It was this very train of thought that occupied my mind on the walk along Moses' Trod below Brandreth on the way to Gable Crag. A trail which over hundreds of years was scarred into the side of the fell by man and beast alike, hauling highly prized green Honister slate from the quarries to the coast for export. Rumor has it these horses would then return with smuggled cargoes of whiskey and tobacco. Unfortunately for us there was no sign of those horses bearing such gifts today, just ramblers and runners out enjoying a sunny Saturday. Their reasons for travelling along that path was nothing new, and neither was ours (if not perhaps slightly more obscure). However in June 1934, a party of three climbers walked along that path, and attempted something completely new.
Moss, slime, lichen and looseness. These attributes combined with several gargantuan chimneys and of course a north facing aspect ensured that Gable Crag was 'in vogue' in the early 1900s and by 1934 climbing at that place wasn't all that out of the ordinary. However Cooper, Balcome and Sheppard had a different objective to those early tweed donning pioneers. It was the central groove splitting the main 100 foot high 'slab' set high within the north face that was their objective. After an early mishap with some loose rock, the leader of the party, Astley Cooper was left "hors-de-combat". Not wanting to waste a day Balcome stepped up and took the ropes, leading and cleaning the line up the face in three pitches with Sheppard and an injured Cooper in support. After the ascent Balcome reported that at the end of the first pitch in the sentry box crack that 'there is no belay here at present' which was later rectified with a large rock apparently.. This only confirms the remarkable feat these climbers pulled off, with little to no protection available on the pitches and nothing to secure the seconds at the belay, the consequence of a fall for anyone would have been unthinkable. It was not an easy climb either, with the difficulty of the moves being cutting edge and as hard as anything else being put up by the well known elite of the day. As Paul Nunn wrote in Ken Wilson's Hard Rock "it was a feat of considerable boldness, lost in the obscurity of the twenty years which elapsed before a repetition". It is for this reason perhaps that the crag and the climb itself has ascertained classic status amongst mountaineers.
Walking along the path and gazing up at the climb, concealed by shade, moss and damp alike, it was reassuring to know that we were following in the footsteps of somebody else.
|Looking across at the north facing Gable Crag from Brandreth|
|The somewhat dank and slimey approach to the base of the 'slab' situated high in the centre of the north face|
|Looking up the wall with the exit chimney looming high overhead|
|Matt approaching steeper ground just below the sentry box|
|Moving through the 'awkward layback' just below the final chimney|
|Finishing up the hanging arete|