Posts Tagged ‘idiocy’

Black Hill is most northerly of the three great gritstone and peat plateaux which dominate the Dark Peak region of the Peak District. Smaller in area and lower than either Kinder or Bleaklow it is nonetheless a remote and bleak place to be in bad weather” – Peak District Information

That said, we are all experienced with map and compass, we know the area very well (and how to get off in bad visibilility), were suited and booted correctly and were carrying a couple of rucksacks full of emergency equipment… Oh and Dr Crowe had his cheroots.

Some fine chaps

Ey up Sharpy, Dr Ali, The Prof and Dr Crowe

We arived in Holme – the start of our walk – slightly late due to a puncture and some misdirection by me. More snow was falling and the Prof and Sharpy were already there waiting for us. After gearing up we set off just before 9pm. With visibilility aided by the snowlight the slog up Issues Road (track) was done without head torches. The row of dead moles pinned to the barbed wire fence like washing on a line made for a slightly eerie sight. I can only assume that this is how the farmers around Holme warn off any other moles thinking of encroaching on their turf.

Things started to get interesting at the end of Issues Road where the snow deepened and the path disapeared under it. After crossing the stream we stopped to check our course but Dr Ali and Sharpy were doing a fine job of navigating and we were soon heading up the steeper section leading to the Pennine Way. With the snow ranging from ankle to almost knee deep my tired legs were soon longing for solid ground. It never came. The snow just got deeper.

Dr Ali’s excellent navigation skills found us at the large cairn which we knew was at the top of the main path before the last summit section. After several false summits we came across two small sticks pushed into the snow which Dr Crowe aptly named the slalom gate.  The chaps who came up here on the New Year’s Day run recognised these as being close to the summit trig point. After 2 attempts to find the trig point from this location we decided that enough was enoough and – not wanting to create so many foot prints so as to confuse our route off – we set off back down.

I was dissapointed to have not found the trig point but soon realised we had made the right decision. The 12 inch deep footprints that we had left in the snow on our way up only 20 minutes earlier had all but disapeared. The snow, so fine and powdery that it felt more like fine sand, coupled with the strong wind and further snow fall had completely covered our tracks. Again Dr Ali, compass in hand, led us expertly and safely past the gulley and down to where we knew we were on safe ground and we soon found ourselves on the trudge down Issues Road and back to the cars completing another fine adventure.

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Another Monday night, another bunch of feeble excuses (bellyaching, babysitting, birthday) the worst of all time being “I’ve been on a history walk. In Sheffield”. A history walk. In Sheffield. Just let that one sink in a moment. This left Dr Crowe and Mr Tuck a free hand to chance their arms at a little gulley number spotted by Dr Crowe as a possibility when once he was upon the Raven Stones. A plan previously hatched on the train home from work over a battered Ordnance Survey map named the object of their desire: Birchen Clough.

Birchen Clough

Birchen Clough

Usual time pressed departure, Mr Tuck hurling himself into Uppermill Spa en route for booze and chocolate – apparently not for us so what with the excuses and this most recent disappointment the evening wasn’t shaping up very well. Fortunately things changed when we got to Binn Green car park where we met with clear skies with a low, spectacularly delicate cloud formation. Several layers of waterproofs later we set off along the reservoir track towards Greenfield Reservoir. Headtorches dimming (all that early autumn activity on Pule Hill) we stopped and swapped batteries. Actually several sets of batteries as we tried to find enough that worked. Duly illuminated we struck off from the main path and found ourselves at the bottom of the water run off below Greenfield Reservoir. The only way was up, and then up beyond the dam onto the hillside towards the kind of place a path ought to be. Contouring round we dropped back down at the head of the res. All the dam rambling had taken a while and still dumped us on the wrong side of the intake. Scrabbling across a slippy escarpment in the dark wasn’t much fun with water of unknown depth but certainly low temperature on either side.

The path less taken but more bleedin’ obvious greeted us and took us to the bottom of Birchen Clough. The clough itself appeared as a gentle rise overlooked by the Raven Stones which were silhouetted in a shower of clichés. We got a good look at the clough. Too much water, too deep and too fast to go for a straight up the middle approach. This was after all a recce and we didn’t want to spoil the fun for a larger group outing. A modest start then, criss-crossing the gulley as it rose easily. At our early rest to check out the first obstacle Mr Tuck rightly observed that we had created the sport of extreme stepping-stones. Extreme stepping-stones is to gulley scrambling, what bouldering is to climbing. A cut down version of the real thing to be practised by those in need of a substitute. We confidently expect a BMC sub-committee to consider the ethics of stepping stoning and whether it is really the “done thing” giving as it might the “professional” stepping stoner an unfair advantage over amateur gentleman gulley scramblers. It might also spawn a whole range artificial aids (water wings?) and unseemly garments detrimental to the traditions of the sport (i.e. non-tweed).

