A Mountain Coward’s First Multi-Pitch Rock Climb!

30 03 2012

I decided a while back that I really needed to try at least one outdoor climb in preparation for my Skye Cuillin trip at the start of May. My friend Mark, who takes people climbing for a living, kindly offered to take me. Various crags were discussed and Oxford Crag in Patterdale, which is more or less a scramble, was the favoured choice. It was just what I wanted… single pitch, only around 30 or 40 feet and very, very easy.

Mark rang me to sort out a date – however, he said he now had plans to take me on a different climb – one which he thought would be better practice for the Cuillin. He said he was going to throw me in at the deep end a bit… ooo-errr! I wasn’t to know, at this stage, that the ‘deep end’ was a multi-pitch climb of around 250 feet going at ‘diff’ standard!



(all photos Mark Eddy except where otherwise labeled)

We arranged to meet on the Wednesday evening at the Old Dungeon Gill pub in Langdale at around 1630 as he was busy during the day. I rolled up in the carpark around 1600 and strolled over to the ticket machine – just as I did, a kind gentleman just driving out of the carpark offered me the remainder of his day ticket. Despite my mounting nerves, I managed to smile and thank him – after all, he was saving me lots of money.

I looked up at the valley wall and could see tiny people far above climbing up some huge, vertical and savage-looking buttresses – I hoped I wasn’t due to join them on those crags! I looked around the valley walls in all directions and couldn’t see any other crags which looked like they would be climbing crags though – all the others looked too bitty.


Our climb is the buttress in the middle!
Photo Copyright Mick Garratt – licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons Licence

I got a nice lime and soda water from the pub and sat in the blazing sunshine to drink it. Everyone else in the beer garden was happy and smiling, partly due to the glorious weather and partly as they’d just come back from a wonderful day’s walking on the fells. Mine was the only glum face – purely nerves. I was really wondering what I’d let myself in for and whether I was even capable of outdoor climbing on a proper crag.

1630 arrived and so did Mark – I went to meet him. He was all smiles and asked how I was – I just said ‘nervous’. He was sorting out kit and passed me a helmet (I have my own harness and rock boots) – he also passed me the climbing rope and showed me how to put it on like a rucksack to carry it up to the crag. I asked what else was in the large rucksack he had with him and he said that was all the other gear we’d need. I strapped the rope onto my back and was amazed how heavy it was to carry.

We set off up the valley side towards the crags I’d been eyeing fearfully – I really hoped we would soon turn off and find something much smaller and easier but nope, we continued to head upwards on a zig-zag scree path towards them. The sun felt hotter and the rope felt heavier and I was puffing away already and feeling quite sick with the heat and exertion. In 15 minutes we were there… right at the foot of the crags I’d been dreading!

We had a little rest and Mark sorted out all the kit we’d need. He passed me a few implements to clip onto the gear loops of my harness – one was a carabiner and sling, another was a ‘nut removal device’ (sounds nasty) and then the belay device and carabiner. I put my harness and rock boots on and hid my walking boots in a little crevice at the bottom of the descent gully. I then reluctantly put the helmet onto my very hot head and Mark proceeded to go through all the things I needed to know for the climb.

The first thing was the ‘climbing calls’ – there were four of these… When we started to climb, the true meaning of these was revealed. The first one was “Safe” (I’m up that section now – in a moment we’ll see what you can make of it). The second calls always follow one another – “On Belay” (wait till you get up here and see what complicated system I managed to contrive to strap you to which you’ll have to figure out how to dismantle later) and “Climb when ready” (gulp/great, I can get off this tiny belay ledge now – which way did he go up that again?). The only call I had to shout was “That’s me” which unfortunately didn’t mean, “Right, that’s me off for my tea – see you later when you come back down” – it’s more “All right! you can stop pulling up the rope now – my feet are leaving the ground!”

By now, I’d figured out that this climb wasn’t the nice little single-pitch I’d been hoping for. In addition to that, I’d also been warned that I couldn’t just walk/run away at the top – I had to abseil (or be lowered) back down for about 165 feet. Mark showed me how to use the nut key to knock nuts out of cracks to retrieve his gear for when I was following him up the crag. We then tied in and Mark set off to tackle the first pitch.

