Not the usual Thursday evening before Good Friday but if it happens again next year I for one will not complain. The current wintry conditions are not everybody's cup of tea but there are a few of us out there who are sniggering under our breath.
|Craig at the foot of the route...Glorious evening|
Mike (Saddler) came up with the idea of doing a night ascent of the classic route from the book Cold Climbs - Raven Crag Gully Grade III/IV over in the Lakes...so after frantically packing I met up with Mike and Steve at Mikes house in Yarm around 3pm. Steve drove, lets say at a moderate speed, and we were in Keswick at 4.45. I had made arrangements to meet Craig (aka The Stanley Lad) of Crags Adventures http://www.cragsadventures.com/ to partner up for the climb as two pairs climbing would be easier than a group of three, especially in the dark.
Walking into the bottom of the route Craig and me were chasing (running) Mike and Steve up the hill (I think they wanted to go first) and we were there around 6.30pm. A quick brew of mint tea and honey (not gay at all and don't knock it until you try it) , some chocolate and bubblegum flavoured candy and we were ready. Craig has not been out winter climbing much this year so was happy to hand the lead to me.
|Raven Crag Gully III/IV|
It was now dark! The first (actual 2nd in guide) pitch up a steep ramp and hanging corner looked thin but Steve managed to do it with no gear...brave or crazy?...However, when I started up it, it felt a bit tenuous and I really wanted some protection in...it wasn't long before I found a bomb proof cam placement and then a good ice screw and felt much better. Just as I got the protection in a small piece of ice from above (not mentioning any names Mike Sadler!) hit me in the bridge of the nose...it wasn't until the following pitch that I realised I was bleeding a little and there was no one near to offer any sympathy.
|The 'Square' out of his comfort zone|
|The nasty Mike Sadler|
|Not sure why I'm pouting but the results of a piece of ice hitting me|
Following this a steep 12 foot ice wall leads to a good belay. Craig still feeling a little out of his comfort zone having metamorphosized into a 'Square' (boulderer) of late, was enjoying the climbing but happy I was leading. The next pitch takes a steep short ice wall on the left (only when the ice allows, today we were lucky :-)) and then climbs a few little bulges to easier ground which leads to another good belay below the 'chockstone pitch'. Craig arrived at the belay singing and happy with life. If you're ever feeling a little low Craig is a great person to share this sort of experience with and always makes me feel happy...even more so when he shares his mum's fruit cake. For some reason I was a little apprehensive about the chockstone pitch but it all went well and was actually some good mixed climbing as you climb up to the huge imposing chockstone overhead and make a relatively delicate traverse out to the right to avoid the difficulties. A pull over some snowed slabs and I was once again onto easy ground.
|Craig was enjoying himself by this point|
Craig then led up to below the impressive final pitch where I joined him for a moral boost and a share of 'Life is Wonderful' statements. Meanwhile Mike and Steve were already at the top (how much gear did they really place en-route to the top?) Two hours in the dark is pretty good going for this route and obviously no queues (no one else daft enough!).
|Craig trying to look gnarly!|
The final pitch according to the guide book is one of the best pitches of its grade in the Lake District and I would have to agree...I have done the route once before a couple of years ago and being December we ran out of light on that trip and so once again last night I found myself in the dark with the huge steep wall of ice in front of me. Just 25 meters would see me on easy ground. After placing a couple of wires I made the diagonal traverse out right and up to a huge (it was dark folks) ice mushroom. A good ice screw just below, a well placed axe above and a pull round the bulge and I was up to the section which I had difficulty with last time, however, this time I managed to get a huge hex (protection) in and life was good...actually the ice was good and it ended up being quite a simple move this time around.
|The huge ice mushroom on the final pitch|
|Craig nearing the top of the final pitch|
|One more move dude!|
Craig joined me at the stance whooping and singing and saying how gnarley he thought I was (always good for self esteem :-)) and what amazing night we had pleasure in experiencing. He led the final ice slabs up to a tree and we climbed together to the top of the crag. A quick hand shake, some mint tea, chocolate Minstrells and we were off down the hill. The moon full and huge kept us company all the way back to the car...WHAT AN AWESOME NIGHT...have I mentioned that?
I was in my bed for 2.00am even after some delays on the A66 on the way back home.
The winter is hanging in there so go and enjoy why you can!