Tuesday 2 February 2010

Winter Mountaineering Day, Jan 30th.

After the "big freeze" we had a big thaw and then last week the skies brightened once again and the temperatures dropped to around freezing during the day and as low as minus five at night.

The forecast was looking good for the Saturday when Craig Porter, along with his friend - Alex, had booked Iain looking for a good quality mountain day with some elements of navigation, scrambling and winter skills all thrown in together.

This was a lot to cover in a day, but Iain was happy to deliver. This picture shows Stickle Ghyll in Langdale as Iain & the guys headed up to Stickle Tarn to carry out the day's requirements. As you can see it was freezing up nicely and, given a few more days of the low temps would have made an excellent ice climbing trip. It was not to be though, sadly, by Monday night, the next thaw had set in!

This picture shows Alex (left) and Craig (right) practicing spotting on the lower rib of Tarn Crag - a nice easy bit of grade one ground. The technique of spotting was new to Alex.

Spotting is where people help each other ascend a scramble where really, a rope isn't necessary but the use of hands to prevent a person falling backwards off a short step or to hold feet in place, will ensure sufficient safety. It also assists with efficient passage on a scramble and is an excellent icebreaker for getting people who don't really know each other to work together as part of a team.

Anyway, this provided a short alternative to the navigation skills Iain had been teaching the guys from the moment they left the National Trust car park at the New Dungeon Ghyll hotel. Shortly after this, they would encounter some hard snow and a session of "step kicking (otherwise known as using the boot as a tool) would ensue.

Eventually we reached Stickle Tarn which was frozen over with what looked to be a fairly thick layer of ice. The views all around were stunning and the cold northerly wind somewhat numbing so everyone donned Goretex which had been unnecessary up to this point.

Iain decided to break what was left of the day down into a further navigation session east of Stickle Tarn followed by a guided ascent of the classic Lake District Scramble of Jack's Rake. Following that - as we would be amongst the best of the snow above Jack's Rake, we would look at what winter skills training time would allow.

The picture above shows the guys practicing taking a bearing and the view in the background is of the Bright Beck valley with the summit of Sergeant Man beyond.
Taken in the opposite direction, this view is of the east ridge of Harrison Stickle with Stickle Tarn below and right - the south face of Pavey Ark. Jack's Rake is the diagonal groove ascending this face.

After an hour & a half of good navigation practice finding features such as spurs & re-entrants, pacing & timing, we headed over to the foot of Jack's Rake.

As can be seen from this picture, the weather and conditions were fantastic!

This picture shows Alex & Craig just above the step on the traverse where Crescent Climb comes in from below. Jack's Rake is considered to be a classic Lake District grade one scramble; and is on most hillgoers tick list at some point.

Before setting off up the route, the party donned helmets, harnesses and roped up - all wise decisions given the fact that some ice was falling on to the terrace from the cliffs above. Despite some water ice, the route was not in serious condition - more so a pleasant intro to winter scrambling. However, Iain felt roping up was necessary and some parts of the route were pitched whilst Iain short roped the guys where appropriate.

We saw many people soloing Jack's Rake and also one individual retreating - without a helmet! Possibly a wise choice given the conditions.

This picture shows Alex & Craig coming up the final groove next to the rock tower which marks the end of Jack's Rake. Despite pitching the first part of the route, we made rapid progress thereafter and completed the scramble in little over an hour and a half. During this time we enjoyed the warm sun and the shelter afforded by the south facing aspect of our route. We also watched an RAF Rescue Sea King as it carried out a rescue of an injured person next to the outlfow of Stickle Tarn.

We encountered a lot more snow on the latter half of Jack's Rake and this was fairly hard neve. However, due to the number of people having done the route in recent weeks there was a flight of footsteps all the way. Alex & Craig thoroughly enjoyed this classic ascent and at one point Iain was heard to say "I love my job".

Above Jack's Rake there was a reasonable amount of hard neve and ice, so Iain coached Alex & Craig in the techniques of step kicking and step cutting.

These techniques were new to Alex but not to Craig who had attended a Kendal Mountaineering Services Winter Skills course in February 2008 followed by a Cuillin Ridge Traverse on Skye during May of the same year.

Here, Alex & Craig practice the position for Ice axe braking before having a go at the skill. In the distance, hills of the Grasmoor range overtop the ridge between Thunacar Knott and High Raise.

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