Kate Hawkins, our Membership Secretary, has produced an analysis of the LMC membership according to age (see below). The stand-out statistic is that the LMC has only seven members under the age of twenty five. You don't need to be a brain surgeon to work out that this not an ideal situation for a club with long-term membership growth aspirations.
Doubtless inspired by the LMC's needs, some members have taken the "bull by the horns" so to speak, and babies have been produced - and more are on the way. However, although a highly commendable initiative, the LMC can't entirely rely on a breeding programme for its sustainability. Indeed when I asked certain ladies if I could help out with this project I received a discouraging response.
Fortunately the LMC has a number of ideas to boost membership and, at the same, offer greater opportunities to its members. Central to much of this thinking is the development of Cae Ysgubor. This is a fabulous building in a beautiful setting. I am sure members will want to use it. Encouragingly the newsletter contains positive information about the progress of Cae Ysgobur, some really good meet reports and a number of excellent articles explaining what our members have been doing. To access the articles you may have to "press a button". Do give it a go, your finger wont drop off. Some have told me that they would prefer a paper version of the newsletter but this is not a viable option.
Please send info to the Newsletter Editor, Roger Finn email@example.com (tel: 01600 773203)
LMC: Age breakdown of membership
Tuesday Evenings - Mid-Week Meets - When Out Becomes the New In!
A full programme of mid-week meets is planned for the winter - please see below for the next ones!
The next indoor meets are:
If you want to come along then please contact Jon Banks - 07790 484358
The publication of the 2014 meets list is imminent and will be circulated by email.
In the early part of 2014, the LMC is running a number of meets that require booking in advance. If you would like to go on any of them, you need to take action ASAP.
Ice Climbing, Norway, February 2013 - There are ten people going so far and more are welcome. However if you are interested you need to move quickly and contact Richard Toon - 0777 946641
Scottish Winter Meet on the good ship "Fingal", March 2014 - This is filling up fast and so if you would like to reserve a berth, please contact the Club Commodore, Chris Walker - 01942 831924
Rock Climbing in Morocco 17th - 27th March 2013 - Superb rock climbing in the Anti-Atlas; for details and availability please contact Dave Medcalf - 01766 512115
Do you know that the Climbing Wall at LlanfairPG (that's the place on Anglesey just over the Menai Bridge with the longest name in the world!!) has very strong LMC connections? Its owned by "Ratty"s lad. "Ratty" (John Ratcliffe who lives on the Wirral) is a very long-standing member of the Club. His lad has bought the climbing wall from the Army. It's open 7 days a week. Do drop in if passing by or if you are rained off on Gogarth!! Nor sure if flashing your LMC card will get a groat off the entrance fee but you never know.....!!"
Stand up Bingo
Having attended the club's annual dinner over many years, I am writing to express my disappointment with the stand up bingo. This is the only bit of the Club dinner that my wife and I enjoy but the whole thing is a disgrace. Why is the bingo, organised by Bernard Smith, always won by a member of the Smith clan. Last year the whisky was won by Mr Smith's great aunt who wasn't even at the dinner. Has anyone thought to independently check Mr Smith's balls, a practice observed in all reputable bingo halls to prevent fiddling by bent callers?
And another thing, the raffle is no better. Who won all the prizes this year? Yes you've guessed none other than Bernard Smith. The next thing that we will hear is that Mr Smith has arranged for Unite to sponsor the dinner - free places for the Smiths and a limo to the front door!
The whole thing is a scandalous disgrace. The Committee should investigate the matter but probably most of them are in on the take. When I complained to the dinner ladies I got a very dusty response. It's disgusting!
Yours until hell freezes over,
Mr B Beard
LMC worksquad take a well-earned break
The hut is rapidly approaching completion, with the last major DIY job, plaster boarding, completed. Most of it has now been skimmed and part has been painted. The mains electrical connection has been made and some sockets are working - substantial progress has also been made on fitting lights, power etc. The pipe to mains water is in but has not yet been connected. A contract has been signed to install a digester and to clad the outside concrete blocks with stone, but the company has not yet started work. Most of the internal plumbing is ready when water and sewage treatment is available. All the external doors have been fitted.
The lounge now part plastered
Work still to do includes:
Hopefully the hut will be fit to use by April 2014, though all the work will not have been done by then. Thanks to all the volunteers who have worked so hard to get the hut to its present state and please keep coming to work meets. New volunteers are always welcome!
Winter again, and snow on the fells and mountains.... but the summer was pretty good for a change, although I was abroad quite a lot so missed a fair bit of it, including the 'Indian Summer'. It was good for hut building so as you probably know, Cae Ysgubor now has mains electricity; mains water and sewage digester are on track. We are hoping to have the official opening in spring of next year. The Langdale hut has not had a lot of use from members this year, although still popular with other groups who hire for the weekend. We are intending to improve (heating, showers, toilets) over the next three or so years to make it more attractive.
The Chairman in thoughtful mood
If you attended the club dinner in Llanberis on 16th November, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. The next social event is on the 3rd December at the Belmont Bull, where we will have a three handed slide show and talk about California, the Sierras and Yosemite. It should be good.
After the very successful meet to the Ecrins last year, I am thinking about the 2014 summer alpine meet; Switzerland, I think. Send me your thoughts.
After I have moved the small mountains of leaves in the garden, I am looking forward to getting into the Lakes and Scottish mountains for some winter walking and climbing. Excellent; I hope to see you there?
