Monday, 31 January 2011


By glorious coincidence Rhys Jones and I must have chosen one of the best january weekends on record to go to the Lakes- beautiful anti-cyclonic weather.

We arrived friday afternoon and headed down to Shepards crag. The Brown slabs are hidden just off of the roadside in a woodland and were bathed in pink light evening light.

Rhys breezed up a rib just off of a VD route which followed an obvious line. Our route was slightly harder but as it wasn't listed in the guide book (guide book was 20yrs old) so we are calling it a first ascent! That proud FA is called 'lunch box sarcastic'.

I followed Rhys up and found him sitting on the top of the crag with the most stunning view over Derwent Water and the hills beyond. The sunset was reflected off of the water in beautiful dashes of colour and it was a peaceful moment sitting up there on those rocks watching the day end.

Saturday dawned bright and clear- the sky a brilliant blue as we set off on another day of rock climbing- this time an attempt of a 140m multi pitch D/VD route on Gillercombe crag.

We could look out at the valley below and see not a soul for miles, and save for the occasional jingle of nuts and cams on a harness or our own 'safe' and 'climbing' shouts to each other, there was not a sound. It was worth a 45 minute walk in- the roadside crags would have been heaving on a day like this.

The route itself was fantastic. We took alternate leads on the 5 pitches which started by following a corner, then moved left up a clear chimney line. We always tried to climb on the ribs in the sunlight, where the climbing was more technical and exposed, but the sunlight was warm on our cold hands.

The second pitch was by far some of the most odd climbing i have ever done- the route dissapears behind a huge stone, meaning that you have to crawl into a hole and push yourself up into a crack no thicker than my chest- put it this way, if i was a stone heavier i wouldn't have fitted through- it was caving on a rock climb!

You re-appear into the glorious sunlight after being stuck in the very claustrophobic and damp crevasse and have to haul your body out- Rhys aptly named it a re-birth.

Onwards and upwards, i led the next pitch. Mentally i am not strong on lead- sport climbing is scary enough, so leading and having to find gear placements and having to place gear so that you are safe is a whole new level of climbing.

I began tentatively making my way up the rib next to the chimney where the route officially follows. I know i am capable of far more technical climbing, but as soon as my feet where off the ground my heart started to race.

6 feet up I placed a cam- i knew i would still hit the deck if i fell.

The foot holds were good but the rib was pushing my body away from the wall- i was hugging the rock trying to find a decent hand hold to the left- there wasn't one. I found myself shouting to Rhys 'i don't think i can do it'.

'Yes you can. Stop being an idiot and get on with it.'

There was nothing for it- I couldn't face defeat- i pushed onto my good left foot and held the tension in my upper body, the extra height meant i found a good hold with my left and and with a great sigh of relief i pulled up to a good stance. PHEW!

We topped out a few hours later and walked back to the car, both extremely happy with such a fun and adventurous route ticked.

In the rock gym it can get boring if you're not pushing yourself technically and physically all the time, but out in the mountains enjoyment comes from the exhiliration of seeing such beautiful views, touching the cold rock with your hands and working out your own route without brightly coloured holds- yes its easy climbing in comparison to the gym, but they are almost uncomparable in the experiences they each offer.

Sunday we nipped up Helvellyn via Striding edge, it seemed that quite a few parties turned back but we found conditions to be fine without crampons and only used axes to descent from the summit onto Swirral edge. The weather by this time was closing in on us- the top was windy and bitingly cold- i put on a wind proof jacket from Karrimor which was super lightweight, i wasn't sure if i should have taken a more heavy duty one, but it worked fantastically. It also had a hood- i recommend not buying a jacket if it doesn't have even a simple hood.

We descended in bad visibility onto Swirral edge, there was no 'cop out' path, we climbed with our hands and feet for 30 minutes over ice, rocks and snow (it felt very alpine!) until finally we emerged back below the cloud line and could spy the valley and our car way below.

As we jumped in the car, ready to begin the 5 hour drive back Rhys said rather depressingly 'don't you hate that moment when you press 'navigate to home' on the sat nav? Its the moment when you realise you have to leave again.'

With that solemn press of a button, the sat nav whizzed into life and pointed our way home. it was back to the real world, until next time.

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