Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Lakeland Crags Exploration and Revival

Following on from my two days walking in the Lakeland fells, I was back over in Cumbria climbing within the Northern Lakes. In the middle of a brilliant spell of dry weather, most of the crags and routes within the Lakes will be dry and ready to be climbed. I was keen to take advantage of this and head high into the mountains to these crags escaping the heat in the valleys. Piers and I walked in from Honister across to Gable Crag, ready for the classic Engineers Slabs. Piers’ parents have lived in Keswick for the last 30 years or so and his Dad is still an active climber and recommended that we climbed Sledgate Ridge as an approach route to the Engineers Slab area. 
Engineers Slab with Sledgate Ridge up the left of the picture
I had heard of Sledgate Ridge from the Winter Guidebook but it is a two star Hard Severe in the FRCC Gable and Pillar guide. The first two pitches passed reasonably quickly as we climbed past a fair bit of vegetation and dirty rock, but looking up the third pitch to the belay, it was hard to distinguish the line through the covering of moss that had covered the rock. I set off, picking my way through, trying to match the guidebook description to where I was climbing and it was started to come together. It felt like very adventurous climbing, like we were the first people there, and this pitch wasn’t even given a technical grade! The route actually had some great climbing and is a great companion to Engineers Slabs, it would just benefit from some more climbers enjoying its great moves. 
Piers nearing the crux of Pitch 1 of Engineers Slabs
Engineers Slabs, was as expected a cracking route providing excellent climbing, with a healthy dose of exposure down the steep slopes below. It was no surprise that this route provided great climbing to back up it’s reputation as a classic. There was another team climbing on the slabs next to us, on a route called The Troll. Their route looked brilliant and looking in the guidebook was a two pitch HVS 5b, with the crux pulling round a big bulge after delicate slab climbing below. But to us at the base of Engineers, the route looked like they were climbing a through a sea of moss, delicately pulling and standing on the dried out plants careful not to pull them off the wall. Watching the leader pulling through the bulge looked brilliant moves and I will certainly be back to climb that route. 
The second pulling through the crux of The Troll
The next day we drove over to Buttermere, and I must admit that I had never climbed in this valley and it had been a few years since I had been walking over there. We walked in the scorching heat, the shade getting closer with every step. Eagle Crag stands tall at the back of the large Birkness Combe. I looked large from the valley and grew and grew the closer we got, a huge buttress of rock above us. Our aim today was the another classic, Eagle Front, 150m of brilliant VS climbing. The topo of this crag is covered in routes, which criss cross and intersect as the weave up this huge piece of rock. Rightly so, it is an absolutely top crag, the rock is really rough and featured with grooves, slabs and ledges. As we climbed our route which is three star in its own right, I couldn’t quite believe how many other routes there are, it was impossible to spot any. The crag was very overgrown with a deep layer of moss and vegetation in cracks. Perhaps a soft wire brush would be a useful addition when climbing at these high mountain crags.
The grand buttress of Eagle Crag, Buttermere
Me climbing the brilliant corner on Pitch 7 of Eagle Front
We only had a short climb the following day as we needed to head back across to Yorkshire in the afternoon. Opting for a couple of routes on the shady Northern aspect of Black Crag. Initially it wasn’t quite as hot as the previous two days as we set off out of the trees up The Shroud, a two star VS which provided some great situations. A nice layback crack on pitch one was followed by a steep wall and reachy crux leads to a juggy finish. The other 4c pitch is a complete opposite with an exposed traverse across a slab and a series of grooves. This route was reasonably dirty as well as bits of moss covered hand holds which surprised me considering its two stars which it definitely deserves as well as its close proximity to the road. We followed up this route choosing to climb The Coffin, again a two star VS. Once again, the route provided brilliant climbing, but was absolutely plastered in crusty lichen and moss. This not only will encourage further growth but will mean the route will take longer to dry following rain. Piers lead a class 33m second pitch climbing a series of grooves and walls to high on the crag, however I did have a take cover and pick my moments to look up to avoid the rain of moss and lichen showering down above me. Once again with a bit more traffic this route will be even more deserving of its two star status. 
Piers pulling through the crux of Pitch 2 on The Shroud
The last three days of climbing had got me thinking; is there a decline in Lakeland traditional climbing? I think there is. Are more people choosing a specific styles of climbing, I know there is a very strong bouldering scene within the Lakes and there must be a growth in the numbers of sport climbers moving outdoors from walls to the limestone crags of Southern Lakes and Yorkshire. The selective guidebook to the Lakes covers over 500 climbs at over 60 crags, a lifetimes worth of climbing. There are so many high crags in the Lakes, are there simply not enough climbers to keep the crags clean? I think the sport continues to grow and I hope in a traditional sense as well. In Wales, there are a limited number of high mountain crags, correct me if I’m wrong but I believe that there are more high mountain crags in the Lakes. Are climbers becoming less adventurous themselves, sticking to the convenient valley crags with short walk ins and making the polished routes even smoother. I wouldn’t even consider climbing at Shepherds Crag in the current spell of weather we have had. Whilst at Black Crag that morning, there were six other teams at the crag, every single team climbing Troutdale Pinnacle, one after another, we were the only other team to climb a different route. 
Just after returning from the Lakes, the British Mountaineering Council have launched a campaign with Arc’teryx called Lakeland Revival. They have compiled a list of 50 routes which they consider to need reviving from plant life and dirt. By climbing a route from this list and taking a picture of you doing it, you will be rewarded with Arc’teryx t-shirt or chalk bag. A nice little incentive just for going climbing. It is great to hear the industry backing our British climbing heritiage. You can read more here: https://www.thebmc.co.uk/arcteryx-lakeland-revival

