Seven of us met up for an alpine start; a full half an hour before our normal time – Gargrave CMC carpark – 7.30am. Fine weather was forecast – which does not mean a lot! We agreed to split in to three groups – Paul Fairburn, Michael Faulkner and Chris Vernon in one group. Phil and Shirley another. I teamed up with John Brayshaw who had spent the whole of Saturday preparing for a lightweight day.
We were at Stickle Barn Car Park around 10am. Perplexingly, one of the super lightweight water containers had ejected its contents over John’s rucksack while in transit. We put this down to careless tightening of the lightweight top and obviously no reflection on the thorough preparedness or suitability of kit!
Having replenished our water supplies, we set off at what John referred to as a ‘relaxed pace’ for the crag. I am happy to say that my alpine style pack felt several grams lighter than usual. It was certainly most gratifying to see other more traditionally laden club members toiling up the slope. With a crafty quickening of pace I was able to put several feet between ‘them’ and ‘us’ – satisfaction indeed!
Having reached the main crag the party split with Paul, Michael and Chris heading off for Bracket and Slab while the other two teams headed around to the western side of the crag both intent on variations on Ash Tree Slabs.
Regrettably, it was a little less sunny than forecast and with low cloud and a stiff breeze, it felt pretty nippy. John was now beginning to fret that his five layers would not be enough. Time to inspect further the lightweight preparations. With an extensive luncheon inside Johns Bumbag it was down to me to carry this and the lightweight water bottles on the first climb. Astonishingly , there was to be a further technical glitch. In a valiant effort to shave every last gram John had cut down the length of the bumbag’s waistband. Unfortunately, he had neglected to consider that his skeletal form was less than a perfect match to that of his second, whose liking for pork pies and beer have contributed to a slightly fuller waistline. Despite best efforts in the end the bumbag had to be left hanging rather forlornly off a karabiner along with the two ‘high performance’ waterbottles.
I scrambled up to the little platform beneath Ask Tree Slab and payed out the ropes. Soon nicely laid out I was somewhat perturbed to see water pooling up among them – the lightweight water bottle the culprit yet again. Soon both teams squeezed on to the small space beneath the start of the slab, with the ropes taking on a more traditional colour as the earthy water started to soak in.
With one last check of the lightweight gear and a quickdraw count – enough for a 48 meter pitch but not excessive – John set off – Ash Tree Slabs Direct(VS). Ten metres up and with plenty of runner placements John’s quickdraw’s were rapidly diminishing. Then good fortune – the mountain was now showing its kindly side. It was rewarding John with no gear whatsoever and thus saving greatly on quickdraws and he completed the climb with ample left in reserve (1).
Meanwhile back on the ledge Shirley was off up Ash Tree Slabs. Much attracted by the copious amount of runners John had put in place Shirley decided to follow in his path. She seemed to be finding the climbing a little harder than expected. The belayers were able to offer some advice most of which focussed on the possibility that VD line could prove a tad easier than the VS. In a little while, Shirley had reached her belay. Meanwhile, shivering away, I discussed with Phil John’s extreme layering system, perhaps regretting not being more complimentary earlier on its merits.
Now it was my turn to follow John and pretty hard it seemed too – well done John! It was still cold and windy so with this in mind we decided that ‘D’ route would be a good option. This was a fabulous climb up the full height of the upper face in a single pitch. With the sun beginning to appear I topped out among a curious assortment of television types pretending that they were in Yosemite by throwing haul bags (and themselves) over the edge and speaking loudly on radios.
Having abseiled back down to Ash Tree ledge I went off to retrieve the bumbag and water bottles left slung on a spike earlier. This involves a little scramble up a short wall. A couple of climbers pitching this wall blocked my return and I agreed to pass them their sling down when complete. Five minutes later and the climbers had managed to knot their rope in to a vast mass. Getting a little impatient, I persuaded one to untie and use that end to lower the other down on an Italian hitch. Quite interesting really, as I have never tied an Italian Hitch before but I was careful to exude a quiet air of confidence, which seemed to pay off.
I had been a while I know but no sign of John. A buzzing sound like a swarm of bees I could hear just a little further along and low and behold there he was fast asleep among the rocks.
Now though Johns excellent preparations were about to pay off. Along with our luncheon we were able to ‘slake out thirst’ with several millilitres of water – each!
‘C’ route was our next objective. It starts next to the letters ABCE carved in to the rockface. A fact which we were to find out later had eluded Phil and Shirley! I led what is described in the guide as the first pitch but in reality is little more than an easy scramble. It did however give a great opportunity to wake John up after his slumbers. I cunningly belayed beneath a tricky open corner while of course pleading complete ignorance to route knowledge, which gave an interesting start to pitch two for John. I hope he appreciates my diligence!
Meanwhile three climbers had nonchalantly soloed up to join us turning out to be Chris, Paul and Michael. I displayed my prowess by slipping on my first step up on a mildly angled block fortunately not suffering the disgrace of falling.
I then followed John up the second pitch, quite tricky and a little polished; the third to the top was fabulous. From here, I could see Shirley and Phil at the top of West Wall Climb, and Paul leading up behind us on ‘C’ route.
We met back up with Phil and Shirley who despite being unable to find ‘C’ route had had a grand day climbing Ash Tree Slabs and West Wall Climb and walked back to the valley. Meanwhile a portaledge was being setup on the area between Whit’s end and Springbank. John’s comments as to the suitability of such an enterprise have had to be censored from a public forum.
All in all a great day out. As they say ‘light is right’ – well sometimes!