The LMC cycle team assemble
Having been to Lee Quarry a few years ago when the first trails were put in, I decided that the club should visit the area to see what had come of the considerable investment of both time and money into the area to develop a proper mountain biking centre.
I had planned a 25 mile circular route taking in Lee Quarry, Cragg Quarry and the hilltops and moors of Rossendale. Our intrepid team of 7 met at the foot of the ascent to Lee Quarry on a somewhat breezy and slightly chilly Sunday morning in high spirits. In true LMC fashion these would soon be dashed.....
The ascent to Lee Quarry is reasonably steep but is passable by all but the unfittest of riders, however, it soon transpired and came as some surprise that the meet leader fell into this category! After much cursing under my breath, so as not to teach Jessica any new vocabulary, I managed to catch up with the rest of the group who had had a ride on some of the trails. Based on my performance so far I decided that leadership from the rear suited me well and we set off across the moors on the newly laid bridle path to Cragg Quarry with me trailing behind.
Bridle Path to Crag Quarry
The slight breeze of the morning had turned into a rather bracing wind on the tops and it soon became clear, when it took an hour to do 2 miles on the bikes, that a Plan B might be called for. Of course, having garnered the experience of other members of the club whilst growing up I realised that a Plan B did not always have to be set in stone or sometimes even planned before a meet took place.
And so it was that I called on my skills as an effective meet leader and decided to delegate to Nigel, our newest member, but also a local to decide on an alternate route! A plan was hatched - we would descend from Cragg Quarry deviating from the original planned route to connect with the disused railway lines in the valley. These would afford us cover from the wind and allow a slightly more pleasant and shorter ride back to the cars.
We dropped down to Irwell Vale for a spot of lunch, a picturesque little village famous for the steam engines that pass through, and planned our return trip over sandwiches by the river. Our lunch break also gave us the chance to assess the damage done to Julie's leg after she cut it whilst negotiating one of the many stiles and gates on our descent. If the injury had been serious it could have had repercussions for John and Sarah's wedding and the whole thing might have been off....
Whilst enjoying our lunch in Irwell Vale, we were accosted by a pleasant group of Jehovah's witnesses who, having no doors to knock on and not being met with the usual vernacular, were somewhat perplexed by our friendly manner. The local police were also out in force probably responding to complaints of a group of individuals in suits and tight fitting lycra playing knock-a-door run!
Our return route followed the disused railway lines heading up to Rawtenstall, after which we following a combination of road, cycle routes and bridleways that crisscrossed each other back to the Lee Quarry car park. We ended up covering 16 miles on our mini adventure which was more than could have been expected when we had left in the morning and everyone politely said they had enjoyed themselves before departing for home.
Pembroke Coast name the bay?
The summer of 2013 has been all about glorious temperatures and sunshine and the August Bank Holiday was no exception. 9 LMC members journeyed to Pembroke on the south coast of Wales and camped at St Petrox. With the weather so fine, lots of climbing, walking and swimming was done.
On Saturday, we all headed to Crystal Slabs at the Flimston Bay Area. David and I enjoyed a couple of E3's on mosaic wall whilst Steve Lyon and Jason headed up Crystal Edge. Richard and Stu Knott followed up behind them with Richard needing quick reactions to dodge the above pair's loose rock/missiles. His quick responses were needed again in the afternoon as the incoming tide splashed at his legs at Bifter's Buttress. Stu and David were forced to set up mid-pitch belays to prevent Richard and I from a soaking.
Steve Lyon soaking up the rays on Crystal Slabs
Richard, Stu, David and I climbed at Mewsford Point on the Sunday. Some say the August Bank Holiday may be busy down at Pembroke, but the 35 minute walk-in to Mewsord Point seems to be too much for many and this stunning cliff was very quiet. Steve, Jason, Julie and Dave all climbed Sea Groove on White Tower (VS 4b). Meanwhile John Burrows soaked in the coastal scenery walking along the cliffs.
It was marvel that anyone actually got off the ground on Monday after the mammoth banquet that we polished off at the Chinese restaurant on the Sunday night. The superb Stennis Ar�te at Stennis Head was enjoyed by Steve, Jason, Julie and Dave. Whilst down at Lydstep Point, Stu and Richard climbed Lydstep Point Maze (HVS 5a) and David and I, Amazon (E3 5c). After a sweltering belay Stu and David decided to head deep water soloing on the VS traverse whilst I took the option of a stunning swim through the caves and arches of Lydstep Cavern Bay. Four months after my first swim of the year on the Gower meet May Bank Holiday, the water was now at a much more agreeable temperature. Julie and Dave had the same idea and enjoyed a swim in the turquoise waters at Freshwater Beach. Yes, this definitely felt like a �real' summer.
David Toon, Stu Knott, Dave Sudell,
Julie Sudell & Richard Toon
This proved to be a largely nautical meet with regular rain and showers on Friday evening and Saturday. Members were pressing to cover the two mile walk-in and get to the hut in daylight, requiring us to forgo a pub visit. Once installed we took down one of the window boards to ensure light in the morning and, after a little supper, turned in at a respectable hour.
Cwm Eigiau Cottage: reputed to be the highest
and most remote mountain hut in Wales.
Richard Toon mentioned that his plans for tomorrow would be decided by the weather. Saturday proved to be dull and overcast so he opted to up and away at an early hour and venture over to a second meet in one weekend.
