Saturday, 30 April 2016

Ice and Cameras

So after the excitement with the bears and long journeys to the Staunings Alps, we had a totally different week last week - and quite pleasant too.

We had to do a product photo shoot for Berghaus and each had bags and bags of cloths to wear, so the cameraman, Matt, could shoot us in different situations using the clothing. There were six sets, all carefully colour co-ordinated and chosen by the marketing team. Matt had a comprehensive brief detailing what activities were required for each set and what was required from every shoot. He had three days to do all this and was incredibly professional and organised. A pleasure to work with.

Unfortunately all these bags full of clothes were given out to us at the Iceman introduction along with a Berghaus jacket for the competitors. It looked like we were being given loads of free kit, which was a bit embarrassing. We found out later that it all had to go back to Berghaus!
The activities ranged from ski touring, ice climbing, mountaineering, hut life and glacier travel. The shots had to show all the clothing features such as lightness and warmth etc. We also had to show grit and determination on our faces and give the impression of a harsh environment, which of course it was.

My knowledge of the area was useful in being able to direct Matt to suitable locations for each day, which he appreciated.

The first day we found an iceberg at the east end of Kalkdal in Horsens Fjord. My job, once I had deemed it safe, was to climb this thing for the camera, rig up a top rope for Matt to get into position, then climb it again for the camera and then get everyone else up on a top rope and then de-rig the thing and get off.

Starting up the arete
Beth showing how its done
All good fun; I had no ice climbing gear with me at all. I wish I'd known to bring some. I borrowed Matt's boots - size 9 (I'm size 7!) the best crampons I could find in Paul gear barrel and Matt's ice axes - DMM Flys. They were sharp, but that was all. Not what you would call a technical ice climbing axe - straight shafts and no leashes. The only good thing was that there were a good selection of BD Express ice screws in the gear barrel, one of the best ice screws there currently is.

Ist ascent
2nd ascent for camera
I set off and thankfully the ice was good and not too steep up this iceberg arete. I climbed it again with Matt at the top this time and he got some good shots. Darren, Mike Beth and Debs all climbed it in their kit and it was late in the evening when I finally stripped the ropes and abseiled back down anchored at the top by a bit of prussik cord through an ice thread. Even that was problematic as I had nothing to pull the thread through the hole with, but we found a bit of wire in the 'doo repair box which did the trick.
Abbing off on ice thread
Retrieving ropes
The next day we went to a hut and filmed us lighting a stove, ski touring and mountaineering up a little ridge at the entrance to Kalkdal. I also knew of this narrow gorge at the entrance, which was full of snow ridges with drops and steep windtails. We had great fun trying to ski up and down this thing over all the drops while trying to show grit and determination and not smile!

Lighting a stove inside Kalkdal hut
Darren showing the latest colours
Beth negotiating the gorge trying not to smile
The last day was more ice climbing and Matt wanted to go to the glacier cliff where the Iceman race had camped at the east end of Kalkdal.

The weather wasn't so good this day with flat light all the way. I got Mike to lead us though the valley on his last day out before he left us.  Following the tracks was really hard in the flat light and at one point he lost them just as the track went left to a avoid a small cornice. He went straight over it! The last thing Beth saw, who was following, was her Dad disappearing in a cloud of snow. No harm done, he got out of the hole and we reversed ourselves out, back on the track.

Mike - survived the cornice!
At the glacier, I chose a fantastic looking line up a steep face with a bit of an ice fall down it. We could walk to the top of this one and set up the anchor and rope for Matt to film. I set off and got to the the steep part half way up. I thought it would be steep, but this bulge was overhanging! The ice was hard making it very difficult to put ice screws in and with Matt's straight axes, my arms were soon giving out and I had to rest on a screw. Matt came to the rescue and placed screws above me to give me protection. I set off again, only to nearly blow it when my glove got caught in the karabiner while trying to clip the crucial runner on the steep bit. With my arms giving out and my eyes bulging, Matt said he got just the shot he wanted!

Gearing up
Roping up

On the hard bit
The angle eased and I got to the top. Everyone else then climbed it on a top rope, doing really well as no one else had done much ice climbing and some were in ski boots!

More shots of glacier travel, bits of clothing detail and it was a wrap! Hopefully we may get some of Matt's shots at sometime in the future. He said we deserved them for all the effort we put in!

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Close Encounters

I've had a very busy week after the Iceman race to get a number of groups into the mountains.