The first pitch was really only a scramble and very easy and even I could have gone up it without the rope. However, when I reached the top of that and found the lovely large grassy area atop it, I had a look down and was horrified at the amount of height we’d already gained. I made sure I didn’t look down again for the whole climb as I could see we were going to be much higher up soon! I noticed the second pitch was much more vertical, although very short. I started to look for a route up it while Mark sorted out the rope.

Shortly, he set off up the second pitch – of course, he made it look easy. This pitch was probably only around 30 feet and he was up it in very quick time. Soon it was my turn again… I found the start pretty hard. There was a ‘V’ which I had to work my way up and I found it very slippery indeed and couldn’t get my feet to keep still anywhere. Luckily there was a superb ledge handhold above which I managed, after a minute or so, to get high enough above to get my elbow and forearm onto so that I could try to lever my way up the slippery V section. I huffed and puffed a bit and eventually managed to smear my feet up the V and onto better holds above it. From there the climb became quite a bit easier and I joined Mark on the second belay ledge. This was again grassy – a lot smaller but still comfortable.

These are photos Mark took of me (completely unaware) – the second and third pitches

More rope sorting then Mark was off again after pointing out a couple of routes up the next section. One was some obviously polished steps up – but the steps looked quite large and far apart to me. He went up a different route to these with a big step up to start but, as I studied the almost vertical section of crag in front of me, I was pretty sure I could see an even easier way to the right of those and resolved to try that one myself. Soon the calls came to let me know it was time for me to attempt to dismantle this belay – two nuts and slings in a crack. I tried to flick them out but couldn’t get them to move so it was out with the nut key. I knocked them out no problem but found I then had a couple of slings to fit around my shoulder. I didn’t realise how large slings were until I started looping them diagonally across my shoulder – I think one sling went around 3 times before there were no awkward and dangerous dangly bits. I clipped the carabiners onto my gear loops and set off.

My route choice got me up the first part much more easily than the other two routes but from there on I struggled for a while. After a bit more huffing and puffing – and worrying about falling off on some of the much smaller holds, I started to make progress up the pitch. This third pitch was quite a lot longer and more complicated than the other two had been.

I reached the area where Mark had told me I needed to turn to the right but was puzzled. Had he meant into the small crack behind a large rock flake? I thought I could just about fit my foot into it but worried a bit about getting stuck in it – I thought that would take a lot of sorting out and I would get very stressed if I got stuck. I was already feeling the height by now (even though I hadn’t looked down) and was starting to get slightly shaky legs and my stress levels were going up a bit. I wasn’t panicking though so that was good. Anyway, I tried my foot in the crack for size and my leg fit in okay. I decided I needed to get my other foot up on top of the rock flake to push my way on up the crag but had my legs the wrong way round. I managed to push on my hands and swap my legs over and then managed to step up onto the top of the flake and push on upwards. There were good steps up from there. Luckily, so far on the climb, all my handholds had been pretty good – I still rely on good handholds rather than good footholds for confidence (I know that’s the wrong way round really).

I soon joined Mark, who was giving lots of encouragement from above, on the… belay ledge… if you could call it that. It was a long ledge but, to my mind, was absolutely tiny! It was probably only a few inches wide and my feet only half fit on it – I felt my heels hanging over hundreds of feet of space! I found two very good handholds and clung on, leaning into the rock and feeling very tense and insecure, despite the fact I was firmly attached to a sling around a small pinnacle just above me. Just at this point, Mark fished out his camera and aimed it at me. I realised I was looking very stressed so thought I should really try to smile if he was going to take a photo of me so I forced a smile – I was later surprised to see that on the photo it actually looks like I’m really happy to be there! However, it was around this point, I think, that I told Mark I probably wasn’t going to take this up as a hobby as I was finding it a bit stressful! He just smiled and told me I was doing very well.


Happy to be here… honest!

The next section was very long and towered way above me – it was slightly less steep though and I could see it was much easier, having large steps all the way up it. Mark said it was really just a scramble and I had to agree – it wouldn’t be a scramble I would be happy to do at that height without a rope though! He could see I wasn’t really keen on releasing my two firm handholds on the rock in front of me and asked whether I wanted to belay him up the next bit or not. I said I probably should but he said he was happy enough if I didn’t want to. I was really worried about him falling off and said so but, in the end, he set off up unbelayed and I selfishly clung onto my two rocky handholds – I was feeling very guilty.

