Monday 11 January 2010

Winter Climbing, Black Force, Howgill Fells, Sunday Jan 10th

Reports in the last week have been of people climbing in a number of locations, although due to the continuous cold and no thaws, there has not been a significant buildup of ice in anything other than places with running water.

Iain & Kirstin decided to try and find a piece of the action on Sunday and were well rewarded despite a rather long a rather long walk in to Carlin Gill in the Howgill fells.

This shot shows Carlin Gill with the ravine of Black Force in the distance and this was our destination.

This is the view up the Black Force ravine from its junction with Carlin Gill. Black Force is the waterfall that can be seen in the middle distance, visible by people travelling south through the Tebay Gorge on the M6 when in spate. This is somewhere not many people know about; and one of only a handful of winter routes in the Howgills.

Described in the Cicerone Winter Climbs in The Lake District Guide as being a delighful 200 foot grade 2 route - it was certainly worth walking in for; and both Iain & Kirstin enjoyed themselves immensely. This shot shows Kirstin soloing up to the foot of the main pitch of Black Force.

Here, Iain solos up the L/H side of Black Force. Although relatively short, the pitch was quite steep. Ice buildup next to the waterfall was good and ideal for climbing provided one didn't get too close to the waterfall, whereas a few feet to the left there was little ice at all. Iain had to resort to "turf hooking" at the top of the pitch, but frozen turf is great when there is no appreciable ice.
Soloing is fine when you are confident, the ice is good and you are doing so at several grades lower than the hardest grade you climb, so, Iain was happy to do this here although he wouldn't recommend you try it on your first outing. He was certainly insistent that Kirstin climbed the pitch roped as it was her first climb at this grade.

The section above Black Force waterfall is an easy amble. There was some good icefalls starting to form on the precipitous right wall of the ravine which will go at grade 4 or above when fully formed but at this time they were not ready for climbing.
The finale to the route was this short but delightful pitch which brought one up into the secluded hanging valley of Little Ulgill Beck - time for a well earned sandwhich and a brew!

Having started on the route at about 12:30, it was after 3pm before we popped out in the hanging valley, but we'd taken our time and enjoyed the experience. Away in the distance at the head of Little Ulgill Beck can be seen the summit of Fell Head (623M) which overlooks the southern entrance to the Tebay Gorge.
Up here it was truly winter, well below freezing with a strong easterly wind scouring the windward slopes and depositing vast quantities of windslab on the lee slopes - so much so that it would have been quite possible to snowhole up here if one picked a place with care.
Work is starting to pick up again with a number of people booking Navigation Skills Training Days and Winter Skills Courses. If people don't book up for Winter Climbing Courses then Iain & the Kendal Mountaineering services team will have more time to get out and climb themselves - but here's hoping for a good balance of work and play this winter season!
The walk from Black Force back to the car took a few hours, but both Iain & Kirstin felt it had been worthwhile. Iain also had his eye on another waterfall - The Spout; and he'll be back to check that out soon.
We had followed vague footsteps on our way into Black Force that day and found more in the ravine. Just above the final pitch were the clear remains of a snow bollard.
Clearly, a few others do know about this little gem in the Howgills!

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