That left Christine Gleave, Andy Bond and Edgar Davies to follow a walk starting much as the previous LMC visit, ascending the south side of the valley and then following the ridge to Pen Llithrig y Wrach (790 m). We then continued to Pen yr Helgi Du (830 m) before dropping down to Bulch Eryl Farchog. That left the final ascent to the top of Craig yr Ysfa. The descent branched down NE into the cwm and turned E to find a crossing-point over Afo Eigiau at a quite high water level. From there it was a steady plod back to the hut.
We dined handsomely on Saturday evening with adequate liquid refreshment. On Sunday there was a need to be away promptly and so we departed early to bed; a very satisfying day.
The Sunday plan was to carry full loads and return to the car park via the ridge continuing NE from Pen Llithrig and drop down to Hafod y Rhiw. Alas, as they say, trouble comes in threes and it certainly did today - to the meet leader no less! First I fell badly on a pile of stones trying to cross a fence, and then twice plunged my left leg into deep bog concealed by heather. The second such mishap pulled tendons in my right calf and put me on crutches for the following week; what an indignity. My thanks go to Christine and Andy for rescue services provided.
Cwm Eigiau is a wonderful, remote valley running into the heart of the Carneddau; we just need to drum up more interests for meets there.
The LMC troops on a wet Dream of White Horses
Once again the sun was shining on the righteous. Having braved the early morning ride along the A55 we were rewarded with the sight of the white quartzite of Holyhead Mountain glistening like Italianate marble in the warm autumn sunshine, as of course is traditional for this meet.
The team were awarded full marks for punctuality, assembling for coffee at the South Stack caf� as arranged. Even the meet leader was on time. Will and Max gained points in their absence for enthusiasm, they were already on the cliffs, somewhere. Full use was made of the good if breezy weather with ascents of various classics; a damp Mousetrap (E2), the devious route finding of Cordon Bleu (HVS), UFO (E2) various routes on Holyhead Mountain and according to Joe and Nigel a wet Dream of White Horses (HVS)
Sunday saw more of the same good weather although many routes had dampness from the rain of the previous week. Some teams walked along the coastal paths, Dave and Kate completed Concrete Chimney (HVS) and potential new member Nigel had a pleasant surprise, encountering an adder on a handhold on Central Park (HVS). He had been prepared to meet a few snakes in the grass on an LMC meet but thought this was a bit much.
Altogether we had nine people on the meet, good weather, a great evening in the White Eagle, terrific company and some really enjoyable climbing. Come along next year. The area offers a good range of solid and easier routes by climbing on Holyhead Mountain, in addition or as an alternative to the "traditional" Gogarth experience, some fine walking on the coastal path and on and off-road cycling.
Nearly 80 members and guests gathered at the Royal Victoria Hotel, Llanberis for the social highlight of the Club's year. As usual it was a glittering event with the ladies flaunting their considerable assets.
Following a delicious meal, the club's chairman, Mr Roger Gott gave a thoughtful speech during which he outlined the club's many achievements over the last year.
This was unfortunately interrupted by a senile, elderly member who was under the impression that Mr David Thistlewaite was attired in a suit belonging to Mr Bernard Smith.
Once restraints had been applied, speeches continued and a well deserved award was made to Mr Derek Miller for his many years leading and losing the Wednesday Wanderers.
Bouquets were presented to Mesdames Joanne Whiteley and Cat Toon as a thank you for organising the event. The evening concluded with dancing and a giant raffle, many prizes being won by popular club member Mr Bernard Smith.
Penelope Ripstop (Society Correspondent)
Mr Derek Miller and Mrs Jean Guilfoyle
are amused when President Chris massages
Mr Brian Guilfoyle's flagging ego
Mr Mark Braithwaite, Mrs Angela McMullan
and Mr and Mrs David Suddell
LMC Chairman Roger Gott, accompanied by his
wife Helen, warms to his theme
Mr Ian Aitcheson together with
Mr and Mrs David Thistlethwaite
Six of us disappeared under Ingleborough. We started down Sunset Pot - a nice set of passages ending in a long 60 foot abseil - and then a ladder climb all the way back out again. Yorkshire dry - which means you didn't get absolutely soaked, but definitely damp in odd places.
We'd had whopper breakfasts in Bernie's cafe and had hired helmets and lamps earlier; and some even got knee-pads and baby-style jump suits. As ever, our underground friends from Earby Pothole Club, Stuart and Kenny, led us in and out of the cave, fixing the ladders and safety ropes and making it a really good trip.
It was BOGOF time - after Sunset, we plodded a couple of hundred yards to Washfold Great Douk, a second pot to fill the last hour or so of the afternoon. I think that Stu and Kenny were having us on - we were chaperoned into an impossibly narrow entrance with a torrent flowing into it. After a few metres, we went into reverse gear, just before the necessity of taking deep breaths and praying for life! It was the wrong entrance!!
We got the right way a couple of minutes later. This was a narrow crawl on extended stomachs - and this became proper wet! Did knee pads help? I relied on real knee caps. There was even a point to catch a quick snooze, waiting for everyone to shuffle up. Lower down, it opens up a little so there is just s few more hundred yards of wading until the Hobbit-like lower entrance led into daylight.