After quite a bit longer this time, the rope eventually started to snake off up the pitch after him and eventually the calls floated down for me to start off up the fourth pitch. I first had to clamber behind the pinnacle to retrieve the sling from around it. I wasn’t so keen doing this as I had to face out and was worried I’d catch a glimpse of ‘down’! Anyway, by concentrating hard on the task in hand, I managed not to notice what, by now, must have been a humungous drop below me. Soon I was looping the sling round me and clipping the carabiners on to my gear loops and following up what turned out to be a very easy, but quite sustained, climb up the rocky steps to the final grassy ledge.

The end of our climb was here – a pleasant grassy ridge after a climb of around 250 feet. There was at least another pitch or two to get to the top of the crag but here was where we were to abseil back down into the scree gully. When I arrived on this grassy area, it was comfortably long and large and I initially felt very relaxed. I believed all my troubles were over now… All I had to do was abseil back down into the gully which looked very near to hand – I’d abseiled before at the climbing wall so I’d be fine, I thought…


The ever-patient and cheerful Mark at the top of the climb

We had a rest and I had a few gulps of Mark’s water – I’d forgotten to bring my water bottle out of the car. He had a quick snack and put a light jacket on. By now the sun was setting and a chilly breeze had set up. I shivered in my t-shirt and wished I’d tied my fleece jumper around my waist after all. I was still tied into the belay slings around a large boulder on the grassy ridge. From here I was to belay Mark while he went below the grassy ledge to set up the abseil. There was a medium sized tree sticking out from a nice, pointed-topped rock.

I hoped the rope was going round the nice pointy rock – I’ve always said I would never trust a tree for a belay. Soon though, I noticed the rope was being put around the tree. “We’re not going to abseil from the tree are we?” I asked worriedly. Mark said we were – my heart sank. When he was safe, I went to peer over into the gully. It wasn’t as comfortingly near as I thought. The bit I’d been looking at was probably nearly level with our grassy alp but we were going far, far below that. The drop looked absolutely enormous. I think it was around 150 feet as, when Mark later abseiled down, his doubled rope only just reached the gully floor.


Sheep Contemplating The Abseil Tree

I started fretting and complaining and asked if I couldn’t just attempt to climb down as I could see ledges setting off down that way and it looked fairly easy to start with. Mark assured me that it would be a very difficult climb down and said it would take too long. I couldn’t believe where he was ‘standing’ – his feet were on a very steep section of rock – he almost looked to be hanging in mid-air! I realised I had to get on with it and do something – at least set off.

Predictably, I started off trying to descend my comforting ledges. However, they took me away from the line of the abseil point so, as Mark pointed out, if I now fell off, I would be due a wild pendulum which wouldn’t be nice. I reluctantly headed back to the much more vertical bit directly under the rope and tried to will myself to lean back and set off down. No matter how hard I tried to force myself to do it, I just couldn’t trust the tree and just wouldn’t lean out over the drop. In the end, I peered down to see if I could see some footholds – I was already clinging to handholds. I felt around and found footholds and continued to claw my way downwards, feeling and peering for footholds. I suppose I knew that, if I fell off, it didn’t really matter and that I’d then just have to get on with abseiling. But until I fell off I couldn’t make myself do it.

By now I’d started to swear – I think for the first time on the climb. I kept whimpering that I “was terrified” as I clawed my way downwards. In not many minutes I reached the point where I had to turn right and head down another section to the gully floor. I looked below me and all I could see was two sheer gullies with a bit of a rock rib coming up between them – the drop looked even bigger down here!

I could see a foothold here and there but really didn’t think I could find enough to continue descending, however, to my surprise I managed to clamber down this section too and eventually, to my great relief (and probably Mark’s) I reached the loose scree of the gully floor and shouted up to Mark I was untying. Not long after, he happily abseiled down to where I was sat in the gully. Even though I really hate loose scree gullies, I was really happy to slither down this one back to my waiting walking boots. When we’d packed up and descended back down to the cars, I was surprised to see it was quarter to eight.

