Why prison design is important

My key points for the importance of prison design are based around the fact that we have an outrageously high reoffending rate (75%+) and through studies people have shown that this can be much, much lower.

Rationale;

  • If Prisons and more importantly Prison Systems are well designed and well managed it can significantly reduce reoffending
  • The public will not accept Prisons that are not Prisons in a traditional sense and for that reason politicians will not propose such designs to the UK voter base; we need to design prisons that are Prisons in a traditional sense on the face of things while being very progressive in every other way; this is a constraint of our times which may change over the coming decades
  • The design of the physical architecture and super structure needs to be designed in conjunction with all the systems that operate within; structure and physical design changes coupled with system changes can cause large knock-on effects that alter core design and management constraints

The problem

The UK prison system has wide ranging problems that are very difficult to address within the existing system.

The long-term poor management of the prison system from the ‘top down’ means that there has been little structured improvement over the past twenty years and certainly no improvement with real vision. There has been poor spread of best-practice and prisons operating independent to each other and politicians who are either too lazy or too afraid to bring change to a sector where strong unions and a change-resistive civil service can make significant change very difficult to effect.

With a 75%+ reoffending rate, prisons are clearly not effective enough and this in turn causes society significant problems and costs an estimated £11bn each year through the cost of reoffending. The UK prison population has been growing steadily, and as the rate of reoffence is a key driver of an increased accumulation of prisoners it is clear that something can be done better.

Rising prison populations puts stress on all parts of a system that has its budgets frequently reduced which, in turn, creates a more disaffected and lower paid work force. Prison overcrowding forces Continue reading “Why prison design is important”

Training to free climb El Cap

I am in the middle of training for an attempt to free climb El Capitan via the Free Rider route. The route has sections of E7 climbing which is basically as hard as I can realistically climb normally but after perhaps 4 to 5 days of climbing and general tiredness gained from living on the wall. Alex Huber made the first ascent of Free Rider in 1998 – a variation on the Salathe route.

An image borrowed – from Mayan Gobat’s blog via Google. Click the image to see her blog.

El Cap is a 3000 foot high granite rock face and is possibly the most famous rock face in the world. To climb it using aid techniques can be pretty straight forwards technically (not to ‘do it down’ however – it is still a great achievement).

Climbing it ‘free’ however means you have to get up using your own strength only. Every pitch must be climbed clean at least once; so no falls, no sitting on gear, no rests and no pulling on gear.

We plan to climb the route ‘team free’ (means that between us all the pitches have to be climbed free) and we are realistic enough to realise we have no chance on on-sighting the route (so far no-one has) but we are keen to try and do the route ground-up if possible. This means in all likelihood taking falls until we manage to climb every pitch clean.

I saw this title image of this blog somewhere and it rings true. This is, at least for my standards, doing ‘epic shit’.

I am going to be going with Oli Lyon who has been training like a dog for the past 3 months while living in Chamonix.

Training regime:

My training has not quite been as steady as I would like – being in the middle of a business launch and building up Repskan’s client base. To top it off we have been going through office relocation over the past month or so making my time being a bit strained.

What I am doing is:

– Trad climbing every second weekend

– Training routes at The Castle Climbing Centre (my local wall) and slowly pushing up my stamina into a zone which might make the route possible. I am doing this 3-4 times a week and try to do it in blocks so it gives my body a chance to feel like it has been climbing a multi day route

– Also fingerboard work and and Continue reading “Training to free climb El Cap”

Cold and pain in Chamonix

The day after climbing Chere Couloir (late Jan) the weather came in cold and generally not very pleasant, the temperature dropped to -25 and it had snowed during the night. With the weather forecast looking like it was only going to get worse we had to weigh up our options.

I had hoped to go down and snow-hole underneath some of the big routes on the back of Tacul, but if the weather was bad it would only mean a longer walk getting ourselves, and all our kit, off the mountain.

We decided to climb the relatively easy Cosmiques Arette with our day-packs full of stuff to leave at the Midi station and come back for the rest of our kit. We figured it would only take a couple of hours so we had a leisurely 11am start.

