On the tourist trail at Milford Sound

After a big day in the mountains I decided it was time to enjoy some more relaxing activities and check out the tourist trail in Milford Sound.

So we drove down to Milford Sound and took a boat trip through the sound and out to the Tasman sea.

The Iconic Mitre Peak in Milford Sound (Photo Adrian Camm)
The Iconic Mitre Peak in Milford Sound (Photo Adrian Camm)
Seals sunning themselves in the Sound
Seals sunning themselves in the Sound
Dolphins (Photo Adrian Camm)
Dolphins (Photo Adrian Camm)
Curious Kea
Curious Kea
Camera's at the ready (Photo Adrian Camm)
Camera’s at the ready (Photo Adrian Camm)

We saw lots of wildlife and jaw dropping scenery, Milford Sound is definitely worth the hype!

After an amazing and relaxing day, we decided to watch the tourists from above, so we headed up to the Homer Saddle.

The main road to Milford Sound cuts through a tunnel, and above lies one of the most nauseatingly exposed ridges I have ever crossed- The Homer Saddle Traverse!

The Homer Saddle Ridge
The Homer Saddle Ridge
Don't look down!- The Milford Road
Don’t look down!- The Milford Road
Balancing on a knife edge!
Balancing on a knife edge!

The ridge was lots of fun, and a nice short day out, allowing us plenty of time afterwards to enjoy the long drive back to Wanaka

Discovering the Darran’s

Fjordland in the South West of New Zealand is one of the wettest places on Earth, receiving 200 days of rainfall in an average year and up to 8000mm of rain a year. The Darran mountains in the north of Fjordland are also one of New Zealand’s most spectacular and best rock and alpine climbing areas. So when we spotted a dry weather forecast for a few days, we decided to make the most of the opportunity and set off on the long and circuitous drive to Milford Sound.

The Darran mountains are remote, (it’s over 100km from the nearest town, Te Anau) wild and precipitous, with steep sided bush clad slopes, and alpine rocky summits.

We decided to aim for Talbot’s East Ridge as it can be completed in a day trip from the road, many of the routes in the Darran’s require a day or more just to get to them.

Talbot's East Ridge  (Photo Adrian Camm)
Talbot’s East Ridge (Photo Adrian Camm)

So we started the long hike up the Gertrude Valley, following the path through dense bush, and tussocks to reach the steep headwall at the top of the valley, where we continued up a scree covered path and over granite rock slabs to Black Lake. At Black Lake we had to jump across the outlet and climb a short boulder problem wall, before continuing up the rock slabs heading up the shoulder towards the East Ridge.

Slab-tastic, heading up the endless sea of slabs on the way to the East Ridge of Talbot (Photo Adrian Camm)
Slab-tastic, heading up the endless sea of slabs on the way to the East Ridge of Talbot (Photo Adrian Camm)

We eventually hit the snow, and donned crampons before continuing. The snow was rock hard old glacier ice, and we were now traversing across above a 500m high cliff, so we had to move really carefully. The further we went the steeper it got, and I really started to struggle and feel out of my depth. Fortunately Adrian knew exactly what to do and guided me up to a small shelf where I managed to put on my harness and rope up. We discussed the best course of action, including turning around and returning the way we came, but decided that the quickest way to get off the steep ground would be to head straight up to where we could see the snow flattened out above us. So Adrian short-roped me up the slope and I moved slowly and carefully, feeling very relived once we got off the steep ground.

We could now see, that we should have climbed up much earlier and we would have avoided the steep snow slope almost altogether! The approach had taken longer than expected and we couldn’t see the exact place where the route was supposed to start, so we decided just to head onto the start of the East Ridge wherever we could find a weakness. So We gingerly bridged across the Bergshrund onto the rock, and swapped ice gear for rock, and I lead off looking for a way onto the East Ridge.

We were happy to discover pitch after pitch of lovely climbing on solid rock with great friction, interrupted only by a short abseil to a notch and then continuing on up the ridge.

Climbing on the East Ridge of Talbot, lovely solid rock!
Climbing on the East Ridge of Talbot, lovely solid rock!

The climbing eventually eased and we swapped back into our boots and put the ropes away. The scramble along the summit ridge of Talbot is spectacular and absorbing! There are constant tricky steps and lots of exposure.

Scrambling on the summit Ridge of Talbot (Photo Adrian Camm)
Scrambling on the summit Ridge of Talbot (Photo Adrian Camm)

The ridge seemed to go on forever and we could see the sun gradually getting lower in the sky. But eventually the rocky notch of the traverse pass (the lowest point in the ridge) came into view and we climbed down the West Face into the Bergshrund at the base, just as the orange glow of sunset started to tinge the surrounding Darran Mountain peaks.

Sunset from the Traverse Pass
Sunset from the Traverse Pass

We cramponed down a big snow slope, over more rock slabs, and onto a rocky and tussocky ridge towards the Gertrude Saddle in the fading light. By the time we were traversing across above Black Lake back towards the outlet it was almost dark and time to put on head torches. Fortunately we managed to find the cables that lead down the steepening slabs towards the Black Lake outlet.

