Short Lakeland adventure

17th Jul 2014

Pavey Arc view Top Guillotine Fallen Angel Empire 5c Empire 6a Heather 6a Thirlmere swim

Having spent the last couple of months getting out sport climbing on the Peak limestone, I have been getting strong pangs for some tradding.         Heather leading 'Finger Flake Finish' E2 5c, Reecastle.

It’s certainly been a while since I did any (I don’t count grit, which I do get out on fairly regularly) and the inner-me needs that trad experience. It’s the combination of the style of climbing, the fairly remote places you get to and also I love the whole gear placing/rope work faff factor. There is something strangely satisfying about it all when it works, especially when you get a good piece of gear in. Although, that is fairly understandable, as you suddenly get a sense of calm on a route when you know you aren’t going to hit the ground!

So I have been trying to arrange a trip somewhere and finally a friend, Heather Ohly, who has moved to Kendal recently had some free time. So once we sorted the weather out, up I headed up to The Lakes for three days cragging. And what a time we had...

...the weather really couldn’t have been better, the sun shined constantly, in fact a little too much at times and the suncream had to be liberally applied. But this meant the crags were generally very dry--if not as clean as they could be--and the conditions enjoyable and it was a pleasure to be up there.

We had a short day on tuesday, so headed to a great single pitch crag called Reecastle. A perfect place to start and get the head into gear. The routes are oft climbed, the gear is generally easy to place and the rock quality good. The routes tend to be more on the arms and can provide a good evenings work-out. We did a couple of E2’s and E3’s and I was ready for more.

(left) Heather joining me at the top of 'Guillotine' E3 5c, Reecastle.

The next day due to the incredible weather, we decided to go for a higher crag. As I have only climbed in the Lakes once or twice (!), there were many choices to go at. So we opted for Pavey Arc, which turned out to be a great choice. After an hours walk-in, we climbed on the East face which provided El Scorchio sun until around 2-3pm and even I was glad when we finally got into the shade.

Heather led a great E2 5c called ‘Astra’, which was a bold one rather than a physically demanding one. She did a great job on it and we managed to condense it to three pitches (rather than five) to give us more time for something else after.

Although, it’s been a good 2-3 years since I properly went tradding, I had a hankering to push myself and get on something slightly harder. Having heard about the reputation of tough grading in the Lakes, I thought an E4 would provide an ample challenge at this stage of the game. So with a couple to choose from, I went for the impending groove line that just called me to it. This was a route called ‘Fallen Angel’ and is given E4 6a.

Wow, what I couldn’t see from the ground was the array of rivulets running down the groove and the completely soaked ‘crucial’ handholds. But by this point I was a third the way up it and felt committed, it was easier to go up than reverse. So what happened next due to the worrying wetness, was that I tried to put gear in at every available opportunity. I’m sure I put gear in cracks that have never seen a nut in their thousands of years on that crag. Due to not being able to hang on with my hands as much as I’d like, I had to rely on bridging in the groove and taking a lot of the weight on my feet. My poor feet were in agony, in fact my calves were too. I had put on a pair of shoes that I literally hadn’t worn for years because I’d remembered they were great for trad but my feet must have got bigger or something because I spent half of the route trying to take the weight off one foot then the other just to get some relief.

(left) Lucy climbing "Fallen Angel'. Image: Mark Glasiter.

It became a real battle of pain and mental endurance. I kept thinking I’d slip off any minute but finally with a lot of persistence, I got to the top of the groove and broke out onto a lichen covered slab--not what my feet wanted but hey, at least it was dry! Although the technical difficulty was over, this route somehow keeps you guessing and you have to concentrate the whole way up. It was a whole body experience by the time I reached the top and the absolute and total relief when I took my boots off, could be heard all round the Langdale Valley!

Oh the relief!

The bonus on reaching the top are the wonderful views (see top image). The tarn you walk up past to get to Pavey Arc, feels like an oasis of peace and looked very enticing for a swim. But by the time we headed down, there was quite a breeze and lots of people about. But Heather braved a dip in a lovely pool lower down the hillside--cold water isn’t my thing unfortunately.

Heather bravely skinny-dipping behind me on the way down from Pavey Arc- I was a wimp!

Next day, we decided to head over to Hardknott pass but on approaching found the roads shut for maintenance, so had to change plans. A friend had recommended Raven Crag, Thirlmere to Heather, so we ended up there.                                  The jungle to the bottom was only the half of it.

The encounter we had there was much more what I had been expecting of the Lakeland crags; overgrown, dirty and a little loose. But even so, I really enjoyed our experience. We were going to start on an E1 5c called ‘Totalitarian’, then get on ‘Empire’ an E3 6a. Once we fought our way to the bottom, we found some guys already ensconced on the E1, so we did the E3. The first pitch looked unclimbable, so we did the first pitch of the E1 instead, which was better than it looked. Then the meat of the route, a 33m 5c pitch. On reflection, I really enjoyed it but I spent a lot of the time brushing off years of lichen and trying to work out where the route went. Luckily, the rock (Borrowdale volcanic) has incredibly good friction and you can stand anywhere to make upward progress. In fact all the crags we’d climbed on were this rock type and this was one of things I enjoyed most, just how pleasant the rock was to climb on. We made it up to the belay which was close to the belay on the E1 that the lads were doing and they very kindly donated us half of their chocolate brownie, there are some nice folk out there...

Brownie charged, it was time for the short E3 6a top pitch. The lichen still looked bad but there was a bomber looking peg to aim for, so I said to Heather I’d give it a go and if it turned out to be unclimbable, we could easily move right onto the last pitch of the E1. Well, it was dirty but the holds were positive pockets and it was actually really enjoyable climbing. In fact dare I say it, probably the only soft touch pitch we’d done the whole time.

(left and above left) Heather Ohly fighting through the lichen to climb the top 6a pitch of Empire, Raven Crag, Thirlmere.

Having had enough of Raven Crag for the time being, we trekked down feeling a little hot and bothered went to have lunch on the shores of Thirlmere Reservoir. It was so lovely, that even I was tempted by the water...and shock horror...I actually ventured in, after five mins of procrastination!! We stripped off and spent 15-20 minutes swimming about and it was absolute bliss. I can’t think of the last time I wild swam (due to my latterly developed hatred of cold water) but taking a dip in Thirlmere has almost given me the bug again. A lovely way to end the day.

(Bottom left) The proof I actually did it.

But it wasn’t quite over, as I was still keen for a little more, so we headed back to kendal  and I dropped Heather off and then Shane and myself went to Chapel Head Scar to take advantage of the last evening rays. It’s a great (mainly) sport-crag, with loads of routes, all pretty tough but we had a great time getting pumped. Especially Shane, as we had convinced ourselves he was on-sighting a f7b, so he gave it the most monumental effort; slapping for holds, dynoing, missing clips, getting outrageously boxed and doing really burly moves. But by the time he’d reached the top, I’d worked out that he was in fact on a Lakeland f6c and his best on-sight for the season, quickly disappeared with the setting sun. 

Lovely views from Raven crag, Thirlmere. Shame about the ugly mug in the middle, haha!

So that was my short trip to the Lakes, bring on the next one! I’m hoping for a bit of Pembroke action too, fingers crossed.

Cheerio for now.