A forecast of cold weather between the 18th and Chrsitmas meant Phone calls and arrangements for a trip to the lakes. Not that much precipitation was predicted, but the mixed routes would surely be in?
I would meet Dooge on the Friday and go and have a look at Lad Crag (the crag to the left of striding edge). We quickly abandon plans to plod up the classic Nethermost Gully (III) in pursuit of a really striking line further left- a series of large corners and the most unbroken part of the crag. After just over 100 metres of easyish mixed steps we arrived at what looked like the technical crux- a corner crack with a roof.
I led up and arranged some good Tricams below the roof and then continued on my first winter lead. It looked hard so I sent down a length of rope to bring up Dave’s technical axes as mine were rubbish walking things. I attacked the crux with a little too much aggression, but got a torque in the crack that seemed to hold and let me swing out to a small patch of turf and then continued in a similar sketchy vain to a brilliant thread belay. Dave followed up and led the next corner of probably around grade IV. We have no real idea what grade the main pitch was, maybe tech 6ish?
Day two saw the arrival of Luke on his motorbike and he persuaded us to go to Bowfell Buttress. A classic route of V 6 that takes almost the same line as the summer route. Dave led us up the first pitch which was just about in and I had the honour of doing the crux pitch, which was quite nice, with good gear. Luke led us up the last pitch which was a beautiful series of moves on good hooks and turf and in really good condition.
After Bowfell I could see he was not content with the classic tick which had gone a little too easily. He pointed out a big corner on the right hand side of the opposite crag. We went for a look. I led the boulder problem start, which I found really hard and belayed Luke, who then cruised up it. He took pitch two, but wisely decided to retreat to the belay as the gear was pretty poor. For some reason I said I’d have a look, even though it was my second day of Winter leading and Luke has done a fair bit on the Ben and in the alps. I soon got to his highpoint and hammered a warthog into a shocking piece of crap (Luke later just pulled it out with his fingers). I made myself have a sneaky look round the next bulge, just to confirm it was blank, but unfortunately I found a hook at the very limit of my reach- a poor sketchy hook, but I had to commit to it now. I matched the hook as I had borrowed Dave’s tools and had leashes on, so couldn’t go double handed and then managed to find a patch of turf a lock-off away. A further cool double-torqing move led to a good belay. I belayed Luke up in the worsening weather and then it got dark. Lowering Luke off, I then rapped off a prussic. Good Day Out!
After the Saturday we were knackered and slept till about 11 on Sunday and then ate loads and used the masses of snow as an excuse. Monday couldn’t be a rest day though and by now Luke had had to go home. Me and Dave kitted up for a big day- We wanted to cruise up the ‘Cold Climbs’ Classic of Chock Gully (V 5) and then descend down Helvelyn to then have a go at Viking Buttress (IV 5). As we got up to Chock Gully it was evident there was a lot of snow around and everything was plastered and big drifts clogging everything.
The lead up to the Chock Stone ended up taking nearly 2 hours, due to insane amounts of powder- It was 8 feet Deep before you could get down to anything which could hold your weight and, when the ice got steep enough to repel the powder it was rotten and took an age to get a good placement. Exhausted and scared (not much in the way of gear) I arrived at a peg and clipped it and bashed some Tricams home and sat back on my bomber belay.
The Gully bends right out of view.
As Dave arrived on the belay he congratulated me on having led the most full-on winter pitch either of us had seen in the lakes. His praise was soon interrupted by the worsening spindrift, which was now a constant torrent and I encouraged Dooge to have the crux pitch. He got a good nut in and then went at it with total commitment. The mixed crux led back on to the overhang formed by the chockstone and Dooge swung out on some dodgey hooks to bridge onto the other side.
After the First Ice Pitch
The powder was back in Ernest and Dooge was now a terrifyingly long way above his gear, trying to quarry through the deep powder to get something to hold his (considerable ;-)) Weight. He managed to sketch his way up to the easier angled, but hugely unstable ground and to his relief an in-situ Peg. Getting to a point vaguely resembling a belay he clipped in a brought me up.
After some difficulty passing his belay I managed to get to another step, this time with a bit more frozen turf, but also a sketchy bridging move. Some more, almost avalanche prone Powder and Wind Slab led to a Belay on a good Spike. Dave came up and led up the easy slope to the top. We were both Exhausted after a pretty full on day; on an epic Route; in insane conditions. Bon!