Tag Archives: Ice Climbing

Greathall Gill

All week we have had sub-zero temperatures and the fells have looked very inviting. However, I have had to be at work. Mark and I hatched a plan to make an early start on Saturday and to get some winter climbing. The weather had a different idea and on Friday evening it rained heavily in St Bees and put down between 6 inches and a foot of new snow on the fells.

Mark in Greathall Gill with Buckbarrow behind

Mark in Greathall Gill with Buckbarrow behind

Our trouble was getting to somewhere we could access the fells from. At Gosforth the road up to Wasdale was very icy and so we decided to head to Santon Bridge and then to park under Irton Pike and walk up to the top of Greathall Gill and have a look to see if there was anything interesting there.

Me on a short rib out of the gill

Me on a short rib out of the gully

It took over an hour to reach the top of the gully but it contained plenty of snow at the ground was frozen (at least at the top). The guidebook mentions two short icefalls halfway up so we descended on the right of the gill until we were level with the falls. Here we geared up and went to ‘have a look’. There was some ice but also plenty of water so we followed the stream in the bottom of the gill climbing the odd section of easy-angled ice and investigating a few interesting looking side gullys. despite carrying two ropes and a rack we never needed them and enjoyed pottering around.

The impressive icicles

The impressive icicles

Towards the top we spotted an impressive series of icicles which could perhaps make a very steep short climb if they had time to fully form.

Mark starting up the final ramp

Mark starting up the final ramp

To finish we chose a ramp on the right hand side, it was a mixture of snow on rock and snow on turf, the key to feeling secure was to find the turf and avoid the slabby rock.

From the top a one hour walk brought us back to the car. It had not been the ice climbing that we went looking for but was definitely interesting mountaineering, and given the conditions I was happy with the result.

Climbing on the Shamrock and Pikes Crag

Yesterday’s good forecast had me hoping for more blue skies, however the weather gods were not cooperating and it was snowing gently as I headed up Brown Tongue. My plan had been to climb on Pikes Crag but as I headed up the path the area to the right of the Shamrock was looking very good, with plenty of ice some of which was easy angled enough for me to climb.

Scafell Shamrock

Scafell Shamrock - Red Easy Gully, Black Direct Route, Blue My Route

I started up Direct Route until its final icefall where I headed left onto Easy Gully. There was plenty of new snow about but it was only 20cm deep and my crampons and tools were able to grip into the old neve below. There were three sections of easy angled ice which took tools and crampons mostly first time. These were linked by sections of snow. When I got to Lords Rake I met a couple of climbers who were intending to climb Deep Gill. I had already decided that it was not the place to be and they agreed and followed me over to Pikes Crag after having tried the step at the start.

Pikes Crag

Pikes Crag - The line shows C Gully

On Pikes Crag I climbed C Gully, it had an interesting step at the start (stiff grade II) but after this it became a grade one snow slope for the next 150m. I descended Long Gully but by this time the amount of snow that had fallen was making some slopes too avalanche prone. I started a small slide but since my crampons and tools were in the hard snow underneath it just confirmed my opinion that enough was enough and it was time to head home.

Raise and White Side – Ski Tour

Me on the summit of Raise

Me on the summit of Raise


This afternoon I decided to have a quick trip out with my skis. Having not used my skins whilst is Scotland I was keen to get a little time going uphill and putting in fresh tracks.

I started from Swirls car park and walked up the zig zags toward Brown Cove Crags. I was carrying my skis and boots on my pack wearing approach shoes. Once at the second wall I turned off left and joined the stream bed. That was where I put on my skis, and skinned up below Brown Cove Crags where there were at least four teams climbing.

The snow was between two and five inches of fresh(ish) soft snow on top of the old hard base. It made skinning comfortable and I was already looking forward to the descent. I headed up to the top of White Side which was only just in the cloud and then kept the skins on for the short drop before following some tracks up to Raise’s summit. Here I took off my skins and took a compass bearing to find the Lake District Ski Club’s tow on the hill below me. It was nice to be making fresh tracks and I skied the run on skier’s left of the tow. It was hard-packed having been skied a lot over recent weeks, it was not very steep but obviously unpisted. I would call it a hard blue run (they call it a red).

Helvellyn Gill

The end of Helvellyn Gill - note the fresh tracks!


After a chat with the lift operators I headed up back over Raise to White Side. The tops were still in the cloud but the run down from White Side using Helvellyn Gill was excellent. The best five minutes of skiing since the Silvetta. I really recommend this run.

The stream bed was incomplete at where the path crosses. So a quick change of footwear and putting the skis and boots back on my back and I was on the path back down very happy!

Scafell Mountaineering

Penny with Lord's Rake Behind

Penny with Lord's Rake Behind


The fantastic weather continued today and Penny and I were joined by Bob for a winter ascent of Scafell. I read the guidebook last night and had thoughts about any of Easy Gully on the Shamrock, Deep Ghill, Lord’s Rake and or the Western Traverse. The idea was for a winter mountaineering day, we took a rope and small rack but the plan was not to use them. 

