Monday, 26 December 2011

The South Downs

A mate of mine, Justin Norman, has started a new blog about the South Downs, take a look, its pretty cool.
The South Downs

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Bonita Norris - Ama Dablam

Bonita Norris, the record breaking British Everest summitteer, has written an exceptionally honest blog about her recent climb on Ama Dablam, its really inspirational stuff, read it here -

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Eiger - Triumph and Tragedy, an evening at the RGS.

The Nordwand
It is some 45 years since John Harlin fell to his death from the Eiger Nordwand in 1966, however the pain and power of the event still looms large in the psyche of Sir Chris Bonington. On Thursday 1st December I had the pleasure of hearing him speak on the subject at the Royal Geographical Society as part of an event entitled “The Eiger – Triumph and Tragedy”. The evening was staged by The Mountain Heritage Trust, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of our mountaineering history, as their chair said, “We care about your old nuts.” Also on the bill was the quite incredible Ueli Steck, holder of the speed record for a free climb of the Eiger Nordwand, a quite unbelievable 2 hours 47 minutes.

It was only my second visit to the RGS and I still marvel at the history and atmosphere contained within its walls. The bar is situated in the map room and it is difficult not to be overawed by the knowledge that surrounds you. 150 years ago great men stood in this room and laid their plans for the great expeditions of the British Empire. In one corner Livingstone hangs shoulder to shoulder with Captain Scott. In another corner hangs a portrait of Sir John Hunt, leader of the 1953 Everest expedition, brooding over a large model of Everest itself, and all around are drawers filled with the maps these men pored over and themselves created.

Sir Chris spoke first, explaining how the Nordwand had been a constant presence in his formative years as a climber, rearing its face every so often to tempt him. He spoke with great humour and, to be honest, some dodgy accents, on his early attempts with the great Hamish MacInnes and the brusque but utterly dependable Don Whillans. He spoke of his terror at finding himself bivvying below the Difficult Crack with MacInnes while still a schoolboy and he spoke with great eloquence of his and Whillans’ involvement in the rescue of Brian Nally following the death of Barry Brewster on the second ice field, the interview with Brian Nally following the rescue is heartrending.

Finally in 1962 Sir Chris made the first British ascent with Ian Clough, but even this victory was tinged with sadness after two climbers following Clough and Bonington were swept to their deaths by falling rocks. The final chapter of Sir Chris’s talk was given over to telling the story of John Harlin and his team’s attempt to climb the Nordwand by a direct route. Harlin’s initial plan was to climb the route Alpine style, however this changed to siege tactics when it was discovered that they were competing with a German team. As has been documented many times John Harlin fell to his death when a fixed rope parted. Sir Chris was one of the first to Harlin’s body. It is his emotion when reliving this, the pain obviously still so real and raw, his voice faltering and tears falling that will stay with me. His presentation was modestly delivered, illustrated with a few photographs and no fuss; his tale of triumph and tragedy needed little else.

After a brief interval where the great Doug Scott auctioned various pieces of Eiger memorabilia with expert comic timing, it was the turn of Ueli Steck to speak. Ueli isn’t a huge guy and dressed in a black t-shirt he seemed to blend into the stage but his quiet manner and soft spoken, dry, sharp wit hide an athlete of immense power and skill. He joked to start with that the only reason he makes the incredible speed ascents, for which he is rightly famous, is that his wife likes him home for lunch. He makes light of the training and commitment involved and then explains that he’d like to show us some “nice” pictures and so we sit enthralled by videos of his various ascents to a pounding rock soundtrack (I wonder if it’s the first time a guitar solo has been heard in those hallowed halls?). We travel with him to the Nordwand where he seemingly effortlessly runs up 70 and 80 degree faces punching his axes into the ice like a boxer before sprinting along the ridge to the summit, then on to an onsight climb of the Colton-Macintyre route on the Grandes Jorasses and up the north face of the Matterhorn, all three faces in around seven hours of climbing, before he whisks us off to the Himalaya and his stupendous 10.5 hour ascent of Shishapangma. He brings us back to earth with the revelation that less than a month after Shishapangma he reached the third step at 8600m on Everest only to turn back as “no mountain is worth losing fingers or toes for…” Good sense indeed. Steck is an incredible climber truly deserving of the epithet “The Swiss Machine”.

The evening ended with a Q&A session and finally an array of Nordwand summiteers lined up on the stage, but what still, and will always stick with me is the emotion attached by Sir Chris Bonington to the awesome and terrible North face of the Eiger.

Friday, 2 December 2011

SusSAR Mountain Bike Training

On Saturday 28/11/2011 I had the pleasure of attending a Mountain Bike Training Course run by a chap called Gary Shipp on behalf of SusSAR. These courses have been running for about the last four years and were started after three mountain bikes were donated to the team by the family of a misper.

The course is a bespoke training package designed to produce riders who are confident on a bike and how that can be integrated into a SAR situation. Gary is a former member of SusSAR and is the driving, or should that be riding, force behind the training package, he's since moved away but comes back once in a while to deliver this course and does it all out of the kindness of his heart

In my youth I did quite a bit of biking around the villages in Durham and Northumberland where I grew up, normally downhill stuff involving falling off and multiple contusions. Ive cycled on and off ever since, including a course at work, but Ive certainly never been what could be called a serious cyclist.     

The venue for the event was Litlington Village Hall in deepest darkest Sussex on the edge of Friston Forest. Why there? Because Friston Forest holds a secret, it contains the 1986 World Championship Mountain Bike Course and is therefore the perfect place to give three, middle aged, (and I'm being generous there) blokes heart attacks on two wheels.

The day started gently enough with tea, doughnuts and a tour of the bikes (Specialized Hard-tails..see I almost sound like I know what Im talking about). The basic gist being how to ensure the bike is safe to get on and ride, In fact everything we would do over the day, would be aimed at two things,
1. Our own safety.
Dropping into the Buttock Clencher
2. That nothing would distract from the search.

Before long we were out on the bikes, Gary told us that the aim of the afternoon session was to raise our technical riding skills and have some fun. Almost immediately, as we crunched gears and strained at the pedals up the first incline, I realised my CV fitness was nowhere near adequate for the day. But after every climb came the payoff, a fun, sometimes frightening, always exhilarating descent through the trees and very soon the skills of my youth came back. The highlight of the day was a very steep descent with a long, fast run out, the path strewn with slippery leaves and shot through with roots was a real buttock clencher. As the day wore on and the ascents became fewer and the descents more frequent I really began to enjoy myself, even as the light began to fade the enjoyment did not.

After a return to the village hall for a little more maintenance we set out in the pitch black on a simulated search, the bikes now equipped with incredibly powerful lights from Exposure Lights, which made a huge difference. After a couple of hours of putting it all into practice we found our missing person, the dashing and handsome (his words) John Griffiths, crouched in a bush, and it was tea and medals all round.

Huge thanks to Gary for a great day; he shared his enthusiasm and expertise with us for the price of a doughnut and even gave me the shirt (well, Jacket) off his back.

As well as being a top chap and sometime MTB instructor, Gary also runs a great website Car Free Walks.