The forecast had been for snow, snow, and more snow, but what we got was sun, sun, and more sun, and the occasional early morning cloud.
We decided to put the alpine climbing back on the agenda…
Valleé Blanche & the Cosmiques
But winter alpine climbing is a serious adventure, so we thought we’d do a little acclimatisation in style. We took a trip up to the Aguille du Midi and spent a night in the Refuge des Cosmique. I love being up on the Col du Midi, especially when nearly everyone else descends down to the valley. It’s a very special place.
So, after that acclimatisation, we spent a day deciding what route we could do. We opted for Frendo-Ravanel on the Grand Montets ridge above the Argentier Glacier – easy access, fairly easy ski out (despite heavy bags), and an interesting route with a couple of good technical sections.
As we waited for the first lift up Pete recognised a guy he had met at last years International Meet – Krzysztof from Poland. Funnily enough, they were aiming for the same route. 😯
After crossing a bergschrund, and a couple of hundred metres of steep snow, the technical ice began. It’s all fairly easy at first, but it gets harder and harder with each pitch culminating in a very thin mixed rock and ice pitch as the crux had a distinct lack of ice – no photos of that pitch, I was concentrating too hard on the belaying. 😮
I’ve been to the past two BMC International Meets held in North Wales at Plas y Brenin. They were great! So the chance to take part in my third meet was not to be missed, especially as it was taking place at the CC’s hut in Cornwall – the Count House at Bosigran…
Cornwall doesn’t offer quite as many climbing options as North Wales, particularly in poor weather. But, is the weather ever poor in Cornwall? Despite the occasionally cold north wind, and a few showers, we climbed every day! 😛 The flexibility offered by the Count House accommodation combined with world-class traditional climbing provided for a unique week.
Here are a sample of pictures that I hope capture the amazing week’s events…
:star: A fantastic success – dare I say even better than Wales! 😀 :star: Lets hope the BMC and the CC team up again, perhaps next time at Ynys Ettws for (probably) the best climbing and the best accommodation option in the world…
The plans had been well made; we had booked our £5 each way Ryan Air flights (although the baggage cost £20 each way – how does that work, the bags costing four times more than the people to fly from Manchester to Frankfurt-Hahn?), and Rebecca had reserved us some awesome accommodation at Bärenbrunnerhof, the centre of Pfalz rock climbing. Bärenbrunnerhof isn’t quite like Llanberis or Ambleside though – there are only limited facilities – a cafe, a good restaurant, a food shop (that isn’t open that often), an excellent (but expensive) climbing gear shop, a basic camp site, and our nice apartments. Oh, and three excellent crags all within 5 minutes walk! 😛
The rock in the Pfalz is super weathered red sandstone. The weathering of these exposed sandstone towers rising high up out of the dense surrounding forest creates all kinds of pockets, features and weird shapes. But mostly, from a climber’s point-of-view, lots of rounded sloping holds and flared rounded cracks! 😮 Not to mention quite a bit of loose sand on the holds! 😯
It rained on our third day in Germany. It seemed that despite our best made plans, we couldn’t stop it being overcast in Germany while back home in the Lakes it was perhaps some of the best climbing weather of the summer. Typical, we’d endured a long wet summer in England and just as we go to supposedly hot-and-sunny southern Germany, the tables are turned! Doh.
Ah well, it did give us a great day discovering some cultural delights of the Pfalz region. These included a trip to a wine festival in a beautiful village where we enjoyed new wine (neuer wein) and a super tasty flammkuchen each. The neuer wein in particular is really wicked (great) stuff! Sweet and still fermenting, intoxicating! In my case it went down all too easily and I was soon giggling like a mad man (i.e. drunkerd)! 😈
We also visited one of the many castles in the region, Trifels castle. An interesting place, and great value (just €5 each) compared to silly expensive UK offerings.
The following day the rain had gone away and we headed out after a late start to Büttelfels (obviously to give everything a chance to be dry out after the rain, not to get over any heavy-heads from drinking too much neuer wein the day before 😉 ).
