Sunday, 4 February 2018

Winter Climbing & Walking Meet - Braithwaite

Saturday morning at 6:45 a band of winter climbers emerged from their bunks and busily prepared for a snow and ice climbing day on Great End.  At 8 a.m. they left the hut and journeyed to the car parking at Seathwaite. The objective was to climb Cust's Gully.  As we ascended the light rain turned to sleet, then snow.  The whole face of Great End was covered in fog but we could just about make out the start of Central Gully.  Cust's Gully was known to be high and far to the right but in the mist it was difficult to make out anything distinguishable.  The trek was easy under the rocks but Cust's Gully was nowhere to be found.  Checking the guidebook we decided that we were too low and a climb over steep rocky terrain to the next level shelf would be necessary.  Eventually, after much searching, we found the narrow steep-sided gully of Cust's with the unmistakable chock-stone wedged in it. 
Here we split into three groups.  Chris and Stuart decided to climb the grade III Window Gully. Ken roped up with Kieran and Phil whilst John, the other leader of the day, roped up with Simon and Lee  to climb Cust's Gully.  Snow conditions were not firm but there was enough purchase on the boots to allow us to move together as two teams.  A small rock pitch under the chockstone gave a difficult pitch where a permanent belay was made.  The final steps out of the gully were relatively easy.
We waited on the summit for Chris and Stuart, in total white-out. Eventually we heard a faint whistle and they joined us in the shelter of some rocks. Their climb had involved  a tough pitch of mixed ice and rock in lean conditions, lead by Stuart and giving Chris his first taste of grade III winter climbing. After a month of frustrating conditions it was fantastic to finally feel the crampons and axes bite into real ice.

Above the icy rock - the chockstone feature evident

By Taylorgill force: Phil, Chris, Stuart, Lee, 
Simon, John and Kieran
The descent in the cloud was far from easy.  Ken was armed with map and compass which gave a good, safe line of descent but the compass then led us uphill for too long.  Something was wrong.  John checked our position on his new navigation gizmo and decided we were starting the ascent of Esk Pike.  A quick turn-around brought us to the branch off to Esk Hause and a new compass bearing toward Sprinkling Tarn.  The fog had descended still further and no features of Great End were now to be seen but at least it had stopped snowing.  Down to Styhead Tarn where a mountain rescue man was quite rightly turning back young hopefuls wanting to climb Scafell so late in the day.  Our descent then took us over the small scramble by Taylorgill Force, one of the highest waterfalls of the Lake District. 
The day was finished off with a communal meal of corn beef hash and fruit salad at the hut before going to the pub.

On the Sunday we rose to a much brighter day - no risk of rain or snow.  The quest was now to climb Helvellyn from Red Tarn.  At Glenridding car park we waited for the car parking machine to register 9a.m. after which it allowed you to buy a ticket.  The trek to Helvellyn was arduous
over ice-glazed stones and a gradient that seemed to last forever.  Eventually the bowl of Helvellyn became visible; one of Lakeland’s finest winter views. Red Tarn was surprisingly unfrozen. 

Stuart climbs V Corner (III) Red Tarn Cove

We roped up into three groups as before.  Kieran had gone home to celebrate his father's birthday and his place was taken by Ian.  The main groups chose the Grade I Gully 2 (as opposed to the Grade II Gully 1, confusingly) whilst Chris and Stuart plumped for a grade III route.  The main teams made good progress at first but as the gully steepened conditions under foot were not good - 10 cm of soft snow covering an icy base.  Both Ken and Ian tried to fit crampons on the steep icy slope in vain - they would have to kick and cut steps. The exit from the gully was particularly tricky, rising to about a 70 degree angle on uncertain snow, but the two axes helped a lot to steady the climb.
Stuart and Chris made a successful ascent of V-Corner, a line of weakness up the buttress to the left of Gully 2, culminating in the tricky eponymous corner. Again, conditions were leaner than ideal but Stuart lead the first and third pitches boldly, with Chris succeeding on his first grade III lead on pitch two. They moved together on the upper snow slope to rendezvous with Ken and party on the summit plateau, with glorious views over the snowy fells.

John and his team decided to descend by Swirral Edge                                                                        
Ken chose Striding Edge as a descent because one of his team had no crampons.  Striding Edge is longer but safer because Swirral can be lethal in icy conditions without crampons - there are no rocks to stop a fall, just a continuing icy slope to Red Tarn, far below.

We got down to the Car Park at 5:30 as the light was fading on one of the most successful winter climbing meets ever and a pleasure to be with such an enthusiastic team.