The best weather of the year so far coincided with Speech Day at school. That meant that our activities could start after 2pm and a lunchtime glass of wine. A rough outline of a plan had formed whilst trying to get to sleep on Friday night. We would use Saturday afternoon to walk up Scafell, climb a route in the evening, bivouac overnight before climbing on Scafell East Buttress on Sunday morning.Penny was convinced in the merit of my plan and at about 16:30 we left Brackenclose carrying rather heavy bags bound for Mickledore, the col between Scafell and Scafell Pike. We split the ascent into four sections: up to the ford, up to a large rock before the Pike path splits off, to the Woolworth boulder and then finally to the col. Each section involved about two hundred meters of ascent and took us about half an hour. At the Woolworth boulder we collected three litres of water, unsure of whether there would be a good water supply at our bivi site.
At Mickledore we left our bivi gear and donned our harnesses and helmets. We used Rake’s Progress to reach the foot of Botterill’s Slab (VS 4c). This was exposed and very slippery in places. There was one section that involved crossing some green, loose rocks that we protected with the rope. As we had walked up the valley we had seen two pairs on our intended route, which was in shadow. By the time we reached it the lower of these pairs were on the second pitch and the sun was on the slab.
The route itself was a great line, a long narrow slab with the best holds out by the arête on the left. The first pitch was a little wet but the main second pitch was great. A textured slab about 25 metres long with some good cracks for protection. The amount of air beneath my heels was exhilarating. The final pitch was a bit of a disappointment, it was a wet dirty chimney followed by some loose flakes. However the second pitch makes the climb. We had been a little concerned about the descent to Mickledore, it is mostly a scramble but the lest few metres involve down climbing Broad Stand, a notorious diff that is one of WMRT’s blackspots. We scrambled most of the way down and then headed left (looking out) right above Mickledore where a short abseil reunited us with our bags. We had started the route at 19:30, topped out at 21:10 and got back to our bags about 21:45. We headed down about 300m (horizontally) towards Great Moss, where a small enclosure had been built on a flat and dry patch of grass. This would be home for the night (see photo). A hasty (and well deserved) tuna and cous cous was consumed before retiring to bed with a good view of Jupiter, the Moon and some of the brightest stars. In the morning we woke to see East Buttress in full sunshine. Others had the two-hour walk in to reach it but we had a head start and after a five-minute walk we were under Mickledore Grooves (VS 4c). The start proved to be the crux and after a few difficult moves an easy rightward ramp was reached. This led to a groove that in turn led to another groove. Moving between these was also a little tricky and felt exposed. Penny had a difficult time starting this pitch as her leader had placed his first piece of gear to the side of the climb. This left the start unprotected, instead she climbed, and swore at, a harder section to the right of the normal start. The second pitch was fun, climbing good rock in an excellent situation up a slab and then a groove. I managed to reach a belay but only on rope stretch. Another scramble descent and abseil was followed by a trip down to fetch the bags. By 11.00 we were eating our lunch as other teams were arriving to climb. A hot but quick descent was only punctuated by a stop to cool our feet in the beck just before the ford.
Given the amount of time and effort required to walk in and out I think our plan worked well. Scafell in the evening was magical but I doubt that it would be possible to get more than one route in the sunshine. The East Buttress in the morning was also great, and if a party had more stamina it would be possible to move onto Pike’s Crag for the afternoon!
Before we set out however there is just the story of Penny’s phone. Yesterday when descending in the rain a pair of trousers got wet and muddy and so on returning home they were placed in the washing machine. This morning with the sun shining it seemed a good time to do some washing so said machine was put on. About five minutes later Penny could not find her phone… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Luckily I had a spare old phone and her sim card still works (her old phone is very clean now).
After crossing the slate-scree of death (a nerve inducing pile of precariously balanced large blocks of quarry rubbish) we found that the only other pair at the crag were on the route I wanted to do, Cleopatra (HVS ***). Instead we decided to do the two pitch Groove Two (HVS **) first and then see what we fancied afterwards. The first pitch was mostly a scramble, however, towards the top there was a move that involved smearing on the very smooth rock. Considering this pitch did not merit a technical grade in the guidebook I was a little surprised. It was however a good warm-up for what was to come.
The second pitch was where the difficulties lay. It was a steep corner crack. The crux was a very smooth section which had tenuous smears for feet and very little for the hands. It was well protected and whilst not as long as yesterday’s crux pitch it was over 25 metres. The holds improved towards the top and there was even a rest on the left before the final few moves. There was a lot of loose slate about at the top and it took some time to find a secure belay that did not risk knocking rocks down the route onto Penny.
