Windows of Opportunity
We land at Eskdale YHA mid-afternoon. Hare Crag is very clearly visible from the hostel, and so we head on up after a cup of tea. We can see that the rock is dry, we doddle along the road and up through the bracken to the good-looking crags.
Dry the rock may be, but the bracken isn't. We wade through it, and there's a little prickle on my skin that makes me think that midges aren't just in Scotland..
We know we haven't a load of time before dinner, so we get on it. I have barely done any trad, and I'm psyched for it. I lead away up Fireball XL5. This is VS and I've climbed a couple, maybe three or four of these before I know the climbing is going to be technically piss compared to what I've been doing on the slate. Its placing the gear that worries me. And climbing on twin ropes.
I needn't have worried - there's next to fuck-all gear on the wall. I get a sling on a spike early. All the cracks are shallow, or flared, and even a set of off-sets don't sit easily. But the climbing is so easy there's no a prospect of falling unless I have a brain embolism. Plus it s a good line, so I enjoy it massively.
There's a lot to think about though and I faff a load on the anchors, constructing what even I recognise is a bazaar Christmas Tree-like affair with chains of quickdraws and slings, interlinked into a rather beautiful spider's web made out of brightly coloured nylon. Even if the whole thing failed, it would probably catch on any protuberance!
This is why experience is good, so you can shake down all this stuff and get it working right. Even if you look like a tit as you do it.
On we crack. Rob follows up, constructively and sensitively critiques my gear, and is even sensitive about my belay.
His reward is to lead away up an MVS which is the biggest bag of dogshit of all time. The first mini-wall is okay, with a few nuts on it, but then its just a load of vegetated ledges: literally as wide as bridleways, with simple scrambles and trees between them. We hear swearing from above as Rob mutters at high volume about not finding a belay. After ages we just reach up for the few pieces of gear, and head down for dinner.
Sam's mates from work rock up for the sponsored walk up to Scafell Pike, and that's what we are committed to for Saturday. So off we all go up there. Its a lovely lonely alpine walk from Eskdale, me and Rob go up by a scrambling route to the top of Scafell. Scrambling is good enough for me, its all time on rock. Super easy moves, usually hands free, but such a high volume of them that you can't help learn something, build up all the neural pathways under conditions of low stress. Not that this lasts, descending Lord's Rake is nerve racking through chossy shit, with rocks slithering all over the place. Then up to Scafell Pike where there are tons, queues of folk. I prefer a bit more solitude, but I am glad people are up there doing it.
Not a drop of rain all day! Lets hope it lasts eh?
Now, that out of the way, down to what I have set out my stall for. Get on the rock and push my grade - target: E1.
Next morning, we head up. We find a clutch of VS routes up a slab, but as we are walking up , it starts to spit and then fucking rain. As Rob starts up it goes from beautifully dry textured granite to a sort of slabby waterfall. 'I'll need chalk.'
Despite the water, the rock is still grippy, slate this is not, and Rob goes up in good style. 'YOU FOLLOWING UP?' He bellows down.
'AM ... I ... FUUCCKK.'
I head up the grass -through bracken- take Rob his boots, and ab down to get the gear. Good experience abbing, its always something I'm a bit sketchy about because once you've done rope access its hard to trust your life to less than three gadgets.
Back at the hostel we have biscuits and tea. The rain looks in for the day and we decide to have a drive out to the coast, just as the weather clears. As we drive out, we look in the mirror and the rock is dry, but none of us have the moral strength to back out and go back up to the crag like we should do.
When we get back we get straight up to the crag. A little while ago, Sam was in a pretty serious climbing accident - see Shrapnel from a Near Miss. One of his goals this weekend is to lead a trad route. There's an easy angled slab off to one side of Hare Crag with a V. Diff on it. Sam lead this is in perfect style, no hesitation. This is good, important for him. Its his first trad lead since the accident, and until you're in it again you don't know how you'll be.
His eyes have gone all gammy due to a serious contact lens scratch so maybe this is why he is fine. His eyes are so bad, he may not even be aware he is on a rock climb.
Then the fucking weather comes in. I just have enough time to scamper up a Severe and its all over. Not that the slab is much worse for the water, the granite is so frictive.
So bollocks. We have exactly one more morning before we have to head off back to work and family duties. So its a case of get on with it.
Weather? dry. We bounce straight up tot eh crag after a rapid breakfast, and we're uncoiling ropes by about half eight. First: straight up a VS with a cool-ish name - Jugged Hare (very important). Very easy climbing, and I'm getting a lot better about the gear placements. Training this on a slab is good because you've got a load of time to faff without getting pumped out. In your forearms at least, my calves can just about handle the pace. I even place a cam which I never do. Looking at the route picture, I probably trended a bit to far to the right, but the slab was so featured I don't think it affected the quality of the climb/
So on to the E1 5a- Hareless Heart. But I don't know man. This is seriously no more difficult than the VS next to it. Maybe I've missed something about the start- its not easy working from the picture, and I regret not having the old Fell and Rock Guide which might have had a few more clues in the text. The start seems like it might have been a bit easy, maybe it took the blanker wall, or the brutal crack with a tree growing out of it. Not sure. I can't believe there's anything harder to do up the slab part, which is fairly run-out - this suits me, so not a problem.
It was fun, but we've just got enough time, and there's a much more convincing E1 5a to the right. Its got a steep start up a cracky groove system, then into the run-out slab.
Now THIS is more what I expected. The start is strenuous, with a little bit of protection, though if you faff too much you can easily pump out. There are some good foot holds, good grips, but a lot of space.
I get enough gear on to go for the one reach move - Fuck! go for it! then up, over, onto a great rest over the break. Up and through the slab, although now I am finding gear all over the place, so the slab is less and less run out.
This has been good weekend. Every route I've done I have enjoyed and I feel confident and comfortable on it all. I know I can climb technically harder, and more importantly I am bold enough to commit to the moves at this level and run it out. If I get good positive experiences of running it out, then it will set me up for moving my trad grade closer up to where my technical level is. And crucially, I have crossed into the important psychological zone of E grades.
Of course, you should ignore grades and just enjoy the climbing shouldn't you? Good job. Later in the day I find that UKC has downgraded the climb. HVS. For Fuck's Sake.