Such musings powered us over the first of several narrowings in the flow and over the larger boulders on the cloughside. The gulley walls were gainfully employed as the flatter stones in the flow of the water proved extremely slippery. The first major waterfall was taken with due care and attention and our previous practices, developed on Oaken Clough, paid off. We emerged over the brow of the fall on the side of the Pool of Tranquility. In “The Land that Time Forgot” this would have been the bathing place of prehistoric nymphs. On this evening it would have been survivable only by a geordie hen party. We took coffee and a cheroot for the Doctor. The view up the clough looked fine, though the distances were foreshortened in the dark.

Circling the pool brought us to the next waterfall which posed the evening’s second biggest challenge (the first equal were Fingers’ excuse for not coming and Tuck’s battery management issues). Mr Tuck favoured a move to the right and headed across the flow. At the central point he was forced to assume a kneeling crawl below the main force. Steadily on unsteady ground he gained the gulley wall and a degree of security.

Meanwhile Dr Crowe trended left, working finger jams in the cracks of the side wall until the face of the fall was reached. The band of rocks and stones between the flow and the gulley wall arrowed towards a face above a couple of metres high. The wall on the left began to overhang and was covered in a thick layer of moss, a natural line for a green crack specialist. It was all looking a bit desperate but a traverse across the flow wasn’t really an option so it was a simple brutish mantel through spray and when the moss gave out a direct thrutch through the brim of the waterfall gave the traditional and inelegant conclusion to a fine night out.

Turning back to look down the clough we saw that it we couldn’t see anything – mist had sprung up in a ten minute interval to reduce  to a few metres. That and a check on the time meant heading down. We took the path on the left hand side of the clough picking our way through mist and boulders, following trails of sawdust (left from a weekend fell race?).  Took extreme stepping stoning to a new level – extreme stepping stoning in only a few metres of visibility – the opposite bank only vaguely outlined. Only a few more directional difficulties and then back on the big path back to the car park

Disorientation and dam rambling put the pub beyond reach and even the car park was devoid of intimate couples.

In truth, an evening of swing at the climbing wall was averted and more evidence provided for our grandchildren to truly marvel at the brutality of a recession which forced their forebears to seek entertainment in freezing waterfalls.

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Wet Wet Wet

this one’s a bit late too … Wednesday 3rd September 2009

Wet Wet Wet

Early start, up before six move quietly, don’t wake the boy, don’t disturb the wife’s sleep. Out of the house unshowered, walk the dog. Just before dawn, kids back to schools, everyone back to work. A few other early risers in the gloom signals summer’s over. Back in the house, out of the wind, breakfast, flask of coffee and final things in the bag and pockets. Stirrings in the house, child awakes, knock at the door, goodbyes said, in the car, go. A day, a day not bracketed by other responsibilities. A day in the mountains long planned and hard won. Having moved from the Vale to the high Pennine moors, I am driven harder to find more height, steeper rock and longer routes. To spend all day on one face steadily unpicking the line among ridge, groove, arete, rib and slab instead of endless up and downs trying to push grades.

Choice of location and route all up in the air because of the weather. Lakes ruled out because all the forecasts look appalling. This rules out Troutdale Pinnacle and Bridge’s Route on Eskdale Buttress (Dow Crag). Wales becomes the destination of desperation based on a lone optimistic forecast and a guide suggesting Glyder Fawr or even Lliwedd can be climbed in the wet. We head for Pen y Pass scoping the weather (actually optimising the breaks in the rain) as we go west. We parked up about 10 am and did some preliminary sorting of gear, checked the weather report in the cafe and waited for a break in the rain.

