An evening’s mountaineering

November 19th, 2005

A note appeared on the dining room wall. In florid handwriting, it invited anyone who was interested in an evening’s adventurous activity to sign up below. I signed.
At afternoon smoko, I was duly accosted by Matt and Tom, two of the new GAs, who said their plan was to walk along Reptile Ridge, and was I still interested. I was. Would I meet them at the sledge store after dinner. I would.
Reptile Ridge is a line of sharp-edged mountains that run for about two miles inland from Rothera Point – it’s a popular location for evenings and days out as it’s close to base and has a variety of challenges for both beginners and experts.
Anyway, I showed up at the sledge store, wearing a fair amount of my outdoor clothing and carrying a lot more in a rucksack. There were six of us in total: three GAs (Tom, Matt and Roger) plus: Andy the boatman, Doctor Lowri and me. We gathered our equipment – ice axes, crampons, harnesses, ropes, ice screws, various chunks of climbing hardware, snow stakes and helmets – and headed out. The wind was getting up, around 25 knots, and the snow was beginning to blow along the runway. Tom and I got going quite quickly and began the long slow plod up the Ramp to the bottom of Reptile Ridge. About a quarter of the way up we were passed by the others, who had elected to take skidoos as far as the top of the ramp. Tom and I felt self-righteous, and he pointed out that the others would have a longer walk back as they’d have to go and collect the doos again afterwards. I rapidly regretted wearing my fleece under my windproof jacket as I was getting too warm already. Getting hot and sweaty is a Bad Thing as it leads to you getting cold quickly later. Anyway, at the summit we put on harnesses and helmets and roped up into Alpine pairs – this is the whole business with having a big coil of rope over your shoulder whilst being roped to your partner, the idea being that if either of you falls into a crevasse, the other can secure the rope and then abseil down to make sure you’re all right.
And then off we went. Up the gentle snowslope at first, taking care to bang the soft snow from our crampons (if you don’t to this you lose your grip in an undignified manner) and going along at a gentle but steady pace. This turns out to be the tricky bit to mountaineering – you need loads of stamina to just keep walking, however slowly, rather than rushing on and then having to stop for breath. I rapidly discovered that I’m not as fit as I might be, but then, that’s not really a surprise! We went up to the ridge, stopped for a breather and a brief view, and then started to traverse along the summit of the ridge, going up and down the snowbanks that form behind the peaks. I was beginning to flag a bit on the final ascent to the top of Repeater Buttress (so called because the repeater for the base’s VHF radios is sited there) but spurred myself on with the thought of a drink of cold Ribena and a square or two of Cadbury’s chocolate at the summit. Not to mention Tom’s encouraging words from 10 meters ahead of me!
Me on Reptile Ridge, in full mountaineering gear
Yes, Tom, I am enjoying this, honest!

From here it was downhill almost all the way home. We had intended to go down the back of the ridge and around to Ammo Col in order to get back across the ridge and back to base, but it was getting late, and it became clear that Andy and Matt, who were in the lead had taken a short cut home. Tom and I traced their footprints into a bank of large scree boulders and then to a tiny cleft in the ridge, from which we dropped down easily towards the flagged route back to base. Just as we descended Tom warned of “ankle-biter” crevasses – small ones that take you by surprise, and sure enough within minutes I’d stood in one and was waist deep in snow with my right foot danging in thin air. This isn’t particularly difficult to get out of as the ground around me was solid, so I hauled myself out and we plodded on. At the flag line, which marks the safe route back to base, we unroped and took our crampons off and tramped back to base. This was my first real experience of mountaineering, and I definitely enjoyed it in retrospect, although some sections of it were more grim determination than enjoyment! I’m sure it gets easier with practice. I’ll let you know.

3 Responses to “An evening’s mountaineering”

  1. Claire Says:

    Hi MPJ!

    Steve and I went to Barcelona last weekend and we climbed a mountain too (albiet with rather less snow than in Rothera! It was only a fairly small mountain (about 1,000m) and it had a footpath all the way up, which I guess is cheating, but this is still the closest I have ever got to real mountaineering. Glad to hear you came through your first crevass unscathed! I haven’t managed to wathch the videos yet, but I will try again today. Glad you seem to be having such a great time.

    Stay in touch!


  2. John C. Kirk Says:

    I’m not a tea/coffee drinker, but I do sometimes like a mug of hot Ribena after I’ve been freezing on the motorbike (e.g. last night). I’m not sure that cold Ribena would have the same incentive value, though…

  3. Cy Says:

    I remember my first alpine pair climb, up an arete in the lake district. We were roped up and using crampons, with a 400 foot drop on either side of a 5 foot wide arete. About halfway up, we were passed by two local farmers kids in lime green wellies, we went home in embarrassment.

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