I’m not usually spooked by woods in the gloaming, but following Nick’s shortcut to the pub (“just follow the river”) had taken me into the sort of exposed root-tangles, trips and stumbles that would have the boldest hobbit calling for supernatural help. Then there were the five guys having a fire with beers in a clearing and giving me funny looks. I decided I’d go back by the road.
The pub was warm, full of good cheer and I mostly fell asleep, as it been hard work today. We were in Langdale and a few of us had gone up to Gimmer with the prospect of climbing clean, open rock in the sun. After many months of relative idleness due to knee troubles, it was something of a shock to be reminded how far it is from the road with a full bag of gear. Becky and I took a slightly alternative route, and considered swapping to the uninhabited Harrison Stickle routes, well-starred in the new guide, but carried on to Gimmer and found only a handful of teams in place…three of them queuing for the route we had in mind. We found an obscure way onto the Ash Tree Ledges at the same grade, mostly enjoyable but with a stopper move off wobbly flakes in the first third, which was a bit of a wake up moment for someone with no climbing in the bank this season.
So, which of the many uber-classic but traditionally-named severe-ish routes would it be? A, B, C, D or E route? Now, the Nose of Gimmer, or rather the SE face, looks from afar and in Classic Rock like a sheet of barely-featured rock like, well, the other Nose, but of course anything so covered in severes is a mass of nooks and crannies up close, so route finding is along the lines of “follow the obvious corner.” There are lots of corners. Being simple folk we chose A Route, on which the Forty Foot Corner gave Becky a bit of a thoughtful time, because of course she’s used to working in metric, but it did take us up to the upper wall where things open out.
The wind was pretty cutting by now so it was hard to savour the position, which I’d been planning to do for weeks. Instead, up we went and ran the two top pitches together. Imagine my joy when someone decided to use the abseil descent that runs right down the pitch I was leading rather than wait five minutes. We both politely queried the wisdom of this approach, although any fool could see that even if he didn’t abseil on me – he had to tension around me – I was going to get smacked in the head when they pulled the ropes down. And so it came to pass. I released a short stream of invective that even now I’m wishing I had expanded, developed and amplified. In all my years climbing – and I’ve climbed in the French Alps – I’ve never experienced anything that so made me want to go Don Whillans on somebody. (Younger readers may need to research this reference). The closest I got otherwise was at Leeds Wall when a guy was properly demeaning his girlfriend with some scathing commentary as she led, but on that occasion I was at the back of a long and burly queue wanting to put him straight. Heart-warming, in a way.
I digress. The upper pitches were great, just testy enough with good gear, and we shared the belay with nice people. We decided to walk off, which as usual meant going further round than most folks, and my boots took their revenge. (Not having Becky’s dainty feet, my Ark Royal-sized approach shoes didn’t fit in the crag sack.) But I had two revelations. I hate walking in bare feet, but in desperation I did so and found that 99% of the descent was on cool, delicious bog or flat rocks, heaven for pinched toes. I also realised it was time for new rock shoes, and new gear is never a bad thing, right? Sometimes you’ve just got to notice that your street shoes have gone up two sizes in old age and you’ve had your rock boots longer than that. Duh.
Back at the sacks, we met Andrew and Alastair who had done a few E somethings and descended efficiently. I was done but Becky stayed back to “just quickly follow a one-pitch VS to finish the day.” I believe it turned out tougher than they anticipated, as is the way of just-one-more routes.
At the campsite, charcoal was burning everywhere as the many families and groups, and groups of families, set about enjoying a wonderful summery evening. AMCers dribbed and drabbed back. Rob and Win were back from Dow Crag, where they had swung leads on Eliminate A, a spectacular classic that despite its name works a devious way up an impressive steep buttress in 6 pitches. Jury’s out on whether it’s really the best VS in England, but a terrific day out nonetheless. Kiwi Emma had been for a run, a mere 45 km and lord knows how much ascent, certainly in the thousands of metres. My sore thighs and knees went to hide in embarrassment. Dan and Karl had had a go at the Pico-Harrison Integrale, which connects six crags by routes of severe or VS and finishes atop Harrison Stickle. Sadly on a fine Saturday in June those routes are in demand, and for that and other reasons they didn’t make the whole thing. I can’t remember what everybody else did; Nick and Jon on Golden Slipper I think, Chris and a few others a cool ridge walk, but there was bonhomie aplenty around the barbeques as the sun set. And so, as the air cooled down, to the pub.
The morning dawned dreich, so as usual the Jungle Book vultures came to play. “What are we gonna do?” “I dunno, what do you wanna do?” With steady drizzle and cloud only 50 m above the campsite, everyone else voted for coffee and gear shops, but I really needed to get some miles into my legs as I was heading for a lightning trip to Chamonix only four days later, and wasn’t feeling at all ready. So I resigned myself to a soggy, viewless trog in the clouds and drove up to the Old Dungeon Ghyll where – aha! – not raining and cloud more like 700 m. Topography does queer things to the weather, as we all know, and the head of Langdale was open for business. There were even people on Raven Crag, although I suspected that they were soon to regret it. So with a jolly heart I had a stride up the Band and down by Hell Ghyll, new ground for me, not getting rained on at all and only among the dense clouds just below the Three Tarns, where I met the only other person I saw on the way up. (“Excuse me, is this Three Tarns?” “Dunno, let’s count them together.” Marriages have started from less.)
I decided to call that a win, and I started to feel like I might after all be able to get up a small Alpine top or two without my legs dropping off.
Ambleside was unable to supply new comfy rock shoes, and it peed it down all the way home, but never mind. I was right about the small Alps, just, but that’s a tale for another day.