Asked in a recent competition why Mike Pescod describes Scotland as a ‘tough playground’, Claire Roff correctly stated: “Winter climbing here is such a great mix of physical and mental challenge demanding the full range of mountaineering skills as well as climbing technique.  You never quite master the dark art of judging the climbing conditions but when you get it right the reward is great.”

Freshly back from her week up in Lochaber with Mike, here’s Claire’s account of this dark art and the rewards within.

Being the fortunate winner of a five-day one-on-one winter climbing package with Mike Pescod of Abacus Mountain Guides, courtesy of Jöttnar, the week approached with much anticipation.  Mike had contacted me a few weeks beforehand to find out, given ideal conditions, what sort of things I might like to do.  Having only done a handful of winter climbs before the list was endless – try out mixed climbing, become more savvy and independent in winter, do some leading, a traverse of the Skye ridge … Amazingly given that conditions were not ideal Mike somehow managed to work in a bit of everything (but not quite the Skye Ridge this time)!

Day 1

As the week got closer the weather got warmer and a balmy 17 degrees in London found me packing up my cold weather kit wondering if there was going to be any snow or ice left.  Mike came to pick me up from Bank St Lodge at 8am.  He had a few possible options planned for the day starting with walking up toward Coire na Ciste to check out the conditions.  On the walk-in we discussed the effects of the ongoing thaw and what to look out for – particularly concerning was the potential for rock fall.  After crossing (quickly) the avalanche debris from No. 5 gully and reaching the lochan we were just having a little chat about the pros and cons of carrying avalanche safety gear when we heard a big cornice collapse over towards our right.  That along with the almost continuous rock fall coming from the Tower Ridge side was making us a little jumpy and having hung around for long enough retreated to our next option – Castle Ridge. This turned out to be a brilliant decision.  The route was very enjoyable, we were able to look at placing protection and a few different belay setups and I had a lot of fun learning to trust my feet on wet slippery rock.

Day 2

Still raining and still thawing so Mike’s suggestion was to set off for Buchaille Etive Mor and do Curved Ridge and Crowberry Tower.  This was to be a leading day for me and we used a variety of techniques from walking the rope to moving together to pitched sections.  I was having so much fun I hardly noticed the rain and although a little less happy on the traversing sections, Mike’s gentle encouragement saw me through.  Walking off the top to the head of Coire na Tulaich we saw an enormous crown wall from a recent avalanche with more cracks appearing at the cornice edge.  This meant abandoning the idea of making a lucky horseshoe to abseil into the Coire and so walked further round on the ridge where Mike found an interesting ‘bergschrund’ like feature for us to cross onto the snow slopes.  A bit of coaching on footwork down steep snow slopes followed and then a new descent technique – bum sliding – deliberate of course!  Little did I know how important this was to become later on in the week.

Day 3

Winds up to 100mph saw us taking refuge in the Ice Factor.  Mike gave me some excellent coaching in ice-climbing technique and movement skills and we played a variety of games to enhance the feel and learning experience – climbing routes without axes, competing against each other to see who could get to the top with the fewest placements, moving one axe at a time and having to get your feet as high as possible in between, and only hooking – no swings allowed.  Mike’s teaching style is really positive and he is very skilled at finding what you do naturally and then modifying and building on it.  We then moved on to the abseil station where we looked at how to retreat from a route and a few more ways of setting up belays.  For the afternoon we spent some time dry-tooling under Ballachulish Bridge – a first for me and highly addictive!