The weather was seriously cold and the snow conditions were poor. There was two to three feet of fresh snow making climbing generally slow. By the time Oli had climbed 40 metres up the route I was already pretty cold and with every plunge of my ice axes and hands in to the snow my hands just got colder.

The snow blasts melted on my face and, due to the extreme cold, immediately froze again forming lumps of ice on my eye lashes – freezing my eyes shut. 

The route climbs to a mini summit from which you abseil down twenty meters or so to get onto the next section of climbing. Unfortunately due to the snow heaped up on the ledges Oli lowered too far and we ended up off route. By this time the wind had really picked up and the snow was relentless. After Oli traversed with no pro for about 20m he was able to climb up a steeper section of mixed climbing to get us back on route.

As I joined him at the next belay we were back on track, but due about an hour hanging at the belay in fairly ferocious wind my hands were very cold and stopping after climbing I experienced the most intense and painful hot aches. Although Oli was leading the entire route in one block the main thing I had to do was suffer diligently.

Another section required me to take the rope in tight and then lower Oli down a small cliff Continue reading “Cold and pain in Chamonix”

Five tips for hydration efficiency

Hydration is always a major issue when doing extended periods of exercise; dehydration can cause severe drops in physical and mental capabilities, slow you down and exacerbate the problem.

There are usually guidelines quoted telling you how much water you need based on activities and conditions but what most people tend to over-look is techniques that you can employ to improve your hydration efficiency and that allow you to consume and carry less water while maintaining a good level of hydration.

Here are my top tips for hydration efficiency;

Tip #1: Small sips often

This is the most important method to improve your hydration efficiency. I learned this during a 4 day trek through Malaysian jungle; I was trekking with two Sweedish guys, and as I had the water sterilisation pills I was aware of how much water each person consumed. It was during a very hot spell of weather (in an already hot and humid place) we were sweating so much that you could literally squeeze a puddle of sweat from your tee-shirt after taking it off.

Clearly this sort of activity requires a lot of water to stay hydrated and as there were plenty of small streams to re-fill we could drink as much as we needed. I noticed that between leaving after breakfast and arriving at the next camp I was only consuming a little over 2 litres of water whereas my friends were drinking well over double this amount and despite this I felt well hydrated.

The reason I could get away with comparably so little water was that I was using a hydration pack and was having a small sip of water every time my throat & mouth felt dry. It may have been as little as 10ml Continue reading “Five tips for hydration efficiency”

Climbing in Chamonix with Oli Lyon

My and a good friend Oli Lyon decided to get a winter trip in, Oli has been living in Chamonix for the winter season so I was keen to get over and do some routes with him.

I flew out on an early morning flight from London City airport and by 4pm we were already up on the hill on way to the Abri Simmond hut (only open in winter) where we planned to stay. The weather when we arrived was brilliant and the sunset led to some great photographic conditions.

Oli skiing in dragging his sled.

The alpen glow was epic and we got some good shots of the Midi!

We decamped at the hut (3600m) the temperature was probably about -18 degrees Celcius – so cold and high enough to feel fairly rotten. We ate tortellini with Spicy Italian Dolmio sauce with cheddar chunks melted in. This heavy carb dinner had our bodies burning hot which helped us get to sleep in the cold.

I have been on 6 winter trips to the Alps and I have never seen the face of Tacul looking this snow covered; there was in places 2 ft of rime! It made it look really wintery and pretty cool.

We got up the next morning to go and climb Chere couloir a fantastic ice route with the odd 90 degree section, although actually having done it before in winter, it is a great warm up climb to get you into the ice climbing mind set.

We climbed the steep burchund, soloed up the first pitch to the base of the steeper climbing.

The climbing was fantastic, and the weather was pretty stable throughout the day, we climbed the 400m route quickly and ended up on the top of the ridge after a couple of hours. We rappelled back down, the route has bolts on belay anchors so this is a really quick process. at the bottom our ropes were not long enough so we ended up rapping off some very thin looking Abolkov threads left by another climber which I was glad to say held for both of us. Sooo much fun!