It’s one long Diff – Slanting Buttress Ridge Route on Lliwedd, “good except in the foulest conditions” – well it was only raining. It kept on raining as we made the walk up the Miner’s Track and round the lake. It kept raining more or less heavily as we skirted the bogs and streams crossing the path as best we could and headed switchbacking up the scree. The advice in the guidebook was to sort out your position from a distance – a bit tricky what with the visibility low and all the rain. Chevrons of quartz were finally distinguished, the base of the route established. More water was added to the ground when I wrung out my hat. Big boots and ‘sacks were going to be the order of the day. Andrew led off up the first pitch, easy climbing but care needed in the wet. I took the second only putting a couple a pieces of gear and setting up a belay on a small spike and very small wire. Water was getting into boots and penetrating through layers of clothing. As Andrew set off up pitch 3 it was a real struggle over some tricky blocks, then a hands and knees (“it’s the only friction!”) climb up a slab disguised as a waterfall. Weatherwise, things looked a little better. Inevitably, by the time he set up the belay I could barely see him for low cloud.

The absorption of water was matched by the absorption in the tasks in hand. This climb required focus on the job in hand, a re-experiencing of climbing technique (in some cases its complete abandonment) to re-learn everything in a watery environment. Friction, small toe holds – these things were useless now. Yet the climb wasn’t without delicacy, balance was much needed and sometimes sheer thuggery required to pull and mantel to the next hold.

We stopped for a while at the next stance taking shelter in an overhung corner as the rain turned to hail. We took coffee and I rolled a cigarette. Unable to dry my hands the paper was damp but not quite at the point of disintegration. Was it quarter to three at this point? My guidebook, inside three layers of clothing was beyond reading. Later it would be a papier mache block. The valley bottom and the lake remained out of view as did anything to the left of Slanting Gulley. With little to see and only Andrew’s calling out of the route instructions to guide me I took off again. The pitches lost their distinctiveness from one another, after I stepped round a nose onto the ridge the route lost it’s distinctiveness from the rest of the mountain. Grassy ledges and ramps were employed, blocks swung over and spikes belayed from. More water, a bit more wind, more cloud. Another steep corner on my lead. I’m in the groove now, I’m thinking ahead looking for the holds,  trying to climb efficiently, so wet I no longer notice the rain. More gear required for this pitch. I’m faced by a slab four, five, six metres high, crack up the middle, a wrinkled wall on the right a more broken one on the left but only to about a third of the height. I tried moves all over these three walls, crossing the slab, holdless apart from a vertical hand crack. I go back and forth each time trying to keep my large boots planted on rock somehow. I offer it to Andrew – different folks and all that. He declines, modestly. I bob up and down looking for a sequence of holds that will get me up and over and out of this dead end. I swing on the rope, pull on slings and the rope. Finally I stand in a sling clipped to a nut placed as high as I can reach in the crack. Time’s passed again, three or more hours. It doesn’t go anywhere, we call it off. I downclimb as best I can leaving a nut in to be lowered off. We lose another at the belay which is just jammed.

Another (yet another) huddled dripping discussion debate. More attempted location finding, this time in relation to the descent gulley and just get on and abseil down. Andrew’s guidebook is protected by a state of the art sandwich bag. We go down reversing the previous pitch.  Then take a long abseil on the right of the ridge that uses up most of the ropes, this has taken out virtually all of the climb. Another short abseil drop and we’re on the descent route picking our way on the scree, round the toe of the buttress. All that abseiling has forced most of the water out of the ropes which we can repack into the sacks.

What light there is fading away as we regain the path to take us around the toe of the buttress. In the wet this is as tricky as anything else we’ve done today. Thankfully we’re too wet to take on much more water. As the literal and slightly metaphorical gloom descends we take the path that brought us here. Warming up as we move more quickly against the weather we say little.  A combination of weather and, on my part, relative inexperience on long mountain routes gave the trip a frontier feel. Andrew might have just felt wet through and pissed off. If so, he was too polite too mention it. In the dark every glimpse of artificial light seemed to me like the end of our trudge. But it wasn’t like that.  Eventually we got to the car at Pen y Pass, still raining. By 9.30 pm we were standing in our underpants wringing out our clothes and ready to hit the road back to the Pennines once we’d found the dry gear and got it on before it got wet as well.

Was it a failure, not finishing the route and striding manfully across the top of the mountain to the miners track? Was it a victory for common sense and tiredness to come down by whatever means possible? I think it was just fine to have had an idea and pursued it with all physical strength, technique and willpower available. After all these days routes are all but labelled on the rock and the experience of not actually completing a climb is pretty rare. End of the summer it certainly was. If we start earlier in the season next year we might get some better weather but we might never get a better challenge than Slanting Buttress Ridge Route in the wet.  It took a fortnight to dry the guidebook out. Andrew’s phone was never the same despite taking it apart to dry it out on the way back. All this, long planned and hard won, and life’s the richer for it.

