Sunday 10 April 2016

Lake District Scrambling Courses. 5th & 6th April 2016.

After his weekend on the Kentmere Fells running a Navigation Skills Training Course for Richard, Andy & Joe, Iain was back out the next day to meet Owen Higgs in Langdale for his Scrambling Skills Training Course.

Owen had originally booked this course almost two years ago and was to have attended with a friend who had a tragic accident just a few days beforehand. Owen asked Iain if he could postpone until another time? Absolutely no problem - what else  could anyone have possibly  said!

Anyway, Owen got in touch early in the New Year to reschedule his scrambling course for April and we were happy to oblige.

Photo one sees Owen at Tarn Crag in Langdale where we spent the first day of his training course. We started off looking at "spotting" where scramblers help each other using hands and a braced stance to ascend an easy scramble where use of a rope is unnecessary and would only slow things down.

Photo two sees Owen getting to grips with short roping techniques.

Short roping is used on ground where a slip could turn into something more serious, but where the ground is a mixture of easy & harder terrain - in most likelihood a grade II buttress with steps of no more than a metre or two requiring a tensioned rope to stop a less capable second from slipping.

Most of the rope is not required so therefore the lead scrambler takes chest coils and then locks these off to prevent getting throttled if the second falls. The leader will have a reservoir of coils in their uphill hand that should be of sufficient length to allow the leader to ascend any easy pitch whilst leaving the second stood still in a safe place. The leader will always be above the second acting as an anchor at all times and using a braced stance to prevent them from being dislodged (pulled) over and that is also the reason that Owen is holding the rope with a bent arm - to prevent being pulled over!
Sometimes however, scrambling ground can get so serious that merely short roping and belaying someone with your body & hands will not be sufficient to safeguard either them or you; and it is important that safety comes first at all times when scrambling. This is when using direct belays comes into place.

In photo three, Owen is using a direct belay to lower Iain down a steeper part of a gully where he would have trouble holding Iain otherwise were he to slip. In this case, the direct belay is merely a spike of rock around which the rope is run and the friction of rope against rock is sufficient to provide a safeguard.  This sort of belay can be used in ascent as well as descent and is a very quick means of providing a safeguard. However, it is essential that any such rocky protuberance is checked thoroughly to ensure that it is a solid part of the surrounding rock  and not likely to break off in use - with potentially fatal consequences!
As well as looking at spotting, Short Roping and Direct belays using rope over rock, we also looked at pacing artificial anchors such as this one in photo four.

The metal wedge on a swage of metal wire is known by a number of terms - "wires", "nuts", all are branded products such as DMM''s Wallnuts or Wild Country's Rocks for example; and they come in a range of sizes. For placements where nuts or wires are too small, one can use chocks such as Hexcentrics or Torque Nuts.

All of these anchors have one thing in common - they are designed to be inserted into tapered cracks where they will only jam in tighter  if they receive a shock-load.

Iain gave Owen the chance to insert these into appropriate cracks  and then use them as a direct belay by attaching an HMS (pear shaped) karabiner used in conjunction with a rolling hitch (Italian hitch) to safeguard someone up or down serious ground. You can use a tape (Dyneema) sling around a rock spike in conjunction with the same karabiner/rolling hitch combination as well.

By the time we had covered all of these techniques with Iain demonstrating and then allowing Owen to practice, the day was almost over. We had had a later than planned start after Owen had turned up thinking that a pair of approach shoes would be appropriate for the day, but Iain persuaded him to get the best footwear for the job; and we nipped back into Ambleside so that he could purchase a pair. It was just as well we did, as not long into our Scrambling Skills Training Course, the rain started  and didn't let up for the rest of the day. Owen was glad that Iain had persuaded him to buy something appropriate for the task in hand, otherwise, it is likely that his first day would have had to be cut very short!

Day two found us back at Tarn Crag in the morning (photo five) where  Iain guided Owen up his first grade II Scramble.

This was done in order that Owen could get to see the different the different belaying techniques that Iain would use where appropriate to safeguard him on such a scrambling route.

The intention had been that Iain  would guide Owen up this route and then that we would return to put Owen on the "sharp end" so that he could try the techniques for himself and have his application of these appraised by Iain.

However, that morning was also pretty vile - cold and wet making the Lake District  rock very slippery indeed and forcing Iain to employ rock climbing tactics at one point - beyond the level at which he was teaching Owen today. It was decided to change plan, with Iain guiding Owen for the rest of the day - something that Owen was quite ok with!!

So, having finished the Spur (grade II) on Tarn Crag and having then had some lunch, we headed up over the summit and around Stickle Tarn to scramble up Jack's Rake (the diagonal ramp  ascending the cliff behind Owen in photo six) on Pavey Ark .

Jacks Rake is one of The Lake Districts  most popular scrambling routes and only graded I.  For this reason it gets a lot of ascents by people who think it is merely a steep walk up the cliff. That - it most certainly is not!

The first part of this route follows a seemingly friendly gully which gets steeper as you climb until it peters out forcing you to climb an exposed, polished & often wet groove to get to the Rowan tree at its top. Many people neither equipped to; nor experienced in dealing with such terrain have found themselves "in extremis" here and the place has been the scene of a number of fatalities in recent years. Above this point, the ramp angle eases and apart from one other serious step above the junction with Crescent Climb; and some easier steps towards the exit pinnacle, this is a most pleasant and rewarding scramble.

And today it was a most rewarding route to be on. The nature of the scramble, the feeling of exposure and the  views that opened out as we climbed higher & higher made it feel like the special place that it truly is.

An improvement in the weather only added to our feeling of exhilaration and it was with a great feeling of satisfaction that we arrived at the pinnacle (right  of Owen in photo seven), unroped and enjoyed some more lunch. What a fantastic route!

We were finished on Jack's Rake a little after 2 pm, so there was still time to fit in another scrambling route and Iain decided that we should take a look at the nearby "Pavey Far East". This is another grade II scrambling route listed in the Cicerone guide Lake District Scrambles South also on Pavey Ark.

Iain had been here once before with a pair on a  scrambling Skills Training Course who decided that they wanted to give up at the first buttress - they must have had a premonition!

We continued beyond the first buttress following a line above a cliff. The line wasn't great as it traversed along sloping rock and grass and it was difficult to provide any protection for Owen at the best of times and although he was quite happy - Iain wasn't! When our route took us down an unprotectable groove with a large drop beyond, Iain decided enough was enough, so we bailed off the route and scrambled up to better ground (photo eight) Neither of us felt it was any great loss! This route is one for bone dry weather only! Iain's view is that Brian Evans must have been getting desperate for something to fill the final pages of the guide when he picked this line.

That was the end of Owen's 2 day Scrambling Skills Training Course in The Lake District and he was absolutely delighted with what we had achieved. He plans to return, hopefully in June with his daughters for whom he had come on this course in order that he could take them scrambling in the hills. We look forward to working with him again then.

Owen paid just  £160 per day for his Scrambling Skills Training Course in The Lake District with Iain and that price is for one or two persons. Helmets & harnesses are provided as well as enthusiastic instruction and coaching from an experienced Mountaineering Instructor. If you would like to learn scrambling Skills for yourself, then contact us - we look forward to working with you!

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