Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Ogre-Extract from Chris Bonington-Mountaineer

Image-Vertebrate Publishing
In Baltistan, on my first visit to the Karakoram, I was struck by the contrast with Nepal, Garhwal and Kishtwar. It is a harsh land of deserts, rock and steep snow peaks, relieved by the occasional emerald jewels of terraced  fields and orchards, eked out of the landscape by irrigation from the turbid glacial waters. The people reflected the land. There was none of the humour of the Sherpas or the gentleness of the Nepalis. The Baltis were volatile and argumentative, with a hint of violence. Though resourceful in their agriculture, they were yet to fully tap the trading potential of the many expeditions that passed their villages. There was little relaxation on a Karakoram approach march.

The Ogre, with its three summits and serried rock walls, presented a superb unclimbed challenge. Doug Scott’s plan was for us to tackle it in pairs, each by a separate route. He partnered Tut Braithwaite to try the central spur, Mo Anthoine and Clive Rowland had the west ridge, and Nick Estcourt and I had designs on the south face. This unstructured approach worked well with such a group of individualists and, as the expedition developed, we adjusted our plans according to circumstances.

From the camp on the col Nick and I made our summit bid by the south face. We took the glacier terrace and climbed a band of slabs to gain access to the face, then, after a rest day in a snow hole, made a dash for the top, only to find when we gained the summit ridge that the rocky central summit was too difficult as we had brought too little rock equipment. We settled for the first ascent of the west summit, and retreated.

Doug had joined Mo and Clive on the west ridge. With Nick fatigued, I joined the west ridge team and after a two-day climb we crossed the west summit and bivouacked in a snow hole. Next day, Doug and I tackled the summit tower. The climbing was difficult and strenuous, requiring pendulums to make progress. We reached the summit on a wonderfully clear and still evening. During the abseil descent, Doug slipped on verglas, pendulumed and broke both his legs in the impact. The climb now became a struggle for survival and, after a bivouac, we regained the snow hole to face the long descent.

We were now in a desperate position and, to make matters worse, the weather broke, forcing us to remain in the snow hole for two days, eating the last of our food. On the third day, with the storm still raging, we forced our way back over the west summit. Mo broke the trail and Doug was able to crawl behind, helped by Clive and me. We could never have carried him. After another bivouac we began the descent of the pillar where, on the first abseil, I fell, breaking my ribs. 

At the foot of the pillar the situation became critical, for we couldn’t risk crossing the col in a white-out. We had no choice but to wait in tents for a further two days before we could finally escape. I was very weak, coughing, and worried about catching pneumonia which would have finished me. Doug had to crawl across the col and descend the fixed ropes and then make a punishing three-mile crawl across glacier and moraine.

Chris Bonington 

Chris Bonington Mountain is available direct from Vertebrate Publishing

Friday, October 27, 2017

Doug Scott: the truth behind the dramatic first ascent of the Ogre.

Forty years on from Doug Scott and Chris Bonington’s death-defying first ascent of the Ogre, Scott reveals the whole truth behind their epic fight for survival in a new book set for release this autumn.

Predating satellite phone communication, when an accident that resulted in Scott suffering two broken legs and Bonington smashing ribs turned their 1977 climb into a desperate fight for life, the isolated pair had only the bravery of their team members, Mo Anthoine and Clive Rowland, to count on. When word reached the national press, the selfless roles played by Anthoine and Rowland in shepherding Doug and Bonington off the mountain had been essentially written out of the story to focus on the two already-famous mountaineers – household names thanks to their exploits on Everest.

Using newly discovered diaries, letters, audiotapes and film footage created by Anthoine, in The Ogre Doug Scott sets the record straight for the first time.

Speaking about the book’s impending release, Scott said, ‘The Ogre is the most difficult high mountain in the world to climb and when both Chis and I were incapacitated on the descent, the eight-day journey to reach Base Camp was only made possible by the selfless support of Clive and Mo. Marking forty years since our near-fatal climb, The Ogre will bring the whole story to light’.

Subsequently, after several more trips to Pakistan, the combination of being rescued by the local people from the Ogre and a porter falling into the Braldu River and disappearing, encouraged Scott to do something about the fifty per cent child mortality rate in the village of Askole, the last village before K2 and the Ogre. One of the benefits of the Ogre expedition was that it raised Scott's profile enabling him to raise funds to facilitate such projects to provide clean water for Askole residents, reduce child mortality and, within just a few years, far more children were living beyond the age of five.

The success of the project in Askole gave him the confidence to respond positively to requests in Nepal, where he had done most of his climbing, and Community Action Nepal is the result. Currently there are fifty plus projects so this accident produced some positive and long-lasting outcomes.

