The cold weather that put paid to getting on the rock continued and as we are all aware is basically still with us nearly four weeks later. This meant that climbing meant winter climbing - yeehah! So the first day out was going to be heading up to Brown Cove Crags on the west side of Helvellyn. However we ended up on Tarn Crag on Dollywagon Pike, it wasn't that our navigation wasn't up to much, rather Steve didn't want to take his new car over a possibly icy Dunmail Raise so a change of venue ensued.
Unfortunately Steve parked at the bottom of Dunmail not at the top so we had a couple of extra miles and around 800ft extra climbing to do. This wouldn't have been so bad if the snow was in decent nick but everything was unconsolidated so post-holing was the order of the day. Very hard work. We had intended to head over to Jogebar Gully on Nethermost Pike but we'd have taken hours to get there so settled on one of the easy gullies on Tarn Crag. To save time (there were three of us) since the wind was quite strong and blowing a lot of spindrift around we settled on climbing on a single rope. Everything was deep unconsolidated snow so any steps that were already there tended to collapse when you stood on them. Four months of not climbing meant that sizing gear (such as there was) took time and the placements weren't that good anyway. Pete (the third man) and Steve tied into the middle and end of the rope so we just moved together with poorish gear about every 30 metres. The cornice was "interesting" as the spindrift meant I couldn't open my eyes! Eventually I was on the top trying to hide from the wind.
After a short attempt to walk up to the summit we decided that we'd better head back. Our footprints from the morning were filled in so it was more hard work. Just before the col between Fairfield and Seat Sandal I went through a snow bridge into waist deep bog! After getting pulled out by the others it was just a case of carrying on - it was no place to stop and change socks. I use the Paramo system rather than Goretex and within ten minutes I was warm and dry. Eventually we got back to the car - Steve had carried skis most of the way up so got a jump on us on the way back. All in all a hard day out, showing just how hard winter climbing can be and that there are different types of hill fitness.
The following Friday Steve and I decided to get a night climb in - Low Water Beck above Coniston. It had been getting ascents through the week and should be in condition plus we'd avoid the crowds. A slight delay in setting off meant that we weren't ready to leave the car until 9:20pm. Also I seemed to have lost one of my axes the previous weekend - to make things worse it was the newest of the pair! Mind you it was still 23 years old! I was thus using one of my wife's axes. An hour or so later and we are gearing up at the foot of the falls. There's still quite a bit of water running and some big holes in the ice but it's climbable.
Steve heads off, he's not done much winter climbing so this will be a decent step up. Plenty of gear, some odd line choices and he's up. Following the pitch his line choices don't seem too strange, mostly to avoid spray from the running water. There's a step or two of Grade IV but mostly it's kicked out. Just above the belay there's an awkward chockstone to get round then some gear up and right before a delicate pull onto the base of the final ice slab. There's nothing to belay to at the top so a ice-axe-T belay is needed. Then it's a wander up easy ground to Low Water and off back to the car. There's more cars parked up now (2am) with sleeping occupants so it's quietly away. It's 4am by the time we get home. Someone posted on UKC that they got to the foot of the route at 8am to find 8 climbers on it already!!
We reckoned that with the long freeze the waterfall beneath Hellifield Crag (Crookstones) would be frozen so four of us headed up there to check it out on Sunday afternoon. I'd been into Skipton and splashed the cash on a pair of new ice axes (DMM Rebels) so was keen to try them out. Deep snow meant slow progress, only to find that there was very little ice there! I reckoned that I could get a line up the edge of the fall where the ice looked solid. Rope around my waist - modern climbers eh? - I set off and removed most of what was there with one tap! It was powder snow covered with frozen spray. What was left was about 30cm wide and maybe 20cm thick at the thickest part. 10m later I'm on top. I drop the rope so Steve can lead it and the others follow as seconds. We think it's a possible first ascent but can't be sure.
Steve on thin ice
Unfortunately the thaw has now set in so I might have to wait a bit to do more ice climbing but it's good to know that I can do some climbing. With all the snow and ice I haven't done any running for over a week so might start getting more done now that things aren't quite so bad.