‘C’ Ordinary Route on Dow Crag

It’s the day before we (me and Lorna) head out to the Vanoise National Park in the Alps, and I’ve finally managed to catch up on writing blog posts! This one is about a day out we had on Monday – a final bit of Alps training and a final chance to make the most of the weather.

For a while we have been wanting to repeat Giant’s Crawl, a brilliant Diff route on one of the Lakes’ most popular crags, Dow Crag. With that in mind, we decided to head up to Dow Crag on Monday morning and go for a climb. However, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to do another three-star Diff on the crag that neither of us had done before – the Ordinary Route on C Buttress – as it would be much better “Alps practice” to do a route we’d never done before. I’d also read that the route was better than Giant’s Crawl, and after being recommended it by a guy I was working with at the weekend, the final decision was made.

Top of pitch five (i.e. our pitch three)

Top of pitch five (i.e. our pitch three)

We went for a “lightweight” approach, well, as lightweight as you can get with climbing gear. Owing to the weather, the waterproofs were ditched and replaced with a thin insulated jacket “just in case”. We sweated our way up to Goats Tarn, before checking the route and heading to the lowest part of the crag, which is where the climb starts from. I lead the first pitch, and no sooner had I brought Lorna up, another two groups arrived at the bottom of the climb – phew, just in time! Lorna lead the second pitch, before I accidentally joined pitches three, four and five together. This wouldn’t have been a problem, had it not been for the rope drag which made dragging myself up the slabs on pitch five hard work. The climbing was relatively straight forward, but in a fantastic position we great exposure – I can see where it gets its three stars from! Lorna take over once more for pitch six, which was by-far-and-away the crux of the route (though whether we were actually on the route is debatable). I was glad of the rope above me as I teetered around a protruding bulge before awkwardly pulling myself over a block with little hand-holds and plenty of exposure – good lead Lorna! The final pitch added some excitement in the form of a rightwards traversing gangway that threw me a bit off balance. I soon topped out onto Easy Terrace (another route on the crag that gets a grade 3 scrambling grade) and belayed from a massive block.

Lorna leading the crux pitch - the difficulties lie just above

Lorna leading the crux pitch – the difficulties lie just above

The difficulties weren’t quite over, and we struggled finding our way up the buttress directly behind the climb – we headed around to the right before branching up left, whereas I think in retrospect the best approach would be to follow Easy Terrace leftwards for a short while first, as we eventually found a path coming from that direction. After summitting, we descended via Blind Tarn, which gave us an opportunity to take a dip in the refreshingly cold waters without the crowds of people that we gathered around Goats Tarn.

Topping out on Dow Crag

Topping out on Dow Crag

Corvus: How to avoid the queues

How to avoid the queues on one of the Lakes’ most popular multipitches? By bivvying, of course! If you’ve read my last few posts you’ll have seen a recent trend of making the most of this fantastic weather we’ve been having recently, whilst get in some quality Alps training. Lorna and me were joined by Mouse, Calum and Sarah for a weekend in Borrowdale.

The weekend started off on the Saturday with a hot and sweaty slog up Sour Milk Gill to gain the summit of Green Gable. The plan for the day: A 20km semi-horseshoe over Green Gable, Brandreth and Grey Knotts, before descending to Buttermere and reascending to return via Robinson, Hindscarth and Dale Head. The toughest part was, as expected, the drag back up from Buttermere to Robinson. We decided to take the steep path skirting east of Goat Crag to gain the summit directly, and it really was quite tortuous in the intense afternoon sun. We had the summits to ourselves (except for a passing Bob Graham round heading the other direction) and it soon became worth all the effort.

Buttermere from Fleetwith Pike

Buttermere from Fleetwith Pike

Back at the car park in Seatoller, we had our tea and packed our bags with climbing gear, before setting off for the 2km walk-in up Combe Gill to the base of Raven Crag. As was expected, the bivvy was particularly midgey, but this time I was armed with a midge net and so had a much more comfortable night than last weekend.

