Thursday, March 14, 2013

Curve Gully Ridge in Winter

Yesterday I went with Frank to The Reeks in Kerry in the hope of having a possibly last hurrah winter climb. It had been quite cold  the previous few days and there had been a dumping of snow so I was hopeful that high on the mountain there would be decent winter conditions to be found. Alas when we left the car at 09.15 it was quite warm and it was evident that a substantial thaw was under way. Still we were in good spirits and looking forward to exploring. I reckoned that the best option and chance of good conditions would be Curve Gully Ridge IV 4 high on the north face of Carrauntoohil. The route is a really nice summer outing graded at HS and this would be my first attempt at it in winter so I was a little apprehensive but excited as well. It is always a pleasure to climb with Frank and on an outing such as this it felt good to have someone as solid as him for company.
Looking tempting but soft and cruddy.
Frank looking keen but the mountains east side disappointingly  snowless

At the start of Pitch One

Looking good higher up.
As we got higher we reached the little snow that still lay and what was left was soft and sugary. Still we persevered and eventually when we reached the third level things started to look more wintry. The route starts at about about 800 mtrs and finishes almost at the summit. We arrived at the start and I set off up the first pitch. This was black and provided a stiff opener to the route. Blank rock and precarious foot and axe placements made for some tough going but soon enough I was past the difficulties and up to easier ground where I set up a belay and Frank followed. This set the pattern for the day and the next test came on Pitch 3 which gave some vertical sections and required some committing axe hooks and placements in barely frozen turf. It kept us entertained and time flew by. We opted to keep the pitches short as there were plenty of decent belays to be had and it also meant communication was easier. We entered the cloud and continued in lovely atmospheric conditions. At the start of I think pitch four I checked a sizable rock near my right foot to see if it was loose and it immediately tumbled off and fell  fifteen feet before hitting a rock and bounced out and flew through the air for a couple of hundred feet before landing in the gully and bursting spectacularly with a loud bang and spraying the ground lower down with smaller stones like shrapnel.Sobering.
Heading up Pitch 3

A true Scot.

Some quality climbing

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Definitely having a good time

Nice conditions

We were enjoying ourselves immensely by now and each pitch got better as we rose higher. In the occasional clearing I could see the icy summit cross getting nearer and nearer. Eventually we arrived at the crux of the route. This is a wide corner just above the belay  that give two exit possibilities. Both are tough and its this section that gives the route a HS summer grading. From the belay it is possible to go straight up the vertical wall for about eight meters before you reach easier ground or take the right hand side (which I did) where a shorter but no less committing option presents itself. A couple of easy moves and then a slightly overhanging shift to the right and then pulling on hopefully bomber axe placements up and over and then followed by a short vertical couple of steps before the exit. Short as I said but I was pleased to be over it and we were left with easy ground to the top of the route on which we moved together. We enjoyed a bite of late lunch and descended the Heavenly Gates. It was amazing to see how much of the ice had disappeared  by the time we had reached lower ground. The thaw was doing its worse. Still we didn't care and we were really pleased with our day out. It is rare to get any winter climbing done in these parts and we were delighted to have experienced a proper climb so late in the year. Who knows what the next few weeks will bring.

After the tricky section of the crux
Up and over.

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