It was a short day as we could still see the last of the afternoon sky while we got changed. Jason had forgotten his spare dry jeans, so it was either boxers in the pub or wet pants!! Back to the Marton Arms then for the traditional dinner on the way home. Richard, a potential new member, shot off back to Preston - having had his first trip underground. We hope to see him at our local wall at West View and on other meets soon. Paul also by-passed the menu after a drink, having revealed earlier in the day an incredible skill at ladder climbing - two rungs at a time. The Treasurer, John had a great day day out as did Ratty, who we only seem to see once-a-year nowadays. But he waxed lyrical about last winter's ice climbing in Wales and long sea kayaking trips around Scotland. I just tried to get my feet warm whilst tucking into the fish pie!
Climbing the Jean Gauthier Glacier at dawn with
Mt Pelvoux in the background
The six of us were lying in a natural stone circle gazing up at a starlit night sky. Tomorrow we would make the ascent of the Montagne Des Agneaux, a majestic mountain and at 3664 m one of the highest in the Ecrin.
The route, the South Ridge, had many attractions for me, chief of which was its grade at "peu facile". My 1986 guide book describes it as "providing a very easy, short mixed route" and implies that this is a climb for even the most incompetent. Rumour had it that an eight year old had pogo sticked his way to the top.
The A team (Roger, Mark and Gregory) having
bagged all the best "seats" on the summit
However in spite my certain confidence, the balmy bivvy and the good company, a level of personal depression had set in. Mark Braithwaite, no doubt in a well-intentioned effort to be informative, read extracts from an up-to-date route guide. Apparently the nature of the mountain has dramatically changed. Due to shrinking glaciers, the way was now "tres difficile" and should only be attempted by experts in the peak of physical condition. If I'd had any, I would have reached for the Valium.
Matters of morale were not helped when our leader, Roger, divided us into two teams of three (A and B). I didn't say anything. The A team consisted of the young, fit and healthy (Roger, Gregory and Mark) while the B team was the "forlorn hope"; the team that would be sacrificed if success was in doubt. It consisted of Nigel (lame), Dave (deaf) and me (aged). Rather unnecessarily I thought, Mark labelled us the "Blue Badge" team!
What a wonderful climb. In the early morning darkness we ascended the remnants of Jean Gauthier glacier before traversing horizontally across rocks to the V notch of the Col Monetier. On the other side of the col, the slopes of the Monetier glacier were climbed to below the now snowless rocks below the Col Tucket.
Climbing up to this was the difficult bit. However led by Roger and Nigel we ascended in style - well in my case with a few desperate tugs on the rope - to the spectacularly airy Col Tucket. The final part of the route lay in front of us. Initially up a ridge, then over shattered ledges and ramps to the crown of rocks that form the summit. What a triumph - especially for the Blue Badge team!
The A and B teams after their successful ascent
We descended as fast as we could only stopping at the Glacier Blanc hut for a few welcome beers. After this the A team disappeared with indecent haste into the valley. No "can I carry all your heavy gear?" or "do you want me to take your rope and rucksack?" If David Cameron was a member of the LMC he would know why the "Big Society" is a non-starter.
Many hours later, the Blue Badge team staggered down to the valley bottom. The "A" team was ensconced in the bar, enjoying a few cheeky beers and ogling the surrounding natural wonders. We had barely slumped down into welcome seats when our leader explained that he was going into Brian�on to do some shopping and asked "can one of you buggers lend me a Blue Badge to make the parking easier?"
John Flinn, one of our American members who lives in San Francisco, again organised the trip. This year we set off from Mammoth Lakes, which is outside Yosemite and walked through fantastic countryside for four days, ending up at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. We traversed the Ansel Adams Wilderness, which is a mass of lakes surrounded by jagged white granite peaks, some of surreal shape. We camped by lakes each night, which were stunningly beautiful. It really is a fantastic part of the world.
Nancy S from Boston, another LMC member, also came with Dave Fisher and me from England. The fires in Yosemite caused some organisational difficulties - the road through Yosemite which crosses the High Sierra was shut, meaning that John and Nancy had a 180 mile detour to get to the start, but everything was OK on the trek. Thanks very much to John and Nancy for taking us through such magnificent country.
Dave and I had some time in the States before and after the trek and we managed to walk to the bottom of the Grand Canyon as well as hikes in Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion and Joshua Tree National Parks - a truly memorable holiday.
Nancy and John
Dave "is this Heaven on earth?"
In late 2012 Josie and I were invited to join a Nordic ski tour. We could see no reason why not except that we didn't have any equipment. On our only previous venture into this style of skiing we had managed to borrow the gear. However we had enjoyed the experience and so were ready for more. Having a garage already full of alpine touring kit it seemed like a new adventure as we took advice on what to buy, very often conflicting advice. In the end we settled for crown soled skis which don't require waxing, and plastic boots, but more of that later.
The plan was to start in the Setesdalsheine, in the south of Norway and ski north using the DNT hut system and "see how it went". The team consisted of Dave Buchanan, who had attempted this route before, several of his friends from previous trips, and us. So we were very much the new kids on the block. During the planning stage I began to realise that the team and the route were remarkably flexible, so much so that we started by flying to Oslo, which was less than convenient, but at least was in the right country!
We flew from Edinburgh in late February 2013 together with Brian Donaldson who turned out to be the chief perpetrator and organiser. We travelled light wearing our ski gear including boots, not the ideal footwear for exploring Oslo. However we managed to meet the other three members of the team, Rob, Rory and Anna, and enjoyed a meal, before catching the overnight train SW to Sandes. Here we were met by a minibus which took us through stunning scenery, reminiscent of Wester Ross, to Adneram, from where we were to start the tour.