Bob in Lord's Rake

Bob in Lord's Rake


We left the car in the layby opposite the campsite and walked up to the Woolworth Boulder via Brown Tongue. There was a few cm of soft new snow but on the whole it was just fantastic neve above 700m. We climbed up to Lord’s Rake and then used the Western Traverse to reach Deep Ghill. Penny enjoyed herself and continued up Deep Ghill to the summit ridge. Bob and I found a gully on the left, which had one interesting ice step at the top. Having consulted a guidebook I think it was Old Professor’s Chimney (II). 

Penny and me on Scafell's summit

Penny and me on Scafell's summit

Me on the descent with Scafell behind

Me on the descent with Scafell behind


After a brief consultation we decided the we’d tag the summit of Scafell and the descend Green How. On the way down we scoped out the exit from Lord’s Rake for future reference. It was a very quick descent, a little slippy underfoot but with poles it was not too bad. Penny and I even found a good bum-sliding snow patch. Just after passing the FRCC hut Bob’s pager went with a call out further up the valley so we quickly headed to the car and gave him a lift before heading home.

Climbing on Brown Cove Crags

Penny in Left Branch, Brown Cove Crags

Penny in Left Branch, Brown Cove Crags

With an excellent forecast, we planned to climb a route on Brown Cove Crags on our way to Helvellyn and then perhaps get another route in on the Patterdale side. We were one of the first teams to leave Swirl car park and the sun was rising giving many of the snow-covered fells a pink ‘alpenglow’.

The path was hard packed snow but anywhere else it was deep and unconsolidated. It took about 75 minutes to a gearing up boulder under the crag. We took one half rope and a small winter rack as well as our harnesses. The plan was for us both to solo as much as possible but the we could pitch any difficulties. The diagram in the guidebook suggested that the narrow gully just left of the main one was Central Gully but reviewing the descriptions later revealed that we climbed Left Branch (II).
 
Penny having a well-earned break on top of Brown Cove Crags

Penny having a well-earned break on top of Brown Cove Crags

There was a warm up walk up the snowed over scree to reach the gully proper. Here there was a short ice step, about 2.5 metres tall. I climbed this with the intention of lowering Penny a rope. There was a good in situ belay but it took several attempts to throw the rope to Penny. With hindsight (and as Penny suggested) it would have been easier to rope up before the step. We then took coils so that the rope could be quickly deployed if necessary. In fact the rest of the gully was grade I with only a couple of short sections of looser snow so the rope was not used again.

 
Penny on Helvellyn's Summit

Penny on Helvellyn's Summit

At the top of the gully we had lunch (when most people would have elevenses) and then headed up to Helvellyn’s summit. The wind was building and the spindrift vicious at times. There were plenty of people on top and after quick peer over the edge we headed back to the car. One gully was enough for Penny. A quick 85 minute descent saw us back at the car and heading for Keswick. The views had been beautiful yet the wind was vicious.

My plan for tomorrow is to ski something, current plans include Skiddaw, Blencathera or Raise.

Great Gullies on Great End

Brad under Central Gully, Great End

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

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

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

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

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!

A one day trip to the Cairngorms

Panorama

A view to the west over the Lairig Ghru

 

Last weekend saw an excellent forecast for the whole of the country but with no snow in the lakes and plenty in the Cairngorms I persuaded Penny that a quick blast up to Aviemore would be would be worth it. 

Penny with Ben Macdui behind

 

The drive up started slowly taking an hour and a half to cross Papcastle Bridge. After that it was fine except for some fog between Glasgow and Perth. We stayed in the Aviemore Youth Hostel. Which at £38 for the two of us was not bad. The main reason for choosing the hostel was so that we could have an early breakfast on the Saturday and make best use of the available daylight. 

We left the car at the ski station at 7:30 and headed round to Coire an t-Sneachda. The old moon was just visible above the cliffs and it was an atmospheric walk. There were head-torches on the cliffs as we walked in, some people must have had a very early start! By the time we reached the lochan Penny’s bag had caused her back and neck problems, which was a real shame. We kitted ourselves out with harness and spiky bits and headed up the slopes below the Goat Track. 

We had a bit of crampon technique practice and traversed unroped across to the bottom of point five gully, just right of the Goat Track. The main part of the gully took three full 60m pitches with a variety of rock and snow anchors. Penny had no problems and even stayed warm with the help of my new gloves. At the top I took and interesting grade II variation on the left. Penny’s comments were that it was hard work but tedious. I think she needs an introduction into more technical ice routes, perhaps dorsal arête? 

We topped out at 10:45 and it was a beautiful day. I was keen (maybe a little too keen) to reach Ben Macdui. We followed a couple of skiers’ tracks but found the final climb tough with breakable crust. Just below the north summit we stopped for lunch and then I headed to tag the real summit. The views were excellent, Ben Nevis was very clear and the cloud below us made the mountains look like “islands in the sky”. 

Penny in Coire an Lochan (drinking tea)

 

We started our descent at around 12:40 and found the going tough in ever softening snow. The little rise over Cairn Lochan was particularly tiresome. The descent down from Carin lochan was a mistake, I took us down the line of the summer path. This was banked out and very hard frozen with a nasty boulder strewn run out. Penny coped excellently and I learned a couple of important lessons. Firstly remember that in winter routes should be dictated by the terrain and not the obscured path. Secondly that very careful planning of the descent should take place earlier in the day or preferably before the day so that tiredness does not lead to bad decision-making.