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

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