Day 4

Hooray, it’s finally starting to get a bit colder.  As on the first day we were keen to go up towards the Ben and see how the routes had fared after the heavy thaw.  Walking up in heavy rain – a consistent feature of the week – we called in at the CIC hut for a cup of tea and some beta.  Tempting as it was to stay and chat for longer we made a decision to check out North East Buttress, however on nearing the buttress it became apparent the winds would be very strong so Mike suggested we make our way up towards Coire na Ciste and have a look there. It turned out to be a really good decision and we managed to do Thompson’s route – our first proper winter climb of the week.  The Scottish weather was really showing off giving us rain, snow, hail, high winds and just a little sunshine on the way down.  After getting over the initial shock of the spindrift on the first pitch the second pitch was ace and yesterday’s coaching session at the Ice Factor and dry-tooling had been time well spent – when Mike yelled down to use the cracks in the rock on the side and bridge with my feet I knew exactly what to do.  Topping out was also superb.

Day 5

The homework from last night was to look through Mike’s guidebook and choose a route for today.  Mike had pointed me in the direction of a few that he thought I’d enjoy and with the weather promising to be the best of the week I came up with Orion Direct.  We set off with high hopes, in the dry for once but it didn’t last long.  By the time we reached the CIC hut it was snowing heavily with strong winds.  We had a look at Orion Direct and also Observatory Buttress but it wasn’t to be and so decided to return to the area we had been in yesterday and turn our attention to Mercury.

Keeping out of avalanche prone terrain we approached the bottom of the route from the left up a steep slope.  Mike climbed the first pitch on ice that was breaking off down to the rock and brought me up to join him.  The condition of the ice along with two big avalanches from No. 3 and No. 4 gully made us feel that perhaps it was the right moment to put to the test the retreating off routes practice we had done at the Ice Factor.  Making a lucky horseshoe Mike lowered me down, and then abseiled himself but it soon became apparent that we would have to continue our descent down heavily loaded slopes.  This is when I found out my bum sliding training from earlier in the week was going to come into use.  I was going to be an ‘avalanche poodle’ and slide 120m down the slope while Mike belayed me on a stomper belay from above.  The idea being that I would spread my weight as much as possible but also if the slope was going to go I would trigger it but still be on the end of the rope!  Fortunately it didn’t go and we both walked out without incident.  So a big learning day (climbing is not just about getting to the top) and another useful technique to know for when things get a little sticky.

Many, many thanks go to Jöttnar and of course to Mike Pescod for providing such an amazing experience in a testing week in terms of weather and conditions.  It’s been a brilliant five days, full of interesting challenges and much learning along the way, and a lot of fun too.  It’s a real privilege to be out climbing with someone who has such knowledge, skill and experience.

Big thanks to Claire Roff for the story and to Mike Pescod for the images.

 

 

 

 

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Back in December we reported our involvement with the forthcoming expedition to Iceland involving Adam Crook, Simon Frost, Neil Griffiths and Dave Garry.  Having noted the massive and untapped potential of Iceland’s ice climbing whilst on an earlier visit, Adam returned to the UK and assembled the team of four who ventured out with sharpened front points intent on opening up as many unclimbed routes as they could.  

They returned to the UK a couple of weeks ago with a swathe of first ascents, some stunning photographs and tales of adventure.

Dave tells the story here: 

In February Adam Crook, Simon Frost, Neil Griffiths and myself (Dave Garry) decided to step off the beaten Euro ice road for something a little different.  Iceland: the land of fire and ice, Vikings, Bjork and dried Herring.  With few beer shops and high tax on alcohol it may not be everyone’s dream holiday but to a few intent on adventure it’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

With the flights booked it was time to turn casual interest into serious research.  Rather surprisingly ice climbing in Iceland, it turns out, is quite the minority sport and with a little over 40 real activists information is not easily come across.  Yes there have been a few visits from strong teams in the past but these visits have still only scratched the surface, and the vast majority of documented climbing is concentrated within an hour or two of Reykjavik.

As we were looking for new areas to discover we needed to know what was out there so emails were sent out to everyone who had even thought about heading out there, and after several weeks we had sorted out the wheat from the chaff, piece-mealing our snippets of information and eventually putting together a plan.

