Wintery Lakes


English mountaineers, who enjoy the varied delights of winter climbing, are often found travelling across the border to practise our dark art. So, it feels especially pleasing when we stay on home turf and find climbing conditions to rival anything the Scots have to offer.

Alastair, Trevor and I set off to Great End with optimism.  There'd been a fair bit of snow and it was a cold day.  It was misty but we found our planned gully without any difficulty.  The guide book said you couldn't miss it. We didn't.

Cust's Gully carves a deep notch on the right of the imposing north face of Great End, looming above Sprinkling Tarn.  It is distinctive by a prominent chockstone. A car sized boulder is lodged in the narrow gorge about 50 metres above the heads of anyone who might try and tackle the grade I winter gully climb.

The chockstone works as a good frame for the view, especially if there is a foreground climber. There are great photos in the guidebook and, predictably, Wainwright does the atmosphere justice with  one of his nice line drawings.  He is quite emphatic though that it is NOT FOR WALKERS.

The aesthetics of the route can't have escaped Arthur Cust, the first ascentionist in the 1880s who gives his name to the route. Arthur was an artist famous for watercolours of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.

The route wasn't really in ideal conditions with soft powdery snow.  We soloed the route cramponless. Trevor went first doing the majority of the powder-bashing.  There were enough steepenings and obstacles to make a Grade I fun.

The most fun of all was a chockstone sat in the gully itself.  We could probably have clambered over it, but Trevor started digging.  Soon he had excavated enough snow to squeeze through. I watched Alastair go through and when it came to my go I knew the technique required: wriggle like hell.

On Sunday we followed a tip from a thread on UKClimbing and headed to Brown Cove Crags.  We'd been here before on a December trip and had climbed Stepped Ridge as a Grade 2 scramble.  This time we climbed something called Left Branch.  It wasn't easy to make out the line and we may have been off route at times, but the climbing was great and we topped out into a storm of spindrift.  Once the goggles were on it was quite a spectacle.

The crag in full winter regalia. Hard snow, water ice, cold, strong winds, sunshine.  Really, the Lakes gave Scotland a run for it's money that Sunday.

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