The Ogre is now available to pre-order from Vertebrate Publishing (www.v-publishing.co.uk) ahead of publication on 23 November 2017.

Born in Nottingham in 1941, Doug Scott began climbing in Derbyshire when he was thirteen. He completed his first Alpine season at the age of eighteen. In 1965, aged twenty-three, he went on his first organised expedition, to the Tibesti Mountains of Chad. It was to be the first of many trips to the high mountains of the world. On 24 September 1975, he and his climbing partner Dougal Haston became the first Britons to reach the summit of Mount Everest, via the formidable South-West Face, and they became national heroes. With the exception of his ascent of Everest, he has made all his climbs in lightweight or alpine style and without the use of supplementary oxygen. Scott was made a CBE in 1984. He is former president of the Alpine Club, and in 1999 he received the Royal Geographical Society Patron’s Gold Medal. In 2011 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Piolets d’Or, during the presentation of which his mountaineering style was described as ‘visionary’. Scott continues to climb, write and lecture, avidly supporting the work of Community Action Nepal. He is the author of five books, including Up and About, his first volume of autobiography, published in 2015.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Climb Magazine's Twitter announcement
The end when it came was unexpected and rather shocking in its brutal finality.
’With regret Climb Magazine will be ceasing publication. Thanks to all our readers, contributors and commercial partners for their support’ Less than two months since editor Ian Parnell announced that the magazine will be the latest tradition publication to become only available in digital format, the publishers, Greenshires, decided to pull the plug completely. Presumably, the essential advertising revenues which are the lifeblood of a small circulation publication like Climb, were not stacking up as traditional advertisers, presumably? got cold feet.

You could say the digital revolution has become a double edged sword. On the plus side, it is revolutionized and democratized writing in every field. Not least in the area of outdoor activities. Now anyone can sign up with Blogger or Wordpress and put out a blog which as in any field, will either live or die by the quality of output. Most blogs will die and be deleted with a few months. Its hard work keeping a blog going and finding enough interesting material to stimulate interest. The best of these however, can thrive and attract a regular loyal readership. The Footless Crow blogazine-blogazine in that it is a multi authored media rather than a personal blog-has been going for eight years now and although it hardly attracts UK Climbing numbers, has nevertheless gained enough regular readers and respect in the climbing world, to make its continued presence in cyber space, a worthwhile project.

The other side of the blade however,is the cold and unforgiving manner a worthy publication like Climb has been put to the sword. Of course magazines have often been pulled by the publishers after briefly raising their heads above the commercial parapet and finding a limited audience. Anyone remember ‘Gravity’ , ‘Footloose’, ‘Outdoor Action’ ? The difference now is the fact that these days, the commercial publishers are not just in competition with other commercial companies. They are also in competition with thousands of world wide blogs and websites. Many of which are free from of those essential yet annoying advertising features which clog up the commercial digital media. In some ways it is this ‘clutter’ which many people reading a digital magazine on a laptop, phone or tablet, find off putting.

Its easy for a non commercial digital outlet like Footless Crow which puts out one article a week. People can read it in ten minutes and move on. In my experience, people are less likely to trawl through a multi essay online publication which is padded out with advertising. It’s a Catch 22 situation for publishers and it looks as if Greenshires decided it wasn’t worth playing the game anymore.

The genie is well and truly out of the bag of course and reading media online will become the accepted manner of consumption for most people in the future. Some paper publications however, will be still be around for probably longer than we think. Just as Vinyl records survived Cassettes, CD’s, Mini disks and Spotify, the traditional magazine will hopefully live on in some form or other, and defy those who predict total annihilation for the paper tigers!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Crag at the end of the World

Worlds End -Craig y Forwen
It must be at least twenty years since I visited World’s End. The delightfully situated limestone crag at the head of the beautiful. Eglwsyg Valley in North East Wales. It was one of my regular haunts when I started climbing in the 80‘s and Stuart Cathcart’s little Cicerone guidebook- Clwyd Limestone was my bible. It was a great crag to roll up to for an evening session. Offering short, single pitch routes of all standards on three tiers of cliff which rose up from the sylvan ravine like an enchanted castle. Thinking about it, many of those little limestone venues were pretty stunning in their locations. Pot Hole Quarry, Maeshafn, Pandy Outcrop-not limestone more a granite crag but popular with NE Wales climbers all the same.

