Tag Archives: Rock Climbing

lllusion – Lower Falcon Crag

So yesterday we were still on a high from climbing Raindrop and The Go Between and decided to return to Borrowdale. Reading Bill Birkett’s Classic Climbs in the Lake District conviced me that Lower Falcon Crag wouldn’t be that bad and that we should go and have a look.

We parked at the small car park on the Ashness Bridge road and headed up on path that was overgrown despite the bracken being on the decline! The crag was imposing and steep. We decided to climb Illusion (HVS 5a) a three pitch route that traverses under a large overhang (think Pluto on Raven Crag Langdale).

The first pitch was a gentle and short warm-up to a large block belay. It was a good introduction to the nature of the rock which was very angular with some suspicious holds, the gear was also a little spaced. The second pitch was the main event. It started with a pleasant ascent of a groove. Once you reach a large flake it is used to make progress rightwards, I chose to use the flake for my feet this involved placing a sling over a spike with my right foot! The rest of the traverse had well-spaced gear and a series of holds not 100% attached to the crag. There appeared to be two possible lines, we both took the lower one with positive foot holds. I was concerned about the lack of protection for Penny so I put in a rubbish micro-nut that was only there to stop her getting too concerned. After the horizontal section of the traverse a large corner/groove allows a couple of reliable cam placements. This relaxed my nerves and also gave me reassurance that if Penny fell off the traverse she wouldn’t swing too far. From here it was not far to the belay ledge, this was not very well supplied with gear placements so I got one small cam and three small nuts in before breathing a sigh of relief. Penny seconded this pitch confidently (and more calmly than I may have expected) before we completed the easy six metre final pitch.

I noticed some tat on a tree at the top but we followed the guidebook description for the descent which involved a steep scree gully. Should I pluck up the courage to return I will probably abseil off in future.

The Go Between – Quayfoot Buttress

Pitch 2 of The Go Between

Pitch 2 of The Go Between (C) ChrisHedgehog UKC

We were both feeling confident after climbing a multipitch E1 (only our second) comfortably so thought that it may be time to push to boat out and get onto a multipitch E2. This would be both of our hardest multipitch climb. The Go Between was described as delicate climbing, both Penny and I are better on delicate off-vertical routes rather than strenuous ‘boy climbs’.

  • The first pitch starts with a short steep crack. I had a sling over a spike to start with but this would not have helped me if I had fallen off the higher moves. I ended up a little off to the left but Penny seconded this section quickly and directly up the crack. The rest of this short pitch involved following a groove to a sloping ledge.
  • The main event was the second pitch, delicate slab climbing with spaced, micro nut protection. The crux was short but definitely 5c. It involved having a little faith in some smears on not the cleanest rock whilst crimping hard on two smallish holds. I got a little pumped placing a number 4 or 5 BD swedge into a small horizontal crack just before the crux as well as having to swap my feet on the only good (but small) hold, this caused a little leg shake! After the crux a horizontal break gives some reassuringly good gear before some more delicate (but easier) climbing leads to the top. Penny seconded this whole pitch quickly and smoothly, despite saying she found the crux hard it showed what a technically good climber she is.

So we successfully climbed a multipitch E2, no drama, it was good to be climbing close to my limit and having to pull hard to succeed. We both felt we were climbing with ‘flow’. If this is a concept that is new to you I suggest a quick google.

As an aside we have been watching the 5 1/2 hours of The Great Climb on BBC IPlayer and really enjoyed it. Tim and Dave made comments about the feelings you only get when climbing at your limit (whatever that may be!)

Raindrop on Black Crag Borrowdale

Me sat on top of Troutdale Pinnacle

Me sat on top of Troutdale Pinnacle (Third Belay)

After dropping my dad at Carlisle station for his train back to Southampton we were keen to hit the rock. My original plan had been to go to Goat Crag Borrowdale and to get on DDT (HVS) and Praying Mantis (E1). However all the descriptions of a damp vegetated crag and desperate jamming on Praying Mantis caused me to reconsider. As a result we went back to Black Crag, where we had previously been impressed by the quality of the rock and the friction when we climbed Troutdale Pinnacle Direct (VS) and The Mortician (HVS).

