Sunday 12th May
I don’t know how a trip to Malham Cove to sample some ‘safe’ sport climbing turned into heading to Low Raven Crag to ‘have a look’ at Meltdown (E7), but that’s the sort of thing that happens when you meet up with The Epicentre‘s Peter Holder in Booths of Windermere on a Sunday morning. I cant say I was hard to persuade though. I tend to find sport climbing (like bouldering) a bit tame and just a training tool to improve my trad climbing.
After very quickly sacking off Malham we headed to Grasmere with revived excitement and optimism. We both saw the first few drops of rain hit the windscreen as we turned the corner into Grasmere, and we both ignored them, not wanting to accept that it was raining. The raindrops soon filled the windscreen and the silence had to be broken as I switched on my windscreen wipers. . . . .
“It’ll pass, its just a light shower, the crag is overhanging it wont get wet”
. . . . .are just a few of the lies we told each other, but we both knew the day was a write off.
We did the wet and very steep walk-in, up the vertical grass and scree slopes to the crag, and as I went ‘arse over tit’ for the eleventh time I started cursing my decision to wear skater trainers. Even at the base of the crag it was impossible to stand up without sliding southwards.
We spent a few minutes looking at the crag before Pete headed to the top to position himself above the route. I then headed up to help set up a top rope. The scramble up to the top of the crag was pretty full-on, and if I’m honest I was pretty gripped on the vertical grass in my ridiculous trainers. The rope set-up was quite complex and Pete didn’t promote much confidence as he abbed over the edge to inspect the holds, voicing his concerns about the sharp edges the rope was running over part way down the crag.
I once again had to take my chances with the vertical grass as I descended to the base of the route. Pete abbed and inspected holds as I stood at the bottom, dodging the loose rock that he kept dislodging. He was pretty optimistic about the holds but said the route had no gear except for the four rusty pegs huddled together above the roof at the crux of the climb at about 1/3rd of the way up the route.
Pete – “Its bold and has no feet!”
Me – “Perfect. . . . . I still haven’t figured out what feet are for yet. . . . . . bold is all I have!”
Pete – “Yeah. . . . . me too. . . . . . good point!”
We stood at the base peering up at the route with the rain relentlessly blinding us. We realised that the wind had picked up and was blowing the rain into the crags overhanging face. On inspection we could see that the first 1/3rd was easy ground to a ledge. Then we would have to lean out and hopefully clip a rusty peg. We would then have to campus our way up the overhang, as there seemed to be no feet. It then looked like a small ledge would offer a rest and a chance to reach below our feet to clip the other rusty pegs. It would now be a race up the final overhanging wall, with a fall resulting in plenty of airtime (onto rusty pegs). A rest looked possible as the angle eases, and then finally there would be a bold climb up the slab to the vertical grass. This vertical grass looked like a hideous top-out.
Wet, but not wanting a wasted journey, we half heartedly looked at each other and forced out the words. . . . . .
Me – “We should get on it”
Pete – “Yeah”
Me – “Who’s going first?”
Pete – “Rock, paper scissors?”
Me – “OK so if you win you go first?”
Pete – “No. . . . . . if you win you get to decide”
Me – “Hahahaha, so you want to sack it off too?”
Pete – “Yeah”
After both drawing paper three times in a row, I went with a brave decision to try with stone, thinking Pete wouldn’t choose paper for a fourth time. . . . . but he did, and he chose me to try and top rope it first . . . . .in the rain. . . . . cheers mate!
After pulling onto the ledge I reached around the overhang and found I could reach the hold and the first peg. Having decided this was the crux I gave up going any further. I knew I could campus. Pete went up and reached it also, and we went home happy in the knowledge it was possible to protect before committing to the overhanging, protection-less wall above. On the walk-out I fell over and badly sliced my hand open. That’s what you get for wearing non-sensible footwear. . . . . take heed!
Tuesday 14th May
I spent the next two days in a delirious state. I couldn’t relax or stop myself from asking myself the same questions over and over again. . . . . . . . .
.. . . . . . . I wonder if the holds above the roof are good enough. Would it go? Have I got the stamina? If I fall off at the hard moves will the pegs hold? Will I deck out if I fall at the top of the overhanging wall? Is the slab above easy? If not, then is it worth committing, as a fall would definitely result in decking out? Is the vertical grass top out do-able under pressure?
Two days I waited until I decided to head there alone on the Tuesday evening. The plan was to answer as many of the questions as I could in an attempt to stop myself from going insane. I even brought along some pegs to replace the old ones if need be.
I wore approach shoes this time, and the crag looked a lot more inviting in the evening sun with the dry, windless air calming my mind. This time I managed to figure out a better way of setting up my rope and I protected as many of the edges as I could before abbing down the face.
I decided the vertical grass top-out was actually fine. The slab above the overhang was definitely protection-less, and the rock was very dubious and loose, but the climbing was easy enough to commit to. It seemed there was probably one move of around E1 at the top of the slab, before you reach the vertical grass. A fall would however be pretty serious or even fatal.
The overhanging wall had enough holds and even some foot placements, but the rock was loose and the small ledge offered no rest as it was still very overhanging at this point. I wasn’t even sure I would have enough in me to clip the other pegs. This was turning from bold, to a full on solo – and on loose rock. But I was now confident I could do it.
The pegs were old, but I was sure at least the bottom one would hold a fall, and as this was the only one I was sure I could clip so I was happy. The critical hold under the roof that allowed the reach through the roof was still wet, and I was sure this would rarely dry, but I held it in the rain the other day so I wasn’t worried about this either.