The Western Fjords looked great but too well documented by the local activists.  Kaldakin in the north again looked great (who doesn’t want to climb off the beach) but had been done to death by several teams from overseas.  We scoured the maps identifying possible areas, did virtual recons on Google Earth and eventually settled on a town called Egilsstaðir.  This we hoped would be our base for the duration of the trip.  It was close enough to some existing venues a little further east with routes yet to see repeats and sat nicely, nestled in a valley littered with water courses and one very big waterfall “Hengifos” (Climbed by Albert Leichtfried, Markus Bendler in 2007 (yet to have a repeat)).

The weeks prior to our arrival had been warm.  With temperatures averaging 2c in Reykjavik, not much climbing had been taken place.  As we left the arrivals lounge to look for our car, –6c flashed in front of our eyes.  We all smiled and being Brits hunched up and pulled down hard on our hats.  That evening in Reykjavik we met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in 16 years, who politely introduced us to several bars in the town’s main high street.  The consensus was that Reykjavik on a Saturday night was not unlike Liverpool but with a slightly better dressed and less violent drunk.

The following day we drove the 8 hours east to Egilsstaðir taking in some of the sights as we went.  The further east we got the colder it grew and the more ice formed on the crags above every road.  Potential lay everywhere although sadly it just wasn’t quite thick enough yet.

Our first goal was to repeat an established line, get a feel for the place and get our heads around the grading, so the following morning we drove out for an hour to the nearest established area in the eastern fjords.  As we arrived our hearts sank as we saw the potential lines everywhere, but none had formed fully. Down-hearted and frustrated we headed back and decided to look further inland.   

Luck it seems was on our side and not 40 minutes from our dig (in the other direction, mind) we came across a crag littered with ice, line after line after line.  It was a little late in the day and regrettably now we decided not to carry the gear up when we went to inspect the crag as we could have possibly got a route done, but you live and learn.

The following morning we were back and we ticked off four new lines.

Happy we returned although, sadly, when I told our man at the Icelandic Alpine club our news he returned with the news that just a month earlier a team had flown out from Reykjavik and opened up the crag.  Vivallagerishamrar was born in Jan 2013.  Gutted!  Well at least three of the four routes we had done were new lines.  This crag has the potential to be a world class venue with all grades present and we could have climbed a new route here everyday for a fortnight.  However, we had a goal: new crags and new routes – so back to square one.

With a brief look at the map again we realised that there was a similar looking valley just next door (yes its that easy in Iceland) and a few messages later and we were sure this had not been touched.

But it is now!

Mulihamar is where we spent the remainder of our trip, again lying just 40mins away from our base.  The crag was perfect and housed bigger routes again with an excellent mix of grades:

WI5 Ice n Happy Simon Frost & Dave Garry 19.2.2014

Climb the steep face of the buttress on delicate and featured ice, belaying in the cave below the next steep step. Again climb the steepest section of this wall and belay at the base of the next steep wall. You guessed it.. climb the thin runnel of ice up the next steep wall.

VI 7 Halda til blandaður – Simon Frost & Dave Garry 20.2.2014

We gave this a Scottish grade as the route and day had a very Scottish feel.  Trad pro with tied off ice screws. Good mixed section right at the top. 

Directly above the farmstead is a small bay with three obvious lines of three tier ice falls:

WI5 Lidless – Adam Crook & Neil Griffiths 19.2.2014

Climbs the left hand fall with 3 pitches ranging from WI4 to WI5 the second being the crux.  Done in three separate pitches but could be strung together.  Belay well back on blocks if you can find them or abolakov on the summit ice.

WI4 Muppet – Neil Griffiths and Adam Crook 19.2.2014

Climbs the middle fall. 3 – 2 piches depending on conditions of WI4 the top pitch was a small pillar through a constriction short but hard. Belay as for Lidless

WI3+ Collie’s Step – Adam Crook & Neil Griffiths 20.2.2014

The easier right hand line the top pitch being the crux.  Originally done in 2 pitches.  Belay as for Lidless.  Some 200m right of the small bay is a steep wall with several ice falls and pillars some hanging.  There is potential here for at least 4 more routes from WI5 to maybe WI6.

