The first trip of 2017 saw 20 AMC members head north to the Lake district for a planned weekend of winter mountaineering and, fingers crossed, some winter climbing. The British weather had different ideas though – still pretending to be Autumn with no possibility of winter climbing, and the summits looking brown, not covered in the beautiful white stuff we were hoping for. Oh well – plans were discussed on line before the trip for some walking and perhaps, sunshine permitting, some rock adventures.
Nick was organising the trip for the second year in a row, and promised that it wouldn’t be as wet as the 2016 trip to Langdale so off we all headed up the M5/6 to stay in the Yorkshire Mountaineering Club hut in the Coppermines valley above Coniston. We’d stayed in an another hut in the same area previously and I for one was a little cautious driving up the ‘road’ to the hut – pot holes aplenty, but on this occasion no suicidal sheep to contend with. On arrival Al and I were greeted by those who’d headed up first thing on Friday morning and had already had a wander and a beer or two at one of the many drinking establishments in Coniston. The coal burner was on and we settled in to await the arrival of others, and make plans for the next day.
Over the course of the evening maps were poured over, routes downloaded onto phones, plans made, beer and wine consumed and the fire was stoked, a lot, until the last of the group arrived. The fire was then at optimum temperature obviously we headed to bed!
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. Not a cloud in the sky. I’ve stayed in the valley twice before but never actually had a view of the hills surrounding it so this was a pleasant change.
As planned the night before, two groups headed out on the Saturday morning with the early starters and an alternative 9am kick-off heading in similar directions. Taking advantage of the great weather and potential for views, the walks started, and finished, from the hut, so need to even move a car. Simon writes a summary of the ‘early’ team’s outing.
“The anticlockwise horseshoe of the Coniston tops was the popular vote for Saturday. Four of us were ready early so set off into a windless blue sky dawn and up towards Wetherlam. Underfoot, the ground was frozen yet yielding, the most perfect conditions you could hope for. Justine, newly arrived from France, had been told what to expect in the Lakes in January so couldn’t quite believe it. We assured her it’s always like this. By the top of Wetherlam we were in the teeth of a wintry wind so quickly relayered and headed down and up to Swirl How, then south towards Brim Fell, where the sheet of cloud arrived from the south and kept us out of sight of the valley for most of the rest of the trip. There seemed to be a lot of small dogs coming the other way (with owners), plus one party with garden spades. Very odd. About here during our lunch stop the larger second AMC party passed us, but we caught them again at the top of the Old Man of Coniston, or Piccadilly Circus as it’s also known, even in January. Off then to carry on round to Dow Crag and Brown Pike, down to the trudge of the Walna Scar Road and back to the copper mines, with a bit of freestyling over the rocky knoll of The Bell as a short cut. Seven hours, seven summits, and we found later that the second party had carried on a bit further south to nab another top. But we got first showers”.
Rock Climbing teams
With the lack of winter climbing opportunities, four enthusiastic youngsters, and a less-so-young but easily persuaded fifth, decided to make the most of the sunny forecast and tick of some rock climbs. Niall and newbie Rob headed off early on Saturday morning with an invigorating walk from the hut to Dow crag completing C ordinary route, descending via Easy terrace. It was pretty chilly, as you’d expect in January, and big boots and gloves were definitely order of the day.
George, Al and I were the only ones moving a car on Saturday and headed off to Gimmer to fulfil George’s requirements for classic rock ticks.
In George’s words
‘I was quite psyched for January trad
Al and Becky thought I was quite mad
We shivered up Gimmer
Two Classic Rock winners
In the sunshine it wasn’t so bad!’
To be fair – he had a point – it wasn’t that bad. The sun was shining, and the direct walk up from the Old Dungeon Ghyll carpark is always enough to warm one up, even with an early morning chill in the air. I’d had plans to climb Ash Tree Slabs on the summer trip last year, but due to the crowds already on it when we arrived, Simon and I had settled with a far less satisfying ascent to the ledge before doing A route, so it was great to have the whole crag to ourselves. Out of the sun belaying Al up the first pitch it was pretty chilly, and the lower half of the rock numbed the fingers (especially with the ice in some of the small pocket holds) but once out of the shade, it was truly lovely. Sun, little wind, comfy feet in approach shoes and plenty of time to admire the views. I even got to use a piece of kit neither Al nor I had seen before – George’s nut knife…. apparently the loss of climbing gear by an airline enforces ingenuity and I guess it does sometimes help to surround oneself with engineers!