I knew the route was steep, however, I hadn’t realised just how steep untill I saw the rope hanging in space. Regardless, I was happy with the new beta, so much so that if I’d had a belayer, I think I would of just went for it without a further top rope attempt.
Its a Steep One!
Friday 17th May – The Day of Reckoning
It was now Friday, three days after my last visit and the weather had finally cleared. The route was taking a real toll on my mind now, I had to put it to bed before it drove me insane and caused me any further sleepless nights. After a gentle push from Vickie we headed to the crag. I had a cloud of worry surrounding me. The plan was to set-up the top rope, by which time Pete would arrive at the crag. I couldn’t wait for him to finish work as I was going clinically mad by this point. I needed to clear this torment from my mind.
I set up the top rope and kept reasoning to myself that I didn’t need to worry, as I needn’t lead it today. . . . . . . . but that was a lie. . . . . . . I knew I was going to lead it.
Pete arrived and I tied in and climbed to the ledge. At the ledge I gripped the wet undercut and leaned back, reaching over the roof to the next hold. I managed to share this hold and campus to the next. I got a high foot involved and reached across to do the next sequence of moves. I got to a loose jug and realised it was possible to clip two of the pegs from it (providing the wobbly jug stayed stuck) . I now knew that I could clip 3 out of the 4 rusty pegs, all huddled within half a metre of each other. I struggled and went up wrong handed through the next few moves, and fell. It felt NAILS, I was worried that it was above my ability, even to top rope it. I was lowered from the climb. In a way the pressure was now off. I was convinced it was too hard and I wouldn’t lead it today (if ever).
Pete tied in, and with a slightly different sequence he made it to the easier slab above, knocking a huge block out of the overhang as he went (luckily he left some of it in place to stand on). He wasn’t impressed with the bold, loose, protection-less slab at all, and voiced his concerns when he was lowered back down. I tied in, and this time I quickly moved up past the overhang and onto the slab above without any real issues. I was happy with the slab, even though it was loose in places. I looked at the grass top out and knew this was fine too. As I was being lowered I knew I was going straight on lead, especially when I got the nod from Vickie, as this just confirmed and reassured me that she also believed I was capable of pulling it off. Pete wanted a second top rope, but he still wasn’t sure about the lead. I told him I was going for it. I was positive I could do it.
Pete – “I don’t know if this changes your decision, but I just want you to know I’m not going to lead it”
Me – “I feel confident that the protection is OK for where I need it, and after that I just have to keep it together, and tread carefully. I need to do it mate, it’s driving me insane”.
Pete – “OK mate. Its yours. Go for it”
With only ONE successful top rope under my belt I tied into the sharp end and established myself on the ledge. I then used a cam and a sling to protect my reaching around to clip the peg. I then climbed back onto the ledge and un-clipped the cam and sling, as they would cause rope drag. I left them, along with all my rack (except for two quickdraws) on the ledge. After a quick psyching up, a smile and a nod from Vickie, I headed back out and reached the hold above the roof.
Reaching the Hold Above the Roof
Heading for the Wobbly Jug
On the Wobbly Jug and Clipping the Last Rusty Peg Cluster
I shared and campused to the next hold and followed the sequence to the wobbly jug. From this I clipped the two rusty pegs I could reach, took a deep breath and moved through the hard sequence of sidepulls, then I moved over the final overhanging wall onto the slab.
Starting the Harder Sidepull Moves – Probably the Crux for Me
Creeping up the Slab
I was now so far above my gear that I was convinced a fall would result me decking out. I was so convinced that the rope now pointless that I even considered untying for moment to ensure there would be no rope drag to hinder my progress up the slab.
It was a strange feeling standing at the base of the slab, I knew the hard bit was done and I knew it was in the bag, but as I turned around to pose for a photo (and stick my tongue out at Pete) I realised I still had another 8 metres of insecure climbing to do before I could really celebrate. I moved up the slab to the final move of around E1 and I very cautiously committed to it and moved onto the vertical grass, and then headed for the tree.
The Final Hard Move (only hard because the last bit of protection is at the bottom of the picture)
It was in the bag. . . . . . I knew I was safe. . . . . . . . and as I untied and threw down the rope, I also knew Pete, who “is not going to lead it” was definitely already slipping his shoes on, and would be tying in and ready for the lead by the time I got down.
Sure enough, as I turned the corner and approached Pete he was tied in and already donning his rock shoes. He was going for it. He was ready for action. He quickly put the hard moves to bed and moved onto the slab. I knew he was dreading the slab, but I also knew he was far to good of a climber to mess it up. As I belayed on the steep grass I realised just how easy a slip from the belayer would be. A slip would definitely send the belayer down the steep mountainside and pull the leader off the climb. I was pleased that I was unaware of this as I was creeping up the slab and onto the vertical grass above. Pete, however, would be fully aware of this. He kept his cool though and pulled it out the bag, and topped out.
Pete on the Ledge
Pete Heading for the Wobbly Jug
Pete Approaching the Top-Out
As he arrived at the base of the climb we decided a “man hug” was not out of place in a moment like this. What a day. I was quickly brought back to reality as Vickie realised we were running late to pick the kids up from school. We slid down the scree slopes and ran back to the car in a sweaty state, Vickie was stressing, however, I was unable to share this feeling of stress. . . . . . . . my mind was at peace.
Congratulations Pete, and thank you for the belay (and man hug).
Thank you Vickie for keeping me focused, and putting up with my trance like state for the week.
By Craig McMahon