Volume 45 Number 2 Article 7
I had asked an outdoor instructor, Adam Evans, whom I had done some rigging training with to help me with mountain navigation. We had opted to spend a few days backpacking in the Moelwyns just north of Blaenau. After this we were going to do a bit of climbing somewhere in Snowdonia. Traipsing up hill and down dale with 15kg on my back while counting paces was more strenuous than flicking channels with the remote control, but it was easier than dragging bottles around underground so it made a pleasant change. The focus on micro-navigation skills came naturally as for most of the two days the vis was somewhere between 25 and 50m. Having said that over the two days we had every weather except snow, so I came away with good memories of that part of the country.
Camping by a little lake (Llyn Edno), was amazingly peaceful and the next morning around 8am we were rewarded with blue skies. On the way back to Blaenau I managed to fall into a sphagnum bog and got a tad wet. Other than my dignity the only other casualty was my mobile phone which promptly expired. Just two weeks before I had trashed its predecessor learning how to pirouette on skis. Hey ho! Getting back to civilisation on the second night and having a shower and an Indian takeaway was much appreciated.
For the Friday, Adam and I had decided to go for Pulpit Route on Milestone Buttress in the Ogwen Valley on the basis that I felt ready to have a go at leading and the grade was Diff. Having climbed Severe routes in the Lakes I felt I would be up for this. Adam led the first pitch, which I was very glad of since it had been five months since I’d been on rock. I led the next pitch, which was about the level of difficulty I had been expecting: the climbing was easy so I could focus on putting in gear and manage the feeling of being above the protection. At the top of the pitch I had a “rabbit in the car’s headlights moment” and put in gear with a very wide angle between them. When Adam came up he wasn’t too happy with the belay and in seconds had put in a better placement: sometimes you learnt from your mistakes! At this point I decided that having led a pitch I had achieved my primary objective for the day and I was going to sit back and enjoy climbing on rock with a top rope.
In hindsight this was a spookily good decision. The start of the next pitch involved a touch move to get into a chimney. As Adam led it he made a reference to the move being particularly “thuggish” for a Diff route. I then watched him struggle getting into a hole at the top of the chimney (we were both climbing with rucksacks on). It took me about 5 attempts to get into chimney, but I was soon at the hole at the top. As you stick your head through the hole you look straight down for about 40 or 50m. A tactical decision to take off my rucksack and pass it through to Adam got some stick: Adam felt if he had struggled to get through with his rucksack so should I. As you climb through the hole you can’t see many handholds unless you have eyes in the back of your head, but with Adam’s help I was OK. At this point Adam insisted in taking a photo of me: the traumatised look was my attempt at a smile.
The final pitch was very exposed. Frankly there was no way I could have lead it. Some of the rock was a bit loose which further undermined confidence. The route felt harder than the Troutdale Pinnacle (Severe) I had climbed in November, so clearly I have a lot to learn about grading .
4 to 6 April
Not having to leave the City and traipse to Oxford then drive to the Dales, 7 or 8pm saw me at the Farm which I found empty but unexpectedly warm. After a brief visit to the Barbon with Jude, Sophie, Sam, George and Speleopup, I got back to the Farm to hook up with John Kendall. John is a Florida style cave diver whom Rick Stanton had put me in touch with to find out more about the CDG. A walk through with John of UK diving kit degenerated somewhat when the crew from the Barbon returned. The girls were clearly under the influence of alcohol as they both offered to carry for me. Someone suggested a midnight caving trip and before you could say “what a daft idea!”, Jude, Sophie, John and I were kitting up for a jaunt down Bull Pot of the Witches. This was John’s first ever time underground and neither of the girls were stone cold sober, so I questioned the prudence of the trip, but sometimes you just have to go for it.
We had decided not to go any further than the top of the second pitch, and we were soon there, so I was relieved when we turned back. Soon we were back at the open pot so a brief foray in the upstream direction was enough to quench our thirst for adventure. All through the trip I experienced a bizarre “Are we really doing this sensation?”, but I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. I’m sure memories of John’s first ever trip will stay with him a while.
Before John had got in touch re the weekend I had planned to do a trip down Pool Sink with Steve Robinson so he could rig . I had had concerns about Pool Sink as a first ever trip for John before meeting him, but when I met him and saw that he is at least my size I had further concerns. I explained to him that there was at least a 50/50 chance that his walk across the fell would be wasted. The backup plan was that if he couldn’t get in, or didn’t like it, Steve and I would do a shorter trip and then John and I would do some SRT training in Bull Pot of the Witches.
The plan was for Steve to go in first, with John next, so that Steve could talk him through from the front and I could guide him out if required. Steve went in with the first tackle sack and I sat back to enjoy the sunshine. After 5 minutes of listening to pushing and shoving, maybe a little bit of swearing, I got up to see what progress Steve was making. I was surprised to find him within sight of the entrance. In the end Steve decided he’d had enough and came out. At this point a Pool Sink trip was looking less likely, but I felt that since John had walked across the fell, he might as well try it. I also secretly thought that if I could get John through Steve could be guilted into having a second go. I went in, in order to talk John through and was soon in position beyond the z-bend. I heard John starting out, but very quickly it became clear that this was too committing for a first trip.
We managed to get into Bull Pot of the Witches by 3 o’clock where Steve rigged the pitches and John got some SRT training in. At the bottom of the third pitch Steve and I decided we were bored with the route to the downstream sump and had a peak in the upstream direction. As we didn’t have wetsuits on and we needed to start thinking of getting John out we did no more than a cursory visit. Coming up the last two pitches I could see that John was slowing right down, so I was glad we had turned the trip when we did.
Sunday saw Beardy, John and I escaping from the Farm once the AGM was over to dive Joint Hole. Amongst gently falling snow we kitted up, Beardy and John questioning my decision to dive in a 4mm wetsuit instead of my cozy drysuit in snow-melt water. I didn’t even bother to defend the indefensible. Viz in Joint Hole was a stonking 5 to 10m, the best I’d ever seen. Being used to solo diving I found diving in a team of three strange, but I was thrilled to see Beardy looking so comfortable in the water. About 11 minutes and 100m in I noticed one of my valves was misbehaving so I turned the dive. We were 2/3s of the way to the first airbell so it was a shame as both Beardy and John were going well and would almost certainly have made it to the airbell, but it felt the prudent decision.
By the time we were nearing the entrance I was really struggling with the cold so I was glad we had not gone further. We had agreed we would dive as a team given Beardy and John’s lack of experience in UK conditions. In hindsight it was a shame I hadn’t just turned my own dive, but “you two continue while I turn back” was a message way too complicated for me to convey 100m into the sump. As I was trying to get out of the water one of the other two was blocking my way a little bit: my message was along the lines of “Please step aside and let me out of this chilly water”. Those might not have been the exact words I used.
Dekitting with more snow falling I was already thinking of the tea and cake we would have down in Bernie’s. An excellent end to a fabulous 5 days of play. What a shame it was back to work the next day.