Brad under Central Gully, Great End
After yesterday’s exertions today was Brad and my day for winter climbing. Yesterday we saw plenty of snow in several of the gullies on the north-west side of Great End and after consulting the guide-book we decided to use Skew Gill to access Great End and then see what was not too busy. I had thoughts about Central Gully or perhaps Window Gully. Not being sure if we would be soloing or pitching we took a rack and single 60m rope but it turned out that we used neither.
We didn’t have a very early start, I was worried about driving the Wasdale road in the dark so we arrived at Wasdale Head around 9am. We followed the previous day’s route along the valley and then up left of the stream to Styhead. All the way we had been following a single walker who also headed into Skew Gill. When we reached the mouth of the gill it turned out that the walker was Ian. We were also joined by another Yorkshireman who had his terrier with him.
Brad in Central Gully, Great End
Whilst putting on my crampons I found that both toe bails were filled with water-ice, it took a while to remove it. This was the first of several faff breaks we needed. I think we were both a little out of practice. Skew gill was excellent, the first three-quarters was atmospheric but easy and the last section was steeper but with good snow only just required a second axe. I was impressed that the terrier climbed the whole route. My only regret was not taking any photos in the gully. This was a very quick and interesting was to gain the hight up to Great End.
Me in Central Gully, Great End
At the top there is a col, we took the lower route across to Great End, the higher route would be better for Cust’s or Window Gullies. After a brief stop to put on harnesses we beat the hordes heading up from Borrowdale and entered Central Gully. On the way to the amphitheatre there were a couple of interesting sections of II linked by grade I snow. We chose the right branch thinking that it looked easier than the left (this was confermed by the guide-book). We both soloed the 3m ice step, finding it a little awkward with the right wall pushing against our bags. This was about the limit of what I would like to solo, it gave some adrenalin and I felt a little guilty that I climbed it first but Brad had the rope so I could not offer any help (not that it was required). A couple more steps around rocks in the gully were linked by easy snow and then there was just the cornice that had been already cut through to stick our heads into the blinding sun.
Me just under the summit of Scafell Pike
On the top we chatted to a chap from Cleator and had our lunch. There was enough time to either do another route or to continue over Scafell Pike but not both. We went with the latter plan and followed a set of ski tracks to the highest point in England. The views from the ridge were excellent, the Lakes looked like a miniature Alps and there were plenty of people (and dogs) out enjoying the fantastic conditions.
Our Skiing Slope on Scafell Pike
At the top of the descent from Scafell Pike there was a slope suitable for boot skiing. It was in the sunshine and was an excellent place to look at the snow in detail. We each carried out walking Rutchsblock tests and used a hasty pit to identify weak layers. The slope was not at 30 degrees so our Rutchsblocks did not fail until we applied a running jump. I think on a steep enough slope they may have failed on stepping onto them or the leg compression. All day we saw fresh windslab on south to west aspects from yesterday’s north-easterly winds and new snow.
The descent was quick, -36 metres per minute at one point but Brad suffered a bruised left cheek and I trod on a rather unconsolidated snow-bridge over a stream resulting in a wet sock. We got back to the car at 16:20 after a truly excellent day. It was so good to be moving all day it makes me wonder if it is worth doing harder routes that require lengthy (and cold) belays. Also this was better weather and as good conditions as any day in Scotland (except in December with Penny). We moved to the Lakes at the right time!