Mouse's midge-proof bivvy setup

Mouse’s midge-proof bivvy setup

We were up early, and were greeted by a fantastic cloud inversion as we made our way up to the base of the climb (Corvus, D***), which we arrived at for 7am. Me and Lorna took alternate leads, whilst Mouse led the other two up behind us. I lead the first pitch, which after a few delicate traversing moves at the top led nicely onto a damp ledge for the belay. Lorna took over for pitch two – a groove that took a little bit of tought – before I combined three and four together. Pitch three was a scrambling traverse left-wards across the crag, whilst pitch four was back in the vertical with an awkward chimney graced with hand-holds aplenty – a bit of a squeeze with a rucksack on! Lorna took over once more for pitch five, which this time was a right-wards scrambling traverse, and that left me with the fantastic and (in)famous Hand Traverse pitch – a 10m traverse on a vertical wall with fantastic hand holds but a bit lacking in the footholds. I teetered my way off the belay ledge and onto the traverse, placing a nut pretty much straight away. The next few moves were a bit bare on gear, before a good ledge-like foothold was reached with a couple of great cam placements above (I was glad I took the advice of the guide I had read that recommended taking cams). The final few moves of the traverse again didn’t have any decent footholds to speak of, and after pulling myself up onto the next belay ledge my arms breathed a sigh of relief. I decided to belay there so I could lean out an take a few photos of Lorna making the traverse – which has equally as severe consequences for the second as it does for the leader. Lorna combined the next few pitches together, and we were soon at the top of the crag, basking in the bright morning sunlight whilst sorting out our gear.

The cloud inversion burning off in the early-morning sun

The cloud inversion burning off in the early-morning sun

The climb (Corvus, D***), which takes a devious route up Raven Crag

The climb (Corvus, D***), which takes a devious route up Raven Crag

The fantastic Hand Traverse pitch (on that good foothold I was talking about)

The fantastic Hand Traverse pitch (on that good foothold I was talking about)

Lorna following me over the Hand Traverse

Lorna following me over the Hand Traverse

The climb deserves every one of its three stars, and the Hand Traverse more than makes up for the broken-up nature of actual climbing pitches. We headed down over Thonrythwaite Fell, descending steeply eastwards off the its northern ridge to collect our bivvy gear. Setting off early was definitely the right choice, as we could see many other groups on the route which we’d had to ourselves.

P.S. Did you know? “Corvus” translates to “Raven”, and the climb is on Raven Crag.

Attack of the flies: Why not to bivvy without a midge net!

It’s not often that you get perfectly still bright sunny days out in Snowdonia, which probably describes why bringing a midge net didn’t even cross my mind on a bivvy trip me and Lorna did a couple of weeks ago. Bad mistake…

The Saturday was spent enjoying an impressive spectrum of colours and smells in the gardens of Powis Castle with my Mum and Dad, before we all headed to Snowdonia on the Sunday. The plan was for us to do a walk on Sunday and then for them leave me and Lorna there few a couple of days of Alps training. The walk we chose was the popular Carnedd Llewellyn horseshoe from Llyn Ogwen – comprising of the summits of Pen yr Ole Wen, Carnedd Daffydd and Carnedd Llewellyn. It’s a route I know well, but one that Lorna hasn’t done for many years. Unexpectedly, it was quite cloudy and Carnedd Llewellyn – the highest mountain in Wales outside of the Snowdon range – has a whispy covering for most of the day. It was still very hot though, and this made for hard work; by the time we were back at the car I hardly felt like the walk-in to our bivvy spot of Llyn Bochlwyd!

Powis Castle

Powis Castle

Clouds rolling over the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen

Clouds rolling over the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen

We picked the windiest spot we could find for the evening, though that only amounted to the odd breath every now and then. After a quick swim, we settled down for our tea of couscous and quiche, and before too long a black cloud of midges had descended. Even after applying Avon Skin So Soft (which apparently is a good midge repellent, though I’m not so sure I agree now), we were still being plagued, and so headed to bed. Unfortunately for me, the drawstring closure on my bivvy bag (an Alpkit Hunka) doesn’t close properly, and even if you do close it properly it’s very difficult to breathe inside the bag – a bit of a design flaw. This meant that I was still being plagued and after an hour or so of torture I gave in and somehow managed to squeeze into Lorna’s hooped bivvy bag (it’s a good job we’re both thin!) and finally got some sleep.

