It's been a mixed year

Posted by Sam Harrison on January 16, 2013 at 09:34.

 Mountaineering and climbing

alpine mountaineering alps arolla edale helvellyn snowdonia switzerland

Last time I posted, back in July last year, I mentioned an ankle injury that I had aggravated  Unfortunately, that ankle injury stayed with me most of the summer, being succeeded only by a hip injury in September, which lasted until December when it randomly transferred over to my other hip and became a lot more painful. Are the three related? I'd kind of like to think so - either that or I've just been tainted with bad luck for the better part of a year now.

Regardless, however, I've managed to get a lot of very good days out in the fells here and abroad, my only limitations being that I struggled with anything long distance and I haven't been able to run at all. Fortunately a brief spell between injuries coincided with a trip to the Swiss Alps.

Arrola, Valais Alps (August 2012)

Over our two weeks in Arolla (Valais Alps), we managed four summits in a spell of fantastically settled weather. They were: Mt Brulé (PD-);  Tete Blanche (F); Pigne d'Arolla (F) and; Mont Blanc de Cheilon (PD). The fantastic views and breathtaking climbs we did were only slightly marred by appalling quality rock, a nocturnal Beast stealing our food whilst we were at bivis and our ice axes getting lost on the Eurostar. Oh, and being struck by lightening on one of the rainier acclimatisation days...
 
Bivying below the Bertol Hut. Taking my summer sleeping bag was definitely a mistake on this sub-zero night.
 
The summit of Tete Blanche (left), The Matterhorn and Dent d'Herens (right) from a subsidiary summit of Tete Blanche.


My favourite day was when Lorna and myself tackled Mont Blanc de Cheilon via the Voie Normale, whilst Calum and Jim went for the trickier AD-rated traverse. After a horrible scree-covered ice slope up to the Col de Cheilon, we gained a fantastically exposed ridge (described as the SW ridge). As the sun rose, we worked our way over pinnacles, up chimneys and along the crest, admiring the extensive views over the Valais area, all the while hooking slings over spikes and taking belays where necessary. The technical difficulties were minimal, probably UIAA II at most, but the exposure made it seem much more daunting. The next section of the route I can only, and honestly, described as the worst slope I have ascended in my life - imagine a scree slope littered with so many boulders that you end up with a moderately-graded scramble, but with all the looseness of a scree slope. Every move had to be careful and precise, and every rock tested for stability before trusting in the slightest. The only thing that made it worse was the knowledge that we'd have to descend the same slope later in the day. A broad snow slope took us up to a final ridge, which was of much better quality rock and even more exposed than the first ridge, probably coming in at around British grade II scrambling. This took us to the summit, and after admiring the views for a good while, we retraced our steps and prepared to do battle once more. Unfortunately, the horror-slope hadn't disappeared as I was hoping, and as expected it was much worse on the way down, and took us a good few hours to move a few hundred metres. We eventually arrived back at the campsite nearing 6pm, 14 hours after we set off. Whilst the scree slope did put a negative aspect on the day, the quality of the other ridges and the sense of achievement after conquering the mountain more than made up for any of this negativity.
 

On our final day in the valley, we walked to Lac Bleu and went in search of the Satarma Needle, a spectacular needle of rock protruding from the forest. The climbing was easy (UIAA II+) and the route well-bolted, but the position made up for this.
 
The Satarma Needle from the high-level route back to Arolla

The rest of the summer

There was a short period when we got back from the Alps when I was uninjured, and in that time I managed a trip to the Edale and Stannage Edge with Lorna, and also a sunny weekend in Rhyd Ddu for Darren's birthday.
 
Groundslow Knoll in Edale - one of my favourite places in Britain. September 2012.
 
Brilliant weather on the Nantle Ridge, September 2012.
 

Back at uni

I started my PhD at Lancaster University in October, and of course carried on going out with the Hiking Club. The most memorable trip for me last term was to Grasmere, where we made the most of some early-season snow to traverse Striding and Swirral Edges, which were both in almost perfect Alpine condition. The lighting that day was stunning, with the reds and golds of autumn contrasting vividly again the pristine white of new snowfall.
 
Near the summit of Helvellyn, November 2012.


Fingers crossed, my hip is on the mend. I've been to see the physio and have a list of exercises to do, and so with a bit of luck I'll be up and running (hopefully literally) in the next few months! Hopefully it'll be in time to make the most of the new snow the country has seen this week.
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