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Why I winter Climb

Uncertainty, struggling and why I winter climb

Why I winter climb – So, picture this: after a dozen years of ogling, it like a cat plots world domination over a laser pointer. I finally snagged a date with destiny on a route they call Darth Vader. Yeah, you heard right, Darth Vader, like the dark lord himself decided to drop a climbing challenge. A winter route, no less. It’s been lurking on my bucket list since before Instagram was a thing.

I mean, I’ve strolled past it, I’ve stared at it from afar, like it’s some ancient mythical beast perched on the mountain, waiting for its next victim. Those chimneys? They’re like the frosty claws of a mischievous polar bear, beckoning climbers to their doom.

Why hadn’t I tackled it before? Oh, let me count the excuses! Conditions never right, work always getting in the way, couldn’t find a partner who wasn’t either a chicken or had a life-threatening allergy to heights. And oh, the intimidation factor – like staring down the barrel of a cannon.



The approach

But a few weeks ago, oh yes, the universe decided to cut me some slack. The stars aligned, the gods of climbing nodded in approval, and off we trotted. Avalanche forecast? Pfft, who needs a good forecast when you have sheer determination and a touch of madness? (Said with tongue and cheek, the conditions were not what they had forecasted). So up the Ben we trudged, wind howling like it had a personal vendetta against us.

Approaching Darth Vader’s lair, I swear I could hear the rocks whispering warnings, and my stomach doing the tango with a nest of butterflies. But did we turn back? Ha! Like heck we did! We were adventurers, brave (cough, cough) and slightly crazy, and that’s what we came for – to stare fear in the face and laugh. Or maybe scream and cry a little, depending on how things went.


The Climb

We divvied up the chores, I got pitches 1 and 3 (as I wanted the challenge of the crux pitch), while Mark snagged 2 and 4. The approach? Piece of cake, or rather, a slice of ice. The cracks had enough frosty goodness for good holds, the gear was scarce but manageable, and the climb felt like a stroll in the park. Little did we know, well, we did know the real fun was just getting started.

Mark, bless his heart, led pitch 2 like he was Michelangelo chiselling away at a masterpiece. Picture it: him, graceful as a swan on a vertical canvas, delicately revealing axe placements and placing gear like it was an art form. Meanwhile, I’m down below, knowing the impeding doom to come.

As I reach Mark’s perch, my mind’s doing somersaults of doubt and nerves, preparing for the upcoming doom, the crux pitch.


The Crux

“You have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger,” Darth Vader’s voice seemed to echo in my head as I began the ascend. Bad footholds, check. Scratching and clawing my way up, double check. I’m inching along like a sloth on a sugar rush, and suddenly, I’m wedged in a chimney like a cork in a bottle.  Not sure why I winter climb!

My shoulders, too broad for comfort, wedged me in sideways. One axe snug, the other flailing like a flag in a storm.  And my gear tangled like a Christmas lights disaster on the chockstone, unable to move up. Mark’s advice? Well-intentioned, I’m sure, but in the heat of the moment, let’s just say my response wasn’t exactly Zen-like.

Stuck in limbo, muscles screaming, crampons slipping, and thoughts of falling dancing in my head, would give me relief from the struggle I was in. Stuck in the same position for what felt like eternity, unable to move, squeezing, pulling and pushing, as the nuts and hexes on my harness were caught on the chockstone. The realisation dawns on me I have to lower myself to unstick the nuts and hexes, before I can move up.  Like a true hero (well, more like a crazed lunatic), I muster the strength to dislodge my gear, inch my way up and find rest bite inside the peapod-shaped chimney.

“Thank f@ck,” I whisper, collapsing against the rock, limbs trembling with exhaustion. “I need a rest”.  I have only just climbed 3m of a 25m pitch, the summit seems a distant dream.


There is more

After 5 minutes of resting, I regained some energy.  With a dash of stubbornness and a dollop of hope, I pressed on and thought “Let’s have a look, hopefully that’s it”.   Of course, it wasn’t. Inch by painful inch, I claw my way up, scratching axes and crampons, knees and elbows scraping against the unforgiving rock.

Each move feels like a small victory, each foothold a triumph over gravity’s cruel grip. But just when I think I’ve reached the end, another obstacle looms – a narrow chimney, a conundrum of limbs and gear. I remember Luca’s comments about knee barring.  What a brilliant idea.  The only problem is that this is shin-dex dependant. “F@cking legs are too long, shit.  Not again.” Scratching, scraping, inching, and wriggling my way up, for what feels like an eternity, I finally get to the chockstone at the top.

“Do I go over or under?” I ponder, before squeezing myself through like a contortionist in a funhouse. One arm high up, the other stuck by my chest, peddling my crampons, hoping they may find some consolidated neve to purchase on.  The struggle is real, folks, but millimetre by agonising millimetre, I claw my way to freedom.



Exhausted but elated, I belay Mark up, watching as he tackles the summit pitch with the determination of a mountain goat on a mission. And as we stand victorious atop Darth Vader’s lair, battered but unbroken, I can’t help but think: what a ride. Full of sweat, cursing, a healthy dose of fear and uncertainty, and a generous serving of adrenaline – just the way winter climbing was meant to be, for me.


Darth Vader’s advice

“Be careful not to choke on your aspirations” as Darth Vader said. Well, I nearly did 🤣.

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