Saturday, 10 May 2014

Risky Decisions and Fragile Bodies

     Last weekend I headed over to the Lakes on an uncertain forecast of cloud, scattered showers and wind, meaning good decisions regarding where to climb were paramount. Jon, Piers and I walked up the zig zag staircase towards Helvellyn before cutting through the boulder fields to Brown Cove Crags. We were working on our scrambling rope work as Jon has his MIA reassessment in a few weeks, so we picked our way up through the small crags and ledges beneath the buttress of Two Grooves. 

Jon scrambling at Brown Cove Crags
     We were focussing on the choice of belay for different sized steps and climbs, also depending on the difficulty of the step as to the suitability of the belay. We made swift progress up the crag, Jon being very directive as to what he wanted Piers and I to do, and where to go. His decision making was spot on, as this is a important characteristic of a mountaineering instructor. Descending the crag via the Stepped Ridge route was a different matter. The crag is very shattered in its upper part and in others the rock in very compact with few cracks for gear and little opportunity for direct belays. We weaved our way down through rock steps and grassy ramps; Piers and I acting as Jon’s eyes as he protected us from above. We headed back down to Thirlmere and headed a short way along the valley for a afternoons cragging on Castle Rock of Triermain.
Jon leading Howler E1 5b, Castle Rock
     This was my first days cragging in the Lake District this year and Castle Rock is such a brilliant crag. It was the very first place I climbed in the Lakes a few years ago now, and I’ve only been back since. Overhanging Bastion had always been on my tick list, but since its developing crack I have overlooked Castle Rock, always thinking there was nothing I really fancied climbing. However the climbs we did were all brilliant lines on amazingly rough rock considering it is quite a popular quick drying crag. The routes are all a good length single pitch, over 30m, and seemed to go on for an age with positive holds all over the face. After refamiliarising myself with the rock, I sometimes find it hard to read, going for rock that I think is a hold which either isn’t or is not as positive as I’d have hoped, the routes all flowed really well if a little bold. Six routes in total and some good milage in the arms we called it a day late in the evening. 
Glad to get some gear in on Romantically Challenged E1 5a, Castle Rock
     The following day Piers and I drove round to Swindale on the Eastern fringes of the Lakes, with the hope that Gouther Crag would be dry, however the clouds and drizzle was moving down the valley and the wipers came on. We flicked through the guidebook and decided to turn around and head North out of the mountains towards Armathwaite. I had never been to Armathwaite before, but had seen lots pictures of the idillic location along the banks of the River Eden. The routes didn't look to appealing, so we decided to boulder around the bases of the buttresses. The bases obviously don’t take much seepage, as chalked holds created long linking traverses close to the ground. The first buttress linked reasonable foot holds with spaced side pulls and crimps, which provided good moves and pumped forearms. 
Bouldering at Armathwaite

                                   The Sandy Bay, Armathwaite                                                       
     We headed back along to the much photographed sandy bay with the yellow sandstone right next to the river. The chalked holds here were much smoother and the bottom of the buttress was very steep with poor footholds. I made the poor decision to push myself too hard despite 4 days of climbing having taken their toil. I crimped on a small hold with my right hand and readied myself for the next move, a long pull through to a good hold with my left. I pulled in and started the move which was followed by a ‘pop’ and me falling off into the sand below. The ring finger of my right hand absolutely wrecked, I knew immediately that something was damaged. I was and still am very frustrated with myself that I have let this happen right at the beginning of the season. A week has now past as I write this, and the finger was regularly iced for the first 48 hours and has now spent the last week strapped up, and is feeling slightly better, still some pain when pressure is applied to it. I will be patient and hope that I is just a tweak and nothing too long-term. I guess I’ll wait and see.

  The moment on camera, no more smiles!