Mark’s wife had come to meet us and was waiting in her car so we all trooped off to the pub and I treated them to a meal and a drink. Phew! My first outdoor rock climb was in the bag. I was actually quite surprised I’d managed it and quite proud of the fact that I’d got up the climb okay. I wasn’t so proud of the fact that I’d completely refused to abseil back down though.

I’d noticed earlier, on the way into the Langdale valley, that the area was absolutely mowed out with walkers and tourists but hadn’t realised just how busy the place really was. It took me until after ten that night to find any accommodation – I was just about to give up and spend a cold night sleeping in the car (for once I didn’t have my sleeping bag in the car). I didn’t have enough petrol to get home and knew all the fuel stations would be shut by now.

Eventually I found a hotel which did have one room left – there had been one before that but the rates were too extortionate at around double what this one was asking. I hurriedly secured the room and was off to bed by 2300 hours – very early for me. I have to admit to feeling like I’d had a traumatic day and couldn’t get off to sleep very easily. I had to keep reassuring myself that I was on the ground floor, a mere few feet off the ground on a nice, wide bed and that I wasn’t going to fall anywhere! The after effects of days like the one I’d just had tend to hit me most when I get to bed and try to wind down and I find it takes me quite a few hours to calm down.

I eventually dropped off to sleep, only to completely oversleep and wake just as breakfast was finishing at 0930. As I was paying quite a bit for bed and breakfast, and I was planning a very long walk to wind down, I thought I should make a sporting attempt to still get some breakfast so hurriedly flung on some basic clothes and rushed into the dining room. This was quite a posh hotel and I was mortified to be immediately approached by the manager who, albeit quietly and discreetly, came over to me and asked me to please either put shoes or socks on in the dining room – how embarrassing!

I had a superb day on the Kentmere Round with gorgeous blue skies and hot sunshine. This is a round I hadn’t done for very many years and it was really great to get back to it. A 6 hour walk over 8 peaks is my way of winding down! I took quite a few photos and will write up that day’s walk when I get my photos back – could be a while though…

Mark’s comments from his blog:

The sunshine continues in the Lake District

It’s been a busy few days here, with a good variety of activities and adventures. First off was taking my friend Carol for her first ever outdoor rock climb!! She was a little nervous, well okay, she was massively nervous 🙂 Carol performed formidably during the climb, I was actually expecting some colourful language but didn’t hear any!

Advertisements

Actions

Information

24 responses

21 06 2014
basic

Highly descriptive blog, I loved that a lot. Will there
be a part 2?

Like

21 06 2014
mountaincoward

There won’t be a Part 2 of that post as such but I’m just joining a local club and hoping to do some more outdoor climbing at last. It will only be single-pitch stuff to start with though…
Carol.

Like

7 01 2014
Winding Down on the Kentmere Round | The Adventures of a Mountain Coward

[…] my wind-down walk the next day! […]

Like

17 06 2013
Rocky

Great photos and inspiring stuff!
Although the climbing down sounds petrifying :S

Like

17 06 2013
mountaincoward

Yeah that was really the bad bit! I’m insisting that, for future outdoor climbs, I can walk away at the top of them!

Like

16 11 2012
Judy

Carol…I’m very impressed! I will climb a ladder and don’t mind many things of heights…but I’m sure I could never do what you did here! Awesome! Congrats to you!

Like

16 11 2012
mountaincoward

I never thought I could or would – I still look at those photos in awe and semi-disbelief!

Like

6 04 2012
Alan Bellis

Well done Carol, hard to believe that’s you 🙂

Like

8 04 2012
mountaincoward

You know, I keep looking and re-reading this post and looking at the photos again and I still can’t believe it either!
Carol.

Like

3 04 2012
Susie

That was a great account, Carol, and well done for facing your fears. Wish I could have been there to climb it with you! I’ve never done any proper roped-up climbing but I’d love to give it a go. I’ve got your friend’s website bookmarked for future reference.

Like

3 04 2012
mountaincoward

He must be good if he can get me up it! 😉 I have to say he was very reassuring and calming. But then I don’t think you have a problem with heights do you? Not from what I’ve read of the things you’ve done and been up!

Like

2 04 2012
bob

Did Middlefell buttress with Alex years ago.Very polished at the start I remember.A nice route and good photos Carol.Main thing for Skye is to stay
calm,composed and steady when scrambling.There,s only a few places on the ridge that are really steep and unavoidable and I,m sure you know them already.Best of luck for May.