You want to go where??

We had a team of 8 snowboarders who needed to go into the mountains on the same day they flew in. This is always a bit fraught, because of the late start, typically after 3 pm. The leader insisted he wanted to go into an area which took a steep slope up a glacier. I was not at all keen because we hadn't been there before, and would have had to start earlier, so it was quite a tense meeting until he decided to go into Kalkdal. 

Snow boarders setting up camp in Kalkdal

Due to Debbie being on this Iceman race and the bad weather delay, there was absolutely no time to do any ‘doo driving training for her before we left with the group to Kalkdal. Beth had to whisper in her ear how to drive the thing and I had to do group driver briefings at regular intervals to give her essential information in front of the group. Not a good start for her, but she coped admirably and the group never saw a thing. 

Long Journeys

That all done, the next day we started on one of the biggest journeys to be completed so far. Over 400km round trip to take two groups to two locations in the Staunings Alps. 

Route to Gurreholm & Sydkap in green and Staunings inputs in blue
On the way to Gurreholm

The first day we got to Gurreholm and stayed the night in there, while the groups camped outside. It's still a ruin, with only one usable room, the others being full of snow. With five of us in there sleeping on the floor, it was really quite cosy.

Cosy in Gurreholm
Gureholm ruin - only one room is useable
Phil, Beth & Mike outside Gurreholm

Fuel Problems

We had a fuel depot at Gurreholm of seven Jerry cans of fuel and I was a bit concerned that we used all but one to fill up the skidoos after 120kms of travel. This meant that we had no more fuel to fill up again after a 140 km journey the next day, put the two groups in. I had not appreciated the distance of this far camp.  I decided to split our team after we had got the largest group in so they would go straight back to Sydkap and wait for use to take the smaller team 50kms further up the valley. This would save fuel on two of the 'doos, which if we ran out of fuel, would have enough to get back to CNP and bring more fuel back to the other 3 'doos. The other factor I considered was the we had a number of barrels of fuel at Sydkap, but it was over two years old and a bit suspect. The plan was that we take one with us in case of an emergency, fill up one 'doo with most of the last Jerry at Gurreholm and then try and make it to a further fuel depot just past the Red House.

Last can of fuel

 Route to the Staunings

The route into the two camps went quite well with the first group of nine getting into their valley with no problem until deep snow prevented further progress. Debs and Matt, the Berghaus camera man, went to Sydcap and Mike, Beth and myself continued North up the main valley for a further 50kms. The going was smooth and fast and we returned to Sydkap in the evening.

First camp drop off in Staunings Alps

 Close Encounters

Sydkap - the bear smashed the front window
At Sydkap House, I was woken at 5.00 am by a loud banging which sounded like someone stamping in the main room next to our bed room. It stopped and a few seconds later, another loud crash. Matt was sitting bolt upright and I soon saw that everyone was in the room. We looked at each other, I swore and thought BEAR!!

In seconds we were out of our bags with adrenalin sky high. As per protocol, all our flares and gun was in the room with us. Matt went for the hand flare and started untying the plastic bag it was in until someone hissed ‘rip it’! while I fumbled with the shot gun. We looked at each other again and I nodded. Bravely he opened the door a crack to see the window on the other side of the room smashed in. We quietly moved in and went for the window. I was still trying to work out how to get the safety off the gun, make sure it was loaded and not shoot Matt, when this huge bear put it’s head up to the smashed window. Matt pulled the flare and stuck it out of the window and roared (amusingly in hindsight) ‘GET OUT OF HERE YOU BIG WHITE HAIRY BASTARD!!” Beth, just behind roared too, but all that came out was a high pitched squeak! - that really scared it!? I pushed past Matt with the gun, now loaded and let off a round just over the bear’s head. 

Story of Bear Encounter


Early morning bear

Bear ran 200mts away and stopped

The bear retreated a couple of hundred meters and sniffed at a tide crack in the ice and then rolled around a bit fairly unconcerned. Mike then let off a mini flare at it which sent it scampering a bit more.  Mike uttered some calming words to focus us all and various ideas were suggested and discarded. All eyes were fixed on this bear and cameras were now dug out when Debs said ‘there’s another one! 10mts away another was coming from just behind a bluff toward us. Out with another hand flare out of the window and this seemed to scare it away. We were now into conserving our ‘ammunition’ and eventually the pair of them gambolled away out of sight with us watching intently through binoculars and jabbering excitedly at each other.