Then there were the impressive Eglwsyg cliffs themselves; Craig Arthur, Dinbren, Twilight Towers, Pinfold and further east to the popular Trevor Rocks. I only climbed once at Craig Arthur- surely the biggest limestone cliff in north Wales apart from the Ormes on the coast?- but I remember it being pretty intimidating place. I well recall climbing Swalbr, named after a track on 60‘s supergroup, Cream’s Disraeli Gears album, and the first pitch which I led re-defined to term ‘chossy’ ! It was pretty nerve wracking, tossing every other hold over my shoulder! Thankfully the ‘out there’ final corner pitch was pretty wild although I’ll admit to grasping the final hold like a drowning man clutching at a lifebuoy.

The upper reaches of Eglwsyg Valley: Abandon hope all ye who seek to park here'
What struck me this time on my visit, was the fact that despite the valley being a pretty spectacular,with the great pale crags rising high up above the narrow lane, which weaves its way towards World’s End -or Craig y Forwen to give its original name- through woodland tinged with early autumnal colours and fields dotted with the ubiquitous small Welsh ewes, was the pitiful lack of parking hereabouts. Despite the fact that the valley lends itself to so many outdoor activities, including rock climbing, hill walking and mountain biking, the landowners and political powers that be have conspired to make the area as unwelcoming as possible. Every gate is marked ‘Private Land-Keep Out’ and there is absolutely nowhere you can park in the valley.

Around the time I stopped coming to the valley and World’s End, word came back that a new landowner had taken over the estate who turned out to be...what’s the word I’m looking for?..Oh Yes...A Twat! The traditional parking area under World’s End was blocked off and draconian parking restrictions kicked in. Furthermore, a compliant local council marked all the lay-bys along the valley and beneath the crag as ‘Passing Areas-No Parking’ restrictive. You can in fact carry on up the hill and pass beyond the estate and walk back but overall, the parking hereabouts, is redolent of the restrictions at The Roaches in Staffordshire.

The whole thing I’ve got to say is typical of the small minded parochialism of north Wales local politics and policing. With Freemasonry rife amongst local politicians, North Wales police hierarchy and landowners, little wonder feudalism is alive and well in North Wales. Imagine if the Eglwysg Valley was in the Lake District? I’m pretty sure its rich potential would be appreciated and exploited by landowners and politicos alike, and parking areas would be created, trails opened up and visitors welcomed. Instead of being met with brutal ‘Private- Keep Out’ signs every few metres.

80's Bible
So...The valley is stunning in every way and well worth a visit; just don’t expect the locals to be keeping 'a welcome in the hillsides'!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Outdoor Vloggers Camera: the Sony A5100 v the Canon 750D

Time was when anyone making a video used a standard Camcorder and a DSLR camera for stills. These days the tech choices are mind boggling. DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, Super-Compacts,Go Pros and mini sports cams, drones and i/Smartphones. However, in the last year or two, I’ve noticed that more and more serious Vloggers are using DSLR’s and Mirrorless cameras like the Sony Nexus and Alpha range cameras for their work. I blame Casey Neistat, the hugely successful New York vlogger who until recently, was shooting a lot of his incredibly slick vlogs on the Canon D70...I think he’s moved on to the D80 at the time of writing. Despite their size and obtrusiveness, the aforementioned vlogger still managed to skate board around New York’s busy streets with a chunky DSLR on the end of a flexible Gorilla pod.

The reason?  Well quality has to be the primary reason.The D70 is a seriously good camera which takes pin sharp stills and video and offers a range of features more often found on cameras costing a great deal more. In fact, in one vlog Neistat calls the D70 ‘The best Camera in the World’. Quite a claim for a camera costing well under a thousand pounds in the UK.

I’ve recently had the chance to evaluate two highly regarded vloggers cameras; The Sony Alpha 5100 and the Canon EOS 750D or T6i Rebel in the US. Both cameras fall in that entry/Mid price range- retailing at under £500- and both cameras are well regarded by both reviewers and users alike.

First off, The Sony A5100 which is a mirrorless camera with a handsome 24-megapixel sensor with 179 integrated phase-detect auto focus points and although it's not exactly pocket sized, it is still a hell of a lot easier to lug about than a DSLR. With a tip up articulated screen, its great for anyone who wants to talk to camera or take a selfie. It does have a touch screen but this feature is very limited in terms of creative control. As you would expect, The Sony takes pretty good photographs and sharp video. It does however have one serious drawback which really put me off the camera. No viewfinder. Unlike the highly rated A 6000, the 5100 only has a led screen and trying to use a creative mode like aperture or shutter priority or manual is next to impossible in bright outside conditions.