Food, it's all in the name
The objective for day one was the Grautheller Hytte, a distance of about 16km. It was very cold, well below zero, and our waxless crown soles were having difficulty gripping on the refrozen snow. However those with waxed soles were also struggling. In fact Rory with old fashioned fishscales was doing best. We eventually resorted to skins which did the trick. Our route followed the track up the Flatstolana, down to the Holmevatn (lake) and across the Grauthellervatnet to the hut. I crawled in last feeling like death, but it is a very comfortable hut which we had to ourselves. We soon had the stove blazing away and a meal on the cooker.
The huts are mainly unguarded but well stocked with food and fuel. You pay for what you use on an honesty basis. It's a great system, although we carried tea bags rather than pay 25p/bag, and large quantities of lentils for improving the soups. Anna soon established herself as kitchen supremo and found many novel ways of varying what could have been a monotonous diet. Anna is Danish and spoke Norwegian which proved very useful at times.
Josie, day 3
We awoke the following day to snow and very strong winds so after some debate it was decided to stay put. I was pleased as this allowed me some time to rest. I now had a temperature and a cold. I supervised the stove while others did a short foray into the gale just for the exercise. As we prepared dinner that evening we noticed two, then four, people struggling into the wind across the lake. We welcomed them with a brew only to find that 25 scouts and their leaders were on their way. The hut was hastily reorganised as it filled to capacity. The scouts had done remarkably well battling into the wind for seven hours, and some were only about thirteen years old. Tough folk these Norwegians.
Day three dawned bright and windless. We were up early to avoid the kitchen chaos, on with the skins and away. Navigation was complex but we eventually dropped onto a huge lake, Svartevatn near Fitjaholet which we judged was the best access point. Access to some lakes is difficult as they are used for Hydro. As the level drops so does the ice, leaving tens of metres of icefall to be negotiated. We skied north for an eternity along the lake. Originally the plan was to stay at Little Auradal but we were persuaded to carry on to Storsteinen to make up for our day off. The rest is a painful blur. We arrived at dusk after a 26km slog. Along the way I discovered that Rory perfected his technique on a trans-Antarctic trip via the South Pole. This was child's play for him. There was one resident in the hut, Roger Wild, a British guide from Fort William on a solo trip.
Day 5 Vassdalste
The fourth day was, by comparison easy, a mere 17km to Hovatn Hytte where Roger had called here for lunch and left a note for us. Anna treated us to lentil and fish soup, meatballs and potatoes and tinned fruit salad, it was already becoming familiar. A late start on day five was mainly due to Anna's excellent drop scones which she produced for breakfast, followed by a stack of ham crispbreads. The morning was through delightfully complex country on great fresh snow. We lunched at Vassdassdalstein hut before following Roger's tracks to Krossvatn Hut where we caught him up and shared a very convivial dinner.
A long and eventful day to the Bleskestadtmoen Hut followed. An early start across Krossvatnet (lake) led to a long ascent. While having lunch by the Kaldevatn two Rangers arrived by Skidoo and stopped for a chat. The conversation was in Norwegian, and so was entirely with Anna, until Rory commented dryly that they probably thought we were six mutes with a Danish guide. They then moved the conversation smoothly into English. After lunch an Alpine style descent led to another ascent up a narrow ridge. The final descent to the hut was through birch forest which was quite challenging on skinny skis with free heels, even though we had 80mm steel edged mountain touring skis. We arrived at dusk after a ten hour day of 28 km. A well earned rest day followed.
Day 6 Krassvatn to Bleskestadmor
We had now been going for a week and were settling into a routine. We continued to the Holmavatn Hytte where, first we lost Rob and Rory who had to depart for home, and were then met by Roger Wild who skied onto the lake with a kettle of hot water in one hand and a rucksack full of goodies for a sub zero picnic. The following day to Haukeliseter signalled the end of phase one. This is a very large, catered "hut", more akin to a hotel, by the Oslo to Bergen road. It is much used by tourists and kite skiers and while we were there as a wedding venue, but has the advantage of showers, a restaurant, very expensive beer and electricity for charging things. We were now about to cross into the Hardangervidda for part two of the trip. One of the main advantages of these catered huts is the buffet breakfast. Cereal, eggs, ham, cheese, salami, pickles, fresh bread, coffee and take as much as you want for lunch. Its not cheap but worth every penny and we took full advantage.
We bid farewell to Roger as he departed for home and headed north to Hellevassabu Hytte. An hour on skins on fresh snow led to a superb descent passing a large party of Norwegians coming the other way. We caught two Germans with huge packs who had been camping. It had been very cold and they were glad to join us in the hut. It was minus 30 that night, but we had three stoves to keep us warm! Toilet facilities by necessity have to be in an outhouse so the low temperature can cause stalagshites to form which need destroying with a stick before use.
The following day was a bit of a treadmill. The skis were not gripping well nor running on the downhills. Conditions were difficult with some wind slab, a good layer of hoar frost, an icy crust but mainly sastrugi. We arrived at Litlos Hut at 4pm after a frustrating day to find it almost full but we squeezed in.
Day twelve was by contrast a joy. We had fresh snow and after an initial climb of a few hundred meters, gentle undulating going through fabulous scenery. We finished our last "Haukeliseter butty" for lunch before cruising down to the Hadlaskard hut. We found flour and yeast and as it was to be a rest day tomorrow we looked forward to fresh bread. What a treat! As Anna baked rolls between two cast iron frying pans we enjoyed a lie in listening to the wind howling and whipping the spindrift past the windows, we had chosen a good day for a rest. Now Brian and rest days don't go together. There is too much time to plan. After putting waypoints in the GPS for several routes we changed our minds again and decided to loop back to the road at Haukeliseter rather than continuing north to Finse as we had planned. The up side of this was that we headed west into some magnificent country. Accordingly we enjoyed a relatively short day to Torehytten through a beautiful landscape with the great rocky lump of Harteigen, a 1690m peak dominating the view.
