepal, a 160-230km trek to altitudes of >5000m and with picturesque views of the Annapurna Sanctuary. I would find solace in the serenity of the mountains, perhaps with a fire and a good book.
I avoided the throngs of people doing last minute shopping, instead
trekking for up to 8 hours/day through jungle then alpine landscapes towards
the Thorong La pass (see what I did there? ‘THRONGS’ of people… ‘THORONG
I joined forces with two other ‘strays’, flew down a slope on a make-shift sled with a local family, played ghost football on the most picturesquely located football pitch and had a Happy Meal at Yak-Donalds.
I could be walking in a t-shirt under the sun, but the temperature plummeted in shade or after sunset. Teahouse rooms are mostly bare stone with the bathroom often having no glass in the window gap… and I had a 3-season sleeping bag with a minimum temperature of 0 degrees…
While folk at home would be receiving new socks, I was washing my 3-day-old pair in icy water and yak soap (that I also used for my hair), hoping they would not freeze overnight like the taps would. We filled our filter bottles from waterfalls along the trail, once they thawed of course, in true trekking style.
So much snow had fallen in the blizzards that we passed multiple trekkers forced to turn back. We stubbornly pushed on, and the trail rewarded us with a white winter wonderland that was basically our own.
On days with clouds, the mountains were draped with a grey pashmina and trees appeared silhouetted as if calligraphied with jet black ink.
When the clouds cleared, blue skies emphasised sharp ridge-lines of the Annapurna range that rose in stark contrast to fluffy blankets of snow. Not an elf in sight.
Nine days in, after sleeping in all my layers and (very fake) down jacket at 4900m, we started the final push for Thorong La as a fine team of seven. It was 5am, a clear sky and a -25 degree chill.
The ascent was TOUGH, man. It took all my strength to keep going. ‘I’m never doing this again’. Then, as the prayer flags welcomed our arrival to 5416m and we stood amidst mountains, a tear was shed. ‘Thank god that’s over’. We celebrated, I took note of my slightly frostbitten purple nose, and ate the best Kit Kat Chunky of my life. ‘I can’t wait for the next time’. Unfortunately, the next time might have to wait.
The immense descend that followed rendered me to walking with the aid of two poles as crutches. On the 23rd, after trekking a painful further 25km, despite hiking the full 180km, I had accepted defeat on the planned additional 100km and was on a twelve hour bus ride back to Pokhara.
The bus was forced to a halt by no less than four landslides, and I don’t know how the Nepalis can sit on their seats so calmly because I don’t think I made contact with mine for more than ten seconds at a time, my head smashing against the ceiling and windows on multiple occasions.
My saving grace was that the hostel had put together a potluck style
dinner for the 24th (big up to Kiwi Backpackers). There was no gift exchange
and complete strangers became close friends within hours. On Christmas Day, I
mostly read on the rooftop with a spectacular view of the sacred Machhapuchhare
(Fishtail) Mountain and revelled in the simple tranquility. The only reminder
of the ‘special date’ came from the messages I exchanged with loved ones old
and new around the world. I don’t think I’ve heard Bublé once this year.
Also, my Indian visa just got granted so that’s kind of cool.
The back end of summer was a wet one. feeling the frustration of UK climbers up and down the country – we feel your pain! It’s not just us punters who get let down by the weather, it affects the pros too. Anna writes her second installation of her summer diary, spent in France and then back home to some familiar gritstone.
Anna’s Summer ’19 climbing diary part two:
We’d planned a trip to Europe for the end of August, the idea being that we would head to Fontainebleau for a couple of days before heading to Chamonix or northern Spain for some big multi-pitch adventures. Unfortunately, this just wasn’t to be. While the weather in Font was beautiful, it was deteriorating fast everywhere else, and it really wasn’t worth the fuel to travel to Chamonix or Spain.
The bad luck seemed to continue, as I picked up a cold virus and felt rubbish most of the time, despite the warm temperatures. Three days in, Ben accidentally sliced the end of his finger open with our cooking knife. After a morning of me having to drive frantically to the nearest supermarket (I’d never driven on the other side of the road before) and purchase a large amount of first aid supplies, I patched him up, but it was clear that I was going to be the only one climbing for the remainder of our trip.
