Firstly I'd like to apologise for the delay on writing this, Christmas is a busy time and its hard to type while drinking, eating, climbing Christmas Crack in the rain and preparing a big sale in the shop.
In early December I had 2 days winter climbing in Lakes when it was in condition and the events of both days could not of been more different.
December Lakes winter climbing: Attempt 1
I had 2 days off with Aiden, my normal climbing partner. Scotland was looking totally buried in snow but the Lakes looked possible, just! There was snow and it was due to stay cold enough but the forecast didn't promise a good day. We went anyway.
We headed for Gable Crag as it is high and north facing and so we spent a night in the van on the Honister pass. We awoke to light winds and a fairly clear sky, things looked good. We could already see a team of head lights high up the approach. As we walked in the ground and water was well frozen and the crag looked good, but things soon changed. The wind increased hugely nearing the crag until we could hardly stand and see. I thought I'd check the guide only to remember it was still on the front seat of the van, so after walking like a mad man I caught the team ahead and asked if I could take pictures of theirs. They agreed but they had already decided climbing on such a day was off as by now the snow and wind was incredible. We carried on.
When we got to the crag it was a tiny bit more sheltered but visibility was zero so even with photos of the topo we had no idea what to climb as you could not see a single route. We decided to start climbing till we found something that looked good. After a little while of easy turf and snow we saw a cool looking corner the went quite steep and so we climbed it. We had no idea what is was but thought it was quite good with some tricky little moves especially with steamed up goggles and a howling wind. We later figured out it was Mallory's Corner (IV 6). As we topped out it was only around 11:30 but the weather made the choice easy. Down we went.
The walk out was the hardest part of the day, we were knocked off our feet a number of times by the wind and snow, and with zero visibility it was hard to stay on course. Finally back on track heading down the last slope to van the temperature had risen, rain was now falling and the ice we had walked up earlier was now a raging torrent of water. When we arrived at the van I could not have been wetter if I had jumped in a river. We headed to the closest public toilet to change then next to the closest pub to dry off and food! We decided there was no chance of any kit being dry and the forecast for the next day was not much colder. Home we went.
(The same day Jon Winter was having similar battle with Ian Parnell in Wales, they climbed Mankini (VI 7) on Clogywn Ddu with the same wet, windy outcome!)
December Lakes winter climbing: Attempt 2
Four days later after a big thaw and refreeze I took a day off as the forecast was amazing. My brother, Robert, and I headed back to the Lakes and round to Scafell for another night in the van. We where hoping for a mixed route but as we walked in we realised the thaw had taken the snowline higher than we had hoped and the buttresses were black! My heart sank but it was such a amazing day we changed our plan just to see what was in.
The easy gullies were in great nick so we headed up a Grade 1 to the summit of Scafell Pike and we were on the highest point in England by 9:20am, there was not a cloud in the sky, not a breath of wind and bomber névé, amazing!
Next we headed over to Broad Crag Gully (III), an incredible little route with great ice all the way up. Things were going well! We realised we still had loads of daylight left and it was such a great day we wanted more.
We walked over to the top of Great End and descended the very atmospheric Cust's Gully (I) and went round to Central Gully.
We headed up still unsure which branch we would take. As we made it to the junction there where around 8 people waiting to head up the Right Branch (III), so we flew past straight for the Left Branch which again had great conditions and spectacular ice formations. Another brilliant route done!
We headed back down another Grade I, down via Sprinkling Tarn and back round to The Wasdale Head pub for a well deserved pint by 3:30pm!
An amazing day out and it could not have been more different to last trip to the Lakes 4 days earlier.
James works at Outside Hathersage
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