The hut was in an idyllic situation and it was a wrench to leave the morning after. However we pushed on back to Litlos which, as Easter was approaching was now staffed. We were the first guests of the season and although they were not quite organised we enjoyed the luxury of a beer with dinner. Breakfast, of course, provided us with lunch for our final two days out.
The day to Middalsbu Hytte was an uneventful 21km. plod in flat light and light snow but we did discover an inch of Johnny Walker in the hut. The ski out on our final day, the 17th, was mainly along a lake for 10km. with winds gusting in four directions at once. A final slide down a small road brought us to the main road where we could get a bus to Hakeliseter for our final night before returning, by bus, to Oslo for the flight home.
We had travelled about 260km. on ski and it had been a wonderful experience with some highs and some lows of course. The company was always excellent and the organisation, if a little flexible, was always based on experience. In retrospect waxable skis would have been better in Norway but waxless are reputably better in the UK where temperatures are usually above zero. Plastic boots are warmer and take less drying although Norwegians all use leather. Joining the DNT is essential as you save the subscription many times over and they are a great source of information and maps.
Maps used: 1:50k Lysboten 10009, Bykle 10017, Setesdalsheine, Hovn Nord, Hardangervidda Vest.
Team: David Buchanan, Bernard Smith, Josie Smith, Brian Donaldson, Rob Brown, Rory O'Connor, Anna Mikkelsen.
I was blown away! How could I have been climbing for well over 40 years and yet not know about one of the most spectacular locations in Europe? The Setesdal valley runs for around 100km, starting a little north of Kristiansund on the south coast of Norway. It climbs some 1000m. The valley is lined with spectacular ice climbs in the winter; and with tremendous rock faces for summer climbing.
I got a brief email from David, my keen-eyed rock-jock younger son, just a few weeks before setting out for Norway. It had a link to a short article on UK Climbing about Setesdal. "Possible LMC meet next year?" the message said. I opened the link which gave a tasty flavour of the valley and a further link to a dedicated web site www.climb-setesdal.com. From this I saw that a new guide book had recently been produced by the Oxford Alpine Club. I dug out the credit card and pressed the buttons.
The guide arrived a couple of days later. It is a little guide, showing great routes with beautiful photographs and interesting historical tales. Much of the development has been by a small group of British climbers who have visited the area over the past decade.
Fortunately, I had still not booked accommodation in Norway. I was hanging on, hoping that the LMC "wee-wahs" would decide to come on the annual club ice-climbing meet, originally billed for Rjuken. But the meet was to be just me and Nancy. She flies over from the States every year to sample the best of European ice. So Setesdal became our first objective, partly as a recce for a possible LMC trip in 2014.
The little town of Valle stands in the centre of Setesdal. It should have been around 5 hours drive, according to the AA and to Google maps, from Gardermoen (Oslo airport) to Valle. We set off mid-afternoon in a rather fine hired Skoda 4WD with winter tyres. We had to stop for a quick bite and to pick up some food for a couple of days. We got to Valle at 11:30pm, eight hours later, after exciting hair-pin bends covered in sheet ice. The motel was closed - no signs of life, and the phone numbers to ring if the office was closed, just rang out. It was very weird and spooky. Several of the "huttes" had lights blazing, keys in the doors and they showed signs of recent habitation. Yet there was no-one around. We decided to take over one of the huts and sort it out in the morning. We couldn't hang around outside in minus 20C for long.
Next morning was hardly any warmer, but we could see a huge snow and ice ramp up the impressive rock face just across the road. We tried again to make contact with reception but no-one was around. We went climbing.
As this was a recce trip, we decided to drive south and look for routes, using the guide book and doing whatever looked good!! The first possible route could be seen from the hutte! The huge snow and ice ramp across the road, "Nomelandsfjellet", looks like a straightforward easy ice climb but the guide reveals it to be a steep snow plod but with the snow only resting precariously on steep, smooth rock. It has a tendency to slip off!! The route has been skinned up and skied down. Wow!! And a local was once benighted half way up and had to be rescued. It was not for us.
We opted for some short routes at a local quarry - Gravel Pit Quarry!! This would get us into the swing of Norwegian ice and we could be off the routes quickly and back early. We drove past some magnificent lines on the way there - according to the guide "Tsumani WI5 is ....another world-class ice climb.....". "Code Red" and "A Few Good Men", both at a hefty grade WI6, were awe-inspiring. These desperates were not for us and not all of them were in the best condition, which would be needed for any attempt. We passed "Captain Pugwash" WI6 on the other side of a lochan, the access on the first (and only?) ascent being by pedalo, borrowed from the local campsite!! It's worth getting the guide just to read about that. There is a picture to prove the point!!
