Tuesday 19 January 2016

Winter Mountaineering Days in The Lake District. Helvellyn Red Tarn Face. 17th January 2016.

January has seen, as it often does, a gradual cooling down with temperatures dipping below freezing more & more often. However, it took until last Saturday for us to get our first really decent snowfall of the season -  falling to lie right down to sea level where it remained for over 24 hours.

The MWIS forecast for last Sunday looked promising and Iain was itching to get out and use his ice tools in order that he could get back into the swing of things in readiness for the forthcoming Winter Climbing Season.

Also keen, were friend Mike Burns and we had a call from Darren Willis, a returning client on any occasions over the last year, who was also keen to join us if we were going out.

Photo one sees Mike in blue behind our Land Rover and Darren stood in front, as we prepared to leave on our walk in to Helvellyn from Greenside Mines on Sunday morning.

Getting to Greenside from Kendal proved to be an adventure in itself. It was fortunate indeed that we have the Land Rover as conditions on Kirkstone pass necessitated the use of just such a vehicle. You'd be surprised though; at the number of idiots in cars - not set up for winter conditions (ie no winter tyres!), that we encountered sliding down the north side of this pass. Fortunately, too, we were able to get up the track to Greenside and this allowed us to get a head start on many others who were compelled to leave their cars in Glenridding and walk the mile & a half to the mines.

An hour and a half later would find us approaching the shores of a largely frozen Red Tarn (photo two). The summit was still visible at this point and on the walk in, the wind had increased as we gained height and was now gusting fairly strongly. It was also picking up large quantities of spindrift which is most unpleasant when it is thrown in your face - hence Darren's expression!

We made  our way around the north side of the tarn looking for shelter from the swirling snow laden wind and of course, found none! In the end, we had to dig out the group shelter in order that we could get geared up for the route we had in mind; and get something to eat - in comparative comfort as opposed to sitting out in the elements. It really was bitterly cold!

Despite spending some time in the group shelter, we were all pretty chilly when we emerged and Iain was suffering from a fairly severe doze of hot aches in his fingers which took a while to go, but as we climbed several hundred feet into the base of Gully 1, we were all warmed up again.

We could see a party on Viking Buttress IV'4 above us to our right and another party snook in below them and set up a belay just left of where Darren is stood in photo three. These people would, in Iain's estimation, gain a great deal from a rock climbing course as their anchor set up at their stance was pretty abysmal. One anchor above and one level with the belayer's left knee; and not a screw-gate in sight!

As Iain was not officially working today, we decided that as Mike had given the impression he was happy soloing up to grade III, he would lead on in front. Darren would follow; and then Iain would bring up the rear.

Mike set off up the groove above him in photo three and gave the impression of not being too happy exclaiming that there was "not a lot of ice about". He did, however, reach the top & disappear out of sight.

After that, Iain decided to rope up with Darren  (just a simple bowline, nothing more was really needed), lead on up; and then belay Darren up the pitch.

Photo four sees a rather "puffed" Darren approaching Iain at his belay. Darren had been glad of the rope exclaiming that he was "at his limit" and also "f*****g Knackered!" He was noticeably slower than Iain at climbing the pitch.

Having made Darren safe at this stance, Iain whizzed off up another rope-length to some rocks, found a fine "direct belay" and brought Darren up quickly. There was easy ground and the summit cornice just above so Iain sent Darren straight on up to where Mike was waiting.

At the summit, we had whiteout conditions. Cloud, blowing spindrift and a strong cold westerly wind.

We managed to get some shelter in the largely "snow filled" summit shelter  (a crossed stone wall) jostling for space with other climbers who were also emerging from routes on the North East face.

A quick bite to eat and a mouthful of coffee and we were off for the top of Swirral Edge and a quick exit. Photo five sees Darren & Mike next to the cairn that marks the true summit of Helvellyn. Iain can remember when this cairn used to be a lot bigger!

Half an hour later, we were well on our way down Swirral Edge (photo six) which was not technically difficult  - just rather snowed up! It's a common place for novices to slip though; and during Iain's time in Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team, we would often be collecting casualties from the base of either the south (Red Tarn) side of Swirral or the north (Brown Cove) side in conditions such as we encountered today. Either way, it's a bad place to slip and a long way either side to tumble if you do; and as Iain recalls, the mortality rate of unlucky people here, is pretty high!

An hour & a half later, we were back at the vehicles after what had been a hardcore, but truly exhilarating day out. The route we climbed (Gully 1) was one that Mike had had his eye on for some time; and it was another new winter route for Darren who spent quite a bit of time with us in Glen Coe Last February. For Iain, this was probably his tenth ascent of Gully one. He first climbed it during "Winter Training" with the team 30 years ago!

So, Winter conditions are here in The Lake District at the moment and are ideal for Winter Mountaineering, Winter Climbing. There is also enough "Neve" to make Winter Skills Courses a possibility too!

Give us a call if you fancy having a go at Winter Climbing or Winter Mountaineering and if you want to learn how to be self sufficient in the mountains in Winter and know how to use that new pair of Crampons  and the walking axe you got for Christmas, we are available and will be happy to help you! Winter Skills, Winter Climbing & Mountaineering are all available to you for only £75 per person per day (minimum of two persons)!

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