Tony invited us on an ice climbing trip to the Alps almost as soon as we flew back from Canada. It was a long way off and it almost slipped my mind until he asked us again a few weeks later (after a few weeks of job hunting). It sounded amazing but with many drawbacks such as the possibility of missing job interviews, the cost of the equipment, the cost of the holiday, we’ve never ice climbed before what if we don’t like it, what if we get a job that starts before the trip? We rationalised all of these by saying our original plan would have us climbing in Thailand instead of job hunting and the cost of a weeks ice climbing with Tony would be cheaper than a beginner ice climbing course next year when we possibly have no time.
We confirmed our place in the car and began our preparation by eBay hunting and a weekend up to Scotland. I’d done a tiny amount of Lakes winter before but Rachel had never used a pair of axes or crampons other than on a basic winter skills course. Some plastic boots were bought off eBay and we headed north with Liam and Andy.
I was a little nervous walking into Sneachda that the Scottish grades would be much harder than the few Lakes routes I’d done. I was also nervous that Liam and Andy might sandbag me. We all headed up to Mess of Pottage, Rachel and I aimed for Haston Line III (4) Liam and Andy for Pot of Gold V (6). A lot of powder and rounded icey cracks on the first few moves almost caused a bail out from the first moves which would have been lame. I finally decided to stop faffing and moved across to the first step, it was OK once I remembered how I used to climb awkward thrutchy Diffs. The second step was a little trickier, the gear might have been good but I couldn’t see what the in situ sling was actually attached to. A big pull and frantic scrabble dispatched that one. After this the climbing was much easier, and I managed to find a decent belay at the limit of the ropes reach. As Rachel came up I was worried she may find it easy and ask me what all the fuss was about and declare that winter climbing was easy. Luckily the second step was awkward enough to save me that embarrassment. The second pitch was steep snow with good ice underneath; the third was an easier snow slope. I was quite surprised that Rachel actually enjoyed her first winter route.
The descent was less enjoyable, Rachel’s plastic boots dug into her shin making walking a slow and painful task. I tried to help by carrying both bags but the descent still took a tiresome 3 hours.
Liam and Andy got on well; both linking 2 pitches and both taking 3 hours on their respective leads. Apparently a top tip during a 3 hour lead is to eat a power bar mid route. Fish and chips in Aviemore was good but setting up damp tents in the car park was not, crawling into said tents was worse.
The next day Rachel’s shins were pretty beat up so we spent the day drinking hot chocolate in the Café. Andy and Liam walked in to find a very snowy and wild corrie. They ended up repeating a route they’d done before, albeit in much worse conditions. After topping out Liam fell off a cornice and Andy set off an avalanche. I was happy with my choice of hot chocolate and marshmellows.
We continued to gather more equipment and get psyched for the Alps. Rachel had a job interview in Glasgow and I tagged along with Moritz and Joe to do Viking Buttress IV 5 on Helvellyn, blue bird skies, colder temperatures and a warm bed the night before made this feel like a totally different game to the one we played in Scotland.
The final stages of preparation involved Rachel borrowing some much nicer boots from a friend and me borrowing a better pair of axes off my mate. I may have also experimented with some epoxy putty and mutilated those borrowed axes.