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12th October 2009 Oaken Clough Gully

It was Monday night and in the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf. Actually it was the germ of an idea.

Six grown men with slightly ungrown minds (Dr Ali, Fingers Wren, EyUp Sharpey, Steve Fraser, Mr Tuck and Dr Crochet  stopped hanging about in Crowden car park and headed up the path beyond the Youth Hostel. Branching off rightwards from the main Pennine Way path we trod up the side of the brook, gaining a little height as we moved towards the moorland. A crescent moon didn’t offer much light, Dr Ali’s headtorch was soon attracting low flying aircraft. Fingers and Sharpey were in charge of directions:

“which clough?”;
“you can see trees on the other side of the valley”

Oh yes, but not in this light. The rest of us were left in the dark as the leaders hoved off across the brook. We’d hit the spot: two streams – one meandering along the mini-valley bottom, the other flowing with more force from a dark shoulder silhouetted against deep charcoal sky flecked with the random glitter of stars.

The first few yards were rock hopping and quickstepping round deeper pools, splashing around shallows. Dr Ali and Sharpey abandoned us idiots to take the high ground, leaving the rest of us to pursue the line of beauty (and water).

The first waterfall looked like an obvious unnecessary soaking for little reward so a quick skirt round the bank to the next jumble of stones and rocks. A few ups and alongs led to the first fall. A decent sized face, with few apparent holds appeared, water streaming down the centre (a phrase to be much repeated I fear). What seemed at first sight to be steps cut in the side turned out to be treacherously slippy mini ice rinks. “Don’t fall off ’til I’ve got a photo” called out Steven “David Bailey” Tuck. A bit of purchase on the side and I lurched up. Fortunately a couple of good hand holds on the side held me as both feet went skidding off simultaneously and I got the first soaking of the night.

In for a penny and a pound we headed up the central falls, trying to stay out of the big pools. Mr Tuck took the next face by traversing through the torrent and we picked our way up with some surprisingly good holds in the body of the water. We carried on in this way and that, slipping, scrabbling and stumbling through the falls and pools catching glimpses of our bone dry comrades above on sides of the gulley. All forms of vegetation were tried and generally found wanting for leverage. All the while our spirits rising as the difficulties were dispatched, obstacles overcome and the lunacy of the situation became increasingly inescapable. Four wet men declaring that this was the most fun they’d had in ages.

Steven Fraser took the direct approach on the next big fall, hugging the slab, grinding off sheets of moss for friction and dragging himself over the lip of the spout. We mere mortals took to the right hand side, laying back a little off the side edges and using the water carved steps to gently ascend to the next difficulty.

The stream issued forth from a roof into, what in the gloom seemed like a cave. In reality it was a gulley within the gulley capped by an overhanging block. The two Steves escaped left up dry groove shouting dire warnings. Dr Crowe and Fingers took this as an invitation to investigate further. With Fingers’ arc light on the problem it looked suitably challenging. However this depended on the exit through the back of the roof. Advice rained down on us mixed with water forced through rock:

“it’s dangerous and tiny”;
“He said “it’s dangerous, try it”!”

“You’d need to be a pencil to get through it”

“He’s stopped making sense, now”, then
“It’ll go you know”
“We’ll come back and make it go”

After a bit of a nibble at the ridge alongside the pool (definitely do-able in rock boots) we made our way up the dry groove too, just in time to sort out what all those instructions were.

Next up through a short section to be confronted by a  more substantial pool bound by steep sides. Whereas Steven Fraser took to the right over a series of rounded boulders, Fingers identified the road less travelled or the way of the clinically insane – a traverse on perpendicular rock, relying on tenuous footholds and barndoorable ribs. Needless to say the critical move was only a Tucklength from being achievable and so it was left to our reach specialist to force the route. It has to be said he did so much gardening that at one point it seemed as if he wanted to build an island to stand firm upon to preserve the purity of the line. In the gloom we saw the method in his madness as handholds appeared, the pendulum was controlled with a grasp of heather and a fine exit up to the Pennine Way path at ten to ten.

Six nocturnal ramblers made a rapid descent through alternately stoney and boggy ground (Sharpey finding that the bit next to the wooden bridge was the boggiest of all) concluding that although it was the best Monday night for a while, the very best thing was that it was quite a normal thing to do. The other thing that was quite normal was that the couple in the Vectra in the car park turned the interior light off when six headtorches appeared. The engine quickly turned over and they made their exit to finish off elsewhere. We just went to the pub.

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