WI4+ Shep – Neil Griffiths and Adam Crook 20.2.2014

The far right of the wall is a wide ice fall some 10m wide.  Climb the centre of the wall in one pitch.  Belay on ice bulges before the summit plateau.

On our last day a collie dog followed us up the hill.  The weather was dreadful, with high winds and driving snow.  He was unperturbed and made the walk in a pleasure, watching him in his element sliding and rolling in the snow having great fun.  He obviously liked the new strange red men in his patch and stayed with us. If it was not his ‘leader’ barking I am sure he would have stayed all day.

He was reluctant to leave but after a few minutes and a few glances or two back at us he ‘skied’ down the hill on his feet and belly and was off.  It seemed apt that the Scottish-style name, Collie’s Step, was required for the following route and Shep being the next.  A great day and wild weather.

The snow and wind that had been pounding us for most of the night had us concerned that we might not make it out over the mountain road needed to get back to Reykjavik. Our plan had been to have an alpine start the day of our return flight and make most of the 8hr return journey under the star light.  With visibility down to about 5ft, driving through drifting snow was no easy task, and then the inevitable happened –  we were grounded. An hour of digging saw us move about 3ft and even that was in the wrong direction.  The weather was wild and as we dug, the snow seamed intent on replacing itself, our efforts futile.

Just as we thought we might have a long cold walk back to civilisation ahead of us a local pulled up in his mini monster truck.  We rigged a tow but no matter what he did nothing would get us free.  Another local came up the impassable road (they know how to handle snow these Icelandics) and he tied on as well.  We now had a two-car tow…but nothing!   All three vehicles were now stuck in the growing drift.  Then the ice road trucker appeared and shadowed over us like some sort of Norse god and in one swift tug he pulled all three free and we were on our way…although a little tentatively.  Next time we go I know what hire car I want – an HGV!

As we arrived back in Reykjavik we seized the opportunity to meet up with a couple of the Icelandic Alp club members that had been so helpful in our research and buy them a pint or three.

All in all we achieved what we set out to do and with so much potential out there I am sure that this will be the first of many visits.  Big thanks to Sigurður Þórisson from ISALP, Jöttnar for the great kit and Dave would like to also thank DMM for his Switch Axes.

Useful Bits:

http://www.isalp.is/  - great source of information and very helpful people.

Lyngás guesthouse –  very local to the crags we visited and very friendly.

OsmAnd – Android Map App – great for finding your way around.  Bit fiddly at first as you need to get lots of add ons but once up and running its excellent.

Big thanks to Dave for the words and to Adam for the great pictures.  Congratulations to all on such a successful trip. 

 

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Whilst up in Fort William last week at the mountain festival, we paid a visit to Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team’s impressive ‘gang hut’.  We were being shown the facility and meeting the team when a call came through about a climber who was in difficulty on  Beinn Eibhinn, a remote peak approximately 30 km east of Fort William.  What followed was a 10-hour rescue in foul conditions with numerous near misses: 

“We had a 10 hour epic day yesterday with a shout for a climber who had fallen through a cornice on Beinn Eibhinn to the north of Corrour. Our guys fell through cornices at least 4 times themselves and were avalanched while trying to locate the climber. Conditions were atrocious with total white out conditions and very high winds and heavy snow. The guys were having to navigate around the edge of cliffs and gullies in visibility that was not even the length of your arm. Although we say it ourselves, “The Team” did an absolutely fantastic job putting both life and limb on the line to get to the guy who was recovered safe and well.

“We would like to thank Philip and his staff at Corrour Estate for providing ATV’s to transport guys and equipment part of the was up the mountain and for allowing use of the of the community centre and providing refreshments for the guys when they finally got off the mountain. As usual much appreciated as the helicopter had to be grounded due to a mechanical issue.