Deciding to stick it out for a few more days, I tried to get into the Font bouldering style. It was weird, sometimes flashing 7a felt fine, but sometimes 6b’s felt impossible after half an hour of trying. I did some cool problems, including the infamous La Marie Rose, the super hard and slippy 6a, which was even harder and slippier in the boiling sun.
We returned early from Europe, pretty disappointed that the weather had turned on us, but we had a nice couple of days in North Wales on the way home to compensate, while we planned what we wanted to do next.
The beginning of the Grit season
Now in the early days of Autumn, summer is beginning to fade away as we head towards the winter months.
I’m going to be away all November on an expedition to South America, but until then, I’ve got one thing on my mind, Gritstone!
Ben and I kicked off the season with a couple of slab climbs at the Roaches on the 3rd of September. We started off with the classic Track Of The Cat, on the Roaches Skyline. I’d never been up there before but i’m certainly glad I went, as the clean cut slabs of flawless gritstone were a perfect way to reacquaint with the bold and friction based climbing style.
Track Of The Cat is an E5 that climbs a faint groove, then traverses onto a slab, which is easy up until a big slot where you can stuff a large cam to protect yourself on the scary top section.
After the slot there’s a couple of smeary moves, then a big lunge up to a juggy break just below the top. I didn’t like the look of the starting groove, as it looked a bit green, so opted for a direct (and way more fun) start, by throwing my heel by my head and rocking over onto the slab. I’m sure it’s been done many times before as it’s not particularly hard, but it certainly makes me wonder why on earth the route starts on the left when the direct is so obvious!
After Track Of The Cat, Ben and I walked out to the Nth Cloud, where we’d heard about a cool E6 called Judge Dread. I onsighted it on a top-rope, and found it thin and bold, but also right up my street. There was just enough gear for me to not feel that scared, so I was quickly on the sharp end, and found myself really enjoying the precise and crimpy moves on the top section of the route. I should probably have tried to flash this one, but have made a rule with myself to not onsight or flash any potentially dangerous grit routes until after November, as I think those are the one’s i’d most likely end up injured on. The rain followed Ben after his lead so we quickly bailed and headed for a supermarket cafe for lunch and coffee.
As the weather has been more than unpredictable this year, I’m going to concentrate on grit for now. I didn’t get as much done in the Lakes as I’d wanted to this summer, as everyone else by the looks of it, but I checked out a few routes for when it gets warm again. Until then, there’s plenty of hard stuff on the smaller crags to concentrate on. We did have a sneaky look at a slightly harder route when we were at the Roaches, so if all goes well, there will hopefully be more on that soon!
Exciting times ahead in South America, catch you on the other side.
As the mornings get colder and the leaves begin to golden, we asked Dirtbags climber Anna Taylor to reflect on her summer of climbing both in the Lakes and Yorkshire. The second part of this blog will follow, covering her time in France, and looking onward to Autumn on Gritstone.
Anna’s Summer ’19 climbing diary part one:
In the first part of this blog, I’ve written down my account of some of my favourite routes this year. The hard routes, and particularly the new route, pushed my boundaries mentally in one way or another.
It was July, and I thought that it was about time I tried an E8 again. I wasn’t sure what to go for, it was too hot for grit, but I didn’t want to commit to a project on a mountain crag and get rained off either. After a bit of research, I decided that Disorderly Conduct at Reecastle crag might be a good option, it was five minutes from the car, and was apparently steep and crimpy, so would potentially suit me. So Ben and I headed up to have a look.
Our first session was on a scorching hot day, and although I quickly did all the moves, I really didn’t feel like going for the lead. The gear also wasn’t as good as I’d hoped for, there were quite a few pieces lower down, but none that I trusted 100%. The good bits were all too low to be of much use.
The climbing itself was interesting, it started with a really burly lower section on good holds, that became very strenuous if your feet were in the wrong place. Then there was a crux throw to a tiny pocket, followed by a run out on small, sharp crimps.
I was finding the crux particularly annoying as I couldn’t quite reach the pocket from both of the good footholds and had to bump my right foot up onto a smear before committing to the move, making it feel slightly more sketchy. The sharp holds on my skin meant we quickly called it a day. I was keen to return.