Lovely sun set

Lovely sun set

 

Main Gully Ridge, 3***

The midges were still out in full force the next morning, and so our breakfast of Sainsbury’s Basics scotch pancakes (surprisingly tasty!) was rather rushed. We dumped our gear around the far side of the Llyn and started the slog up to the base of our route – the three-star grade 3 scramble of Main Gully Ridge on Glyder Fach’s northern face. The route follows a vague ridge line that borders Main Gully on the right, before traversing left across the Chasm Face and joining up with other routes on the face for a few hundred metres of fantastic grade 1/2 scrambling. Even though it was only 7am, it was already very hot work and we had to have a large rest at the base of the route to recover.

The line of Main Gully Ridge, 3***

The line of Main Gully Ridge, 3***

We decided to move together at the start, but after gaining the ridge by an easy groove I was presented with a foothold-less chest high block that I didn’t like the look of. I think the guidebook talked about “pulling strenuously over a block”… I shouted down for Lorna to put me on belay, placed my trusty number 4 nut safely in a crack and awkwardly heaved myself over the obstacle. The next couple of steps weren’t much easier and so Lorna stayed belaying me whilst I worked my way up the difficulties, placing a few slings along the way. After creating a nice belay, I brought her up before pitching the next bit again to overcome pretty much all of the difficulties that the route posed. It is this section that gives the ridge its grade 3 rating.

The start of the grade 1 Main Gully (left) and Main Gully Ridge (right)

The start of the grade 1 Main Gully (left) and Main Gully Ridge (right)

From then on, we moved together, practicing placing gear on the rope between us even though it (or the rope) weren’t really necessary at this point. This style of movement – moving together in “Alpine style” – is different to usual “pitched” climbing in that no belays are taken and both climbers move at the same time. It is generally used on “easier” ground where the chance of a fall is less but still present, and it is typically used in Alpine ascents where moving at speed is imperative. Coils of rope are taken around the chest to leave 10-20m of rope between climbers (depending on how hard the ground is). The leader places gear – known as runners, as the rope runs through them – which the second then removes, trying to keep two or three bits of gear on the rope at the same time. The rope can also be wound around rocks to help increase the friction in the event of a fall.

Moving together at the top of Main Gully Ridge

Moving together at the top of Main Gully Ridge

This initial plan was to then drop down to Llyn Bochlwyd, pick up our bivvy gear and walk over to the base of the Clogwyn y Person arete for the following morning. However, we were both far too worn out (I blame the heat!) and so instead we simply headed down the Gribin ridge and stayed at Llyn Bochlwyd for a second night – totalling an impressive 3km for the first day’s walking! Of course, being the weather as it was, another swim was simply compulsory!

Lovely views of Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr

Lovely views of Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr

 

Bristly Ridge

It wasn’t quite as midgey on the Monday night, but I still had to resort to Lorna’s bivvy bag again. The following day, instead of climbing again, we thought it would be a good option to take our bivvy gear with us and walk out to Capel Curig over Bristly Ridge. This proved as strenuous as I had feared it would be with 15 kg of gear on my back (I weighed it when we got home!), but it definitely served good Alps practice. For me, Bristly Ridge surpasses most other scrambles I’ve done – it is such a good quality route for its grade, and there is lots of exposure to be had by taking the most direct line.

The Great Pinnacle. The way down in to the right.

The Great Pinnacle. The way down in to the right.

There are lots of feral goats on the Gylders. It's impressive watching them negotiate the steep rocky steps that us humans struggle with!

There are lots of feral goats on the Gylders. It’s impressive watching them negotiate the steep rocky steps that us humans struggle with!

The walk out seemed to go on forever, made only worse by hoards of horse flies that bugged us (pun intentional!) for most of the descent of Y Foel Goch. After what seemed like an age, we arrived back in Capel and caught the bus to Betws-y-Coed and then the train back to Chester, via Llandudno Junction.

