Pitch Black & ‘Raven’ Mad

Thursday the 28th March saw a night ascent of “Raven Crag Gully” – a classic “cold climb” route.  I got an invite the day before and simply could not pass up the opportunity (although I was very nearly 12 hours late as I mistook 5pm for 5am).

The drive to Borrowdale was nothing short of breath-taking as the golden glow of the evening sun danced across the mountains. All in all there was four of us heading for the night ascent. Mike and Steve partnered up and my partner was Cliff Lowther of Roxcool. We met at around 5pm in the Borrowdale valley and with excitement levels high we very quickly left the cars for the walk-in to Raven Crag.

Mike and Steve practically ran up the mountain in order to get ‘first dibs’ on the route. This allowed a leisurely walk for myself and Cliff as we knew we would be waiting for them to get up the first pitch before we could start.

At the base of the climb we racked up and more importantly ate Cliff’s stash of sweets as we admired the view as the last of the days light faded away and the valley pulled on its blanket for the night. We were soon distracted from our state of trance by Steve shouting down to us. He had somehow managed to break his headtorch, which resulted in him leading in the dark without a light for the rest of the night – HARDCORE!

There wasn’t even a breath of wind and the sky was laden with stars as we soloed up to what is classed as the second pitch modestly dressed. I had handed the reigns over to Cliff as the pitch looked a bit thin on ice and protection than what I’m used to (its been a while since I done any real winter stuff). I seconded the pitch with a bit of a struggle and was happy with my decision for Cliff to lead (especially when I noticed the blood oozing from a small cut on his nose – made from falling ice).

He led the next pitch also, however I was wishing I had by the time I reached him as I was starting to get back to grips with it all.

I happily led the next pitch which was a bit easier but had a little section of mixed climbing. By this time I was very excited and could barely contain how happy I was with life. Climbing in the pitch black certainly offers another level of exhilaration. I have only ever winter climbed in the dark by accident when things have gone wildly wrong but to be climbing in good conditions and totally in control is a fantastic experience. Cliff climbed up to me and got himself ready for the main pitch. This is a big ice pitch with an ‘interesting’ finish.

As he climbed up I switched off my head torch to save the batteries. I had been doing this all along and was becoming obsessed by it – mainly because the stars were awesome but also because the position was made eerie by the feeling as Cliff led out of sight and I was left alone in the darkness with the odd thud of an axe in the ice and the scratching of a crampon point searching for some purchase on the rock above to remind me where I was.

This time Cliff was in full view of me and his headtorch beam was intermittently  switching between flickering above to show the way to shining down through glowing bulges of ice as he looked for the next foot placement. What a fantastic night.

As I pointed the camera towards myself to capture the moment and the flash went off I heard Cliff shout down ‘selfies?’ I realised I had been caught in the act. Ha ha. Not like Cliff has never done anything like that (at least I wasnt naked).

Alas the shout came down for me to set off on the pitch. The ice was fantastic and the climbing was great. Another gnarly lead from Cliff. The ice bulge at the top was precarious but very enjoyable and we celebrated with a manly handshake and a not-so-manly woop!

I led the final pitch and as the angle eased I stopped to catch my breath and let the burning in my thighs subside. Cliff joined me and we topped out together at around 10pm. What a truly awesome night and a fantastic experience with great company.

We walked off and back to the cars to be greeted by Mike and Steve who had enjoyed themselves just as much as we had. We said our goodbyes and the valley was left peacefully alone again as our cars headlights drove into the distance.


Cheers for another memorable experience Borrowdale.





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