Just twenty minutes away and over the border in France, but still part of the Pfalz region, the rock is the same – but the ethics for protection are very different. Here you find typical French style bolting – a solid resined in staple every 1.5 metres. 🙂 Whereas the German Pfalz crags do have a few bolts, the ethic is far more traditional. Where there is a crack or other feature that allows hand placed traditional protection (e.g. a pocket that accepts a good cam), that is the standard approach. Plus, the few bolts that are there are normally extremely old and rusty (but solid) looking large metal rings; perhaps more like what you’d expect to see through a large bull’s nose somewhere in Spain…
It was good to visit the French side though – a bit of a change, and a chance to follow the climbing with a visit to a nice country restaurant.
Our last day in the Pfalz saw us at the largest (height and number of routes) crag in the region, Asselstein. We’d planned to come here on the day it rained, so you’ll see the Trifels Castle in the background of many of the pictures! 😛
:star: With amazing foresight and a deep understanding of the kats climbing and eating habits, Rebecca brought bags (and I do mean plural) of cakes to the crag. She even carried (stuffed in a large camera case) a pile of cakes up one of the routes so that we could all enjoy a cake-picnic on top of the crag! :yum: 😛 :yum: Later we had cakes with stupidly strong coffee at the Kletterer-Hütte (climbing hut), cakes at the base of the crag, and more cakes at the second crag of the day, Münzfels, a little nearer the castle. Altogether the number of cakes consumed on this single day was mind boggling! :yum: Well done for bringing them along Rebecca!
Our final day of German cragging was at the beautiful location of Battert near Baden Baden. Really different rock from the Pfalz, and lot more like the stuff we are more used to, being far more solid and clean with good cracks for solid small wires and lots of positive edges.
We started our Battert climbing experience with a topical and brilliant route, Freundschaft (Friendship), so we renamed the route for the day to “German, English (or in my case Australian) Friendship“! 😀
After climbing at Battert we returned to Karlsruhe, where Rebecca and Mina live, to enjoy a night out drinking German beer and eating traditional food. :yum:
Summing up the trip to Germany; the Pfalz, Battert, and Karlsruhe… Destinations that are far from the minds of almost every UK based rock climber I know – most haven’t even heard of them. Perhaps the Pfalz isn’t a world class climbing destination like the Peak District, the Lakes, North Wales or Yosemite, and perhaps it’s unique sandstone climbing style is an acquired taste, who knows. But what is certain is that we had a brilliant time visiting our friends on their home turf!!! 😛
Lets just hope that following on from the South African international climbing meet where I first met Rebecca and Mina, and now that we’ve sampled each others ‘back-yards’ (the Lakes and the Pfalz respectively) we can rendezvous somewhere else in the world in the near future? Chamonix was mentioned…
We chose Shepherds for two reasons. Firstly, there’s a great cafe to meet at and plan the day’s activities, and secondly, the weather forecast was rapidly deteriorating. From blue skies when we left home to decidedly grey by time we got to the cafe! 🙁
But not detterred – our mission to sample some Lakeland rock come what may – we headed to the crag.
However, only 50 metres up the path and Mina realised she’d left her harness back at home! Ah well, exploiting the weakness of the pound (or is it the strength of the Euro?), Mina had planned to treat herself to a new harness on the holiday anyway. So Ian and Mina retreated to Keswick while Rebecca and I continued on to the crag.
It was a little damp, so we started on Fisher’s Folly. Half way up the rain started! 😥
Soon after Ian and Mina returned, complete with a new DMM harness, and quickly followed us up Fisher’s Folly in the light rain.
We moved on to Eve in what can only be called “proper” rain – the slabby section of the second pitch was quite exciting; little protection with wet, lichenous, and slippery rock! After all that excitement we had to admit defeat to the Cumbrian rain, we packed our bags and went back to the cafe to decide what to do next.
But not after checking out a few pictures of the adventures thus far…
It didn’t take long to realise that no more climbing was on the agenda, ideas of a mass ascent on Troutdale Pinnacle in the rain were quickly frowned upon. We resolved to check out Keswick’s malt whisky shop and enjoy a cafe latte in the new Costa…
When I saw the opportunity on the BMC site for the South African Mountain Club‘s international climbing meet it was too great an opportunity to miss. All I had to do was get the time off work and make contact with the super efficient Ulrike Kiefer to get my place sorted…
Here’s a short (as it can be) report from what was a super packed climbing adventure to what may well be climbing’s most adventurous venue – Africa!
