Thursday, 20 July 2017

A Reoccurring Theme

It's funny how some places stick in your mind. Following a visit to the cliffs of Sca Fell earlier this year I found myself obsessing over guidebooks and online blogs reading and researching the many rock climbs that weave across its buttresses. The climbs we did, Botterill’s Slab and Grooved Arete were definitely some of the most inspiring and absorbing climbs I’ve done in the Lakes, so I was keen to discover what other gems might be harboured on those mighty walls. Names like Moss Ghyll Grooves, Moss Ledge Direct and Jones' Arete and Mickledore Grooves all classic MVS/VS grades with reputations for being shy and adventurous. My climbing partner Rob (who walked up with me in 2016 when we were turned back by rain) was in agreement for another trip. Now all we needed was a dry Saturday!
The mighty Sca Fell East Buttress

As we drove down the valley the road surface was still damp and fog clung to the peaks at around 2,000 feet completely obscuring our objective. No matter though. The forecast was for bright skies with a gradually strengthening wind. By the time we had slogged up to the base of central buttress the fog was thinning and there was even the odd burst of sunshine. None the less, the climbs on this face looked cold and uninviting, streaked with patches of damp with the top of the crag still in fog, giving the impression of an endless wall towering into the sky, so we continued around to East Buttress in the hope of some drier rock and sunshine.

The climb we opted for was Mickledore Groves. A well regarded VS with a particularly stiff 5a start up a small overhanging wall. The guidebook described previous ascensionists bouldering this bit and having gear thrown up to them whilst sat on the narrow ledge just above. We both thought that sounded a bit of faff so I decided just to lead it with gear but do it quickly. It took a few goes up and back to the ground to figure out the holds but eventually went for it and in the end it didn’t even feel that tricky! The rest of the pitch climbs a gangway followed by an awkward corner, with a cramped step across into another groove, before a spacious belay is reached below the slab. Rob lead the second and final 4c slab and corner pitch up to the top of the buttress. The pitch was quite sustained and very balancey, quite a contrast to the thuggish first pitch and definitely no soft touch at 4c.
Rob seconding the first pitch of Mickledore Grooves (VS 5a)
Rob just stepping onto the technical slab on the second pitch of Mickledore Grooves (VS 5a)

Looking back down the main corner from the top of the second pitch on Mickledore Grooves (VS 5a) with a party behind just starting the slab
 With most of the fog burned off we moved route to the central buttress for the main objective of the day, Moss Ghyll Grooves. This climb is described as a typically shy Lakeland classic, often encountering a few wet patches and only in condition after a lengthy dry spell. Furthermore, its grading of “mild very severe” (MVS), a grade unique to this part of the world, cements the route as a true Lakeland star.  It essentially climbs a slabby groove on the right of the main face of central buttress in 3-4 outstanding pitches. The main event of the route is a tenuous 4c traverse out of the groove line onto the arĂȘte just above the belay on pitch 2. The intimidation one feels on this crag is indescribable and in reality quite incomparable, perhaps the shaded aspect and its general historical significance combine with the apprehension of vertigo making it feel like you’ve swallowed a swarm of particularly lively butterflies. In the end the pitch was a joy to lead with only a few tricky 4c moves across to the arĂȘte where the climbing eased and the exposure exploded. The other pitches were equally interesting and exposed and should be on the list of any adventure loving climber!   
Ron nearing the end of the first pitch, just below the technical 4c slab pitch on Moss Ghyll Grooves (MVS 4c)

Looking down the second pitch from the Look Out on Moss Ghyll Grooves (MVS 4c)
Central Buttress on Sca Fell taken in April

Monday, 29 May 2017

Now't but us up here

Looking across the the top of Grooved Arete towards Central Buttress on Sca Fell

A few weekends ago in April myself and Matt ventured up into the high mountains in the Lake District on the promise of dry rock. High pressure positioned over the North Sea and Scandinavia meant it hadn't rained properly for weeks. Farmers in Kent were threatening of poor crop yields and the government were issuing reports of river levels being at an all time low. For us climbers, this news triggers only one thought. big mountain season has come early!

Don't get me wrong, it was still supposed to be cold. Strong easterly winds were forecast to be blasting the high peaks all weekend with variable cloud cover and maybe even a shower or two. Hardly big mountain climbing weather I hear you say. None the less, the temperature gauge read at a steady 14 degrees on the dashboard. Flicking my glance between that and the blue and cloudless sky on the drive down through the Southern Uplands I thought a promise of poor weather felt unlikely. Still, I thought such a classic crag, folk will be taking a punt on the weather and going for it, surely?

I've walked up to Sca Fell once before with Rob last October. It had been dry for a few days and optimism and enthusiasm combined with the season coming rapidly to a close meant we chanced it and walked up to Central Buttress. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for us the face was soaking. Streaming with water, our hands stinging with cold. The face may as well as had 'closed' sign hanging at it's base. However seeing the buttress up close, picking out the classic lines weaving through such steep ground, I knew I'd be back!

After a short but sharp climb up from Wasdale Head passing more 'three peaks' competitors than I care to imagine, we arrived at the base of the buttress. It's aspect means it only gets the sun very very early and again in the evening. The face looked dry, cold and a little uninviting as it loomed intimidatingly over us! Surprisingly, the cold weather seemed to have put other optimists off. 'Now't but us up here'. We had the whole playground to ourselves...

On the other side of the Cwm, bathed in morning Sunshine was Pikes Crag with its most popular and classic route, Grooved Arete soaring 110m up its prow. We had food and we had time, so we opted to warm up (literally) on that first. Interestingly myself and Rob had attempted climbing this route in the rain last time I was there, only to be turned around 2 pitches in by pouring rain and freezing fingers. Unfinished business indeed!

Matt linking some pitch at the start of Grooved Arete (VDiff). A great pitch in its own right|!

Matt seconding the final feet of Grooved Arete, Pikes Crag 

The route was delightful and considering its blocky appearance, quite sustained in places always being interesting. Following a quick abseil to get down off 'pulpit rock' we waded down through the hoards of people heading up to Mickledore and onto Sca Fell Pike and geared up for the main event.

Central Buttress was still covered in cloud but it was now or never. The route we opted for was the mega classic Botterils Slab, one of the most eye catching lines on the whole of the face and comprises of 3 quite long and very contrasting pitches, the second of which is the show stopper. A full 40 meters of technical 4c climbing up the arete and narrow slab. Hard to believe it was first done over 100 years ago by a chap wearing hobnailed boots with an ice axe in one hand. Kudos to you Mr Botterill!

For any likely ascentionists the first and second pitches are good value, with the second particularly being quite thin on holds and gear in its lower section. We both thought the third and final pitch was a bit confusing and a bit loose (loose by mountain standards but if you've climbed on the Culm then you'll be right at home!). I've attached some photos to keep the interest and I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventure!  

The first 4b pitch of Botterill's Slab (VS 4c), steeply gaining access to the main slab pitches

Matt in the middle of the crux 

Just before the final crack high on the arete of Botterill's Slab (VS 4c), Sca Fell