Nathan Murphy abseiling
Nathan Murphy abseiling

Ice climbing in Conge

I was not expecting to go to Italy, but we (me and the seasoned climber/extreme skier Oli Lyon) decided to do a road trip and find some water fall ice to climb. We arrived in Conge on a week day evening and it was like a ghost town, the snow was falling lightly at just the rate you would want if you were doing a snowy scene in a film.

We climbed a few routes, then did a bit of soloing which was great! Ice cragging (first time for me) was fun, but won’t not replace mountaineering for me.

Oli Lyon wrecking the place
Nathan Murphy soloing
Nathan Murphy soloing

Ever had Italian strudel? (if it is Italian) was very very rich and heavy – it tasted like there was a spirit in it of some kind – but over all nice if expensive!

Tips on getting an office

Moving in to your first office can be pretty cool, but for most (self funded) start-ups you tend to spend your formative years either working from home or renting a desk with other companies.

There are are a few ways to manage your work environment and I have experience of most of them – below is a break-down of the key options and what I found.

Working from home

There are lots of advantages in doing this – but unfortunately it is coupled with a few striking disadvantages.  I worked from home for a little over a year as we started up for the first time. At this point we did have an office but this was in Kuala Lumpur where our programming team was; in the UK there was just me doing my best to keep them busy.

I had recently moved to a flat in North London over looking a park with a friend who I used to work with. There are some advantages to having no commute and ‘arriving at work’ basically means sitting up in bed and picking up your lap-top. However it not always conducive to a productive work environment.

The key disadvantage is that you find yourself travelling out for all your meetings and you find yourself feeling slightly awkward when you say you work from a home office (it clearly positions you as a small company or one man band). It got to a point where taking on additional employees or interns just felt a little awkward and when dealing with more serious clients the fact that you do not come across like a ‘real’ business does become an issue (even if it is just down to confidence).

Rent a desk

There are plenty of companies offering hot desking environments and depending to what sort of company you are starting certain types of offices will suit you more. They usually have additional costs for when they take and forward calls for you and other add-ons like meeting rooms and such. I did not really want to move in to this kind of office, many are practically chicken farms, and generally over priced for what you get.

The easier option is to find a small business that has some spare desk space that they are looking to rent out to individuals or other small businesses. You can usually find a decent desk in a friendly, small and intimate office for £200 to £350 per month. I moved in with another start-up albeit a more advanced company and built good relationships with was beneficial for everyone involved. I rented one desk, and if I needed more for free lancers or employees, it was easy enough to take another.

One key issue with moving offices like this, or running a lean start-up in this way, is sorting out a phone line. The easiest way is probably to just have a land line number that forwards to your mobile. If you are often out in meetings this is invaluable.

Serviced offices

As you grow you are likely to need a bit more than a couple of desks in an office – somewhere for your business to call ‘home’. We moved in to serviced offices early into our third year. Our first office was enough for 12 people and a small meeting table (we were not too fussy about putting people close together) and as we got the office in the middle of a recession it really was not a problem to negotiate down rent costs (for which we got about 30% off).

The office cost around £3,000 per month (in 2009) (if my memory serves me correctly) and although actually pretty expensive for the space we could leave with more-or-less 3 months notice and phones, IT, internet, chairs, desks, cleaning, heating, electric, reception and post collection was included. It meant we could move in and be up and running in a matter of hours.

Serviced office #1
Serviced office #1

About a year later we moved into a larger room in the same building – which cost about £5,500 and I estimate to be around 750 sq/ft. The office was actually pretty damn nice, but at £95/sq/ft/year it was obviously fairly expensive. We were able to fit around 20 people in that space, and to be honest could have fit another 10 if we were going to push it!

Serviced office #2
Serviced office #2 (before we sorted it out!)

Leased offices

We wanted space for about 30 to 40 people it was obvious that moving into a leased office would make more sense. Also as we were getting bigger it was clear that our revenue streams were going to be a bit stronger and we could ensure that we would be able to honour longer-term rent agreements.

