My (flexible) plan yesterday was to head to the ‘dark side of the moon’ namely Foxes Tarn, in search of ice. I has bought some B1 compromise boots at Christmas and wanted to ensure that my G10 crampons would stay on nicely when stood on the front points. I say compromise because they are a little too flexible for pure ice climbing and maybe too stiff for all year round use but have a reasonable rand, great stiffness and leather construction. Anyway I am very pleased with them and of course have a wide choice of other boots (including a highly polished black pair I can sneak into work in the snow!). I had chatted to a pair of friends over the road who suggested that the path from Foxes to ‘the big hill’ was in nick.
So the initial plan formulated was to climb Lord’s rake, traverse West Wall traverse and then descend to Foxes returning maybe via Mickledore or even little Narrowcove. I decided to reverse this so I approached Foxes in ascent and so duly bowled up at Brotherikeld. Deborah and dad wandered by and then Chris, Debs and Jennny headed up with skinnies on. Soon I was into my normal routine of passing a couple of groups and then finding someone interesting to talk to. (note to self; I must ascend the Lingmell Beck left branch to Hollowstones at some point as Al Phizacklea suggests, for a good look).
Three suitably clad mountaineers head for Mickledore screes
The path divide to Hollowstones was indistinct, due to the snow and therefore there were a surprising number of people around the Woolworth boulder. Having wee’d and identified I needed more liquids I stopped by a group of four and drank and zipped up. I had my eye at this point towards a snowy gully between Pikes and Mickledore buttress which Ian had been up a couple of weeks before but not the descent from Pulpit (which I had come down with Nick and was boulder strewn)
The gully, right of centre, I was heading towards, the couple were beside the two boulders at the break of slope – keen to know if has another name other than ‘Mickledore Crag’ gully?
I also had been watching an amorous pair over to my left working slowly up across ‘no mans land’ below the corridor route extension, I expected them to pop up on the Mickledore path. Chatting to the larger group one guy clearly knew what he was doing but was without axe or winter boots, the remainder had what can only be described as marginal kit. They were nice enough and keen to listen to my wanton ramblings and asked about the route onto the col. I suggested tentatively that a traverse around the corridor route extension might be better and then via Pikes, especially as one appeared to have socks on his hands for gloves.
Kitting up with helmet, crampons and twin axes I also have been experimenting with elasticated leashes. These are brilliant because I don’t have to worry about dropping kit but they also enable me to change over quickly from pole and axe to twin axes. I moved over onto twin short (but easy angled) axes for the plunge up Mickledore screes. Over the top? maybe, but I am still trying to get a true feel of these new boots. As I ascended Mickledore screes I caught sight of the couple about to begin the ascent of Mickledore Buttress gully. Looking from afar the lower member was clearly unhappy, working on her bum and I guessed both were unaware of the steepening head wall above.
I initially tried to strike up a conversation but they were unaware you can often simply talk moderate distances in the snow and weren’t sure where the sound was coming from. Eventually he announced that he was fine because he had been up Mickledore before and knew where he was. Clearly he was two gullies too far left. I decided to traverse across to get into a better position to chat and the lass was lacking in confidence on her pins. Both has flexible nylon boots with non-vibram type soles. The guy was quite keen to continue upwards but given the choice the girl, V opted for some help.
I changed onto a pole, removing my snow basket so I could plunge it more easily and issued each a short axe giving them the basics for an arrest. I then cut steps down to the top of the scree run out slope before crossing below to the protection of a frozen turf bank. This provided an excellent handrail back across to the main ascent path for Mickledore at about four fifths height. The problem now was whether they wanted to descend with poor heel grip or carry on up the gully into the rock section and onto the Pike, returning via Pikes top.
Ironically, I had helped out a similar couple, right of Long Gully back in November. P + V opted to carry on up and so we bunched up close, P kicked steps and V used these. Once on the rock they felt enclosed and therefore more secure but we had to cut ice away from a footstep at one point. We topped out, chatted about the experience and P admitted that his compass no longer pointed north. After some fettling we decided that his 3GS was giving a good compass reading and so tied with the possibility that there would be plenty of other punters on the Pike they headed up independently. I offered to guide them that bit further but I was also keen that they make their own decisions, by now it was about 2.
Good snow, just short of Lord’s Rake
The saddle was in fantastic nick, mist lay about Broad Stand but the ridge was hard and exposed. I decided to head for Rakes Progress but part way along two ice climbers were struggling towards me and blocking the way. It shot through my mind that if I had had anyone else with me I would probably have put a rope on, Alpine style and so being solo I decided to reverse and traverse across the bottom of the crag. I’m not sure if this has a name but it enabled me to take a few shots and it was heartening to see other groups fitting up with crampons and walking axes before climbing the Mckledore screes. I bumped into two younger lads who had just finished climbing Botterill’s slab just as it had began melting. It was a shame that the mist was sat along Rakes as it would have been great to have have watched them. I dropped to further investigate a rucksack which had been reported abandoned before deciding the climbers were still on an ice route – four pairs were on the crag, and I had met two but noise was still above. On the way down an inversion beamed from below and the two ice climbers framed the shot providing scale but sadly the camera provided no real substitute for the human eye.
Again, an interesting day out. I often feel that I put my crampons on too early and I am the last to take them off but in this case I was far more secure than many of the visitors. My crampons are a very good fit to my new Scarpa SL Activ boots and I am pleased with my new purchase.