Volume 45 Number 4 Article 5
16/17 August 2008
For some time Beardy has been offering to take me out climbing on some classic Lakeland rock. We eventually agreed on this weekend to head up to the Lakes. Beardy’s mate Graham was having his stag weekend near Broughton-in-Furness so the plan was to climb on Saturday and do a cave dive on Sunday. There were about 100 of us on the weekend and the plan was for most of us to do a climb on Dow Crag before decamping to a pub in Broughton-in-Furness. Beardy and I were up ahead of most of the crowd in the morning and since there were indications of some major faffing, we decided to make our own way to the crag and make a start.
Beardy set a good pace on the walk-in: he wanted to get fit for his planned trip to Spain, so we managed to overtake at least two other parties on our way to the crag. Following Beardy up the scree slope approaching the climb, a largish boulder (at least a foot in diameter) started to roll down seemingly targeting my ankles with malevolent glee. At this point my unenthusiastic uphill plod turned into a sprightly jig and I managed to get out of the boulder’s way: note to self … don’t walk directly under partner when crossing scree slope!
The forecast for the day was mixed showers – the sky was dark and brooding. On that basis Beardy thought an easier grade was more prudent in case it chucked it down halfway up the route, so we settled on ‘C Ordinary Route’, graded Diff. Beardy let me lead the first pitch. Soon the climbing was spooking me: although the climbing was easy enough, the crag was a bit wet in parts and I couldn’t find as many gear placements as I wanted. The wind seemed to pick up the minute I started leading and I found myself wondering why I had chosen to give up a weekend’s couch potatoing to terrify myself rigid. In time I managed to get to a stance that was high enough up that I could bring Beardy up, while I experimented on different excuses for Beardy leading the next pitch. When he got to the stance, it became clear that Beardy’s intention all along had been to swap leads. What a relief!
The second pitch was a joy: there were a couple of moves I had to think about without being too difficult. For all that I enjoy the challenge of leading nothing quite beats the sheer pleasure of climbing when seconding. This “warm-up” pitch allowed me to get into gear and be happy on the crag. Soon it was my turn to lead again. Just above the stance the first move was one I would have preferred to do with gear above me, but there was nothing, so after a couple of half-hearted attempts and a bit of internal dialogue along the lines of “Are you a man or a mouse? … OK so I’m a mouse!”, I managed to get my courage up and did the move. Needless to say the move just took a second and was no problem whatsoever.
Topping out on the last pitch which Beardy led, I was pleased with the climb. It was just over a year since my first outdoor climb and my fear of heights, which a year ago seemed all consuming, is now much better. At the stance at the bottom of the last pitch I had leant back on my anchors over a 50m drop and enjoyed the view straight down and across the valley: precisely the kind of view which would have terrified me a year previously.
Untying at the top I discussed with Beardy my remaining fear: exposed scrambles off the top of crags. Beardy pointed over to our descent and said: “You mean descents like this one?” This one was worse than the ones that usually scare me: a 5m grassy ledge a couple feet wide over a 70m drop. I’m not sure if I blanched, but Beardy pointed out that 1) I was right to be respectful of exposed scrambles and 2) if I wanted a rope to do the ledge I could have one. A minute or two of hemming and hawing persuaded me that if I was careful I would be able to do this unaided, so with some trepidation I followed Beardy gingerly along the ledge. Soon the scary bit was over and I was able to concentrate on the scramble down the gully off the crag. One particular move was a particular joy: a body jam down a tight bit meant I had rock on three sides: give me a roof and the comfortable feeling of being underground would be complete.
After that I dragged Beardy off to Keswick as I wanted to buy a pair of ice axes so we were a little late to join the others for the walk to the pub in Barrow-in-Furness. Since we didn’t have a map, we went the long way, and being late, we did this at a good pace: more fitness training for Beardy! A wild night in the pub was followed by a wild walk back. The groom-to-be now dressed as a sumo wrestler and his retinue, trudged up hill and down dale in the pouring rain.
The next morning Beardy and I were up earlyish for our dive and met up with Steve Robinson at Hodge Close. Soon the gear faff was done and we had run out of excuses for putting off the carry. Hodge Close is a deepish dive by UK standards (25m odd) so Beardy had the joy of carrying a pair of 12s, while I had 3 7s and Steve had a pair of 10s. As carries go, it’s not too bad: there’s only one spot where I have to stoop going into the tunnel, and the ladder (2 or 3m perhaps) isn’t too awkward. As ever though, it was good to be at the water’s edge with the prospect of soon being neutrally buoyant.
In the main chamber (30 or 40m in) Beardy tied off his line and practiced some line laying as planned, before he and I continued in to chamber 2. As a training dive site Hodge has much to recommend it: relatively easy access, good vis, a respectable depth, but I find mines sterile and dead compared to caves, so I find it hard to get too excited. Still, Beardy had taken me out on a classic Lakeland crag, so I felt I was well ahead on the weekend’s activities. And it had been good to get underground again: while I have enjoyed a summer of focusing largely on climbing I have been missing getting underground.