Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Art of Waiting... by Ben Bransby

Waiting whilst my climbing partner sorts their skins, ski touring into the Mountains, Mont Blanc, Winter 2014.

Aguja Standhardt, Patagonia, 2004
The narrow snow gully above me ends at a large chockstone, the walls on either side steep and verglas covered. I make the final few steps up towards the chock and then pass underneath, the view suddenly widening to encompass the ice cap stretching in front of me. The other side of the range is now visible, but as the view widens the full force of the wind hits me and I am forced a few paces back down to find shelter. Bean and Jvan join me and for the 3rd time in this place we stop long enough to smoke a rollie before heading back down to the bivvy boulder and resuming the long wait for the weather to improve…

Polakos bivvy, Torre Valley, Patagonia. In the era before internet weather forecast the atmospheric pressure was the best way to predict conditions. Bean Bowers and Ben Bransby both check their watches for the latest readings.
Grindelwald, Switzerland, 2008
The waiting here is easy, swooping down the ski slopes to pass the time rather than squeezed in a Alpine bivvy, but still it takes patience to stare over at the North Face, mostly hidden by the swirling clouds, without a sense that the chance is slipping away. My short vacation away from a new family comes to an end but I also feel a sense of relief. My year old daughter had been tugging at my heart and I had never felt in the right head space for ‘the wall of death…’

The Diamond, North Wales, 2013
30m of immaculate overhanging limestone: what will be (if I climb it) my hardest piece of physical climbing. From the initial days bolting the line to the weeks of stamina training, this is a route in which I have invested the most time and energy of any I have attempted. Things are as good as they can get; the notoriously fickle conditions caused by the sea spray are good and I can intimately visualise every one of the 89 moves and holds. The warm up pump has left my arms but I still don’t feel fully fresh; I think it is the nerves making me feel tight. I try to relax and listen to my body. How long to rest, how long to wait?

Howser Towers, The Bugaboos, Canada. A rest day below the North Face of the Howser Towers, Ben bransby waiting for the Sun to warm up and the coffee to brew. Sleeping bag: Western Mountaineering Alpinlite
Cogne, Italy, 2014
My eyes are drawn upwards to the ice fall on the hill above. From here it doesn’t look too steep or big but it is the first of the grade for me. We start the approach relatively late in the day – we have just arrived from a washed out Chamonix – hoping that the steep walk and lateness will give us the climb to ourselves. 1hr 15 later and the base comes into view, along with 6 other climbers all below our route. I wipe the sweat from my face and pull the down jacket from my bag. It starts to snow…

Bosigran, Cornwall. Having waited for the tide to go out and the sun to shine Jvan Tresch finds perfect conditions whilst snatching a couple of hours of soloing.
Yosemite Valley, 2002
The alarm is set for 4am. We are planning a 1 day free ascent of El Cap via Freerider. Sleeping in the van at the base of the wall we opt for an early night. Midnight and I am still awake, my Alpine down sleeping bag way too hot for a stuffy van in California. I crack the window open… 1.30am, I lie listening to Jvan breathing, is he asleep? I need another piss… 3.15, I feel exhausted and we haven’t even started yet, should still be asleep. I wait for the alarm… it’s claxon comes like a gulp of air on surfacing from water, the hardest part is over, the waiting has ended…

Somewhere below the West Face of Aguja Poincenot, Torre Valley Patagonia. After a 2am start Ben Bransby tries to work out where to go whilst attempting the approach to a new route on the 1200m West Face of Poincenot.
Waiting is one of the essential skills for a climber, a skill often overlooked by many. I spent 2 months in Patagonia without making a single move in the mountains and enjoyed it so much I went back the next year, spending 2 days in the tent below the mountains sat against the canvas walls supporting the poles whilst the winds tore through the valley; waiting for the weather to improve enough that we could retreat back to basecamp, only to return a week later. Days in tents in the Scottish highlands whilst incessant drizzle and midges pattered against the canvas of the tent; the highlight the 3 times a day we could eat a meal, the boredom broken by numerous brews and resulting dashes out of the tent to piss, trying to open only the slightest gap in the zip, like Houdini, to minimise the number of midges that make it in.

Burbage South, Derbyshire. Just prior to the first ‘flake free’ ascent of Parthian Shot Ben looks through the gear whilst trying to decide if it is worth it… Jacket:Western Mountaineering Meltdown Jacket.
The hardest waits have been the ones before hard climbs, those waits where you may not be cold or hungry but you are sure scared. Those times before redpoints when you want to be fully rested but not cold, before hard grit routes when you think how easily it could go wrong, a slight mistake and you will be slamming into the boulders.  Before Alpine faces when every cloud looks like an approaching storm. The one thing I have learnt about waiting is to make it comfy. It is hard enough dealing with the mental turmoil without freezing at the same time. Camping in Scotland, and I’ll put in extra sleeping pads and the right temperature bag. Sport climbing in Catalunya, and I’ll take a down jacket in the pack. Winter climbing in Scotland or ice falls in the Alps, and I’ll take the biggest jacket I have got along with balaclavas and extra gloves. Where it really matters is the times weight is also critical, multi day climbs where you will be carrying your gear, and getting it wrong could leave you more than just cold. I am more than happy to spend the extra money to get the best, lightest down bag I can; my toes are worth more than a couple of extra days work…

The Abri Simond bivvy hut full of snow, Mont Blanc. Spend long winter’s night here with -25C temps and suffering from the altitude, Winter 2014. Sleeping bag used: Western Mountaineering Lynx MF
For me Western Mountaineering offers some of the best value warmth around both in terms of warmth to weight, and the technical and lightweight equipment you get for the money. The simple design focuses on real mountain use; high functional ability and efficient construction with a fantastic lack of pointless gadgetry.

Polakos bivvy, Torre Valley, Patagonia. Bean Bowers happy that the wind has stopped after being trapped in the tent for 2 days.

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