Our intended route was Raindrop, so-called because the line of the climb is more or less the line taken by a raindrop falling off the pinnacle. Bob had been enthusiastic about it on our first visit to the crag.

  • The first pitch involved a short 5b crack but with plenty of holds on the face to the left of the crack and excellent protection it was a steady introduction to the route. The crack is interesting, it changes width continuously allowing many (perhaps five) different size cams to be placed in about 8 metres of climbing.
  • The second pitch was very good (much better than pitch two of Troutdale Pinnacle Direct), it involved climbing a groove straight up until a delicate leftward traverse tested your faith in the friction between your shoes and the rock. From here another groove/crack allowed a move back right to reach the same belay we used on Troutdale Pinnacle Direct.
  • The third pitch is supposed to be strenuous, there were sections of off-balance climbing and a little loose rock at the start but as Penny said “there were lots of footholds throughout the whole pitch. It involves climbing two flake cracks until you step left into a groove that then takes you up and right to the arête. All of this is on the front face of the pinnacle, an excellent position (see photo
    here). The last few moves bring you to the top of the pinnacle to join Troutdale Pinnacle. This was a sociable belay with a mother and daughter team (you don’t get many of those!) and some Cumbria University Outdoor Ed students.
  • We finished up the excellent but polished last pitch of Troutdale Pinnacle.

This was an excellent route, with clean solid rock, superb views and locations and a plumb line. It is a little eliminate, especially if you have climbed on Black Crag before.

Neither of us felt like another four or five pitches so we decided to head down. However Quayfoot Buttress caught my eye and so we decided to go and have a look at The Go Between (E2). Click the link for the next episode…

Eliminate ‘A’ – Dow Crag

'A' Buttress on Dow Crag

'A' Buttress on Dow Crag

Despite being a little tired after nine days of climbing, scrambling, navigating and problem solving on my Mountain Instructor Award training the forecast for yesterday was so good that we had to get out. On the course many people had enthused about Dow and Eliminate ‘A’ in particular and so we headed off to Coniston on a bank holiday Monday.

I was pleasantly surprised that it was not too busy, there was space to park and the most popular route at the crag only had one other team on it and they were about four pitches up when we arrived.

Penny in the Cave Belay after pitch three

Penny in the Cave Belay after pitch three

[The route features on my Lake District Ticklists page as it is in Classic Climbs in the Lake District and  Classic VS Climbs. The route is six pitches long and weaves its way up A Buttress (the left one). It reminded me of Eagle Front on Eagle Crag Buttermere but was sunnier. Both routes are good expeditions that take the easiest lines through large and steep buttresses.

  • Pitch one starts with a rightward traverse and then climbs up to a large ledge. This pitch was clean and dry with adequate but not overly generous protection.
  • I combined pitch two with the first pitch, this was easily done, the climbing on pitch two was steep but on excellent holds.
  • The third pitch was a delicate traverse across a steep and wet section. This was the crux of the whole route but was easily protected. This pitch leads to the large cave and shares a belay with Isengard which is still on my ticklist.
  • Pitch four was a rising leftward traverse up the huge flake, this was good fun and very easy. Which was a good job because to protect the middle of the pitch would have required a very large cam or hex which I didn't have with me.
  • The fifth pitch was a traverse back right and then straight up a groove to a large ledge. This was again covered in confidence inspiring holds.
  • The final pitch started with a leftward traverse. Here I placed a number 4 nut which decided that it was in such an excellent location that it would stay behind. The slightly meandering line of least resistance lead to a grassy ledge from where it was a 50m or so scramble to the top.

Penny on the fourth belay

Penny on the fourth belay

All in all it was a very good route but I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. Maybe we have climbed so many good routes this year we have been spoilt or perhaps it would be better if we were not cruising. However, it was nice that despite being on the wall for nearly three hours it never felt serious or scary. It seems that mountain VS 4c is very comfortable at the moment.