A cost consultant suggested that we should be able to find space at £17.50 per Continue reading “Tips on getting an office”

Half Dome in a day

As part of our three week trip to the valley we wanted to climb the Regular route on Half Dome. After resting from speed climbing the Leaning Tower we geared up and got ready to hike up to the base of Half Dome. We went up the death-slab route which, although steep and pretty arduous with all the gear, was actually not too bad. There were fixed ropes in place for the steep sections that you could hand-over hand climb so the main trouble was a lack of fitness. As it was a surprise trip (only one week’s notice) my general fitness was not particularly amazing – my office-conditioned legs could not keep up with Oli – a ski racing coach when it came to strength and up-hill plodding.

Regular Route on Half Dome
Half Dome – Pic by Oli Lyon
Oli Lyon at Half Dome Camp
Oli Lyon at Half Dome Camp

Half way up we enjoyed some amazing views and after a while, and forcing through quite a lot of shrubbery with big bags, we got to the base of Half Dome. Like all the other routes on this end-of-season trip we had the entire face to ourselves (with the exception of a wing-suit flyer jumping at dusk). We didn’t want to bring up a stove, plates or cooking equipment and as we had bought burgers, sausages and baps we figured we could make a stone-based cooking arrangement.

Nathan Murphy Cooking food on a rock
Cooking food on a rock & comp sauce sachets from the shops

I slept badly for some reason despite being warm enough and on a perfectly flat surface – we got up – racked up and moved to the base of the route.

The plan was to climb most the route moving-together and using a Wild-Country Rope-Man at belays to prevent the second climber pulling the leader off incase of a fall.

The second strategic decision for the route was for me to lead the whole route and Oli, being more experienced at cleaning gear, would second.

I raced up the first pitch, pretty easy climbing and I placed the minimum amount of gear for saftey in order to reduce the number of times we needed to transfer gear up to me on the tag line.

As I got around 25 meters of the deck I lunged up for an edge – my right foot on a smear however as I touched the edge with my left hand my foot popped off – a bit more polished than expected perhaps – and I fell about 30ft in a weird fall in which I seemed to lumber and slide my way down the corner. It was a pretty daft mistake; but I carried on after a mildly disappointing assessment that, with the exception of a few bumps and a cut finger,  I was good to keep leading.

We got off to a pretty bad start! The first half of the route is actually very craggy/meandering – it is like a long HVS pitch – and we had way too much rope between us to do this simul-climbing. The rope drag got REDICULOUS and at the time Oli thought I was just faffing like a little bitch but the reality was I was placing gear every 10 to 15 meters and was still having to haul rope up, perhaps hold it my teeth before climbing a section.

In one section I was in such a climbing frenzy to make up lost time I went about 20m off route, climbing up very loose blocky rock, and after a while I just could not get more rope – it was totally jammed – a blessing in reality as it made me take stock of the route and my bad navigation. It did mean however down climbing the section unprotected as the rope was so jammed it would not feed back to Oli.

In retrospect the whole charade was down to poor communication; partly Oli’s fault for pushing and not listening but mainly my fault for pushing past Oli’s certainty – until he understood what I was trying to communicate. It did not help that for the duration we were at least a pitch a part – usually more. I should have forced Oli to come up to my belay and explain the issues but at the time I just could not be arsed so carried on with rope drag in a mild cut-my-nose-of-to-spite-my-own-face way.

Anyway – it all came to a head when taking a carabiner off the back of my harness, not realising the small wire of the rope-man was hanging on it, I managed to neatly roll it off the biner and drop it down the route. From there we were back to short-fixing and a much more relaxed style of climbing – it was from then on we started to enjoy the climbing again and moved well.

We were hoping to climb the route in 10 hours or so, but our bad start had totally destroyed that so we just went at a normal short-fixing pace.

Nathan Murphy (author) on Half Dome's awesome crack climbs
Nathan Murphy (author) on Half Dome’s awesome crack climbs

We had lots of fun, I kept on leading until we got to a big squeeze chimney in which I just could not figure out how to do so I put ‘Oli-off-width-master-Lyon’ on the job. As I lowered on some old tat – it gave way – luckily it was backed up a few feet below with a cam – but always a good reminder and gave me a nice retro sling (it had managed to work itself around the edge of a chock stone). Oli dispatched the squeeze chimney quickly – at times during this pitch he was totally sideways with his legs kicking out the crack like a frog. He clipped a piton, I jumared up got back on the lead, and we carried on for a few hours.