Our quarry was down a long side road, well covered in snow and ice. But it was on the sunny side of the valley. And the approach, though short, we found to be in knee-deep powder. Lots of hard work. So we quickly abandoned this for Plan B - "Reirsfossen", a superb WI3 ice fall we had seen as we turned off the main road. We parked by a cafe on a deserted campsite and trudged for 20 minutes to the gearing-up spot. We decided not to try the full length of the route, given the time of day and the need to hunt out abseil points. So I headed up to the right, doing a full run-out with a final traverse rightwards to some tiny saplings, adequate for belays and abseiling, if you used more than one! Next year I'll do the full route. The climbing was continuous, up good ice even though there was a healthy stream pounding down somewhere underneath. Nancy was not impressed with the belay and I had to demonstrate my faith and engineering assessment of bendy birch wood by going first. Strong stuff, wood!!
So a good introduction and confirmation that Setesdal is a worthy place to visit, either for the aspirant or for the expert. The routes we saw were truly mind-blowing, as good as any I've seen anywhere.
Back in Valle, we finally found our man, who was completely laid back about which hut we had chosen. Of course, we'd selected the biggest and most expensive - but he was amenable to doing a deal and, at the end of the week, I easily negotiated a price lower than that originally agreed by email for a much smaller hutte. These places just aren't used in the winter, so any business is a bonus and visitors are welcomed and valued. The next morning, we would get a hearty breakfast - part of the deal.
Monday saw us back down the road to the excellent "Silberwand Falls", seen the previous day. This is a three- or four-pitch route that ends when the going gets difficult and before the abseil points run out! Again, it's a wide ice fall, with innumerable possible lines, with a sufficiency of trees on the left-hand side to make an escape.
The great thing about Norway is that there is ice in abundance. No scratching around for the odd sliver like Scotland, or searching for the half-formed "cascatti" like the Italian climbs this year around Gressoney. The ice is full, fat and solid. It is not temporary; it lasts for many months. This makes the climbing excellent, straightforward and reliable. The tools work well and the runners are solid.
This year, I made a very deliberate effort to improve my style. You can always tell the novice on ice, usually some English guy with shiny new gear and aspirations. "Whack, whack, whack". The left hand pick is (sort of) OK. "Whack, whack, whack!!". The right hand one is planted. "Whack, whack, whack!!!!" - with the left foot - and one crampon just might bear a few stones of post-Christmas indulgence for a short move up. And finally, "Whack, whack, whack!!!!!" and the right foot moves up a whole 6 inches! Is that a dozen "Whacks" for 6 inches?? I'm trying for just four "Whacks" for a foot!! Actually, having moved to "mono-doigts" in crampons a few years ago, the most elegant and energy-efficient method is simply to place the crampon point into one of the nicks you've just chipped out with one of your picks. The ice climbing then becomes more like precision rock routes, with the feet gently placed rather than fiercely kicked.
There is a lot to learn about ice climbing. I guess the LMC's New Hampshire contingent know more that than the rest of us put together. After all, there are good winter conditions for several months on the Eastern seaboard, and these USA guys use it to advantage!! So I continue to learn lots of good tips (though I have to say, rope management is much better in good old England, as we always use double ropes on crags with complicated lines!).
Placing ice screws is definitely an acquired skill. And I'm definitely still acquiring it! First, choose a good slab of solid ice. But not so grooved and rippled that the screw won't go fully in. No good with any air in it. No good if it simply acts as a spout for the stream underneath. And no good if you can't hang on long enough to drive the thing in!! Best position for the screw is around waist height, so you can get some body weight on the job. Best is to use the newest screws, with razor-sharp points that want to get into the ice - not some feeble half-sharp cast-off bought cheap at the last Club auction! But then there comes the physiological problem even Kate, David's partner and my personal physiotherapist (!), has not yet solved for me. Just how do you turn your wrist around through more than 180 degrees? Because I never, never, never manage to get a screw to bite in the first half turn. The damned things start but never quite bite. I manage to get a bit of a hole started but no more!! Second attempt and the blasted thing starts to go in and then, with the personality of an awkward child, has a tantrum and backs out yet again!! Third time and the blood has rushed to the head - either anger, a rapidly weakening left arm or, usually, both. "Bloody hell, go in you bugger!!" Sometimes, but not always, the next try sees me gingerly and ever- so-carefully letting go for a micro-second while I quickly re-set the inadequate wrist joint for another 180 degree effort. And again, occasionally the bite starts. Once it's holding, the rest is easy-peasy. These "new" screws with their handy handles drive in, in a jiffy. The relief as a full 15cm is fixed into solid ice is welcome. And the stopping potential is enormous and reliable - much better than most rock gear, no matter how skilfully placed. Just one point - best to angle the screws up a bit (around13 degrees from the horizontal, I seem to remember?). Counter-intuitive maybe, but extensively tested by the Black Diamond folks. But enough of techniques - we can do Ablakov belays, tied-off screws, leashless versus wrist loops, carrying rock gear, bomb-proof belays, and what to do when the sun shines on your nicely placed ice screws, in another article. (But if you are keen to know about the latter point, best man I know is Willie Wheale, of Wheelton and of near-death experiences in Cogne in the sunshine!!).
Day three was for heading north, to check things out in that direction. We were booked into Rjuken that evening so intended to catch a route on the way. Again, we saw a number of good locations, though a couple of them would be a little awkward to access as there are no pull-offs from the road for parking. We thought that we should suggest to the tourist people for them to have a word with the snow-plough guys to make a few convenient lay-bys for the LMC visit next year! We saw some potential new routes not in the guide book around a hydroelectric station. In the end, we decided to complete the 2-hour drive to Rjuken and fit in an afternoon at Krokan in Sector Kjokkentrappa, which is very easy to get to. We started just as others were finishing and packing their car - these were the only other climbers we saw in two weeks!
