Thursday, 30 December 2010

Out on a Limb

I thought that Cautley Spout would be the last route of 2010 since Cath and I were heading up to Scotland for a week's mountain biking over Christmas and there wasn't much likelihood of getting in to the remoter crags in the area that we were going to (Dumfries and Galloway). However a look through  John Biggar's site showed some ice close to the road and just as importantly it was close to one of the 7Stanes - Kirroughtree, so we could get the route done and do some mountain biking as well!

The one big doubt was that the route was low lying and close to the sea so it may not have formed but the extended cold spell should have done it's magic. In fact we went for a short bike ride on Christmas day and it was freezing!!! One of my xmas pressies was a new pair of crampons so I wanted to try them out.

Cath did need a bit of persuading - I think that other than the route on Barden Moor last season she hadn't done any winter climbing for ten years, however with the route just a minute from the road there wasn't much commitment in finding out if it was in and with the biking nearby then it wouldn't be a wasted day. The drive over was "interesting" as even though it was a main road, it hadn't been gritted or ploughed. Perhaps more of a surprise was that Clatteringshaws reservoir was frozen over - this large expanse of water is only at 180m A.S.L. A couple of miles downstream and we were at our route - The Grey Mare's Tail. An interesting name given that there is a more famous fall of the same name near Moffat, cue a bit of mischief of which more later.

First looks at the fall and it looked wet, very wet. Cath declared that it wasn't in condition but I wanted to check so scrambled over the icy rocks at the base to the main fall and whacked in an axe - perfect plastic ice! The top of the steep section looked a bit thin unless you were prepared to climb close to the running water but other than that it looked OK.

Back to the car and back with the kit and it's time to head off. Easy climbing up and left to a step where I put in an ice-screw then up and left again to the edge of the running water. Things were steeper now and it took  some gentle footwork to make upward progress on the thinner ice. Soon the angle eased and I sauntered back  to get a belay round a large boulder - then promptly fell through the ice and got a wet foot! Overall about II 3 which is what it was given originally. After a bit of relayed communication with a watching tourist (and his dog) Cath set off. Other than ensuring the rope was snug she didn't have too much trouble on it.

Scrambling out of the gill we were approached by a single bloke who wanted to know what the condition was like. After a quick chat he reckoned he'd solo it but would like us to stick around just to make sure he was OK. We had a look at the upper fall which would be much more impressive if it froze fully, however even after three weeks of very cold temperatures it just looked too brittle and not well enough formed.

Soloing the Grey Mare's Tail

On the steep bit at the top of the main fall.

Back at the car, the soloist reckoned that ours was only the second ascent and his the third of the route since it had only been done earlier this year.

As for the mischief: well a text to Mike and Steve stating - "Grey mare's tail - tick" did the trick. Might tell them the real story tomorrow :-)

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