Volume 46 Number 2 Article 4
I was chatting to Liz and Ian about ice climbing in France before Christmas at the annual dinner and a tentative plan was hatched to try and get onto some Lakeland ice if it ever came to be in condition. As luck would have it, the unseasonably cold weather hit the Southeast the following day leading to widespread disruption down south. Even Oxford got 3 or 4 inches and my daughter got 2 snow days.
A 6.30 start saw us getting ready to get out and soon we were at the Kirkstone Pass Inn eyeing up snow and ice on the fell opposite. A couple of options were considered, but since we were concerned about it being a bit warm and not really being in condition we opted for some possible routes with shorter walk-ins. Ian spied out a couple of gully lines and we trudged up the hill.
The first climb, a single pitch, started with a bit of excitement: coming over the lip of the first bit of ice, Ian thought he had two good axe placements in frozen turf. It transpired that the turf was less than frozen and suddenly Ian was gracefully coming off. Fortunately both of the ice screws Ian had put in held and Ian was soon back on his way.
At the top of that pitch Liz traversed across to a gully to our left. This gully was primarily snow with bits of thin ice. This all felt very different to the water ice I had experienced in the Alps, so it was an interesting variation for me: the grade was definitely easier in terms of angle, but the protection was much less secure. Following Liz’s lead up the cornice of firmish snow was interesting and soon we were on the top of the route. The top of the fell was cold and windy so we came back down for a quick drink and bite to eat.
We traversed over to check out another ice fall that was more north facing, hoping for better conditions, but the ice was softish, with water running down the back, so we decided another gully line would yield better conditions. I enjoyed this route a bit more, possibly as I was getting a bit more used to the conditions: the turf may not have been frozen, but on a top rope, a solid axe placement into turf gave enough confidence to move up over reasonably easy ground. Coming down off the second route the gradient was quite steep. Liz and Ian scooted down like mountain goats: I was rather more timid and this was for me the scariest part of the day.
We decided on one more pitch for the day and given the sketchy conditions Ian scrambled up and put a tope rope up for Liz and I. This gave us the chance to climb a little nose (probably all of 2 to 3 m high) which was fun. Looking back over the fell on the way down we agreed that most of the snow had been stripped throughout the course of the afternoon.
Having ensured that I had none of Ian’s gear on my harness I was certain I had not come away with any of Ian’s gear, but as I unpacked, back in Oxford I came across some of Ian’s ice screws at the bottom of my rucksack. Phone calls and emails hatched a plan to re-unite Ian with his gear. If conditions remained cold we might have another go at some ice and snow in the Lakes the following weekend. All through the week the snow continued to lie in Oxford and the weather appeared to be cold in the Lakes. A fresh fall of snow in the Lakes on Thursday seemed to clinch good winter conditions, so I was surprised when I got a text on Friday saying it had thawed in the Lakes and conditions were not good.
Discussing our options with Liz and Ian late Friday night in Kendal we agreed that if it was frosty in Kendal we were in with a shot and if it was warm there was no point. Needless to say, in the morning it was in between, so we decided to head to Great End to have a look with rock climbing at Trow Barrow as a backup plan. In Langdale all was green down at the bottom, but a two hour traipse brought us almost up to the col. At this point the snow was heavy and wet and the water running off the fell was audible, so we decided there was no point in continuing. A return down the valley saw me once again struggling to keep up with Ian and Liz but we were back at the car before 1 o’clock.
At Trow Barrow various pairs were leaving the crag claiming it was too wet to climb, but we continued and got three routes in. The first, Coral Sea, as VS/4c which Ian led. This is the hardest grade I have seconded and my first climb on limestone so I was somewhat outside my comfort zone. I chose to tie onto the rope that was less well protected against penduluming if I fluffed the move from the arête onto the face, so I got abit spooked. At least three of four times I was just inches away from giving up, but I managed to continue, sufficiently traumatised that I left all the gear in for Liz to take out. Later in the car on the way back to Kendal I asked Ian and Liz if I had sounded terrified on the route and they laughed and said yes, I had.
Next we did a route called Barnacle, rated at S/4a. Apart from one slightly tricky move at the bottom the entire route was more of a scramble than a climb, which is just as well as the only piece of gear Liz was able to place was 2 m from the bottom. When she was 20 m up even that came out.
We finished off on a *** VD called Jomo which Liz led. I found this abit scary, with very few positive hand holds. Although the rock was extremely grippy on my rock shoes, I never felt 100% secure, so I was extremely glad to be on a tope rope. What with rope drag Liz decided to do this in two pitches, so we stood on a huge ledge to look up at the top bit, probably just 7 or 8 m. Towards the top of this was an overhanging rock with a crack. Liz did this move with an element of thuggery whereas Ian just went up it like it was a step ladder. When it came to my turn I did it with utmost thuggery, desperation and lack of style, but I did get up it and I for one felt I had done enough for the day. We repaired to Kendal for a curry, but found every curry house in Kendal full as it was Valentines Day, so we settled for a take away.
The next day I returned to Short Gill Rising where the Northern Section were once again digging and put in half an hour. This is now looking even closer to breaking through so hopefully the work put in over six months will soon pay dividends.