WAW Climb for Justice: Week 2

This weeks film: The French Crown

In this weeks film a tackle a crown of peaks leading from Arinsal and spilling over the French border.

At the top of the mountain in Arinsal ski area you get off the lift and look out onto a distant crown of mountains, snow capped, cloud crested and inviting. I’d been eyeing these up for some time now, the solitary eagle circling above. It looked like a very good circuit to attempt and from line of sight, not too time consuming.

Unfortunately these particular mountains fell off the side of my map and so I had to plan my day purely by line of sight. Who needs maps anyway? I set off at 8.15am from my hotel, my new pair of hired (for free) snow shoes strapped to my bag. I’ve never used snow shoes before but always wanted to and since I had a good deal of deep powder last time and my crampons were pretty useless, I thought I’d give it a go.

It was a gruelling 11 hour day and left me exhausted and walking home in the dark. So without further ado, here it is:

Women for Afghan Women: The work they do

Let’s not forget what this is all about. WAW provide women and girls with life saving support, shelter and legal guidance in human rights violations in Afghanistan.

In 2013, one  of Women for Afghan Women’s clients was 17 years old when she was married to a man who already had a wife and children. The man physically and mentally abused her for years. Unable to endure more, the client decided to divorce him. She went to the local Department of Women’s Affairs who referred her to WAW. This woman is currently living in a WAW shelter and attending empowerment classes while her defense lawyer is working on her divorce.

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So If you’d like to donate to this wonderful cause, visit my JustGiving page and tag a friend on Facebook to donate too. Follow my weekly climbs in support of WAW and keep donating each time I release a new video.

Climb for Justice: So here’s what I did

After grabbing a pair of skis from the hire shop I headed outside, but unfortunately I didn’t realise that the first lifts don’t open until 9am, so I was sitting waiting for half an hour impatiently at the top with the other dawn patrol. These dedicated snowboarder and I watched the sunrise over the mountain before the gates opened and got on the very first chair.

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A couple of chairlifts later and I was at the start of my hike. I had originally thought that getting the chairlifts and having skis would save me a bunch of time and effort, but by the time I finally got started it was already 9.30am. I did however, get about 1000m of elevation gain for free, so trade -offs. My route for the day was as follows:

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I ditched my skis and boots at the top of the resort, planning on collecting them and skiing down later, and headed out in an anti-clockwise direction around the crown. The weather was fine and sunny for most of the day and the first part of the hike was a slow and steady walk in regular hiking boots to the start of the bowl.

When I hit the bottom of the bowl at 11am where the forest began, I donned the snow-shoes for the first time and wow! The extra surface area made a big difference in the soft powder and I glided down as if on skis.

The forest was beautiful and the sound of birds filled the air, much more inviting than the constant thrum of chairlifts in resort. I kind of lost track of time here however, and after a slow and tiring traverse I found myself at the first ascent by 12.30pm, much later than I had planned. It had now been three hours since I started and I was only just at the first ascent of the bowl.

Throwing off the snow-shoes, I headed for hard ground and climbed up the right hand side, not resting until I had gotten to the top (Peak #1). The sun was now on my face again and I went from cold to too hot in no time, shedding layers until I was just in my T-shirt and waterproof. After A further two hours I was finally at the top where I had picked out my meditation spot for the day (Peak #2).

But I was still against the clock.

Rising up, had a quick warm up with some Thai Chi and then threw on some beats to get me through the next section: The Ridge.

alone-at-the-topThis one wasn’t nearly as severe as last time, but It still presented it’s challenges and was a lot longer than I had anticipated. In fact, the entire left hand side of the crown had been hiding a nasty little ridge with many ups and downs, constantly losing and gaining elevation. I was very conscious of time by this point and so I pressed on through exhaustion to get round the crown, trying to motivate myself by keeping the end goal in sight: my skis. If I didn’t get back to them on time, I would be walking home…

The technical climb section, previously hidden from my sight, took up a lot of time and required some axe work, but It wasn’t too bad. It was more the time of day dragging on that really took it out of me. I thought to myself “Why do I put myself through this?” and then I remembered: for all the women and girls suffering in Afghanistan and around the world.

Then I hit the ice sheet.

Coming down the final descent towards the road I had planned on making up a bunch of time by sliding all  the way down, but when I got there I immediately slipped and launched myself down at high speed, saving myself with the axe once more. The entire northern side of the mountain was sheet ice, having been kept shaded from the low sun. I then had to be extremely careful, inching my way across, digging in with the axe and inching some more. At one point I slid down backwards, looking through my legs at the world moving upside down, using the axe as a brake. This was quite disorientating, but amusingly original. I always find that good humour can carry you through the toughest of situations, and laughing at one’s self is the best medicine for panic!

I made it down to the road by 5.30pm, a further three hours from my meditation point, pretty much without rest. I was now on safe ground and as the sun had already set, lost hopes of seeing my skis today. It’s one thing to ski home after the mountain is closed, but it’s another altogether to ski home in total darkness. This was not an option.

It would have taken me about two hours to walk to the town, where I could have called a cab, but It was now pitch black, I had been walking for nine hours, and I was now extremely cold. So, what to do?