Night fell quickly and, at a suitable spot I suggested swapping lead for a bit, after 15 hours on lead I was getting pretty tired and needed a bit of belay-time to eat some food and re-charge. It was about that time that I found how crap Oli’s torch was; he had been using a Petzl E-Lite as his main torch for the trip – light and stuff – but his one had become faulty during our trip – it had a loose connection or something which meant that 80% of the time it was off. This meant when jumaring & cleaning you had to keep shaking your head to try and get the torch to give a flicker of light in-between hanging in darkness. This obviously slowed down the progress of the second.

Oli accepted and lead the next few pitches until he found a belay spot in a square slanted hole about 15ft deep, it was probably around 11pm by now and Oli who loves a shit bivi (and another) and was was also tired thought we should try and bivi for the night in the hole. It was rediculous but I lowered him down, the bottom was pretty narrow and it would have been a bloody terrible bivi.

Oli in his ‘bivi’ spot hole

Despite Oli’s enthusiasm for a vertical stacked/cramped bivi I suggested we get on with the route so I racked up and took the lead again. As we reached Thank’s Giving ledge I put a couple of great cams in the corner for Oli to jumar up; I walked back and forth up and down the ledge – partly to entertain myself and partly to see what was coming (I did the last two pitches in one so did not have enough rope to short fix) – in the day time I imagine there would be quite a lot of exposure, but at night the 1000ft drop was basically irrelevant.

Oli got up, I moved fast across the ledge, up the squeeze chimney and on to the face. There are a couple of cam hook moves, and not having used one before, actually managed to pop one and take a reasonable swing which was punctuated by some course language. After that was some face climbing and not long after we were finally at the top of the route.

On the last pitch a pain in my big toes, which had been accumulating, really started to come through, I took off my climbing shoes and it was seriously painful. Wearing fairly tight rock shoes for 21 hours non-stop the pressure on the back of my nail was causing serious aggravation. To add to this the temperature being around zero or -1°C combined with the pressure of tight shoes meant blood had not been able to get to my toes for quite a while and, perhaps partly a result of previous frostbite, this caused loss of feeling in my big toes for two to three months.

We finished the route we were both pretty knackered – the whole thing had taken around 21 hours – waaaaay longer than planned but it does not really matter. The route is incredible – simply brilliant and fun climbing throughout!

At the top we walked around for quite a while trying to find the Cables to get down, but as they had been taken down for winter they were hard to find at night, we got out the wind, put our feet in our bags, I borrowed one of Oli’s many jackets and we just lay down trying to be warm in a rather chilly bivi until the sun came up.

As soon as it did we decended holding on to the cables (which were laying on the floor) and walked back to camp. I did most of it in bare feet as putting my swollen toes in to my shoes was more painful then walking on granite rubble.

Half Dome was a great route – a good learning experience; I had not simul-climbed much on rock routes before and otherwise was just brilliant climbing.

Nathan Murphy (author) looking a bit wasted
Nathan Murphy (author) looking a bit wasted
Hands after 21 hours climbing
Hands after 21 hours climbing

The Leaning Tower in a day

The West Face of The Leaning Tower, North Americas biggest over-hanging rock face, was an obvious choice for a speed ascent during our short trip to Yosemite (November 2010). Our plan was for me to lead the first half and Oli to lead the second half. The ‘average ascent’ time is 3 days, but we were aiming to do the route in under 12 hours.

After managing to hitch a ride to the the end of the trail we hiked up the the start and made camp on a small flat area to the right of the traverse to the base of the route.

As we made-camp we buried our food bags under a pile of rocks in the hope that it would reduce any bear-enticing smells. Oli was not overly keen about sleeping here, and put up a few skinny branches in the hope that it would alert us to any sneaky bears. I slept like a log – Oli probably managing to give himself a bit of bear-paranoia and, as a forest is never quiet at night, did not sleep well at all.

