We knew it would be a longish evening out. I (optimistically) estimated 1.5 hrs to the climb, 1.5 hrs on the climb, 30 min descent to our bags and 1 hr back to the car, a total of 4.5 hours. We left the green at 17:30 so a 22:00 return was on the cards. The weather was warm, with a gentle breeze. However, the slog up Gavel Neese left me a little on the hot and sweaty side. Tophet Wall itself was in the shade, and looked an impressively steep piece of rock.After gearing up with minimal faffing I spent a few minutes finding the exact start of the climb. There is a good spike on the right for a runner before heading up some delicate moves up and left into the crack. From there the route heads up right to a small ledge. This section had a little more loose rock that may be expected on a three star climb, perhaps due to the hard winter.
The second pitch was described as bold in the guidebook, this was enough of an excuse for Mark to offer me the next lead as well. I gratefully accepted and headed up the short wall with no protection. About 5 metres above the previous belay a ledge gave good gear and a traverse left to a crack and groove. This was committing but not too difficult and lead to the spike belay before the famous hand traverse. From here the view across to Lingmell, Broad and Ill Crags and Great End was fabulous, we could even see Sprinkling Tarn.
The rest of the route can be climbed as two or one pitch depending on which guidebook you read. The new Gable and Pillar guide suggests one pitch and that is what I did. However, the rope drag made the final moves much harder than necessary and I would recommend taking an intermediate stance if you do not have a lot in hand.
The hand traverse had good footholds too so it was never too strenuous. Then a diagonal rightward line lead to a ledge (possible belay) before a couple of steep cracks in the left side of pinnacles on the arête lead to easy moves up the final wall. It was excellent climbing in a very atmospheric position. We took 2 hours from arriving at the base of the crag to the top of the route (30 minutes more than planned).We took the Back Staircase down to Great Hells Gate. This is a fairly easy scramble in the top section but the last few moves involve a traverse left (looking out) and are quite exposed. I would suggest that anyone who had climbed Tophet Wall would not much difficulty using this route which makes for a much quicker descent. We had carried our boots on the root for the screes of Great Hells Gate, it was mostly ‘good’ scree, that allowed a quick return to our bags.
A swift packing of gear and retracing of our ascent route saw us at Wasdale Head in time for a quick pint. At least the quality of the beer was better than the mood of the bar staff. Once again it was great to get a full mountain route in on a school night!
The route itself is a pleasant but long route climbing a rib just right of Gillercombe Gully, which forms the left end of the crag. We spilt into two pairs, Penny seconding Bob and Lauren following me. This was Penny’s first climb where she was not climbing with me! Bob and Penny went first and I got to share some belays with Penny whilst she was belaying Bob and I was belaying Lauren, it was a little strange. We climbed the route in five pitches, 30m, 40m, 20m, 40m and 40m, this left a scramble to the top. Whilst route finding was never difficult (follow the crampon scratches) it took an interesting line with a couple of tricky moves (for severe), in particular the leftward traverse on our second pitch and the start of our final pitch.By the time we reached the top it was 10pm and so we needed a purposeful decent to reach a hostelry before closing time. We reached the car at 10:50 (it was nearly dark) and despite it being a few minutes after eleven by the time we reached the Riverside Bar they took one look at us and decided that we needed some refreshment before the drive home.