Winter has arrived early in Britain this year, and with a vengeance. A lot of people have been able to get out and climb early season routes, but for us southerners stuck at work, lets just say we are a tad jealous. Luckily, Rob has been ‘at work’ in the climbing playground of North Wales and bagged the third ascent of “Cracking Up“, which graded at IX 9, is a no mean feat. All of this action has got my head going with ideas for this winter. I’m always eager to plan the action for a forthcoming trip, maybe I have too much time in my hands? or is it that I just can’t get ice climbing out of my head? (and maybe Rob won’t be so keen on climbing with me now that he knows what a fanatic I am). Out of all the climbing disciplines, ice climbing is the one that motivates me the most. Sometimes all of this pre-climbing motivation is a bit counter-productive, it does create a lot of anticipation and drive to climb a good route but then increases the disappointed when things don’t go to plan.
This season is a big one for me as I’ll be joining Rob at the 2011 UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup. He’s been doing most of the competitions for the last 3 years with some good results, considering the limited resources for this type of climbing in England. Previously I wasn’t particularly interested, but since watching the competition in Saas Fee 2 years ago, I have been playing with the idea of entering the World Cup. It’s taken a while to figure out how to do it and the whole thing was slightly more complicated by me being a Spanish ex-pat. Thankfully, the UIAA are a flexible bunch, and since UK has been my home for many years, I’ll be able to join Rob in the contingent representing Britain. Rob is quite experienced at competitions by now, me on the other hand, I have no idea what to expect, and I think it is a good idea not to expect very much. Even if I manage to do all my homework and get fit enough, there is always an element of luck. One thing is for sure, we will give it all we have.
Ramon on “Cabron” M8, Kiental ph. Rob Gibson.
The ultimate ice climbing competition is at Saas Fee in Switzerland. A climbing structure is built in the spiral shaft of a multi-storey car park, overhanging blocks of ice and very steep sections of dry tooling are suspended to give almost 360 degree viewing on all levels for spectators. There’s is a reason why the structure looks like this, it has evolved over years of competitions to make it more difficult to climb for ever-stronger athletes. So climbing on such a monster of a wall is something I told myself I had to do at least once. There’s also a very honest camaraderie between competitors and the events are a great way to network with some of the world’s best climbers and get beta for future projects. After seeing all this first hand, I now understand what kept Rob, and lot of other people, going back for more.
Eyes set on Nine inch Nails ph. Rob Gibson.
After Saas Fee we are heading straight to Kandersteg, also in Switzerland just across (or under as the Swiss love tunnels) the mountain. We’ve been there several times before and have still only scratched the surface. There’s a huge concentration of challenging climbing and some of the hardest mixed multi-pitch in Europe. Last time we were there we sort of discovered this mixed crag called Kiental that most visiting climbers don’t really know about. We had some very successful days in Kiental, but we also have some unfinished business there in the form of burly single pitch lines. Apart from routes found in the guide the prolific Markus Stofer has been hard at work over the last couple of years putting up new multi-pitch lines that we are keen to try. His lines are always quality, and the man has taste for mixed climbing that we share. Last time we hooked up with him, he selflessly point out to me an impressive unclimbed free-standing pillar next to the mixed line he was trying, I couldn’t believe my eyes! I was about to bag the first ascent of that beautiful line. I called it “Kraftwerk” and went at a soft Wi6. From that same spot we were able to set our eye on another of Markus routes, “Nine Inch Nails”. This beast is graded Wi6+ with quite a few pitches of M8 and M9 thrown in and some sections of overhanging funky ice, so-called “space fungi” in the guidebook. Hopefully we’ll be strong and confident enough to give it a shot… but sometimes you have to careful what you wish for!
Rob on Kraftort, M10/11 ph. Rob Gibson coll.
But, the jewel of the crown in Kandersteg is the Breitwangflue, a massive 1000ft-high wall packed with some of the best mixed lines in Europe. It’s the magnet that attracts the worlds top mixed climbers, the likes of Ines Papert, Will Gadd, Robert Jasper, Ueli Steck and the Anthamatten brothers have all made the pilgrimage. And, we are keen to get stuck in. God knows what our chances of success are, but we won’t know until we try. There are three lines in particular that have captured our attention because they just look awesome. The first one and more obvious is the classic “Crack Baby”, 340mts of epic pure ice climbing with five pitches of Wi6, which is a test of endurance more than anything. Quite a step up from that is “Mach 3”, another Stofer route, with some wild M9 moves on rock to gain a hanging Wi6 curtain of ice will definitely require to have very smooth dry tooling skills. And top of the realm is “The Flying Circus”, an infamous route that packs in M7, M9 and M10 pitches using a variety of ice smears and hanging icicles in between. The real game changer here is that there’s no bolts apart from the belays, so the protection is a mix of trad gear and pitons, making it a route that hasn’t seen many repeats, specially from British teams. All in all, this wall is the motherload of hard climbing that needs a lot of preparation and a good dose of psyching up, together with good skiing skills as well because you have to skin up for two hours in the dark before you even get your tools out.
Rob enjoying time at Breitwangflue ph. Rob Gibson coll.
Anticipation can be the best ingredient for frustration, but at the same time is the best generator of motivation for getting through all these months of grey autumn days. As everything in life, climbing plans are always a gamble. And anyways, is the journey what counts. Now I just have to take my Figfours out and do my homework!