“The conditions in the mountains this year are some of the most extreme we have ever experienced. Virtually every rescue has had a very high element of risk involved and this is not just in Lochaber but for all teams operating in the Highlands. We are quieter than normal with only 11 call outs so far this year but the conditions have been putting considerable demands on us and other teams across Scotland.

“If you are heading to the mountains enjoy but stay safe. If you use the outdoors support mountain rescue in what ever way you can.

“All the guys in Scottish Mountain Rescue are volunteers dealing with over 400 rescues per year. They provide safety cover for one of, if not the largest participation sports in the UK yet will receive less than one weeks wages for Wayne Rooney in support annually from government sources. In fact if any of our guys had been seriously injured or killed this year the total payout in insurance from Police Scotland would have been less than Rooney’s weekly wage. This is no criticism of Rooney, just the undervaluing of the resource by our politicians and agencies. In fact if the Crystal Palace fans want to come up to Fort William and throw coins at us we will happily accept the cash!”

Thanks to Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team for allowing us to reproduce this article, the original of which can be seen on their Facebook page.  You can read more about the team, here.

 

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In November 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton assembled 27 men for the most audacious expedition ever attempted in Antarctic history: to traverse the continent, from sea to sea, via the South Pole.

The expedition faltered when their ship, Endurance, was held in the grip of the ice of the Weddell Sea until she was crushed and sank.  It was three harrowing years of exceptional fortitude that led to not a single life being lost and the crew of Endurance being saved.

But what of the crossing of the Antarctica?  The prize eluded Shackleton and he never led another expedition to Antarctica.  The route he planned has become a part of history, along with the faded photographs of the men who were willing to sacrifice everything.

November 2014 will see the centenary of this great expedition, as well as a new team setting out from Great Britain to attempt the same route which Shackleton drew with his own hand.  Although there have been other traverses of Antarctica, Shackleton’s route has never been completed.  The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Centenary Expedition 2014 (ITACE 2014) is the only team to have had the backing of Great Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Granddaughter, The Honourable Alexandra Shackleton.

The ITACE 2014 team will be the first to complete the route and will ski over 2,500km, dragging 90kg of provisions on sledges through some of the most inhospitable conditions in the world.  They will operate in temperatures of -40 degrees Celsius and winds of up to 150km per hour.  Aiming to complete before the darkness of the Antarctic winter sets in, they have given themselves a maximum of one hundred days to complete the journey.

Jöttnar is proud to have been selected as the team’s clothing provider as they attempt to complete Shackelton’s unfinished business.

The Route

The Team

Jo Davies is a world record holder and experienced adventurer having rowed across the Atlantic and skied across Greenland.  Shackleton has always been one her heroes and has dreamed of carrying out the goals of the great man for many years.

 

Zac Poulton is a 36-year-old Expedition Guide and Mountaineering Instructor (MIC) from the Lake District.  In 2011 he led a successful expedition to the North side of Everest which put 18 climbers, including himself, on the summit.

 

Stewart Stirling is the oldest member of the team and will be 50 when they set out in November 2014.  He was born and brought up in Dundee, Scotland, before leaving for London at 17 for a career in the Metropolitan Police.  On retirement he is now a freelance Mountain and Expedition Guide.

 

Ian Prickett is a 34 year old self-confessed travel and adventure addict.  He has just returned from ‘down south’ as an important part of Ranulph Fiennes ‘Coldest Journey‘, an expedition which planned to make the first winter crossing of the continent.

 

Born in Edmonton, Canada, Pamela Brown makes this a truly British Commonwealth Team.  She has competed at International level in dressage, show jumping and three-day eventing.   No stranger to the cold, she is a Yukon Park Ranger as well as an accomplished endurance racer.

 

The team have spent New Year in Norway and will be training in the Cairngorms throughout February.  They’re off to Greenland in April/May and then fly down to Punta Arenas, Chile, in October to begin final preparations.