We got up & racked up and traversed to the base of the climb. The traverse was pretty easy, but we roped up to be safe. I started up the first two pitches; aiding a steep overhanging bolt ladder, leaving just single biners on ever 4th bolt for protection. The aim was to be as economical on gear as possible because as we were short fixing the route we needed to move efficiently.  We climbed on a single 70m rope and trailed a 50m tag-line for passing up gear to the leader; short-fixing means you rarely meet your second at a belay so the leader needs to be resupplied with protection every so often using the tag-line.

We climbed quickly to a big ledge, traversed right up a funky rock feature with small pro and up towards some free-climbing before hitting a bolt ladder. A couple pitches after this Oli joined me at the belay, we switched over gear, and Oli took the lead.

Oli climbed the overhanging corners fairly quickly and it was not long until he was on the big roof in the top section of the route. That went well, but when it came to cleaning the roof I managed to get myself a bit tied in while trying to get the gear from the back of the route without leaving any pro behind. It ended up with me having to use a shit load of arm power to get out of the situation – pulling myself in to the corner with on hand – holding most my weight while the using the other hand tried to untangle the lower-out cord.

Oli climbing the roof at the top – cleaning this pitch was bicep pain!

A massive faff and the result was cramping biceps as I got up out of the over-hang and moved up towards the final section of the route. We completed the route and as I racked up the rope on a ledge below the belay Oli could see the sun setting on El Cap – some serious Alpen glow – not that I would find out as, in the few minutes more it took for me to coil the ropes and climb up to him, it was gone.

From there it was a long and tedious rappel down the rubble gully down the back of the route. The 50m tag-line was not really long enough for this job (take two 60m ropes) and by the time we got to the bottom we decided to eat the snacks we had left over and sleep there before heading back in the morning.

The good news was that we did the route in a respectable 10.5 hours and no-one was molested by bears.

Photos:

The Bolt Ladder – Nathan Murphy in the lead
Penduluming round the corner to get to the funky traverse
Nathan Murphy
Funky traverse before more free climbing
Oli Climbing the overhanging corners
My Feet

Surprise trip to Yosemite & 1st big-wall speed ascent

In mid October (2010) I was climbing in the Peak District with Oli Lyon (who was spending a time in the UK between Ski seasons). I mentioned that I actually hoped to get to Yosemite this year, but I planned to give it a shot in 2011. He suggested that we could go this year but if we did we would have to go quite soon. I agreed and we confirmed the plan later that evening in the Little John (the only true after-climb pub in Hathersage). The plan was to leave a week later – this conversation is outlined accurately in the cartoon below.

Oli, who had climbed several big-walls before, was keen to get some speed climbing done so we agreed to go with the aim to speed climb as many big walls as possible in 3 weeks which, after travel and a bit of party in San Fran at the end, meant about 2.5 weeks in Yosemite. We agreed to have a ‘clean’ aid ethic meaning no hammered gear – only using clean-aid techniques.

As it happened Oli had a load of his aid gear in his bag so after climbing Regent Street (E2 5c) on lead, I jumped on to try my first bit of clean Aid Climbing. It was pretty easy so we were ready.

We flew out, and stayed at a friend of Oli’s house but being pretty tired so went to bed to get up after about 3 hours sleep to get the coach to where we would catch the train to Merced. From Merced we took another coach to Yosemite. As we arrived in Yosemite we checked in to Camp 4 and shot off to climb an awesome 4 pitch crack climb to get in to the gist of things. Back at Camp 4 we ran into a Japanese guy selling off a load of gear from his climbing past – Oli got some cam hooks and I got a couple of more-or-less new aiders and a ready-modified Gri-Gri – great news as we were planning on short-fixing.

Rack-pack

The next day we got our stuff together and got ready to climb what would be my first big wall; The West Face of Washington Column. The West Face is a frequent ‘first’ for climbers getting into big-wall climbing but not usually done in speed climbing style. Oli took the lead – leaving me to jumar and clean. We were double-pitching and short-fixing for speed (short-fixing basically means when the leader pulls the rope up, ties it off while the second jumars and self-belays up the next pitch until the second gets to the belay and puts them on – saving loads of time).

