Thursday, 20 July 2017

A Reoccurring Theme

It's funny how some places stick in your mind. Following a visit to the cliffs of Sca Fell earlier this year I found myself obsessing over guidebooks and online blogs reading and researching the many rock climbs that weave across its buttresses. The climbs we did, Botterill’s Slab and Grooved Arete were definitely some of the most inspiring and absorbing climbs I’ve done in the Lakes, so I was keen to discover what other gems might be harboured on those mighty walls. Names like Moss Ghyll Grooves, Moss Ledge Direct and Jones' Arete and Mickledore Grooves all classic MVS/VS grades with reputations for being shy and adventurous. My climbing partner Rob (who walked up with me in 2016 when we were turned back by rain) was in agreement for another trip. Now all we needed was a dry Saturday!
The mighty Sca Fell East Buttress

As we drove down the valley the road surface was still damp and fog clung to the peaks at around 2,000 feet completely obscuring our objective. No matter though. The forecast was for bright skies with a gradually strengthening wind. By the time we had slogged up to the base of central buttress the fog was thinning and there was even the odd burst of sunshine. None the less, the climbs on this face looked cold and uninviting, streaked with patches of damp with the top of the crag still in fog, giving the impression of an endless wall towering into the sky, so we continued around to East Buttress in the hope of some drier rock and sunshine.

The climb we opted for was Mickledore Groves. A well regarded VS with a particularly stiff 5a start up a small overhanging wall. The guidebook described previous ascensionists bouldering this bit and having gear thrown up to them whilst sat on the narrow ledge just above. We both thought that sounded a bit of faff so I decided just to lead it with gear but do it quickly. It took a few goes up and back to the ground to figure out the holds but eventually went for it and in the end it didn’t even feel that tricky! The rest of the pitch climbs a gangway followed by an awkward corner, with a cramped step across into another groove, before a spacious belay is reached below the slab. Rob lead the second and final 4c slab and corner pitch up to the top of the buttress. The pitch was quite sustained and very balancey, quite a contrast to the thuggish first pitch and definitely no soft touch at 4c.
Rob seconding the first pitch of Mickledore Grooves (VS 5a)
Rob just stepping onto the technical slab on the second pitch of Mickledore Grooves (VS 5a)

Looking back down the main corner from the top of the second pitch on Mickledore Grooves (VS 5a) with a party behind just starting the slab
 With most of the fog burned off we moved route to the central buttress for the main objective of the day, Moss Ghyll Grooves. This climb is described as a typically shy Lakeland classic, often encountering a few wet patches and only in condition after a lengthy dry spell. Furthermore, its grading of “mild very severe” (MVS), a grade unique to this part of the world, cements the route as a true Lakeland star.  It essentially climbs a slabby groove on the right of the main face of central buttress in 3-4 outstanding pitches. The main event of the route is a tenuous 4c traverse out of the groove line onto the arĂȘte just above the belay on pitch 2. The intimidation one feels on this crag is indescribable and in reality quite incomparable, perhaps the shaded aspect and its general historical significance combine with the apprehension of vertigo making it feel like you’ve swallowed a swarm of particularly lively butterflies. In the end the pitch was a joy to lead with only a few tricky 4c moves across to the arĂȘte where the climbing eased and the exposure exploded. The other pitches were equally interesting and exposed and should be on the list of any adventure loving climber!   
Ron nearing the end of the first pitch, just below the technical 4c slab pitch on Moss Ghyll Grooves (MVS 4c)

Looking down the second pitch from the Look Out on Moss Ghyll Grooves (MVS 4c)
Central Buttress on Sca Fell taken in April

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