We’ll be updating our blog as they progress and you can read in detail about the team and its plans on their website here:  http://www.south2014.com/

 

 

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One of the many good things about running an outdoor clothing company is the close relationship between work and play.  It’s impossible to design and create good gear if you don’t actually practice what it is that each item is designed for and it’s equally unfeasible to bring something to market that you haven’t actually tested yourself.  So the opportunities for work-related playing are many.  It’s also a fact that we’re in the privileged position of being able to support others and that this exposes us to a wide and interesting variety of sponsorship opportunities.

One in particular that stood out was the opportunity to equip an expedition to Iceland this coming February, the team comprising of British climbers Adam Crook, Si Frost, Dave Garry and Neil Griffiths.  We were acquainted with Dave already but even still, the strength of the team was obvious, their plan was compelling and the destination – Iceland – quickly aroused interest.

Dave explains where the idea originated:

‘On visiting Iceland this summer Adam Crook’s initial reaction to the sheer beauty and wildness of this island was a little overwhelming but once used to the strange land he soon began to see the potential for winter climbing.  There seemed to be waterfalls everywhere he turned and it wasn’t long before he was searching out bigger and more remote falls (much to his wife’s annoyance).  Each day would find him driving up dirt roads into potential ravines that may hide hidden gems of vertical water.  It was not just these the occurrence of this endless falling water that caught his eye, the crags and mountains were covered in turf and rock lines just begging for a winter mixed climber to come and play.  He vowed to return soon with a strong team of fellow winter activists, a team who shared his joy of the remote and unexplored lines.

‘As expected we were all enthused by the reports he gave on his return and before long a plane was booked and the research had begun. Iceland has of course had visits from UK climbers before, but having now made contact with several key players in the Icelandic Alpine Club it has become apparent that most have honey-potted to the well documented areas such as Kaldakin.  Our aim is different, our aim is simple:  visit new places, climb new lines, do it some place wild, out of the way and to borrow James T. Kirk’s immortal line, ‘where no man has been before’.  So far the East is looking good.’

We’re proud to have equipped each of the team with our Bergelmir shell and Vanir salopette and we wish them the very best of luck as they boldy go…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This video was made by friend of Jöttnar, Kieron Ross, during the endless Scottish winter of 2012/13.  Filmed on Ben Nevis and in Glen Coe, we wanted to produce something that was concise and emotive, but where the climber played a secondary role to the ice, rock and features of the mountain.

We chose to do this through a sequence of close-ups, such as the delicate placement of crampon front points on bare rock or the hopeful driving-in of a screw into fragile ice – framed by the ever-present menace of weather and conditions.

The occasional glimpses of the jacket and salopette are early prototypes of Bergelmir and Vanir, both of which owe their development to that particularly long and cold winter which provided such an outstanding testing environment.

So it’s with great delight to see another winter now tightening its grip.

Jöttnar – Winter’s Coming from Jöttnar on Vimeo.

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Feeling a bit like a pushy dad I strapped my daughter Katie onto her skis two days after her third birthday.  The weather was great (cold and dry), the snow was nice and Katie’s older brother and sister were off with their ski instructors.  Katie skied a few metres with a huge smile on her face and, giggling away, just kept on saying “I’m skiing, I’m skiing”.  It was a magic moment of fun, introducing my young daughter into an outdoor sport that will hopefully stay with her for the rest of life and take her to mountains right around the world.  An hour later I was helping dig four avalanche victims from the snow that buried them in Glen Coe.

It turned out to be the worst ever avalanche incident in the Scottish mountains.  A group of six young walkers triggered an avalanche on their descent of Bidean nam Bian that swept five of them down a long slope and buried four of them.  The remaining one that stayed clear of the avalanche called the mountain rescue very quickly and went to help the one who had been avalanched but not buried.  Glen Coe Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) got to the scene very quickly and called Lochaber MRT for assistance.  By the time I got there three of the people had been located from under the debris and we found the fourth soon after.  Everyone got down off the hill by around midnight. I went home to my family and gave everyone a big cuddle as soon as I got home.