Two days later I was back at Reecastle, standing under the route and taking a couple of deep breaths before going for the lead. We’d had a slightly shambolic morning to say the least, featuring a flat tyre and a lot of driving to and from Keswick to sort it out. Warmed up and ready to go, I was a bit nervous mostly because all my hard headpoints in the past had been slabs or vertical walls, so I’d never had to worry about getting pumped or my fingers uncurling before. But I knew I could do it as long as I stayed calm. Setting off, as always, was the hardest part, and once I was on the wall I found it easy to get into a rhythm and flow through the moves.
Once I’d passed the initial overhang and stuck the pocket move I went into auto-pilot, and before I knew it I was at the rest jug and it was all over! I placed a couple of cams then wandered up the super easy upper section to the top of the crag.
Yes! I was really happy to have done the route, as I felt like it was a step out of my comfort zone in terms of style, but the thing I was most happy about was that it actually hadn’t felt that hard. I had to try, and try hard, but I knew that I wasn’t physically or mentally at my limit, and that more than anything was a victory to me.
Priceless E7 6b
A new one! I’d found a new line in Langdale.
Whilst I could top rope it fine, there was a bit of an issue with the gear…mostly the fact that there wasn’t any. One humid evening I found myself stood under the route, without a harness, just one bouldering pad and Neil Gresham for company. Realistically it was way too hot to contemplate a forty foot solo, but sometimes things just happen…
It was one of those angel/devil moments.
After a twenty minute spell of dithering, I found myself stepping off the ground. I’d told myself that I should just climb up to the first rest, then from there I’d decide what to do. Of course I knew that once I was up there it was irreversible and I would have to commit. Soon I was smearing gingerly across the first traverse, trying not to put too much weight on that suspect handhold. I’ll admit that I was pretty scared of the next bit, the fact that the rock-over had felt so hard last time (on a rope) was haunting my thoughts, but too late for that, I was there.
I’d stepped my foot high, and I was suddenly in the middle of the move. Just balance, balance, push with your leg, stand up, reach, got it!
I was incredibly relieved to have made it to the good holds. While the next traverse was balancy and would surely feel outrageous without a rope, I’d never fallen off it, and I was not about to now. The forty foot plunge into a pile of boulders would not be an ideal end to the night. In reality it was just going through the motions, the hard part was long behind me and soon I was pulling over the slopey top out to victory.
In the end, I named the route Priceless. Grade wise I gave it E7 6b, which is nothing but an estimate, but it felt about that to me. It was nice to finally get another new route done, but next time I might wait until it’s a bit cooler!
The July heatwave was proving a bit much for Ben and I, so we decided to leave the Lakes and head over to North Yorkshire for a couple of days. There was a lot more time spent on the beach and playing cards than actually climbing anything.
Firedance at Stoupe Brow is a big, imposing looking arete perched half way up a steep hill, with beautiful views of the coast. For some odd reason, there is a line of bolts on the right hand side of the route that, while a bit silly, did save us the task of bush-whacking to the top of the crag. Ben led the route on the bolts, and climbed it easily apart from one move where he looked like he was on the absolute limit of his reach.
Sure enough, when it was my turn, I couldn’t quite make the span to the hold. This was so frustrating, particularly as the rest of the route felt fairly easy, and I knew that if it wasn’t for this move then I’d solo it without a second thought. Eventually, after quite a lot of swearing at the rock for not forming holds that were closer together, I discovered that if I used a slightly higher foothold, I could just about creep my fingers onto the hold. The problem now was that I was so stretched out that my feet were doing nothing, and the only solution was basically to do a pull-up to get my feet back on. Not ideal, but there was no alternative.
After a while I was top-roping the route cleanly every time. Slowly, the thought of going for the solo was re-entering my head. I decided to come down for some thinking time. For a while I wandered about, with the usual dilemma in my head. Do I or don’t I? I’ve been in this situation so many times now that you’d think I’d be quicker at deciding, but it always takes a while. In the end, as per usual, I decided to give it a shot. I knew Ben thought I was being reckless, and maybe I was a little bit, but I knew that I could do it.