After being collected from Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport by Neil Margetts (who kindly let Friedrich [Fritz] Bloße and I stay the night at his flat) we headed off to Cedarberg, near the Mountain Sanctuary Park. The road out from Johannesburg was okay until we got to this typical South African “dust track”…
The approach and climbing at Cedarberg were very pretty. But the rock was a bit of a shock with very little friction. Similar features to Gritstone, but little of the friction…
Fritz enjoys the Cedarberg approach
Neil belays at Cedarberg
Cradle of Human Kind
Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse. It rained, a lot! It didn’t stop all night and was still going strong the next day. Luckily the trip’s principal organiser, Ulrike, had a plan to amuse the group at the nearby Cradle of Human Kind.
Later, with the rain still coming down hard, the group messed about slack lining and getting to know Neil’s bird, Ruby…
Alex Messenger & Ruby
The rain was depressing, and the promise of drier weather towards the next venue, Blouberg, galvanised a few to pack the tents in the heavy rain and set off…
Blouberg was a very long way from Johannesburg, driving North of the Tropic of Capricorn, and then requiring a hard walk late into the night to get to our bivouac. Ged Desforges, Leonie Seelen and I were accompanied by “locals” Steve Broccardo, Tony and Charles Edelstein (aka ‘Snort’), who assured us that – if nothing else – the trip to Blouberg would be memorable!
So, how do you spell that again? 😆
Some cheeky kids who accompanied us on the first section of the approach walk
The approach walk was hard work – very hard work. Every bush, plant and tree in South Africa is armed with serious thorns and needles designed to stop animals eating them and climbers from passing them! Leonie in particular found it hard going. Perhaps Steve’s quote sums it up, “Africa is not for sissies”! On top of that I think the locals have a kind of masochistic love for the bush whacking – all part of the African climbing adventure…
Ged at the Blouberg bivouac
The Blouberg cliff is a massive (up to 400m high) rock wall. The next picture is taken from the “big grass ledge” three pitches up. Unfortunately that’s as far as we got! We’d made a few mistakes like hauling far too heavier pack along with us (full of waterproof jackets etc. for fear of the rain returning), but mostly the climbing was too tricky for Leonie (sorry Leonie).
Panorama from Blouberg
The next venue was Waterval Boven. A lovely location with ace camping and easy access sport climbing – such a change from the serious bush whacking at Blouberg.
Steve, Leonie & Phil Welchman at Waterval Boven
Waterval Boven BBQ (braai)
Ged at Waterval Boven
Our last venue for the week was Blydepoort, and this time we weren’t camping! The bunkhouse style accommodation was a welcome change for my sore hips and shoulders from lying on the hard South African ground all week.
Saturday 22nd – Manoutsa
The last day of my trip (the meet continued for another day, but I had to leave a day early to make it back to work 🙁 ) was spent climbing a nice route (Hard Rock Cafe) at Manoutsa with Rebecca Rutschmann.
Rebecca scrambling off the top of our route on Manoutsa
Back at the Blydepoort accommodation Neil had bought me a “nice” steak to cook on the BBQ for the my last meal in South Africa…
A massive “Texan” steak! 😯
What a great adventure! Thanks to the South African Mountain Club, Ulrike for organising everyone and all the complex logistics, and all the local climbers who looked after us – especially Steve and Neil…
The prospect of being a host at the 2006 BMC International meet at Plas y Brenin, North Wales, was a daunting one! All those super hard climbers from all over the world… What had I let myself in for?
In fact it was a great week. I was paired up with a newly qualified German guide (Max) at first and then with a Manchester based (an impostor?) Czech (Jarek) for the second half. Nice guys and well up for climbing in Wales courtesy of the BMC.
Almost every aspect of North Wales (slate to Cloggy, Llanberis Pass to Gogarth, Llyn Peninsula to Tremadog) seemed to be taken by storm. These guys are all amazing climbers, some at the top of the game and some taking their first steps leading.
I think everyone had fun, I certainly did, not withstanding notable events like the Lithuanian “near death” ground fall from an E5 at Rhoscolyn…