Like

3 04 2012
mountaincoward

Yeah, there were some quite polished bits – that ‘V’ I mention early on for one. My feet were all over the place on that and I really had to rely on the arm I was leaning on to lever my way up it.

Yeah, I do know all the bad bits of the Cuillin peaks already – having stressed about the damn things for quite a few years now! 😦 Still, it’s got to be done hasn’t it LOL!
Carol.

Like

31 03 2012
Paul Shorrock

Well done Carol, on a good climb (I thought it would be Middlefell Buttress!) and a good walk tha day after – looking forward to reading about your Kentmere Round.

Like

31 03 2012
mountaincoward

Unfortunately, the Kentmere Round post won’t be at all exciting after this one – but the pictures should be nice as it was a lovely day (unless I’ve screwed the exposures up or something). I really enjoyed it as a wind-down walk though. It’s just about my favourite round in the Lakes.

I showed these photos of the climb to a guy at work and he immediately said ‘Middlefell Buttress’ – is that where everyone starts off? I hadn’t even told him it was Langdale!

Like

1 04 2012
Paul Shorrock

Hahaha… Yes loads of people start out on Middlefell, and it’s probably the most popular multi-pitch beginners route in the Lakes.

That’s not to say it’s a pushover – if you don’t like heights (as you don’t) it’s a heck of an achievement. The In Pinn will be a doddle after that!

Talking of which, there is a remote chance that I might be teaming up with my photographer mate John, for a Scottish trip in May. I know that’s when you want to collect the In Pinn, and there is a chance we might be up there, but I repeat, the chance is remote – the way things are moving at the moment Chris and I might be moving house to North Wales about the same time!

If it looks possible I’ll message you, or summat 🙂

Like

1 04 2012
mountaincoward

The more photographers the better so if our dates co-incided, that would be great! Having said that, you’d best disable any sound-recording facilities either of you may have – including your ears too I should think! 😉
Carol.

Like

1 04 2012
Paul Shorrock

Disable the sound recording? I should say so!!

If we (J & I, plus respective wives, dogs, etc) can make it, john will give you some pics to remember, and I’ll dangle a friendly rope!

That’s assuming I’m still up for that sort of thing in my aging state 🙂

However, I still have that house move looming 😦

Like

1 04 2012
mountaincoward

I’m hiring a guide for it so I’ll be on his rope most of the time. I’ve told him he’ll have to rope me up for nearly everything!

I’m also giving him Richard’s digital camera (he’ll probably take his film one if he comes up with me) and he said he’ll make sure I get some pictures for my blog.

Like

1 04 2012
Paul Shorrock

Good idea – you’ll be fine!!

Like

1 04 2012
mountaincoward

Hopefully I will – but you never know – quite often I vary from day to day!

Did you notice I’ve added a link to Mark’s blog with his comments about taking me on the climb at the end of the post now? I didn’t know he’d put anything on his blog but just happened to see a link had come in from there.

Like

2 04 2012
Paul Shorrock

Nice one 🙂

Like

30 03 2012
fedupofuserids

Bloody riff raff infiltrating our hotels with bare feet 😛 – too right too 😀

Well done on your first multi pitch – you coped very well and climbed even better 🙂 It seems your abseil fears where caused by the choice of belay rather than the actual abseil ? I’ve abseiled off the odd tree and they have never let me down – I’ve also put the odd car into a tree/hedge etc. and from personal experience they don’t move much 🙂

Top marks to your friend, he seems too now how to get the best out of you, could he not take you up the Inn Pinn ?

Like

31 03 2012
mountaincoward

I’ve pretty much asked around all my climbing friends and haven’t managed to get any of them to volunteer to come to the Cuillin with me in May. If I end up leaving the In Pinn until next year (I think I will have to leave some of the Cuillin until then as I can’t see me getting all 10 done in those 5 days), maybe one of them will come with me next year.

I have done quite a few scrambles with Mark (and his friend Colin) before in Snowdonia, e.g. Tryfan North Ridge and they did seem to have the knack of getting me to extend myself and do more daring stuff so he must be quite good. Either that or they’re both nutters and it infects me when I’m with them – I often think that! 😉

Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: