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ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WET


What do you do when the weather is so rubbish that you're going to get wet if you do anything at all outdoors? (Go to the pub, comes the chorus) One option is to do something where you would get wet anyway even if it wasn't raining and gill scrambling is an obvious choice. It sounds completely masochistic – go climb a waterfall in the middle of a storm, but actually it's not as daft as it initially seems. If you're staying close to the stream then the rock is often wet anyway, the water rushing past distracts you from the water coming from the sky and many are in gorges so are fairly sheltered from the wind. You can get a real sense of achievement in a fairly short time, as there's a powerful air of the epic about them, and a feel of primal struggle. You half expect to meet Odin or Loki just around the next corner. Precision and balance can still matter in places (it's surprising what you can get your foot to stick on sometimes) but brute thuggery is often more appropriate.


Ed Austin in Crowden Clough


The Lake District is the classic arena, with Brian Evans's scrambling guide providing lots of examples, but as they are on my doorstep I've had just as many wet trips up the Dark Peak cloughs. Crowden Clough on Kinder is a particular favourite. You can stay dry until the main pitch, but then you have to make a decision. The usual route is up the big holds in the middle, but in wet weather these are directly in the main flow, so you're going to get wet. It's possible to sneak in slightly higher on a narrow ledge to avoid the worst bit, or there's a groove further left which avoids the stream altogether. The latter is definitely a cop out. Above the pitch there are shorter steps with lots of options, both wet and otherwise, then thrutching up the rock tunnels above the track warms you up again. A quick descent to the Edale pubs is another plus.


Georgie Thow in Crowden Clough


Wilderness Gully East is another obvious contender for wet day fun. That's the climbers' "Type 2 Fun", of course, meaning something that's scary/unpleasant at the time but enjoyable in retrospect (I suspect sailors and hill runners get this too). Wilderness East has its trickiest pitch at the bottom, and this is usually wet. If it's raining you will probably be in the stream. This is of course a good thing as it means you get wet early on so are quite prepared to tackle all the other bits direct. It's more sustained than Crowden, and a couple of grades harder, but still has lots of positive holds and the classic gritstone friction.


Ed Austin in Wilderness Gully East


In the Lakes, Langdale is gill climber's heaven, with the three well known Oxendale gorges, plus another four around the Langdale Pikes, where Dungeon Gill is a contender for the longest scramble in the Lakes. Browney Gill is probably my favourite here, another very long route, never that hard but with lots of pitches that get you involved with the nitty gritty of wet rock and vegetation. Aston University Langdale trips always seemed to be wet so I've taken quite a lot of students up it either as a Saturday prelude to the Crinkles and Bowfell or a Sunday morning quick tick before lunch in the Old Dungeon Ghyll. Alcohol-fuelled ascents after a lunchtime session in said hostelry weren't unknown either.


Browney Gill, Langdale, Lake District

Browney Gill, Langdale


The wildest gill scramble I've ever done was a trip up Fisher Gill by Thirlmere with Phil Moorey. It had chucked it down since late afternoon the day before so there was a vast amount of water coming down the stream. We had Brian Evans's guidebook but the description bore little resemblance to the reality. We just stuck to the general injunction of taking the nearest feasible route to the water, with paddling in pool edges being ok, although we made sure to stay out of the main current, which would certainly have swept us away. At one point there was a recently fallen log wedged across below a big fall and we couldn't resist shuffling across it on our backsides. I could claim that we made sure that it was well wedged beforehand and considered what might happen if it had rolled over, but I would be lying. We just went "Wow! We have to cross that!" and did. A bit higher up a small gorge that you normally go through was entirely full up of thrashing water so we climbed up the side and jumped across it. It was quite a long way but this time we did note that there was a good landing first, and that the jump was slightly downhill. I had better cushioned joints in those days 😕. We were thoroughly soaked after the first ten minutes and by the time we reached the top of the scrambling our rats were well fed. Time to retire to the pub to dry out and process the experience. The whole thing was a thoroughly memorable adventure and a perfect way to make the best of the conditions.

A step up from all these, certainly in terms of technical difficulty but also in seriousness, was a December ascent of Clachaig Gully in Glen Coe with Tim Whittaker (known as Shaggy due to a strong resemblance to the Scooby Doo cartoon character). The cloud was down to 400 metres and it was raining steadily, the sort of determined drizzle that you know is going to last all day. The temperature was a few degrees above zero so it was still cold rain rather than snow. It was going to be dark by 4pm and festivities till 3am the night before meant a late start. An ideal day for one of the longest rock climbs in Scotland, I thought 🙄, and Shaggy was daft enough to come along. At least he had the excuse that as a relative novice he didn't know what was coming!


