Not Loving Shepherds Crag Climbing

11 09 2019

My new climbing club’s last Tue evening meet for the year – it was a supposedly easy crag so I thought I’d best attend. I have to admit to quite a bit of trepidation though as, although I’d always been told Shepherds Crag was easy-peasy and all the beginners went there, I’d never liked what I’d seen of it from a distance!

I’d heard there was very little parking at the crag so arranged a lift share from where my local roads meet the A66 as many of the others were coming from the Cockermouth area. We parked up in the carpark just as another car-load of folk from the club arrived. We were six in total (although many more arrived later) so it made sense to split into three pairs…

I was hoping we’d nip into the tea-room to buy something as we were using their carpark but no-one did and I didn’t dare as I didn’t know the route to the crag. I think I’ll have to call in soon and buy some cake to make up for it – they should really have an honesty box though for climbers…

As we climbed a stile under a steppy-looking high crag, a lady in the group asked if I wanted to do an easy multi-pitch up it. I’m fairly averse to multi-pitch routes but it didn’t look bad. I said it might be best if I go to the easy Brown Slabs area first and do a couple of easier single-pitch climbs first.

As it turned out, as it was an evening climb, there wasn’t time for many climbs – I just did two in the end – it was very nearly one! The nice man doing my lead-climbing for me managed three but then the weather was coming in a bit and it was thinking of getting dark.

My first route was Brown Slabs Direct – just a V Diff – should be well within my range I thought as I watched him lead off up it. There looked to be plenty of holds and it didn’t look too far. I felt fairly confident – I’d soon rattle my way up that. At this point, I thought my only slow-downs would be with removing gear – as mentioned in my previous post, I’m fairly bad at that and not improving unfortunately.

It came to my turn to climb and I set off confidently. Within probably about twenty feet, I realised the holds weren’t anything like as plentiful as I’d imagined – they were also very polished and much rounder and smaller than I’d thought. I was faffing badly removing gear as usual and this time had around seven lots to take out on the route. Luckily everything came out okay – mostly without the nut key, just needing a quick jerk upwards.

About halfway up the route I was having difficulties and in quite a severe panic. I looked back down and decided I’d rather go up than down so set about trying to find sufficient holds to get on with it.

Now, I’ve heard about this happening before with mountaineers when they’ve run into trouble and I suddenly found it was happening to me. It was like someone calm was at my shoulder and telling me things like:

“There’s a hold just there to your right you can use”

“If you do a quick footswap, you could put your right foot on that nice hold to your right look”

My guardian angel (I assume) chatted away and I followed the apparent instructions and soon I was out of my difficulty – still not enjoying myself but getting on.

I soon reached a wide, flatter area of slabs where I could just walk across to a tree which had a sling around it. I could quite happily stand on this spot to remove the sling but it was probably the only really comfortable place on the route for me.

I had a couple more panics on the rest of the route and, near the top, had the rope moved twice to the right slightly to take a more stepped route up the final section.

I was pretty shaken by the time I reached my smiling belayer who was asking how I’d enjoyed the climb. I was sorry to inform him that I hadn’t really and had found it very nerve-wracking. I said I probably didn’t want to climb anything else at the crag! He said there was an easier diff if I wanted to take a look so I dubiously said I’d have a look at it when we got back down.

I asked him, out of interest, how high the climb was we’d just done – he said about 40 ‘metres’ – that’s 130 feet! No wonder I wasn’t happy as I’ve just been pottering up 30 footers most of the time!

There’s a nice, easy but steep clamber down the back of the crag and we chatted all the way down – I didn’t feel any better by the time we reached the foot of the slabs again though. He pointed out the diff route which followed a groove up – I had to say I thought it did look better – easier angled and bigger-looking holds. If it was a diff, it had to be easier so I reluctantly said I’d give it a go.

All the time he was leading, I was wanting to back out but, as he’d put gear in, someone had to get it out and that had to be me really. I kept my mouth shut and waited for my turn.

I have to say that this route went far better than the other had – the holds were better for my feet, juggier for my hands and bigger in general. The middle section wasn’t steep at all.

But I really had trouble with gear-removal on this route. The first cam wouldn’t shift despite me pulling the trigger on it and trying to move it in all directions. I couldn’t get any movement on it at all and must have been a good ten minutes trying. My legs started to ache and threaten to cramp on my tiny footholds and I was trying to relieve the pressure on them by shifting my weight about but could tell I couldn’t stay there much longer…

In the end, I shouted to anyone who might be listening that I couldn’t get it out. As it was only around 20 feet up, the ladies below said to carry on as it was low enough for them to climb up and have a try. Obviously, I was told I mustn’t leave anything else in though (which I knew).

I was mortified but continued. It made me feel a bit better after my climb to hear that the next person couldn’t shift it either. The other lady did manage to get it out with ‘just a little wiggle’ she said though!

I had trouble with a nut in a crack further up and was bashing away with my nut key for ages. In the end, I managed to bash it inwards instead of upwards and then it came loose.