The combined MRTs did an excellent job.  Everyone set to the task with professionalism and determination as if it was one of their own they were looking for.  However, it was not as grim a job as you might think even though (or because) the outcome was fairly certain right from the start.  In the untidy arena of avalanche debris it is easy not to notice details of the people you find.  I tried hard not to see their faces, what colour hair they had or even whether they were male or female.  I tried to treat them just as bodies so there was no connection to me, so it did not become personal.  The police woman was confused when she interviewed me afterwards about why I did not notice if it was a male or female we found last.

Most mountain rescue callouts come in the early evening just as we are relaxing after a day of work with a cup of tea.  We all race in to the team base and can be flown in to the location straight away.  It’s often about an hour from being in my warm living room to being high on Ben Nevis in full-on winter conditions.  It can come as quite a shock to the system.

Last winter we received a call out to help a team in Minus Two Gully.  I missed the first helicopter lift which took three team members and dropped them onto North East Buttress where the climb finishes.  North East Buttress is a grade IV climb itself so being dropped off with the winch cable onto the buttress covered in hard snow and ice must have been quite exciting.  I was winched in to the bottom of the climb with Joe.  The helicopter flew very close to the rocks at the foot of Observatory Ridge to get us in to the Minus Face.  The pilot did some amazing flying that night and we were buzzing!  It was a beautiful night, cold and dry, and we loved being able to help out the guys who had even managed to get themselves down the climb.  It was only when the helicopter came back in to pick us up that it got uncomfortable as super sharp spindrift was blown around in the down draft.

The weather is not normally that nice though and we don’t always get lifted straight to the scene.  More often we get lifted half way or we just walk in from the bottom.  We try to get to the scene as quickly as possible and it’s easy to forget to take the time to look after ourselves.  When you’re out for a regular walk or climb in the hills with less time pressure you walk at a steady pace and adjust your clothing to stay comfortable.  On a rescue we often don’t bother so much.  There’s a job to be done and we just get on with it.  We race in to the scene, stand around for a while to sort out the casualty and then work like crazy carrying a stretcher down the hill.

It’s easy to be so focussed on helping other people that we forget to look after ourselves.  It’s normally only afterwards that the cold and tiredness hits home, which shows just how absorbing the role is.  When there’s a casualty to focus on, it’s nice not to notice the cold or the wind for a change.

Mike Pescod is a member of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team as well as the owner of Fort William-based Abacus Mountaineering, and we’re proud to support him as part of our Pro Team.  Thanks to Mike for the words and images.  

For members of UK Mountain Rescue Teams, we offer special rates through our Pro Scheme .

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The idea behind Jöttnar originated whilst in Arctic Norway in the winter of 2005/06.  The company was registered in 2011 and the story of our first year was told here.  The title of the post, similar to this one, was inspired by the sense of freefall that has characterised the last two years. As comforting as it would have been to have assembled all of Jöttnar’s infrastructure upon the safety of the cliff-top, reality demanded that we took a running jump and attempted instead to build the whole thing whilst falling.  

With finished product now beside us that has been two years in creation and a website that completed yesterday, after more than 12 months in development, our launch takes place today.  

The pictures below show part of this journey. 

Designing

After identifying a need, initial design ideas are sketched out, and technical construction packs are compiled for the prototyping team. Our lifetimes spent in the outdoors is crucial here for separating what actually works from gimmickry.

Prototyping

Fabric is chosen and prototypes are assembled.  Surrounding the table on which the image below was taken is over eighty years of technical outdoor apparel assembly experience.  Here we’re discussing the grade of thread required for the logo embroidery.

Testing

Protos are tested by the Jöttnar Pro Team as well as by the founders themselves.  Here we see Mark Thomas from Elite Mountain Guides after the first ascent of Jöttnar (Scottish grade VIII, 8), a mixed route on the North Face of the Aguille de Midi, Chamonix.  He’s wearing an early proto of Fjörm, our 850 Fill Power hydrophobic down jacket.