A few moves in and I was at the point of commitment. Not wanting any long pauses to put me off, I went for it. All I remember from the crux is thinking “shit…I’m really having to try here!” but I managed to just about creep my fingers onto the hold, before my feet came off and I hauled my body weight up and back onto the wall. Although Ben looked like he was about to have a heart attack, I could tell he was happy that I’d gone for it. We packed up and left the crag, and as soon as we got back to the Lakes we jumped into Rydal water to finally cool down (the joys of owning a van with no air-con).
In a way I’m still surprised that I went for Firedance. A year ago I would have wanted perfect conditions for such a sketchy move, and some decent bouldering pads, but I was happy in the knowledge that the heat and lack of any sort of protection didn’t matter as I knew I wouldn’t fall.
Some people may think that that’s crazy, but these routes all come down to confidence, and if you have enough of it, then I think you’re pretty safe. I’ll definitely be planning a return trip to North Yorkshire later in the year.
Rope is more than a tool. It travels with us, we lug it up to the mountain and we trust it (and belayer) with our lives. Part of the loved kit for climbing, part of the checklist. The climbing rope we get through the doors at Dirtbags HQ is retired and sent to us for lots of different reasons. Becoming frayed after lots of use, too long unused, renewed as part of an activity centre’s/climbing wall’s safety check. Rope needs to be new, and safe.
Joe Beaumont contacted us after retiring a rope that meant a lot to him. Understandably, handing over something for someone to chop up and sew was a hard choice. A 40m fall onto this rope had marked the beginning of a long road of recovery and rehabilitation for him, it had become a symbol and reminder of Joe’s journey and his incredible achievements since the accident. He wanted a commissioned piece to grace the walls of the new chapter in his professional life; a good old bricks and mortar cafe.
Learn a little about Joe’s climbing rehabilitation from his award winning film, Little Chamonix…
Joe utterly embodies his ethos ‘healing through happiness’ and we were delighted and touched he had come to Dirtbags to create something special.
The wood was taken from reclaimed scrap pallets. James sawed, sanded, measured and laid the pieces onto a plywood base. The same for the mountain tops, which were then covered with a lime wax for a white sheen.
The rope was washed (well!), cored, then stitched together to form a sheet of ‘fabric’ to use. We cut the fabric to match the shape of the sky and mountain tops, then affixed the pieces. With small triangles of hardwood for the trees and a handmade teeny tiny washer and wire bike, we placed them alongside the blue rope lake in the bottom left of the picture. James carefully made a frame to tie it all together.
Rather than becoming a rug to, in time, wear out, the mountains of rope will stand pride of place serving as a reminder of how fragile life can be, and how to live and enjoy every moment we have.
Want to visit the new Cafe? Check for updates and opening times here
We had the pleasure of attending the Green Gathering festival in Chepstow at the beginning of August. The trusty Skoda was full to the brim with stall, products and camping gear and we journeyed down to the South of Wales.
‘Low impact living’
The Green Gathering festival has a fierce and loyal following of eco warriors, green activists and hedonistic hippies. It felt like a bubble indeed. Everything was solar and wind powered and we were so impressed by the lack of ‘bins’. Instead were various recycling points for most rubbish, compost, plastic, tins etc – everything that wasn’t able to be sorted you took home yourself.
Good vibes throughout, it was a chilled weekend and alongside some pretty rad music and talks – everyone was open, warm and welcoming.
‘The Green Gathering Sustainability Policy
All contractors, volunteers and directors undertake to respect people, animals and the environment in the production of the festival. Waste, destruction, pollution, fossil fuel use and feeding corporate profits are to be minimised in the production of the festival.
All activities undertaken by The Green Gathering – the festival, its production company and charity – aim to promote environmental sustainability, ecological awareness, biodiversity, human rights, and appropriate education, technology and communication.‘ Green Gathering
Anyway we only bloody won the Gold Ethical Trader award.
Festival goers seemed chuffed that we had made everything ourselves and even all of the climbers hiding out at the festival came to say hello. Combining the climbing community with the green community worked well for us at this festival; we had a dead good time too.
We are honoured to receive such a wonderful recognition, especially as a new trader.