The only bad section I found on this climb was where it narrowed at the top and a slab to the right pushed you out of the groove. Feeling the slab though produced lots of great holds so I just walked my feet up the seemingly smooth slab on the left. This worked and I reached the summit in better mental condition – I still didn’t want to do anything else on the crag though as this had been the easiest climb and I’ve found V Diffs easier than this Diff!

I watched for a while while the two ladies and my lead man set off up another route but changed out of my climbing gear as I knew I’d finished for the evening. I happened to notice the man I’d got a lift down with was leaving with another man to go to the pub and said to them I’d just quickly pack my gear and catch them up.

Unfortunately, I got lost a couple of times on the route back and, despite probably being only a few minutes behind them, when I got to the carpark they’d gone. I was a bit miffed as that meant I then had to sit in a cold carpark for forty minutes watching it getting darker and having nothing to do. I was also starving and worried the pubs would stop serving by the time the others came and I got a lift back to Keswick.

I’d have set off hitching to Keswick but for the fact that I’d carried one of the ropes back to the carpark and had nowhere to leave it. I didn’t fancy walking far down the valley with a climbing pack and a rope really…

Originally, we’d been going to go to the Wetherspoons pub after climbing which would have been good from the point of view of getting a meal. Unfortunately we ended up in the Dog and Gun – an excellent drinking pub but it’s always so busy you’ve literally no chance of getting a table or a seat to have a meal.

Luckily for me, the chip shop in the square was open (The Old Keswickian). I nipped out and got a nice large portion of lovely chips with mushy peas on top and the northern favourite on top of that – scraps! These are scraps of batter which have fallen off the fish etc. And all for £3 – it was superb and put me in a far better frame of mind!

I then joined the others in the pub for a drink – by the time we left half an hour later, the promised rain (which had been threatening on the crag but luckily held off) had arrived.

Unfortunately, the next meet is a Saturday meet (so I’m working) but is at Black Crags along from Pike O’ Blisco – I’ve been eyeing those crags for a while as they look great and much more my sort of thing. I can’t see me being back at Shepherds again though, sorry!

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13 responses

21 09 2019
tessapark1969

That sounded a bit nerve racking. That chippy is very good though!

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22 09 2019
mountaincoward

I always knew I wouldn’t like Shepherds (that wasn’t why I didn’t in the end as, sometimes, I find crags much nicer than I thought they’d be) – this time I was right!

The chippy in Keswick is great! So good I had the same again in my dinner hour from my shop job on Wednesday 🙂

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13 09 2019
Blue Sky Scotland

Not climbed on that crag I don’t think but routes not far away. Great views but most routes are polished. Love the chips in the Lake District. Brown Slabs has a You Tube video of the ascent if it’s still online.

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13 09 2019
mountaincoward

no doubt the video is of someone having a better time of it than I was and climbing better?

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12 09 2019
bowlandclimber

You must visit the cafe where you parked as a matter of principal + they have excellent faire. My friend Martin ran it for years, God bless him.
I’m sure you will make up for that failure but shame on your climbing club.

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12 09 2019
mountaincoward

I really would have but didn’t dare get left behind. I fully intend to give them some money – via cake is always a great way to do it 🙂

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12 09 2019
Johann A. Briffa

I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your climbing outing at Shepherds Crag. I haven’t been there yet, but I must say from the guidebook it looked interesting and I had made a mental note to check the place out on our next visit. The height definitely matters, I remember how I would find longer climbs really intimidating mentally, but that does get better with practice. So hang in there 🙂 I really enjoyed reading about the pubs and chippy up in Keswick. Love the Dog & Gun though as you said it’s often hard to find a table. And I must say the Old Keswickian has become a bit of a ritual for us.

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12 09 2019
mountaincoward

Those chips were ace and really made a difference to my mood that day! I’m going to start visiting them in my dinnerhour in winter now I work in Keswick 🙂

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12 09 2019
Alli Templeton

I’m not surprised you didn’t enjoy Shepherds Crag so much – it sounds a bit of a trial, and being left in the car park afterwards wouldn’t have helped. At least you got a good dose of chip shop fayre in the end. I had some chip shop chips for the first time in more years than I can remember last weekend, and it was a real treat. We were down on the south coast after a visit to Portchester Castle, and it seemed the right thing to do to round of a good day. 🙂 I hope you enjoy the next meet more, even if you do have to miss out on Black Crags. I still think you’re amazing for doing it at all. 🙂

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12 09 2019
mountaincoward

I haven’t had chip shop chips for years now either as my local (as in when I was in Skipton) had taken to frying in lard again which, as I’m veggie, I can’t have. That’s probably one reason I really enjoyed them as I hadn’t had any for ages!

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12 09 2019
Alli Templeton

Oh yes, I remember now – we have that problem with chips in most places up north – for the same reason. It’s hard to find chips cooked in vegetable oil up there. The only place we could find that could cater for us was in a fish and chip restaurant in Hebden Bridge. You’d think with the burgeoning vegan population that they might reconsider and start at least using a separate vegetable oil fryer, wouldn’t you?

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12 09 2019
mountaincoward

I’m surprised too, especially, as you say, with the increase in veganism and vegetarianism – they’re cutting out a large potential clientele!

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12 09 2019
Alli Templeton

Absolutely, they are! It’s very short-sighted.

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