Also,taking a photograph or filming outside in bright sunlight makes it more a point and hope action. As you would expect from Sony Mirrorless stable the Alphas offer a range of interchangeable lenses but the problem still remains. If you have to control your filming through the back screen, snapping on a zoom lens is not going to change things. If you are considering the Sony, then go for the A6000 which does have a viewfinder and although technically, its pretty much identical to the A5100, its old fashioned controls and viewfinder make it much more attractive to the outdoor photographer or vlogger.

The Canon 750d has become one of the most popular cameras in the Canon stable by virtue of its pricing, features and quality. Currently selling at £560 in Currys/PC World, the camera can be bought brand new on the grey market for just £420. Unlike the Sony, the 750d feels like a real camera. Chunky, solid and offering a highly intuitive range of creative features. Despite being in the same ball park as the Sony with regards to its 24mp sensor, the Canon is a totally different beast when it comes to versatility. A fully articulated screen and touch controls which leaves the Sony’s limited screen movement and touch screen functions in the dirt I’m afraid.

With live view and touchscreen focusing and shooting, as well as the option to link your smart phone to the camera and control the functions and shooting externally. Although this probably won’t appeal to the average user, it will appeal to the more serious amateur. Both cameras have wi-fi and you can download images to your phone, but actually, the Sony Play app which needs to be downloaded first is pretty crap to put it bluntly! Despite several attempts to transfer images, I never got it to work once so I gave up. To be honest, I haven’t used this feature on the Canon yet so I can’t comment.

So...I think you will have caught my drift thus far. The Canon 750D pretty much blows the disappointing Sony out of the water with regards to features, ease of use and hands on, on board tuition. Both cameras offer excellent results and produce sharp photographs and video, but nevertheless,the 750d is an excellent option for those whose pockets don’t stretch as far as a 70 or 80D.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Stealth Camping in a Van

Coming to the end of 'The Raider's Road'-Galloway Forest
We don’t really refer to parking up a camper for the night in a quiet, off the beaten track location as ‘stealth camping’ in the UK. Wild Camping usually suffices although its fair to say, some people do use the term for parking up for the night in an urban location. A couple of weeks ago I was up in South West Scotland in my V Dub T4 and as usual, avoiding campsites like the plague. One of the pleasures of owning a camper for me is discovering some quiet place in a pleasant rural location where I can hunker down for the night. Blissfully free of the nerve shredding realities of social camping. Doors slamming, couples arguing, kids crying, dogs barking, the stench of Asda burgers barbecuing etc etc. And people pay for this!!!

On my way home I dropped in to see an old friend who was parked up on a campsite in his T4 and who was paying £22 a night to stay on a massive site that resembled a 1970‘s Pontins holiday camp! So...on that basis, wild camping for four nights in Scotland saved me £88. Which easily covered my fuel costs.

One of the best ways to make wild camping work-as I’ve mentioned before on a blog piece- is a bit of forward planning using OS maps and Google Earth to suss out wild camping spots. Always have a back up plan in case that attractive looking clearing in a Forestry Commission plantation is actually gated and locked. It’s pretty frustrating to arrive somewhere where you hope to spend the night as darkness begins to fall and discover that you are in a no go situation.

Driving around in the dark looking for somewhere to park up can on the odd occasion, turn up trumps. I was watching a You Tube video recently where the couple, Scott and Ellie, who go under the moniker ‘The Explorer Buddies’, rolled up in the dead of night at the tip of Pen Llyn (The Lleyn Peninsula) in a NT car park, in thick fog and woke up in the same pea souper the next morning. No one around to disturb their peace and quiet and if the fog had lifted, it would have revealed a most spectacular view of Bardsey Island just across the Bardsey Sound. The other side of the coin though is that you are just as likely to end up parked up in a litter strewn layby; wedged between an Eddie Stobart lorry and a caravan!

Many of our best wild camping sites carry ‘No overnight camping' signs. These can be erected by private landowners, the local council, organisations like the NT and Forestry commission. The latter bodies don’t usually have the legal powers to enforce this or generally won’t bother. Most NT and FC employees want a quiet life and don’t want to get into a situation with someone they can see is just passing through. A convoy of Travellers arriving en masse is a different kettle of fish! Private landowners are more tricky. Certainly large landowners are more likely to employ forelock tugging goons to do their bidding and often will try to move you on. As for local councils; like the NT and FC, they generally don’t have anyone to enforce these regs and certainly the stretched local police have better things to do than pester a middle aged couple rustling up a curry in their camper and harming no one.

I’ve often pondered what the situation would be if someone tried to move you on after you had parked up for the night and drunk half a bottle of wine? If they were insistent that you move on then they would be encouraging you to commit a crime! I would interested to see how the police would arbitrate this if you contacted them and told them that a surly gamekeeper was encouraging you to break the law?