There was one difficult section Oli took a small fall – and I had not quite reached the belay due to having to work out how to clean a steep traverse – which is not all that easy. Half way up the route – we switched and I took the lead.

A I came to my first bit of short-fixing – I actually did not quite know what to do and not really having used a Gri-Gri before I just had to figure it out (I generally prefer to always use a Stich Plate). It is a bit counter intuitive to figure out as you are technically using it upside down and with the rope from you, the belay to the Gri-Gri back to you – it was a bit of a head-fuck making sure I wouldn’t kill myself should I fall. I got what seemed to work logically, tied a knot 15m down the rope and got on with it.

Oli Leading on the West Face of Washington Column

This went generally well for the next few pitches. However somehow, when reaching down to disconnect my aider I didn’t notice that the Caraniner at the top of it’s wire-gate had flipped open off the biner’s nose and, as I pulled it up using the daisy chain, the aider came off and drifted off with the wind diagonally down the wall. Fail.

I lead the rest of the aid pitches using a 120cm sling with a couple of knots in it. I hit the free climbing, which included some awesome awkward off widths. As I got to the top of the route it was getting dark (the days are fairly short around the beginning of November) and by the time Oli got up (without a head torch) it was pitch black. The last pitch is full of very loose gravelly rock; a real hazard to be wary of if people are climbing behind/above you. I climbed this very very carefully.

I was totally parched, we had about a litre of water each on the route itself, a cerial bar or two for breakfast and all day we had only had a Snickers bar (although I had half of my one left). We got our ropes coiled up and started heading up the hill to find the way off.

The top-out to decent route is difficult to find in the dark and as we only had one torch it was a real pain. We tried to find the way down for about 2 hours but we kept coming to edges, or steep drops and the reality was it was dangerous. I was keen to get down to drink water, by lips were thick and dry and I really needed a drink. We ate the half a Snicker bar which was partly welded to my pocket.

Oli’s winter bivi gear

After finding a flat area and dropped our bags for a minute – and Oli pushed the bivi option again and (despite resisting the previous times) I agreed. After looking around we knew this was one of the few flat areas – so we elected to sleep where we stopped. It was around zero degrees C and Oli was wearing a tee-shirt and hoody while I had a thin Rab jacket, jeans and a beanie; it was going to be a cold night. As we laid the rope out and started to get ready for bed we tried to make some insulation using of the vegetation but being an arid area it is all sparsely leaved and, as insulation, useless.

After about an hour of sleep/dozing interrupted by frequent cramping I came around to see Oli standing up shivering in what looked like near hypothermia- it was at this point I gestured with my head in a comedy ‘come to daddy’ manner for Oli to be little spoon.

Spooning makes a huge difference and, as we were both so cold, it really was not awkward – in fact it was a pretty vigorous spoon, certainly a more vigorous and longer a spoon than a girlfriend has benefited from, which included my hands tucked in his armpits to keep fingers warm. We tried swapping spoon roles but being the taller of the two of us it just did not seem to work.

6am came and we got up, ran on the spot for a while and with the sun due up fairly soon we racked up all our gear and got ready to make a move back down the hill. In the light it was much easier to find where we were meant to go – mainly because we had some reference of where we were.

As we walked down the hill we found water bubbling out the rock. It was incredible to drink after so little in the last 30 hours. We got back to our bags with gear we left at the bottom, which included some more water, and we headed back to Curry Village.

Finding water was amazing

Arriving at the buffet we decided that $15.50 was a bit steep for break-fast, dispite barely eating for the last 24 hours, but on the way out a kind chap gave us a couple of free tickets he and his wife could not use.

We ate a lot of food. Got back to Camp 4 and got rested for some planned free climb routes the next day.

View of Half Dome from Washington Column
View of Half Dome from Washington Column

7

Oli on lead - West Face of Washington Column
Oli on lead – West Face of Washington Column
Nathan Murphy (Author) on lead