Rjuken is much better known, since the Rockfax guide was published a decade ago. Everyone has been there (!) and its popularity continues, the main benefit being the well tramped-out tracks to the crags, making access straightforward. But the accommodation I'd discovered was rather lack-lustre and the town is drab. The climbing is fantastic though and compensates for the down side.
Wednesday was the day to visit the Kong Vinter area, a few miles drive outside Rjuken. This had been on the wish list for some time. It's a deep bowl with a number of impressive routes springing upwards. Access is by abseil and there is a real sense of commitment. The only way out is up!! We found the tree and abseil sling and wondered if the ropes might just be long enough. The guide says two abseils. I set off, thinking that with luck we just might get to the floor. Crunching over the first bulge I could see the ropes snaking down a full 60m, with the ends looking as if they were just about touching. They did - just. Pulling them through, we coiled them and set off across the bowl for Kong Bore, a good-looking grade 4. The three-pitch route was in excellent condition. The climbing was steady and enjoyable, very steep in parts. Ice screws did seem to go in that day! The walk-off back to the bags was quite short and we were back at the car with plenty of daylight to spare.
The next day was to be a little different. Mael also lies out of Rjuken on the Oslo road. It is another bowl with abseil access and commitment. This time, there is a longer access track running up the hillside, from where, at a hairpin bend, you drop into a steep, dense forest covered with slick ice. Again, there is an elusive tree with slings somewhere. By this time, we were climbing well, full of confidence and certain of the outcome of the day. After all, it was only a couple of pitches of grade 3 in perfect conditions and we had plenty of time.
We got down the abseils, to the foot of the bowl and moved easily upwards to the foot of Rollagsasiget. It's a very impressive sweep of ice, emerging from trees higher up, with lots of optional lines to take. The ice was good and tree belays on the edge of the ice-fall or solid ice screw belays were easily found. We did two full pitches and wondered why it still seemed a long way to go. Rockfax was letting us down. Another full rope length and time was starting to trouble us - we were climbing more quickly! Still a couple of hours of daylight left but still a lot of ice to go! I shot up the last pitch, with minimal protection, and squeezed around the pine trees to get a solid anchor. Nancy was up in a jiffy. Ropes coiled, gear sorted and we're off up the beaten trail as the sky darkened.
"Soon be back at the bags" I thought. But the trail was going in the wrong direction and kept climbing and switch-backing. It was darkening and there was no moon. We moved fast, falling over the odd uprooted tree, hoping for the path to switch direction. But the bowl is fed by a stream, creating a huge ravine and the only way out is a big detour. We got to a wider track eventually, ploughed by snowmobiles visiting little winter cabins. The track is in fact the main one we'd taken from the road. But the return is measured in miles not yards. It's now dark and we are still hammering along, with aching feet from the rigid crampons we keep wearing. The track switches back and forth when it finally starts a very gentle descent and we only arrive at the hairpin in total darkness.
We leave most of the climbing gear and ropes by the track and then have to plunge into the blacked-out forest to get the bags from the abseil point. It took 10 minutes in the morning. After a couple of hours searching, we still haven't found the bags. The bags, of course, have the spare food, the spare clothes, the drinks, the torches and the car keys. We track all over the steep hillside, still needing crampons on the sheets of ice falling over the forest floor and down to the deep bowl. We have to give up. It's just too dangerous; we're knackered, getting colder and needing food and liquids. So back to the track. Only we can't find the return route! So we traverse, by now feeling a way ahead and seeing nothing. With luck, we finally emerge on to a track somewhere - we'd been moving almost parallel to it. But where is our gear? Are we higher up or lower down? There are no landmarks. We try going up and with much relief find ropes and slings.
We march down the track towards the road, leaving our lost sacs and gear in the forest. We'll have to find them in the morning. But the road is still a mile away and we are still a long way from Rjuken. With no car keys!! It's around 11pm.
Plan A was to head for the nearest habitation and plead for help. We'd discounted bivvying without gear in temperatures well below freezing. Plan B was to walk to the nearest village and Plan C was to try for a lift - but the roads have hardly any cars in the daytime, and Norway battens down the hatches in the dark, long, winter nights.
My feet are pulsating so I decide to take off the crampons and trust the Vibrams. It's an improvement. But the valley still seems a long way off and the long, straight track never ends. There is no sign of life and the sky is ever black. We pass a parking spot for some snowmobiles. That means it's only another 10 minutes or so.
At last, the car. Cold and locked. Time for 5 minutes sitting on my gloves on the barrier before heading for Plan A. And then lights along the road - a late-night journeyer. I jump into the road waving bare hands like some maniac and the car slows past us. It's a son and father returning home, one of them an ex-climber. We get a lift all the way back to Rjuken, to a sleepy Chinese hotel owner who manages to locate spare room keys in the apartment block and finally, well after midnight, access to food and liquid.
The last day sees us heading back by taxi, to find the bags but only after another long search in the forest. Keys, food, spare clothes, flask are all intact and we learn yet another big lesson. My frozen gloves were still there, stuck to the road barrier by the car! We can't credit just how dumb we'd been to part from all the essentials on the day before. 2am next morning sees us head for Oslo and the international airport. I've still got another week in Norway, skiing from a boat out from Tromso in the Arctic Circle - another story! Retirement to Norway for a couple of weeks was never better!!
Nancy headed for home and the Monday morning office job in down-town Boston.
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