Domestic Practice for the Greater Ranges

Becks Ferry – already an accomplished ultra-marathon runner, is continuing her transition into mountaineering with an ambitious new project of climbing the 6812m Ama Dablam. She kicks off her campaign with a number of days under the tutelage of Montane Athlete Jon Gupta and, like the explorers of the early 20th century, they use iconic routes in North Wales to recreate technical conditions and practice routines.

Having visited the Himalayas a handful of times now and been fortunate enough to both run, trek and compete there, I have always had a secret longing to try to climb one of its peaks. I was discussing all things Himalayan with the wonderful Marcus Scotney (he of many International vests and eye-wateringly fast ultra marathoning feats) and mentioned to him that I would love to be able to do some climbing both at home and in places as magical as Nepal. Having successfully managed to reach the summit of Island Peak last November, I definitely wanted to learn more and try to push myself both physically and mentally.  Marcus knew just the person who could help me – Montane athlete Jon Gupta of Mountain Expeditions, and as I later learned, a record holder over some very big ascents all over the world!

Fast track to seven long, locked-in, months later from our initial phone call where I laid bare my possibly bonkers plan of trying to climb Ama Dablam, and I found myself in Snowdonia National Park watching Jon effortlessly and gracefully climb up and down these majestic peaks thinking maybe I might have set my sights a little too high this time…Jon promptly set about formulating an ‘Ama Masterclass’ having successfully summited the mountain over ten times. If I was going to learn, I had no excuses and I was lucky to be learning from the best. Here’s how my few days with Spider Man went:

Day 1:

The sun was shining and the sky was electric blue. I was grateful to not have to contend with wet rocks on my first day. We did a big scramble link up in the stunning Ogwyn Valley. We climbed “Ordinary Route’ on the Idwal Slabs in four pitches. Jon seemed happy by the time we reached the top that I could master one knot – apparently quite an important one too – winning. It wasn’t until the end of the week that I later learned that this particular knot is actually called a Clove Hitch, not a ‘Clive Itch’ (I think someone was winding me up!) so we pushed on and climbed Cniefon Arete. What a beautiful climb up along some nicely exposed ridges. Having made it safely to the top and my one knot still not letting me down (thanks Clive), we carried on up Y Gribin and over to Glyder Fach taking in the remarkable cantilever stone. A fun descent down Bristley Ridge followed and that concluded a great first day.

Day 2:

Another beautiful day and still no rain! We headed out on a more Himalayan-specific day. First up was the Milestone Buttress scramble which linked into Wrinkle Tower. At the top, we then made our way to the east face of Tryfan. I love this mountain, and it is probably one of the most famous and recognisable mountains in Britain. It marks the transition from a hill walk to more mountaineering specific climbing and was frequently used by people like George Mallory to prepare for Everest expeditions. We climbed a Welsh gem which I was told was called ‘Grooved Arete’. As we climbed further up, I was told that there is a well-documented move called the “Knight’s Move” which is meant to resemble the knight moving across a chessboard. For those that can (a) climb and (b) play chess, I would concur that this ‘might’ vaguely resemble a chessboard and you would indeed be required to move two across and one up. However, to the unskilled it looked like a giant slab of vertiginous grey rock with microscopically tiny cracks in to apparently put a toe or finger with what looked like near Olympic gymnastic skills needed. After a while, the brain and limbs worked together and a new move ‘Most Definitely Not the Knight’s Move” will be entered into the Cicerone Guide on Grooved Arete. I was incredibly grateful for the skin and muscle saving properties of my On Sight pants.

Day 3:

Another well-plotted and specific day requiring the use of a device I used once to climb Island Peak – the Jumar ( AKA ‘bicep breaker’ ). Jon wanted me to become more confident in being able to use the jumar as a vast majority of the climb on Ama Dablam is on fixed-lines, on technical, steep terrain. Once again, we were rewarded with yet more stunning weather which makes the learning process considerably easier. I went up and down the fixed-line, mostly resembling Bambi but by the end of the day, I felt like I had really experienced the technicalities of how to use the jumar effectively. Jon continuously corrected me on every error I made so that it would reinforce my learning.

Day 4:

What a way to end a great few days than to climb Amphitheatre Buttress. It was a beautiful and long trek in but what you are rewarded with once you reach the start of the climb are picture-perfect views and such tranquillity. It is a mix of crags, slabs, ridges…We saw only one other person the entire day. After so long spent inside the same four walls, it felt so fantastic to be able to spend my days out in such stunning scenery. I don’t think that I ever took these small pleasures for granted but what it has done is make me ever more grateful and appreciative to be able to move in terrain I really love being in. It reinforces just how much pleasure and enjoyment I get from being outside, come rain or shine. To be lucky enough to learn from someone as accomplished as Jon too, is an added bonus. Do I still think I have set my sights too high  Probably ‘but’ its a process, not an outcome and I am loving it all. Watch this space… TBC ‘

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