I called my friend Matt and he came and met me with his van. It was a very pleasant walk for about an hour to where I could meet him and the night sky was spectacular. The old moon was in the new moons arms, a term for when you can see a slither of moon and the dark side is illuminated with the reflection from the earth, a beautiful sight. Jupiter was also out in full splendour just behind it and The Milky Way was splashed across the sky, with not a light to pollute it anywhere.

When he met me I pointed out all these wonderful astronomical sights and we star gazed for a while before heading home to get some food and a cup of tea.

All in all the day finished at around 7.30pm, I was walking for ten hours, and I had to go and collect my skis the next day.

So if you thought I put in a good effort, check out Women for Afghan Women’s website and see all the amazing work they do to further Women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Once again thanks for all your support and don’t forget to follow the blog below for weekly updates, a new video release and visit my JustGiving page to donate. Thanks for reading.

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AdventureTime: Andorra week 1

Welcome to my AdventureTime series. Here I’ll be detailing some of my climbing adventures in Andorra. Being a professional ski bum has it’s benefits. For example: I get one day of a week! But I like to spend it making the most of these beautiful mountains by giving them a thoroughly good climb.

For my first week I thought I’d start out big and attempt to summit Comapedrosa, the highest mountain in Andorra, but I don’t like to make things easy for myself. The conventional route starts from the town of Arinsal and takes approximately five hours and is outlined in blue below. I would call this a moderate climb and so I went for something a little more challenging.

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The route I attempted included several other peaks in a kind of full circuit of all the mountains you can see from town, outlined above in red. The day began at 8am with a hefty ascent through some rather charming forest, rising up from the foothills, past mountain refuges and finally ending up in the valley of my first proper ascent. All in all this pre-amble took about three and a half hours, a bit longer than I had anticipated, and landed me at the snowline at around 11.40am. Now’s where the real fun begins.

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Here’s where I lost the path in the snow. Donning the crampons and ice axe, I then tackled the above route. You can see where I changed my mind half way and decided to go for the difficult looking climb on the left hand side. the traverse across the snow was particularly interesting, requiring constant anchoring with the ice axe in order to shimmy over across the sheet ice.

After that I put away the crampons and tackled the technical climb up the rocks towards the first waystone. Around about the middle of that climb I reached a rather vertical wall. This wasn’t so tough, barring the fact that half way up a major supporting rock came lose and nearly sent me falling to my death. The following scramble put me in such a tight spot that the cap popped off my water bottle and spilled all down my back.

After two hours and twenty minutes of climbing I reached my first major objective at 1.42pm and for the rest of the day hydrated exclusively by eating snow. That out of the way, I was then faced with my next challenge: the ridge.

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Now I love ridges. They are pretty much the reason I climb all the way up to these places and I’d been sizing up this one for days. By this point however, I was beginning to flag, having been going for nearly six hours already, and having spent more time axing than your average Viking. But I was determined to smash this rock.

The ridge was actually far more difficult than I had anticipated and involved a lot of ups and downs, some very careful balancing, and a good dollop more of the axe, now my favourite thing in the entire world.

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After sizing up my tools with the challenge ahead, I gritted my teeth and got on with it. I definitely had some moments where I thought I couldn’t go any further, but somehow I always found a way. In one particular instance, I was faced with a jagged tooth with a sheer drop on either side. The sides were too icy to shimmy round, the tooth was higher than my reach, and there was no visible hand holds.

I was stumped here for a while until I started feeling around the rock face with my axe and found a peculiar spot. Somehow the axe caught a good niche, though I couldn’t see and it looked like a bare wall to me. Trusting in my new best friend, I abandoned any foothold and using both arms, hoisted myself up onto the tip of the tooth and got a hold of the top. I then raised myself up and straddled it, perching there for a while to see if I could actually get down the other side.

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The route above actually took two hours and twenty minutes, landing me at the bail out point at 5.05pm. This put me in a difficult situation. The summit of Comapedrosa was about a forty five minute good climb ahead, but the sun was setting and I was exhausted. On top of that, there’s no easy way down from the summit and I didn’t want to be stuck on the mountain in the dark. That ridge had taken up all my time and energy and I had to call it. On later inspection of the map, I was about 100m of elevation off. Gutted.

So I pulled out my bum board and went careering down the mountain, using my feet and the ice axe as front and rear brakes. This was probably the most dangerous thing I did all day. At points it was six foot of powder and I swam down, at others it was sheet ice and I had to axe it down one step at a time. I had to save myself from uncontrolled high speed descents over rocks a few times, frantically hacking at the ice with the axe like a scene from “Vertical limit.” It did however, save me a bunch of time and I was back down in the valley in an hour, just in time for me to hit the grass before it got completely dark.

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I then switched my phone torch on and walked the rest of the way, admiring the Milky Way as I went. I got home at around 7.30pm, making it an eleven and a half hour day of climbing. Not the longest day I’ve ever had, but the longest technical day.

In summary then: Comapedrosa, not quite, but adventure, definitely. I’ll have to do the conventional route some time just to put my foot on it, but for now I’m happy to be safe and warm and enjoying a lovely lobster spread (another perk of being a ski bum: living in a fancy hotel for free).

If you have any advice for me as a climber, or want to share similar stories about your adventures, feel free to comment below. If you found this at all inspiring, scary, or just want to make sure I’m still alive, follow the blog for more adventures, hopefully on a weekly basis.