Catch you on the crags!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Lake District with Wenselydale School

After a busy week in Wales, it was straight back home, clothes through the wash and straight back out on the Monday morning. The high pressure was sticking around, luckily as we had a busy few days planned with Year 12 students from The Wensleydale School in Leyburn. We were staying in the K Fellfarers hut in Seathwaite, a cracking mountaineering club hut with great facilites and an even better library. I could have spent the whole three day trip trawling through the ageing climbing guides and books in the hut. 
Classics - that is all.
What I would give for these on my bookshelf
We headed to Castle Rock of Triermain, Thirlmere. We climbed on the right side of the South Crag, with the students enjoying their first taste of Lake District rock. Initially they found it hard to read, but liked the roughness and it seemed a welcome change to the grit and limestone of the Yorkshire Dales. A few of the students were keen to sample some multi pitch as Jon took a few of them on their first multi pitch routes climbing Yew Tree Climb. 
Busy climbings on the South side of Castle Rock
Jon leading up Pitch 1 of Yew Tree Climb
The second day started with drizzle and low cloud but the sun soon showed it was in charge and it was another blazing afternoon. We headed deep into the mountains, straight from the hut climbing up to Styhead Head tarn and following the corridor route onto Scafell Pike. The students lead us staff on a brilliant mountain walk, keeping the group together and navigating well through the boulders of Broad Crag. 
Jon and Gemma heading round the top of Piers Gill
Heading back down to Borrowdale
Finally we headed to Shepherds, using the tree lined base of the crags to provide us with some welcome shade. We climbed the majority of the routes across Brown Slabs with some students climbing Brown Crags Crack as their first VS. I’m expecting great things from the students as they continue into Year 13 and the second year of their course. 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Big steps forward after a false start

2014 has been a bit of an up and down year for me. Dodgy knees after a painful OMM towards last year left me dreading the long slogs in the Scottish Hills through the winter. The winter was less than ideal and trips were cancelled and plans changing meaning I only made one trip up North. Just as my climbing season was getting going, I injured my finger. 9 weeks have past and it is definitely on the road to recovery. I have only had a couple of days climbing in the last 9 weeks with my finger heavily strapped, which has left me pretty disheartened and weak as a kitten. I have made some pretty major decisions and I have finished my job at Low Mil Outdoor Centre in Wensleydale to have a summer break and head into the world as a Freelance Outdoor Instructor. But first a summer of climbing and time spent in the mountains. 

I am currently working towards my Mountain Instructor Award (MIA) having completed my training last year at Plas y Brenin. I have become totally focussed on my preparation for assessment, spending as much time as I can in the mountains and on crags, developing my own climbing as well as teaching others. 
Piers heading up Pitch 1 of Rowan Route
Having just finished at Low Mill, I headed straight down to North Wales on a bit of a dodgy forecast. I met up with Piers as soon as I got there and we headed up to Milestone Buttress so I could familiarise myself some of the routes. As soon as I had my rock boots on and stepped onto the rock of pitch one I realised how much I had missed the rock in Snowdonia. My other trips to North Wales this year have purely been scrambling and hillwalking days in the mountains. The rock is so positive and feels great under both rock boots and finger tips, as I smoothly move up the first pitch, taking in each move, every foot placement and comfortable in my surroundings. Rowan Route was great, good pitches and fantastic teaching opportunities. 
Pitch 2 belay on Main Wall, Cryn Las
With a dry forecast the following day we decided to head high into the mountains however the march into Cryn Las, high on the South side of the Llanberis Pass passed in the blink of an eye. We were the first team at the huge buttress of rock which towered over us. Our plan was to climb the classic Main Wall which weaved its way up the left side of the crag linking a series of comfortable ledges by a series of ramps, finishing with a brilliant slab on the penultimate pitch. The route lived up to expectations providing brilliant climbing with good belays and an extra dose of exposure high up on the route. A perfect choice to reacquaint myself with the high crags. 
Piers heading for another off width chimney
We decided to stay high in the hills so we walked across to Clogwyn y Person and chose to climb Rectory Chimneys. A 6 pitch VDiff seemed pretty straight forward on paper, but the climbing was surprisingly pushy and chimneys are awkward and insecure. We felt even more embarrassed at our climbing when we read in the guide that it was first climbed in 1925. Hats off to those guys! A quick crossing of Crib Goch and descent to the car topped off a cracking day.  
Gusty end to the day on Crib Goch
A damp morning the following day was coupled with gusty winds trying to put us off heading out. By mid morning the weather had improved slightly as we walked into Cwm Idwal. Big boots were the order of the day and we climbed the Ordinary Route up the slabs following the deep water worn cracks. We worked on our stance management and rope work, throwing a few scenarios into the mix as well, as I provided some hoists to help Piers out. A real weakness of mine is the flora found n the mountains, so I took a lot of pictures of every flower and plant I couldn’t identify and trawled through Mike Raine’s cracking book, Nature in Snowdonia, a perfect reference for flora, fauna and  geology in the mountains. 
Someone jumped in on my Wild Thyme picture
I was joined for the weekend by my girlfriend Claire who had come down from Yorkshire to escape the Tour de France which had taken over Wensleydale. We headed out on a scorcher, up the Gribin Ridge to the Glyder summits before dropping down into Cwm Idwal. Sunday was looking good again, so we headed back to a busy Idwal, and climbed the classic Hope climbing in parallel up 4 long pitches. There were great belays and solid ledges, which enabled us to work on our stance management and rope work. We stayed roped together for a scramble up to the descent abseil which we stacked, which completed a brilliant day of learning for all.  
Perfect end to a scorcher in Ogwen
Pitch 4 of Hope, Cwm Idwal