Gimmer Crag, Langdale

Me with Langdale Behind

Me with Langdale Behind

Today, despite being a little tired from yesterdays exertions, we decided to head to Gimmer Crag in Langdale. Langdale used to be the only valley that I climbed in when I lived down south. Now it is about one and a half hours to reach it, either over two passes of great treacherousity (plenty of drivers who are not having fun…) or around via Keswick and Ambleside. The only previous time we had climbed on Gimmer was almost exactly four years ago when we climbed Main Wall (VD). A return visit was overdue as Gimmer has excellent rock, a sunny aspect, impressive views and many classic lines in the middle and easy grades.

We parked at the New Dungeon Gill and took the most gentle (but longest) of the approaches. However, it did not feel gentle, it was very hot and there was no breeze to cool us down. We both needed a long rest by the time we reached the crag. We left our bags on the east side of the crag and planned to climb North West Arete to Ash Tree Ledge and then climb Kipling Groove to the top and then descend on the east side back to our bags.

Me at the belay above North West Arete

Me at the belay above North West Arete

A group of three were on North West Arete (VS 4b) when we arrived but we did not have to wait long. It looked steep from below but it was covered with excellent holds, and although in places the gear was a little spaced, there were plenty of reliable placements. The climb starts up the left side of a wall, a rightward traverse takes you up through a small overhang to a crack that leads to a leftward groove though the higher overhang. From here a rightward traverse leads to the arête itself and some exposed but easy climbing leads to Ash Tree Ledge. The pitch was long, about 40 metres if you start from the gully like we did. It was a very enjoyable climb, a good first trad climb after all the sport climbing in France.

Penny on the crux of 'F' Route

Penny on the crux of 'F' Route

When we got a close look at Kipling Groove we could see that water was seeping out onto the traverse. This made us set our sights on ‘F’ Route (VS 4c) instead. This is a single pitch that zig zags at the start before reaching a steep corner that is followed to the top of the crag. I enjoyed this route, the crux was near the top and it was not until I had used 48m of rope and reached the belay that I felt like I could relax. I was disappointed not to get a Hard Rock tick but this combination of routes made the drive and approach worthwhile.

The good weather is only supposed to last until tomorrow so we plan to get a bit more climbing in before our guests arrive in the afternoon.

These two climbs both feature in Tim Noble’s book Classic VS Climbs in the Lake District and are on my ticklist page here.

Day 3 Climbing

By now we had abandoned our plan to paddle the main Ardeche Gorge over two days and instead decided that Saturday (tomorrow) would be the day. We needed to get the car to the end so that when we got there we could get both us and our boats back to he start (our campsite). I could get a lift back in the afternoon so that gave us the morning to return to the climbing venue above Salavas.

This time we had a list of the routes and their grades, it made picking routes much easier. We were still impressed with the 30m long pitches of sector 2 and despite being told a 70m rope was better we didn’t have a problem with our brand new 60. We did however always have a knot in the end just in case!

After a couple of routes including a pumpy but very satisfying 6a called Caïpirigna we headed left to Sector 1. This area had plenty of easier routes but we only had time for one and climbed the layback flake on the left hand side. This was an interesting 5b.

In all I would put the grades about half to a whole grade harder than Yorkshire or Portland. However this could be at least partially due to the heat.

After getting back from the climbing I drove the hour to St Martin and the end of the Descent. A bit of a wait saw me on a minibus headed back to the campsite and all we need now is the energy tomorrow for about five hours paddling. We intend to set off early to avoid the weekend crowds.

Tophet Wall

Tophet Wall

Tophet Wall

With Penny recovering from two days away with the prep dept and Bob delayed at work it was just Mark and me looking for a plan to get our last Wednesday evening climb of the term. Scrolling down my ticklist page I came across, Napes Needle and Tophet Wall. Mark was keen to climb Tophet Wall and that meant that I could save Napes Needle to climb with Penny at some stage. I had passed under Tophet Wall twice before whilst on the climbers’ traverse and it had always looked an excellent route.

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.

The first pitch of Tophet Wall

Me on the first pitch of Tophet Wall

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).

Me under Tophet Wall on the way down

Me under Tophet Wall on the way down

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!