Clachaig Gully, Glen Coe

Clachaig Gully on a similar day to the one described


We could avoid the stream on the initial easy section, and the Great Cave Pitch has big holds so the wetness didn't matter. The next pitch is the crux though, a short vertical wall with an awkward move onto a ramp. The ramp was running with water, which was then spilling directly over the tricky move, with the water temperature being pretty much as you would expect for late December. I went up, got freezing fingers trying to avoid using the holds directly in the water and went back down to warm them up. I then had a brainwave. I had noticed that the water running down the ramp was in two channels, and that if the nearest one was blocked then the water would all be diverted away from the crucial holds. I grabbed a couple of likely-looking loose rocks from the foot of the pitch, took them up and waggled one of them into the requisite slot. It wasn't a perfect fit but it did redirect most of the water and I made the move quickly. The ramp was still a stream but as that was for feet not hands it didn't matter. My impromptu feat of engineering lasted long enough for Shaggy to get up the pitch too. Above this was Bill Murray's famous Jericho Wall, still soaking but at least the holds were positive and it was well away from the actual stream. There wasn't any protection though and it finishes with a longish traverse so Shaggy would have gone for a long swing into the main waterfall if he had fallen off. The only belay I could find was pretty poor too. Thankfully he kept it together and carefully worked his way up and across.

So far we had managed to avoid climbing directly in the line of the stream and were still mostly dry, but the next pitch, the Red Chimney, changed all that. There was no choice, the chimney was full of waterfall and the only way to go. Luckily we were now high on the route and the flow had diminished a bit, but it was still a thoroughly unpleasant experience. I stuck my entire body into the fall and squirmed energetically upwards, unable to see where the holds were, or even if any existed. I thrutched up as fast I could, but within seconds was totally drenched. There was no way I was going to stop to place any gear, and I'm not sure that I could have done anyway. My universe shrank to just me, water and rock. Either a few minutes or an infinite number of hours later I emerged at the top of the chimney, soaked and now very cold. Sitting still belaying wasn't fun. Once Shaggy had followed me it was a case of "let's get the f*** out of here". There was still another pitch but it wasn't all that hard, and although it was in the stream again it wasn't as steep so the water was spraying into you rather than pouring over you. We couldn't have become any wetter in any case. At last the gully slacked into a scree slope and we could escape. We were in the wind now, and the rain had become sleety, so getting off the hill as soon as possible was a priority. We did coil the rope but didn't spend any time taking harnesses and kit off, just headed down the eroded path as fast as we could. Thankfully the Clachaig was open and had a fire going. That was my last trip with AUMC and I've always wondered whether Shaggy gave up climbing afterwards (there is a Tim Whittaker on UKC but it's not him). Considering he had only been climbing half a dozen times before he coped really well with a fairly challenging day out.

There haven't been many other times when I've intentionally done a proper rock climb in the rain, a practice that used to be common but which has more or less disappeared since the spread of climbing walls. On one wet weekend Pram Singh and I did Pied Piper in the Moelwyns, an easyish Severe. Moelwyn rock is so rough and clean that the rain didn't make the route much harder, although I still remember the feeling in my armpit when I used a hold directly above my head and sent a stream of water into my sleeve. The satisfaction came from working out which holds you could use and in facing out the elements. I soloed it a few years later but the wet ascent is far more memorable.

Bowfell Buttress was another rainy day route, with Simon Lee and Steve di Ponio. The polished crux crack was predictably desperate but the greasy and unprotected slabs above it were by far the most testing part of the day. Wettest of all was an ascent of the Idwal Slabs in a deluge with Paul Whatley. Surprisingly this suggestion came from Paul, renowned for being a crag rat who thought that Craig Pant Ifan and Froggatt were too far to walk. We had planned to do the Ordinary Route but it was a complete waterfall so we started up Faith, then used various bits of Central Rib and Charity, zigzagging all over the slabs to avoid the wettest bits. The steepest bit of the Ordinary Waterfall was spraying great gouts of water all over the lower slabs so we were glad we'd not gone up it. There's a pic in David Jones's Rock Climbing in Britain that gives you the general idea, but it was even wetter than that! Here's to Type 2 Fun 😊.


A wet Idwal Slabs Ordinary. Photo copyright David Jones, from Rock Climbing in Britain




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yatandy
24 janv.
Noté 5 étoiles sur 5.

Great article again Iain, I’m obviously well acquainted with the Peak ones. after reading the description and story in Classic Rock I’ve been strangely put off Clachaig Gully and your article has done little to change my mind 🤣.

speaking of the Langdales, we headed up to Jacks Rake last weekend and on the way up decided to use the Stickle Ghyll scramble as the route up. It was great fun and well worth the diversion. Keep writing the articles.

Andy Leah

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iainthow
24 janv.
En réponse à

Thanks Andy, glad you enjoyed the article. Clachaig Gully was definitely 'Type 2 Fun' but I'm really glad I did it. It was a wet day in December though, on a dry summer day it might actually be fun at the time too 🙂.

There are some great scrambles in Langdale - the ones up the front of Harrison Stickle are especially good. Did one of them by moonlight once, which was absolutely magical. I was escaping from a mad post-pub bagpiper on the campsite, but you could still hear him on the summit!

Cheers,


Iain

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