>Winter in the Lakes continues….


Just got back from a second day of winter climbing here in the Lakes. Two awesome days of blue skies, low temperatures and firm snow.

Window Gully (Upper Icefall Finish) III & SE Gully (III)

An early start (06.50am) saw us leaving the house as the moon was beginning to set in the western skies, our destination, Great End.

The moon lighting the road – it wasnt 25c by the way!

The hour drive north to Keswick and then back down through Borrowdales saw us arrive at Seathwaite Farm at around 8am, and already there were plenty of cars parked on the verge, it was going to be a busy day.

Dan leaving Seathwaite Farm

Looking up towards Great End

Its a steady walk upto Great End from Seathwaite along a well maintained path. We made efficient progress as we passed many teams all heading upwards but 9am saw us pulling into the corrie floor beneath the great hulk of the northern face of Great End. A few very early bird teams could be spied in Central Gully and SE gully already so before anyone else arrived we opted to head for Window Gully. This classic route can be climbed in around 4 pitches, mostly at Grade II with the odd optional section of III.
Arriving at the base of the crag as the first rays of Sun hit the summit rocks

Central Gully and SE Gully – note the climbers at the base

Dan gearing up at the base of Window Gully (II/III)

There was already one other team established on the route as we neared the base but luckily for us they were far enough away to not be a concern. So we geared up and started off up.

The first pitch was straightforward, a little consolidated snow and well frozen turf as we established ourselves in the gully proper. From there, the second pitch reared upwards for about 50 metres, containing a decent icy wall, but well stepped that would take screws if needed. Dan made quick progress running out plenty of rope before stopping to place any gear much to the bemusement of two ‘old hands’ who were hot on our heels.

The Third pitch again contained a short icy step and decent snow-ice throughout before it eased off into a broad open gully with the ‘Window’ off to its left from where I managed to get a decent belay.

From here we opted for the Upper Icefall variation (III) which had plenty of sticky, damp ice that was easy to climb.

Upper Icefall Variation (III)

Atop Great End

We topped out into morning heaven. Weak winter sunshine, no winds and crystal clear views over the surrounding fells and out to the Isle of Man and Southern Scotland. Looking back to the valley floor all we could see was a continuous line of people streaming up alongside Grains Gill.

Descending back to the base of the crag

A quick descent down the Eastern flanks and we back in the corrie floor eyeing up what next. All we could see was a plethora of dots, spread across every route on the crag. So we opted to have a spot of lunch whilst we waited for a team to get established on Right Hand Buttress (III). Unfortunately for us they took so long to get established (or should that be started) that we decided to move.

So we moved rightwards to look at the ill-defined and not imaginatively named route of Butress Right of Right Hand Buttress (III), one pitch up we decided it was rubbish so traversed across into what was now a relatively quiet SE gully. A straightforward ascent, there was good snow-ice all the way, the only problem coming from the battering the route had received from all the traffic making the couple of steeper sections now quite as easy, with battered rock where previously good water ice would have been found.

Spring Route – IV – The Old Man of Coniston

And so to Sunday.

The first rays of sun were gracing the slopes of the Old Man of Coniston as at least one rather lethargic climber wandered off along the track from the Walna Scar car park. Our plan – South Gully on the Eastern slopes above Low Water.

Early morning sun on The Old Man of Coniston

We took a quick divertion on the approach to see whether Low Water Beck was any closer to re-forming, it was, but still some way away from being climbable again. And so we pulled up the steep flanks to its left before arriving at the frozen shores of Low Water. From here we could spy a short icefall dropping down from beneath South Gully, this was the direct start to Spring Route and with the remainder of the climb looking like it was in ok condition, we opted for this route instead.

Low Water Beck – forming but not quite in condition

After the initial icefall, our route ran R-L across the buttress on the Right

I stood tentatively under the chandeliers of ice that were looming large above my head as Dan set off up the first pitch, the ice looked great, plastic and solid. Dan paused briefly to wind the first of two screws reassuringly into place.

The first Icefall pitch of ‘Spring Route’

Stepped bulges offer a few rest places

A little brittle but swallowing ice screws

Dan nearing the top of Pitch One

From the icefall it was a straightforward pitch two, albeit for want of trying to find the correct and best line. Some of the snow had taken a battering in the recent milder weather and sections were incomplete, albeit linked by now re-frozen and solid turf. Some 35 metres later I stopped beneath an obvious steepening in the gully and lashed myself to a rock thread.

Looking down on a frozen Low Water

The next pitch did not, on first acquaintance look at all obvious. At best it could be described as mixed. This was to prove to the crux pitch of the route, pulling onto a small ledge above the lower gully before a difficult move straight through the overhanging bulge above, a slinged spike for protection and a marginal nut in the undercut of the bulging rock. Above frozen turf and, at full reach, solid snow ice. This, combined with a small ledge out right for a mono-point was enough to pull into the upper groove and exit onto the easier slopes above. An easier option exists by traversing out right from the spike into the gully on the far right.

From here it was much more straightforward. An obvious, if narrow gully forked off left and after another 50 metres or so opened up into a wide upper snow-slope containing firm snow-ice. This was followed for another 100 metres or so to the summit plateau.

Rich and Dan after completing the crux pitch of Spring Route

From here it was a relatively straightforward descent down North Gully (I). We passed a couple of climbing teams as we down-climbed the top-third section, after which the angle eased a little. We made a quick diversion to scope out the conditions on Percy’s Progress – it was climbable but the ice looked brittle and discontinuous making any ascent broken and contrived so we continued on down and were soon at Low Water once more.

North Gully

And that rounded off another great weekend. Sadly I’m working for the next couple of weeks but am sure Winter won’t be too far away by the time I’m back.

About Richard Talbot

An accomplished fell-runner as well as being a keen climber and mountaineer. Since 2005 he has worked for the UK based manufacturer Mountain Equipment and is currently Director of Product. He has worked in the outdoor industry for over 15 years.
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