Searching for Percy

Saturday was not an inspiring day. Anticylonic gloom hung over Cumbria. The temperature was desperately clinging onto freezing point, and unusually clung onto that level at practically all elevelations.

Percys Passage III 4, Coniston Old Man, Lake District

We were in search of ice, and keen to avoid Great End (which was the most predictable place for Lakeland ice last weekend) we decided to head around to the Coniston Fells in search of a route we had eyed a few years earlier, Percys Passage. Its not a classic, but forming from seepage, it doesnt require a hard freeze to form. Usually a fall of snow and a short period of freezing weather will see its series of ice steps come into condition.

A spirited drive saw us arrive at small parking area at the end of tarmacced section of the Walna Scar road. Dan was slightly concerned that we wouldnt get back down in one piece but despite the hard packed snow his four wheel drive car had made it to the top without barely a loss of traction.

We walked into through the foggy gloom, following the old miners track towards Low Water. We were feeling optimistic and headed towards the foot of Low Water Beck in the hope of finding some ice, alas it was cascading with water, only a narrow strip of brittle ice formed on either side of the flow. Despite the ground being bullet hard and ice crystals clinging to every tussock it was not remotely frozen or climbable. We moved on.

Low Water was a sheet of grey ice, the crags behind were hidden from view, a quick reference check of the guidebook and we continued upwards, following a line of firm packed snow up North Gully. After a few hundred metres we spotted a line of footprints and higher still, an obvious line of icefalls coming down the crags. we had found Percys Passage, and it looked to be in.

Rich and Dan at the base of Percys Passage

We geared up at the base, stashed the ropes and soloed up the first series of ice steps. Following this we got to the meat of the route proper, a couple of short but relatively steep pitches (Tech 4 and 3 respectively). The ice was good, swallowing up ice screws with relative ease and each pitch was just long enough to not feel like a series of one-stretch wonders.

Rich soloing up the first ice steps

Unfortunately these two short pitches were all over far too quickly. From here it was a short sprint up the final snow-slopes leading up to the main ridge. With the wind blowing we decided to head down over the western flanks towards Goats Water, keen to see if anything was in condition on Dow Crag. Alas it didnt seem to be and in the continual murk and only a couple of hours of daylight left we decided to call it a day and head down.

Rich at the sharp end on the main pitch

Dan in total control on the 2nd main pitch

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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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