She again climbed it comfortably but did not seem to enjoy it particularly. ‘I don’t like cracks’ it was a shame as Cleopatra was an exposed face climb, rather than being stuck in a corner. She now she says that she enjoyed it in retrospect (type 2 pleasure). Despite our careful planning we were not able to avoid the wind entirely and so we decided to call it a day after some of us got a little cool belaying some of us taking a while on the crux pitch.
Our return route took us over the top of the scree, this was less nerve-wracking and a route we could use in future.
One thing that has been happening recently is a lot of dropping things. This started at Buckbarrow with me dropping a glove, and Penny spectacularly catching it with her left hand whilst belaying with her right. At Wallowbarrow I dropped another glove and Penny dropped a nut (and almost hit Ian). Yesterday Penny dropped half a quick-draw and finally today I dropped two large nuts off the racking crab. So far we have recovered all of this with very little hassle. But it is a becoming a bit of a habit and one that we did not have before this season. On the other hand we are moving quickly and confidently on multipitch routes.
Saturday started grey but dry and after a recent trip to Black Crag in Borrowdale I was keen to return. We started up Obituary Grooves which has a common first pitch with Mortician. This was the same pitch we climbed when we did Troutdale Pinnacle Direct. This time the rock was colder and more concerning was that is was a bit greasy. Last time the friction had been excellent. At the end of the first pitch came the decision between Obituary Grooves (VS) and Mortician (HVS). The crux of Mortician was at the start of the pitch so I thought I would ‘have a look’. There was a thin crack that took two small wires and these gave me the confidence to go for it. A little grunting and leg shake later I was over the bulge and established on the slab above. I was doing my best to put gear into all the best holds to make Penny’s climb more of a challenge (or perhaps I needed a little reassurance). The groove/corner above continued for what seemed like ever (about 20 metres), eventually after passing under a horizontal tree I arrived at the wide crack that led to the belay. Here things got steeper but also juggier, I was running a little low on gear as well, having placed most of it already. This was also the first time the weather let us know its intentions with a little light drizzle. The crack was fine in an exposed position and I was soon just below the belay. Another pair were in residence (in my opinion having a rather relaxed chat and handover given the ominous weather), having climbed the Superdirect (HVS) so I attached myself to a tree backed up with a cam and sat on a spike to bring Penny up. It was one of the best pitches I have ever climbed, 35 metres of absorbing climbing.
Penny made easy work of the inital difficulties and made quick progress up the corner. However, the final piece of gear was a 2.5 friend that I had placed into a crack designed for a 2 or perhaps even 1.5 (did I mention I was running out of gear). After about ten minutes (hours says Penny) and not to mention a little frustration she came to join me at the belay in not the best of moods. Things were not going to improve for a while as after we sorted out our gear, we swapped positions at the belay and then Penny had the dubious pleasure of sitting on the spike whilst lowering me down to the stuck cam. The motivation of knowing the cost of cams these days helped me free it. according to the guidebook we had two pitches to go to the summit. I climbed them both in one. The first half was a broken groove to the top of Troutdale pinnacle, the second was up the rib to the top. By doing this I overtook the pair who did not seem to be moving as purposefully as us. This was a poor end to the climb. It would have been much more interesting to climb the finger traverse of the Superdirect.
By the time I reached the top the heavens had opened and I went into quick belay setting up mode. Penny climbed quickly but slipped a couple of times on the wet polish and banged her knee. A swift coil of the ropes and walk down to the bags saw us reunited with our waterproofs just as the rain was abating. We noted that the other team had just about reached the top.
With water still coming off the fells it was another paddling day. The Rothay is given a generous grade II/III and runs from Grasmere, through Rydal Water until it reaches Windermere. We inspected the rocky section after Rydal Water from Pelter Bridge before I dropped Penny and the boats on the banks of Grasmere. A drive to Waterhead and a taxi back saw us ready to go.
The trip started with a gentle warm-up on Grasmere until a rocky weir led to a bouldery section down to the National Trust car park at White Moss. This section was not difficult but could have benefited from a little more water. We then had to cross Rydal Water, the wind was behind us and with a brief stop for Penny to conquer an island it did not seem like too much hard work.The exit from Rydal water is supposed to be the crux of the trip. The rocky rapid is given III- in WWLD and the main problem is that the land owners on both banks are (justifiably) not keen on having kayakers in their gardens. We ran the rapid mainly on river right where the majority of the water was. The only problem is that there are plenty of rocks too. Penny caught one of these towards the top but managed to push herself off successfully. That just left a few anxious seconds drifting down a rapid with only one hand on her paddle.