We were now back on the path we’d hiked up in the morning, so we could almost relax, knowing that we should be able to remember the path from the morning and find out way back to the hut. But we soon lost the indistinct path, and everything looked completely unfamiliar in the dark. We crossed the stream and hoped we could just descend and pick up the path lower down. But the terrain got steeper, and it looked suspiciously like our choice of descent might end in bluffs. So we headed back up and crossed the stream again until we eventually found the path again and continued on down to the valley.

Once on the valley floor we really could relax and enjoy the beautiful clear night sky, and the silhouettes of the jagged Darran’s peaks.

We arrived back at the hut after 15 hours out in the mountains, tired but satisfied after a great adventurous day out and my first Darran’s peak!

Sunny Scrambles in New Zealand

I’ve been lucky enough to get a whole month off work, so here I am in New Zealand! I’ve had a few days of running, mountain biking, rock climbing and hiking around Wanaka and getting over my jet lag, so today it was time to venture further afield.

Hiking in the Matukituki Valley, not a bad way to get over jet lag!
Hiking in the Matukituki Valley, not a bad way to get over jet lag!
The Rob Roy Glacier
The Rob Roy Glacier

So with a good weather forecast we decided to head over to Queenstown for the Remarkables traverse, a scrambly ridge adventure with beautiful views.

The traverse starts from the ski centre, so the walk in isn’t too hard or too long, but it gave me the chance to admire the views.

Looking down on Queenstown from above
Looking down on Queenstown from above
New Zealand Scenery
New Zealand Scenery

It didn’t take long at all to get to the start of the ridge, which I was excited to see looked like a lot of fun!

Adrian at the Start of the Remarkables Traverse
Adrian at the Start of the Remarkables Traverse

The traverse heads up over two small peaks called Double Cone and then onto a slightly larger peak called Single Cone. The scramble turned out to be just as good as expected, with lots of easy fun climbing moves and some breathtaking exposure. There were a couple of tricky moves on the way up to the first peak of double cone, but we soloed it all, taking care on the tricky sections.

Double Cone
Double Cone

Single Cone turned out to be slightly easier although it looks more sepctacular, and we arrived in good time on the summit to enjoy our lunch.

Arriving on the summit of Single Cone
Arriving on the summit of Single Cone

The descent turned out to be slightly tricky and as we hadn’t brought our harnesses, I learnt how to abseil using a rope without one!

Descending via the Lovely Lake Alta
Descending via the Lovely Lake Alta

Beautiful weather, amazing scenery, a really fun day out, think I might get to like New Zealand!

Do climbing trips get better than this?

After our incredible rock climbing trip to Wadi Rum in Jordan last year, Carol, Amy, Ian and myself wondered if we would ever find anywhere else that would come close to being as amazing.

A bit of research suggested that Tafraoute in Southern Morocco might be just what we were after. Interesting culture and beautiful landscapes, with multi-pitch adventurous trad routes at amenable grades and good weather in November. So the stage was set, and we went about organising our trip, acquiring a few new trip members along the way, until four became eight.

Flying out from Gatwick with such high expectations of just how good a climbing trip could be. We wondered if we would be disappointed. We arrived in Agadir in the dark and drove for two hours to our home for the week- Kasbah Tizourgane on the North Side of the anti-atlas mountains. We certainly weren’t disappointed with our accomodation, climbing the winding stairs to the fortified town in the dark, with the beautifully clear starry sky above our heads. We were also treated to a very hospitable welcome and of course the famous Moroccan mint tea. We were excited to wake up the next morning to our high vantage point, and views of orange quartzite mountains rising across the Southern skyline.

Kasbah Tizourgane
Kasbah Tizourgane
Anti atlas panorama
Anti atlas panorama

We had a relaxing first day climbing some short multi-pitch routes at Ksar Rock, getting used to climbing outside again and placing trad gear- it has been a while for some of us!! Lots of fun was had by all and our first taste of Moroccan rock, had us all excited for more!

Warming up at Ksar Rock
Warming up at Ksar Rock

So brimming with confidence and enthusiasm after our first day, Adrian, Amy, Maria and I decided we would attempt Scimitar Ridge a ten pitch VS on Safinah down in the remote Samazar valley. I’d picked out the route as my key objective for the trip. Driving the 10km down the winding dirt road and then bushwacking through a multitude of pricky bushes to get to the climb, meant that it felt like an adventure before we even got to the base of the route. The climb itself was lots of fun, and even the overhanging VS 5a crux just flew past, and before we knew it we were at the top.

Scimitar Ridge- gotta be done!
Scimitar Ridge – gotta be done!
Maria appearing above the crux on Scimitar Ridge
Maria appearing above the crux on Scimitar Ridge

What to do now that I’d accomplished my objective for the trip on the second day? Fortunately there was so much rock and so much good climbing, that it was impossible to achieve all objectives in just one trip, or even in many. Between us we climbed countless routes at lots of different venues. The climbing was so good that we couldn’t tear ourselves away for a rest day during the eight days of our trip and we’d only drag ourselves away from the crags once it got dark. Jonnie and Carol in particular displayed levels of enthusiasm never before seen on a climbing trip! With so many good routes it would be impossible to recount them all, but the most memorable moments of our trip included:

– Koon, Adrian, Jonnie and Maria climbing Firesword a stunning top end E1 at Dragon Rock with four sustained and interesting pitches of climbing

Koon takes on the Dragon
Koon takes on the Firesword

– Climbing Saladin, my favourite route of the trip, with Adrian, a steep and sustained HVS, through incredible scenery for the grade in the atmospheric Sanctury.

