Wednesday 12 February 2014

Mixed Winter climbing in The Lake District. Bowfell Buttress, Monday 10th February, 2014.

Not all of the posts on our blog relate only to the work that we do at Kendal Mountaineering Services. Sometimes Iain likes to mention the other things that he gets up to in the outdoors - so here he goes!

Towards the end of last week I received an invite to join a mate - Dave, for some winter climbing, if suitable conditions presented themselves in the area.

We all know about what a poor winter it has been so far as low pressure systems have tracked one after the other across the country bringing with them copious amounts of rain, strong winds and mild temperatures. None of these are conducive to "good" winter conditions and so far this season, The Lakes have seen little of such conditions.

However, Dave seemed to think that Monday was going to be a settled day and that there would be "winter conditions" higher up. We left Kendal at 06:00 and set off on the walk in to Bowfell Buttress from Langdale at about 07:00. In the valley it was mild and everywhere was green. As it got lighter, we could make out some snow peeping out from under the cloud shrouding Crinkle Crags!

As we reached the point where the Climbers Traverse path breaks from the main path to Three Tarns (at about 600m) there was a distinct "bite" to the air and we were already in snow. The Climbers Traverse (photo one) was tricky, banked out with snow having a thin hard crust but being deep & soft underneath resulting in our constantly breaking through - for me at times - right up to the tops of my legs. This was not a place to slip today, the slope below the path is preciptitous and and an Ice Axe would not have stopped you! Today, the traverse was best described as arduous!

At least the weather was calm. There was no wind when we arrived at the foot of our route and it would remain this way all day. Also, there was virtually no precipitation during the day either, but it was to remain largely cloudy.

As a winter route, Bowfell Buttress is given a grade of V'6, in Summer it is one of the areas classic Rock Climbs and given the grade of Vdiff in the FRCC Langdale guide. Overall, it is 110m long and generally climbed in four pitches, however, as we had my 2 60m ropes, Dave decided to pitch the route in two ropelengths.

Here in photo two, Dave can be seen leading off on the first pitch, the route was thin and conditions not great. However, after the early start and long walk in, we weren't for turning back  particularly as the weather seemed so settled! 
Time passed slowly as it can do on winter climbs, but this was largely due to Dave having fun with the cruddy conditions we found on the route. Being barely freezing - it was more a case of torquing and hooking rather than being able to bash picks into lovely frozen turf or ice. It was quite a while before the ropes went tight on me indicating I could climb. The chimney at the top of the first pitch gave me considerable difficulty but eventually I joined Dave on the spacious midway ledge.

Dave led off up the next steep wall and across the traverse knocking off loads of snow & ice as he went. I knew he was traversing as initially, all the rubbish was falling down to my right, then on my head and then off to my left! Dave reckoned that the final chimney was the crux (hardest part) of the route and whilst moving on the exposed start to that chimney was exciting, I certainly found the second two pitches easier than the first. Photo three sees Dave at the final stance as I climbed up to join him.

At the top of the final pitch things were properly frozen - even the turf. We peeled off down the l/h slanting couloir leading into the gully to the south of the buttress and descended through crappy snow back to the sacks and after a bite to eat, packed up and left.

It was good to get off the Climbers Traverse and on to turf - even in a pair of Nepal Extremes! It was no less knackering a return journey to this point (photo four) than it had been on the way in with my constantly floundering about in the deep soft snow. At least I was getting a good workout!

However, it was a good, long hard day out and nice to have been out on one of the areas classic mixed winter routes in what, other than the cloud, had been a decent day. The views as we descended back to Langdale were fantastic! Thoroughly satisfying stuff!

There is still time for the weather to cool down and hopefully we will see better winter conditions spread to a lower level in The Lakes so for anyone interested in learning Winter Skills or winter climbing we are available to take you out. Contact Iain at Kendal Mountaineering Services if you are interested. His next post is likely to be about a winter adventure booked with four clients in The Cairngorms next week. Happy winter climbing!

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