More Testing 

Mike Pescod, of Abacus Mountain Guides and Jöttnar Pro Team, hooks his way out of the cave on Minus Three Gully, Ben Nevis, in an early proto of Bergelmir – our Neoshell jacket.

Still More Testing

Jöttnar’s co-founder, Tommy, turning snow into tea after a dehydrated ascent of the Mer de Glace route on the Grepon.  He’s wearing and testing a pre-production (late stage) prototype of Alfar, our versatile mid-layer.

Production

We relocate to the factory to physically oversee production runs in collaboration with the factory’s QC team, thus ensuring that our own quality control standards are strictly adhered to.

Digital 

Building www.jottnar.com. Making the user journey as slick as possible.

Photography

In the studio, ensuring that we capture and represent as close a feel as possible for our garments on our website.

Launch

October 2013.  After two years of testing, refinement, deliberation, development and production we’re delighted that our technical outdoor clothing is now available through www.jottnar.com and a small selection of specialist retailers.

Conquer Giants 

The similarities between climbing and starting a new business seem uncanny.  There are those things you can control; technique or process, and those that you can’t – rockfall, avalanche, exchange rate fluctuations and supplier behaviour.  Everything is uncertain and the outcome unknowable.  You can install aspects of protection along your route but you’ll never actually know if they’ll hold until you take a fall.  You need to think through every step, amass the skill and experience to navigate intimidating obstacles and you need to have someone you trust on the other end of the rope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lionel Terray’s Conquistadors of the Useless describes the drama that plays out between men and mountains.  That a lump of rock and ice, whose conquest can seem absurdly futile, is able to invoke such rich experiences to those that climb it is one of the central themes.

The account of his ascent of the Mer de Glace route on the Grepon planted a seed when I first read it fifteen years ago and although the route’s difficulty has been far surpassed by present-day standards, our own ascent last week was absorbing from start to finish.  Steep but immaculate granite, airy bivvy ledges, devious route-finding and a delicate descent down the west face.

In this case, images do it better than words:

Not a place to linger: crossing the bergshrund onto the base of the route. 

Contentment is a bivvy ledge

The Grandes Jorasses in the early morning

On the lower slopes of the face with the Mer de Glace below

Devious route-finding on immaculate granite

Descending the west face onto the Natillons glacier

1/4 of the way down and bivvy #2

The morning after the night before: continuing the descent onto the Nantillons

Just for starters: safely back in the valley

Conquistadors of something, but certainly not useless.

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A truly emotional day, both physically and mentally.  A roller coaster ride through some of the most wonderful rock routes around the Langdale horseshoe.

A total of 12 crags including White Ghyll, Pavey Arc, Raven Crag, Gimmer and Black Crag and 156 routes totaling 256 pitches from Diff up to E2 5c.  A mind–blowing adventure, solo and unsupported, just my running kit and rock shoes and a whole lot of Lake District sun and hot rock, woop, woop!

Sixteen and a half hours after setting off on Walthwaite, here I am topping out on Long Crag on Pike O’Blisco in the beautiful Lake District evening sun, every single move on every single route for the past 256 pitches has been a winner!  Only now has it struck me, how unforgiving the journey could have been if I for one second had dropped my guard, or lapsed in my concentration.  But at the same time I am overwhelmed how truly remarkable this landscape is.  I love this place and feel so privileged to have been able to complete this adventure with the sun on my back and to have unlocked all the little hidden secrets of every route.

For now, I just lay here, a patch of grass on Pike O’Blisco.  I stare up at the darkening sky and everything is still.  It’s these moments that define existence; it’s these moments that life becomes so intense that I could almost burst!

Jöttnar’s Mark Thomas – Walthwaite to Pike O’Blisco, 256 pitches of Langdale rock in 16 and-a-half hours, solo and unsupported from Diff to E2 5c.

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