Finally...we need to talk about London! I was recently reading the travails of a Facebook friend who found himself unexpectedly £250 poorer after innocently straying into London in his 2002 VW TD and falling foul of the city’s draconian emission charge. Not everyone realizes that most pre 2006 diesel campers and vans have been subject to a £100 a day charge if they stray inside the M25 perimeter, for some time now. Short of sticking on false number plates and flicking the V’s at the city’s CCTV cameras as you enter the zone, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Just don’t go there. If you fancy a city break in your camper, go to somewhere like Edinburgh instead. It’s much nicer anyway and is surrounded by proper countryside and mountains. Not the endless, featureless sprawl that passes for countryside in the Home Counties!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Adventure climbing: Beyond the world we know

He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

The Beatles

One thing that’s always struck me about Pen Llyn-The Lleyn Peninsula- is just how relatively unexploited the areas climbing potential is. True, in the past, people like Joe Brown and Tony Moulam have thrown up a few routes and Pat Littlejohn has certainly made a mark on the sea cliffs hereabouts, but apart from visits from latter-day rock jocks like Calum Muskett and James McHaffie, there is still whole swathes of rock which awaits exploration.

Take the area around
 Nant Gwrtheyrn on the north-west coast. Driving down into the village I’m always amazed by the massive cliffs which capture the eye as you negotiate the zig-zag bends. These admittedly rather dank and vegetated cliffs which face out towards the sea must be at least 400‘ high. A cleaner section on the left-facing in- certainly looks like it would go but belays at the top look worryingly hard to find on the steep, heathery ground above.

If this section looks too much trouble to clean and equip with anchor points for an abseil return to base, what about the natural outcrops and quarries which sit above the village to the west? Looking up, its hard to take in just how much rock there is up there. Buttresses abound. Pale granite cliffs and man-made quarried areas tumble down the hillside in such a haphazard way that it’s difficult to focus on a particular area. It’s as if the climber’s brain cannot compute this much information and becomes literally stoned!

Perhaps that is why there is no history of climbing in these parts as there is just too much to take in? Although I suspect that more prosaic reasons are behind the areas’ neglect? For a start, access is not easy. The crags and quarries are scattered across the steep hill side in such a haphazard manner that getting from one area to the next is not easy. When I set off to look at a promising face, I found myself on a moving belt on loose scree and ankle snapping larger rocks which had me most of the time on all fours. Grasping at larger rocks, heather, and bracken as I set off small avalanches of scree with every footfall. Once I had reached my destination, weighed up the potential and set off across the hillside to look at other areas which looked promising, it became easier said than done. Some of the quarries had sheer drops which meant that you had to re trace your steps and try and find a way down. 

Finding myself on one quarry face, I noticed that it tapered down towards a gully at the far end. Perhaps I could scramble down and reach the scree at its foot. Taking my iPhone out of my back pocket in case I slipped back and smashed it, I carefully put it in a lower front pocket of my cargo pants. ‘Carefully’..not quite. Next thing I noticed was my phone tumbling down the gully to fortuitously land in the bobbing fronds of a clump of bracken which had rooted on a ledge. Tantalisingly out of reach, I downclimbed as quickly as possible and just reached it at fingertip length before it disappeared down the gully.

All these exertions were taking place on the lower reaches of the hillside. Exploring the higher slopes was not an option with the autumn sun fast disappearing over the horizon.It would take an age to take in every possible area of rock with climbing possibilities.

I doubt very much that the climbing potential of this area will ever be realized given how modern climbing is increasingly focused on accessible, established areas and no one these days is interested in the type of adventure climbing that the crags and quarries hereabouts, lend themselves to. Perhaps a new climbing ethic will develop in the future? Climbers will tire of polished crags, sports climbs, and chalk-stained boulders and actually seek out these obscure, unexploited areas?

Virgin Llyn Granite

Perhaps in 2050, adventure climbing involving death-defying approaches, gnarly descents, dubious rock etc, all undertaken without having reference to information online or in a guide, will appeal to future climbers? That voyage into the unknown. Where just reaching a virgin cliff is an achievement in itself.Even before the climbing begins. Possible I guess, for as the world becomes more overcrowded and the great outdoors shrinks evermore. Battered by tourism, wind farms, pylons, dams, new roads, housing, forestry, shooting, and fishing, etc. Perhaps by then, these hard to access places will come into their own as places of sanctuary and sanity in an increasingly mad world and become-in a tiny country like the UK at least-the last redoubts of adventure.