Penny on the second belay of Gormenghast

Penny on the second belay of Gormenghast

Last week I wrote a page containing tick-lists from Classic Rock, Hard Rock, Classic Rock Climbs in the Lake District and Great VS Climbs in the Lake District. It was about time to start ticking off the Lake District Hard Rock routes and so we headed up Eskdale to Heron Crag and Gormenghast.

 We warmed up on Side Track (VS 4c **). This was much cleaner than it looked. The first pitch climbed a rightward trending series of steps. They were not too difficult but did feel a little bold in places. The second pitch started with a traverse leftward and then followed a couple of grooves further left. A couple of steep moves to the right and a pull over a bulge allowed the luxurious ledge of the second belay to be reached. There was evidence that people had abseiled off the tree but we were keen to get to the top. The guidebook simply said ‘Climb the rib above.’ for pitch three. I climbed a groove to start and then moved right to the crest of the rib above the holly tree. Some of this was a bit dirty, but it maintained the interest.

 After a lunch in the sunshine we started on Gormenghast (E1 5a ***). It is an obvious line around the central crack/groove line that runs up the centre of the main buttress. The first pitch had a couple of interesting moves in an area where some loose rock looks to have come off. It was sparsely protected but there was an excellent large nut that I missed first time round. Just as I was backing off looking for something to keep me off the deck I saw it and then found the rest of the pitch much less concerning. Penny had no problems climbing the pitch, but there was not much room at the belay. It was an awkward changeover and there was one exciting moment when Penny thought she was going to fall off.

 The second pitch is the crux. There are two options, a well protected tough 5b straight up the groove or a bold leftward section on a series of flat holds. I choose the latter and climbed it quickly. My heart was racing a little, it was committing but never hard. I am glad that I had enough in hand to keep (relatively) calm as it would have been a very serious fall. After returning to the crack I was able to relax a little and enjoy the steep moves up the rest of the groove before crossing the easier ground to the uninhabited peregrine’s nest.

The final pitch was excellent. It had a series of very good moves on excellent rock. The line was not obvious at a distance but became clear as you climbed. As I topped out I was very happy (an a little relieved). It was my first E1 multipitch route and my first Hard Rock tick!

Gillercombe Buttress

Bob setting off on the first pitch of Gillercombe Buttress

Bob setting off on the first pitch of Gillercombe Buttress

After missing the previous Wednesday Bob, Lauren, Penny and I were keen to get something done. The weather was set fair and so we decided on the Classic Rock route Gillercombe Buttress (S). Lauren drove us in her shiny new (2nd hand) BMW 1 series and just before 6pm we were heading south from Honister Pass climbing the slopes of Grey Knott toward the hanging valley of Gillercombe. This was a valley that I had not visited before. Despite being only 30 minutes from the road it felt remote and high with Green Gable at the head of the valley and Sour Milk Gill draining down to Seathwaite.

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.

Penny and Lauren

Penny and Lauren

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.

Finally – Little Chamonix, Shepherds Crag, Borrowdale

View from the top of Little Chamonix of Borrowdale

View from the top of Little Chamonix of Borrowdale

So finally we got round to doing it. Little Chamonix (VD) is the most popular non gritstone climb in the country (according to UKClimbing.com, click here for their stats. Everyone seems to have done it and now so have we!

There are many reasons it is so popular, it is easily accessible with a 5 minute walk in, it has spectacular views over Derwentwater, the climbing is absorbing and the situations and exposure are much greater than you normally get with v. diff. climbs.

Pitch 1

Me on Pitch 1 of Little Chamonix

There was one pair in front of us so we took our time. Penny took several harder variations and I tried to remove a cam that had been there a while. We climbed it in two pitches taking a belay at the highest tree on the midway ledge. The highlight was definitely the move off the block onto the slab that involved sitting down and sliding across. There was a helpful foothold low down on the left that I think many people may miss. I also took a route up inside the flake about five metres below the top, I think you are supposed to go around the outside of the flake.

Pitch 3

Our Pitch 2 (Guidebook's Pitch 3)

As we reached the top it started to rain and by the time we were back at our bags it was reminiscent of Costa Rica with it being very warm but very wet. So only one route today but a very famous one that had been on our list for a while.
Us on top

Us on top, note clouds behind us!