Firing flare at the 2nd bear
Flare team at the ready!
Beth getting the porridge ready ready for her next bear
Artillery at the ready

Broken window with bear paw print
Bear Watch
Bear tracks

Return to Constable Point (CNP)

We left Sydcap earlier than planned due to the early rude awakening and made good progress back to Gurreholm to fill up with the last jerry can of fuel. The return to the Red House  was full of red ‘no fuel’ warning lights on some of the ‘doos, but we made it to the fuel depot and then we were assured a return to CNP. An eventfull few days.

Monday, 25 April 2016


The ski race finished last week with Paul's team retiring due to blisters for both Lizzy and Debs. Paul carried on with another team. After two days of bad weather they skied to the east coast along a valley called Kalkdal.
Teams setting off on the 2nd leg
I was leading the skidoo safety team and we camped with them in Kalkdal. After the 2nd day many people had blisters, but some were really bad. As the safety man, I was quite concerned that they should not continue, as the 3rd day was the hardest - over two glacier cols and down to sea level each time. Rescue would be difficult from the glacier by skidoo and it would stretch our team. I was most grateful to Beth, who is a doctor and helped Lizzy and Debs come to the correct decision.

Negotiating the gully into Kalkdal
We had to get them back to CNP the next day so I split the 'doo drivers into two pairs, two to safety the glacier section and two for the evacuation. The last day was scrapped due to the back weather before, so we had to transport everyone from the end of the glacier day back to CNP.

Finish line on 2nd leg

Setting off on the glacier day

Matt photographing the event in the glacier day

1st col on the glacier, before back down to sea level

Last descent to the finish
One team ran out of time and we had to do multiple shuttle runs to get them off the glacier. It was a day of contrasts. Waiting about to watch the racers though key sections and then really busy getting everyone back to CNP. It was a late evening!

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Iceman Arctic ski race

So this race has started. It started yesterday and they all got to the first camp on an island called Farne Island.

Route so far to Farne Camp - 3 more days to go
They started at 8.00 am with me firing a bear scarer from a shot gun which went 'pop'. There are four teams. One who is much faster that the others - and the rest.

Constable Point camp on the morning of the race
There are quite a few of Paul's staff on this event to make up the numbers. Paul is in a team of 3 staff, there are two Tangent expedition leaders running two teams and Beth has two clients who she is trying to mold into an effective team. My team is on the skidoos playing safety men - much less strenuous!

Beth final packing of kit just before the start
Simon making his way to the starting line
Everyone made good time yesterday - the leaders were 1 1/2 hours ahead - got in at 3.00pm and the rest near each other. Everyone was in Farne camp by 5.00pm.

Line up at start at 8.00 am
Teams setting off for the 25km day one
We did jobs round camp after they had gone and then went to put up the finishing flag and bear fence at the camp. We then drove back the route to find them and were surprised to see the leaders coming across the sea ice having made good time.

Teams emerging out of the valley at about half way
Paul and other teams on decent back to the sea ice
Everyone tried really hard to make good time, but I reccon that we'll have trouble with blisters and each day will get harder with steeper ascents. I'm sure we will have some people drop out.

Leading team near finish with other teams in the distance, about 1 1/2 hours behind
We didn't camp with them last night, partly due the poor weather coming in and it would be a bit boring sitting in a tent for a day and partly because Matt the camera man, had to charge his batteries - what a good excuse!

The finish flag at Farne camp
Digging in for a windy night
The weather is poor today so lie up for the group. 37 kph winds and drifting snow. Tomorrow has no snow forecast, but the winds are increasing, so it will be a tough day for everyone and I'll have to be careful to make sure we don't let them go out in dangerous conditions.
Mike preparing to go out into the storm
Just got back from visiting the group out at Farne camp. Matt the camera man who is recording the race for Berghaus, wanted to get some bad weather shots at camp. It was total white out conditions on the way out, driving into the wind and I was just using GPS to keep us on course. It was a bit of a zig zag route out there as I struggled to keep straight. I made us all drive in a tight square formation with each of us looking out the the person next to you.  If anyone was to stop for any reason you could loose someone in seconds.

Strong winds at Farne camp
Happy tent couple - Lizzy and Debs
Beth getting supplies out of the pulk sledge
Mat filming in difficult conditions
The winds have increased still further tonight, if the weather stays this bad, the group may be pinned down for another day.