Adrian climbing Saladin
Adrian climbing Saladin

– Some extreme bridging by Koon on Giant at the White Domes, levels of flexibility never seen before!

A step too far?
A step too far?

– Carol and Jonnie climbing a new route at the white domes on the last day of the trip and naming it ‘Fur Elsie’

One to go back for?!
One to go back for?!

– Finding the most extravagant belay ledge with Amy on South Ridge Direct

If Carlsberg made belay ledges...
If Carlsberg made belay ledges…

– All summiting together after climbing different routes on Dragon Rock

On top of the Dragon
The Dragon’s Back

– Speeding up Pink lady with Ian

Making the most of our time on the rock
Making the most of our time on the rock

– Racing up to Afantizar col to watch the sun go down on the last day of our sensational climbing trip.

The sun sets on our climbing trip
The sun sets on our climbing trip

This time I’m really sure it can’t be beaten…..

A fabulous week of typically Scottish Conditions!

Along with Rachel and Richard and some friends from England I headed for Newtonmore in the Cairngorms for a week’s holiday over New Year.

The forecasts were looking pretty dire, but we never let that dampen our enthusiasm!

So my friend Amy and I set our alarms for early on Sunday morning, the first day of our trip and headed straight for the Northern Corries. We battled into the coire against the 70mph winds, but after Amy was blown over twice, we decided that hot chocolate and cake might be a better option and retreated to the Cairngorm Cafe.

The forecast for the next day, New Years Eve was looking slightly worse. Ok so the winds were predicted to drop a bit, but rain, sleet and high temperatures were headed our way instead. But when did we ever let that stop us? So even more determined we set our alarms early and headed to the Northern Corries again.

Ever optimistic we made it to the coire the next day and were delighted to discover that the wind was ever so slightly weaker than the previous day. Unfortunately everything was melting, and Fiacaill Ridge looked like the only climbable option. As more of a mountaineering route, it wouldn’t matter too much if the snow was slushy. As Amy and I headed up towards the start of the ridge I wondered if I was about to relive my infamous ‘voyage into the abyss’, an early winter climbing experience where I had ventured out in a blizzard only to discover just how disorientating a Scottish whiteout can be.

As it turned out Amy and I quite enjoyed battling the weather on our climb up the ridge, the only difficulty being that the wind was funneling through the coire and up the goat track, so that we actually couldn’t get close enough to the Goat track to descend that way and had to walk all the way round.

New Years eve was very enjoyable, we went out for a few drinks in Aviemore, but returned in time to sample the festivities in Newtonmore. This involved a torchlit procession, fireworks and a tasty local drink called stags breath. It was actually a really cool way to see in the New Year and well worth staying up for. To top it all off, just around midnight it started to snow.

Of course we had planned to go winter climbing again the next day so alarms were set early, and I dragged myself out of bed and we drove to the Northern Coires. However when we arrived, we just sat in the car waiting for each other to make a move and open the door. The weather actually looked better than it had the previous two days, but still Scottish. Although it took a while to admit it, we just weren’t motivated to spend another day out in the ming. So instead we treated ourselves to a sleep binge for a few hours and a gentle walk in the afternoon.

On Wednesday I headed to Laggan for a mountain bike ride, which was great fun, although I am getting a little rusty and my brakes needed adjusting which made the descent rather exciting.

Thursday was really nice as we all joined together for a walk to Creag Meagaidh. I’ve never been to the cliffs of Creag Meagaidh before, but it looked very impressive and I was very inspired by the sight of some of the routes there!

On Friday, whilst Richard and Rachel were chasing Reindeer and Soay Sheep the rest of us all decided to aim for the North Ridge of Angel’s Peak. A stunning looking grade I ridge scramble right in the heart of the Cairngorms. At 30km it was going to be a very long day, but I’ve never made it beyond the Northern Coires before, so it was quite exciting to be heading somewhere so remote. We were out for 10 hours and much of that was spent in the cloud. But it was an incredible day for the glimpses that we had of the mountains above the cloud, with the sun low in the sky, really stunningly beautiful. It was just amazing to journey into the heart of darkness as the guidebook so aptly describes one of Scotland’s most beautiful wildernesses.

Typical Scottish weather in the Cairngorms
Typical Scottish weather in the Cairngorms
Heading up Angel's Ridge
Heading up Angel’s Ridge
Hiking across the plateau
Hiking across the plateau
Angel's Ridge above the cloud
Angel’s Ridge above the cloud

Overall it’s been yet another fantastic week away, with excellent company and great fun adventures. What a brilliant way to start 2013, I can’t wait to see what other adventures lie ahead.