Tuesday was revolting. This was day 4 of Bob’s time off and we had arranged to head to Pillar Stone by bicycle to climb to the highest point. At sea level it was continuous drizzle but as we cycled up the valley the mountain mist intensified reaching down to ground level.
Bowness Knott is only thirty minutes from home but the inaccessibility of a car ban has meant a long walk in or dual day with bicycle and climbing kit. I felt the additional weight on my saddle as we cycled towards concrete bridge.
[(Photographs taken in descent]
From the turning circle on the south track we headed up hill, the first path was identified, the parking place for the rescue vehicles and then a small cairn indicates where the public footpath crosses. This was where we were to changes modes. We locked bicycles, dumped tubes and considered waterproof trousers. By now visibility was nil and it was raining continuously.
The climb is in three sections, the path through the forestry, the waterfall at the pinch point and the climb into Pillar Cove. Once you reach the rock on the forested section your break out into the open moor is imminent.
The climb to the fall was soggy despite the dry weather of late and then the climb up into the cove relentless.
After a conversation with Nick the night before we had decided to modify our original plan approaching the western side and climbing Old West. On ascent we had climbed too high up the Eastern side and so opted for a traverse across the Green Ledge. This was the first time that we started to fully appreciate the precarious nature of the polished rock, in mist, on Vibram. A polished step up and around at the end of the Green Ledge provided the key to the west waterfall but on sight the climb back out was slimy and running with water. A retreat was probably a difficult but safe option. Later we questioned this decision, we had a 20m rope with us [expecting to scramble], I had a long sling and short rack of nuts whilst Bob had slings, extenders and hexes. Decisions to retreat are one of the harder ones to make but time has told that often climbers push on far too high.
Time for a re-think; not a difficult one, lose our height or revert to the original plan, Slab and Notch. We went for the latter and once back on the path quickly picked up the junction from Robinsons cairn. The tea-table was passed until a larger cairn was reached and the key to Pisgah and the Jordan gap revealed.
Still, by far, the best plan of the whole area from Cram, Eilbeck and Roper’s guide.
Descending from Pisgah the slab of Slab and Notch is obvious, so we traversed around following the worn patches, arrived at the base of the scramble and topped up with bait.
Slab and Notch is superb. It is definately grade 3 and in the wet and windy conditions touched on the rock grades in places. We were glad of harnesses, helmets and a small rack.
The route starts in a obvious corner and climbs to the top of a slab which you then descend immediately. This is an ‘en derrierre’ move with heels placed firmly in grooves. Moving towards the notch Bob then called
Suddenly I reliased the disadvantage of our shorter 9mm walking rope.
I stepped up on the second pitch, searching for the polish and then belaying on a precarious sloping and slippery stone above the notch. Bob came up, moved around and re-belayed which acted a key to the final arete and chimney. Bob led the final pitch up the Chimney and topping out secured by my bomb proof thread. This would not be good in descent.
At the summit i began to realise that my bucket list 50 was almmost complete. With Jack Rake complete and now Pillar Rock and with lots of the Industrial sites bagged this year I was lining up for a crescendo in December. We considered options for retreat eventually deciding on the abseil into Jordan Gap. We fitted prusik brakes, enjoyed the exposure and inspected Jodan’s gap west, a no go.
I enjoyed the descent from the gap West facing outwards and using some caving techniques. Very soon we were back at the base of the scramble and back up on Pisgah base. We tried the west descent but part way down decided to return and retreat via Shamrock. It was at this point that the mist suddenly lifted and we were able to see, for the first time our conquest.
With the mizzen clear the descent was far more straightforward. We took our time, the camera came out and I looked around reflecting on the day. Although worn I do feel that many of these classic lines will no longer be reclaimed as the access situation, and no options for permits has reduced the visits to practically nil.
Some of my greatest days out have been spent with Bob, both on Mountain and wheel. To associate these for my 49th hit was a true honour.