Back to the fell running: Two days in Wasdale

The Hiking Club’s final weekend trip of the year – the so-called “Big Weekend Out”, from 22-23 June – this year took place in Wasdale. We headed up on the Saturday morning and returned Sunday evening. The drive up wasn’t without incident, the funniest moment being when an oncoming car driver decided his small car wasn’t small enough to “squeeze” through the (very large, at least minibus-width) gap that Alexandros’ minibus in front had left. Eventually, after a small queue built up behind us, Alex had had enough and exclaimed “let’s do this Greek style” (he’s Greek, you see, ergo a little more confrontational than us Brits), and marched over to the car and said (shouted) something that must have done the trick; because after some sarcastic hand-waving to beckon the car through on Alex’s behalf, we were soon on our way again.

After squeezing ourselves onto the already-packed Wasdale Head campsite, walks were announced and after much faff, three groups set off in opposite directions. Jenni lead a walk over Ill Gill Head and Whin Rigg, Jack went for an adventure down Lord’s Rake, and Jim et al. had Pillar plus surrounding hills. I decided that my first “proper” fell run back after injury would be today, and I chose a route comprising Kirk Fell, Great Gable, the Corridor Route and Scafell Pike. I’m not sure why I went for such a long run for my first one back, and it’s probably why I’m still sporting a dodgy knee a few weeks later…

A rather packed Wasdale Head campsite

A rather packed Wasdale Head campsite

The weather wasn’t amazing: Plenty of cloud, a good amount of rain and bitterly cold winds made up most of the run. I was glad to be moving at speed. I had Kirk Fell and Great Gable to myself, only encountering a couple of other runners heading in the opposite direction. This welcome solitude wasn’t long lived, and as soon as I hit Styhead Tarn I found myself battling through crowds of ill-equipped and miserable-looking walkers, with the exception of a small few that looked like they were having as much fun as I was. The situation got worse on the litter-strewn summit of Scafell Pike, as group after group of 3 Peakers appeared out of the mist from all directions. Whilst many groups comprised of respectful walkers fittingly enjoying their achievement, there were just as many raucous parties demonstrating little respect for their environment or their fellow walkers – littering and shouting at the tops of their voices being the main crimes, with some seemingly incapable of having a quiet conversation with their mates standing right next to them without raising their voices to 70dB. Maybe I’m being too intolerant, and I’ll admit that I am biased in the sense that I am set against the contrived 3 Peaks Challenge that bring so much devastation and disturbance to the local communities (especially Wasdale).

Grumbles aside, I enjoyed the fast descent down to Wasdale via the tourist track. I pushed myself not only with a quick pace, but also by keeping my speed up down the more technical rocky sections, and I was very pleased that I don’t seem to have lost any of my descending abilities. I arrived back at the campsite, sorted my gear out and showered just in time for the heavy rain that stuck with us most of the rest of the evening to arrive. That evening, to avoid said rain, we retired to the Wasdale Head Inn and stayed there until kicking out time. The place is apparently under new management, and it definitely seemed an improvement from last time me and Lorna were in there.

The tricky move on Yewbarrow's northern ridge scramble

The tricky move on Yewbarrow’s northern ridge scramble

The weather was somewhat similar on the Sunday, and breakfast was had out of the rain still snuggled in my sleeping bag. I got up and packed away, ready to go for 9am, which is the time we’d agreed for announcing walks. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Hiking Club trips, other people’s conception of “9am” was a little more fluid than mine, and after standing around in the rain for a few hours the last couple decided to eventually get out their tent at 11am. A few of us had decided the evening before that Yewbarrow would be a good option, which proved to be a popular option when we announced the walk. We walked over the ridge-shaped summit from north to south, taking in the lovely but all-too-short scramble from the col between Yewbarrow and Red Pike. It is barely a scramble, but there is one trickier grade-I move that I spotted whilst offering foot- and hand-hold suggestions. Fortunately, the rain stayed off, and we even enjoyed some fantastic views over Waswater.

After getting worried that Jack wasn’t back yet (who went out on his own in the morning and was 3 hours overdue), and subsequently finding him taking a snooze around the back of the pub, we headed back to Lancaster.

Great views back down to Waswater from the descent off Yewbarrow

Great views back down to Waswater from the descent off Yewbarrow