Once on the ledge we made quick speed ahead to the to the second classic rock route of the day – the imaginatively named C route (which obviously starts between A and B routes). Not to give away beta any to those still wanting the tick I’ll refrain from too much of a comment, but it was remarked by more than one of us that the route was ‘a little tough’ in places for a severe, even considering the lack of rock shoes. It wasn’t so warm round the corner in the direct SE wind and jackets were required post leaving the belay, but good time was made and we topped out, still in the dry and day light, having enjoyed, and I will admit this, a thoroughly lovely day on the rock. The boys headed back to the carpark at a military (young person’s) pace, whilst I took a more leisurely approach, chatting to some members of other mountaineering clubs staying in the area, arriving at the New Dungeon Ghyll pub with a pint ready and waiting, quickly consumed before heading back to feed the masses.
Kevin, in true Kevin style, decided a wander locally was less than what was needed to stretch his legs so headed off to Scafell Pike, from the hut. 20 + miles later he’d completed the round trip and was back ready to join the rest of us the communal meal. All joined in with some seeming to become competitive with how much extra fresh chopped chilli and sauce to be added to the already reasonably hot chilli! Cake followed and then we got down to planning for the next day with wine and beer accompaniment. Sensible folk headed to bed, a few others stayed up to learn a new card game, in which George was gracious in last minute defeat.
Overnight cloud had descended, almost to the level of the hut, and a very light sprinkling of snow lasted for about 5 minutes. Sunday wasn’t going to match the glorious Saturday we had, but still the weather, for the Lakes in January, was good and after an enthusiastic clean up of the hut by all, teams split up and went off in all directions. Some opted again for a walk from the hut with others venturing further afield towards Langdale and Patterdale. Late morning wanders in Coniston followed by a hearty brunch were order of the day for those heading home a little earlier.
Nick’s Sunday walk
Simon’s Sunday outing
Scrambling on St Sunday Crag
George, Niall and Rob, invigorated by yesterday’s chilly climbing opted for a second day on the rocks, though this time more of a chilly scramble than a climb, as detailed in more of George’s poetry.
New member Paul’s write up of Jack’s Rake
For our second day, brand new members Jim, Alex, Justine and myself settled on an interesting but short route that would let us get off not -too-late back to the South West and still have a jam-packed day.
Starting near the Sticklebarn pub in Great Langdale, we followed an arduous ascent alongside Stickle Ghyll up to Stickle Tarn where Jim, Alex and I skirted left to the deposits of scree under the face of Pavey Ark, while Justine took the main path right to meet us at the top. Our trio took on the grade 1 scramble of Jack’s Rake to the top. It would have been nice to see some of the exposure but the cloud rarely cleared to reveal the tarn below. Cloud levels were low and visibility was pretty poor for most of the ascent, only clearing when we topped out. I’d heard before that the route tends to be pretty wet and a couple of ledge-y sections lived up to this, slick with ice and not easy to cross safely.
After a bit of sliding about and penetrating the ice crust on top of peat bogs (Jim spectacularly went ankle deep with both feet, takeoff and landing respectively, while jumping one), we found Justine and continued on through the frosty plateau. We then hit Harrison Stickle before slipping and sliding down the steep path towards Pike of Stickle. This lump had a particularly Lord-of-the-Rings feel to it, with a spiral staircase halfway up.
We then followed the lumpy ridge back down to our starting point, watching a pair of paragliders have a far less knee-bashing descent to the green fields below.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip with the club and loved the flexibility of both days. There were groups climbing, scrambling and walking, both in big groups and smaller or solo. There was no pressure to do anything other than exactly what you wanted to do and there were several options. The lack of winter conditions was made up for by clear skies and dry days. Becky also cooked a cracking evening meal!
Overall a great weekend with everyone getting out for full days adventures. The hut was in an ideal location with easy access to walking and climbing opportunities, to the pub and local shops and most of us managed the journey in < 5h hours from Bristol. The weather, although not as wintery as we may have liked, was kind, and all of us were well prepared so no chilblains in sight. It was great to see so many new members on the trip and everyone able to join up with others doing what they wanted to. Looking forward to the next trip as always.