From Pelter Bridge the river was deeper and calmer, we passed over the stepping-stones (with a scrape) and then there were two weirs as we passed through Ambleside. The trip finished with some more flat water paddling on Windermere to get to the landing stages at Waterhead.
I can see why this is a good beginners trip, the difficulties are only short and would be easy to protect. It was a river that I felt very comfortable descending with Penny even though I had not run it before. In higher levels it would be more interesting, worth a return trip sometime.
Blencathera is a mountain that Penny and I have been planning to climb for a while. After a leisurely morning and a trip to the Keswick gear shops we had four hours before we had to get Kristen to her train. We went up Scales Fell, this was steep at first but then had a gently climbing ridge with excellent views. The last five hundred metres or so were in very soft wet snow. The thaw is definitely here. After a couple of photos on the summit we set off down Hallsfell Ridge. The top of this was rocky with the odd patch of snow. The axes were taken out as the consequences of a slip would have been very serious. After about forty minutes of scrambling the path improved and we descended to the valley in perfect time to take Kristen to Penrith and the train.
Our impressions of Blencathera were favourable, many different interesting routes and good views. We will be back soon to ascend the classic Sharp Edge.
With yet more sunny weather forecast we were keen to build on last weekend’s start to the rock climbing season and so headed to Hare Crag in Eskdale. It is another low, south-facing, quick drying crag that was ideal today. Mark joined Penny and me for the first couple of climbs before heading home to allow Sarah to go out on the horse.
We started at the lower buttress on Fireball XL5 which had a couple of tenuous moves for a MVS. It took me a while to remember how good the friction is on granite and to trust my feet. The weather was warm and sunny so I did not feel too guilty to keep Penny and Mark waiting for a while.
We then headed up to the Middle Slabs where we climbed Slit Wall (HVS). This was a climb that I had wanted to climb on our previous visit two years ago but there had been an in situ top rope with climbers dangling all afternoon untill it rained. This time it was in good condition, the initial steep wall was tiring, particularly whilst placing gear. My fingers and forearms were getting tired and there was also some leg-shake as there was nowhere to get my heels down. It was with some relief that I pulled onto the run-out but easy slab above.
After Mark left Penny and I climbed two VS routes on the Upper Slab, the imaginatively names Upper Slab Route One and Right-Hand route. They were both poorly protected in places and punctuated with ledges. I failed to climb the final wall of Right-Hand Route as I was tired and did not have enough confidence that there would be holds and gear placements above. Penny of course climbed it comfortably.
It was another good climbing day, more experience and getting back into the swing of things.
Yesterday was another wonderful day weather-wise. We were looking for a walk that had possibilities for easy climbing for me. As a result we decided to head for Haycock, Scoat Fell and Steeple from Ennerdale.
After parking at Bowness Knot and walking round the end of the lake we started our ascent via a ridge that heads almost directly to Caw Fell, a Wainwright on the ridge to the west of Haycock. The climb was steady but unrelenting, the fresh powder made the going tiring. When we reached the ridge I headed off to tag the summit of Caw Fell whilst Penny made a start on lunch. She was feeling a little tired and “couldn’t be arsed to walk up a stupid hill in the wrong direction…”.
After lunch we headed up Haycock and then down and up to Scoat Fell, again the fresh snow made life tiring and it was with some relief we reached our highpoint for the day at the top of Scoat Fell. From here there is a narrow ridge across to Steeple, an appropriately named summit only a couple of hundred metres away. The ridge was well covered with snow and very alpine in character. We donned crampons and crossed carefully. There were a couple of good-looking gullies coming up from the west side that would have been too steep to stop on had we slipped. The photo does not show the exposure or steepness of the arete. Whilst it was not technical it was definitely exciting!
Our descent was interesting but also a little long for tried legs. The heather gave a soft surface to walk on and we had a welcome drink from the stream at the bottom of the ridge. A short ascent of another Lingmell allowed us to reach a strange fenced descent through the forest. All that remained was the 40 minute walk back up Ennerdale to the car park and a drive home to slow-cooked chilli.
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.
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).
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.