Scotch Mist and Scramble in Sandbed Ghyll
As the summer holidays approached, it was obvious the monsoons were about to kick in. The steady drizzle of scotch mist on the windscreen as we headed down St. John’s in the Vale confirmed that the day’s options were indeed the wet wander or the even wetter scramble up a ghyll. What I couldn’t believe was that for a couple of the day’s gang the concept of the “Ghyll Scramble” was a completely untested idea.
We set off in pretty crappy conditions with much chuntering going on and Martin upping the ante with tales of upgrading and “… it’s a 5 now!”
“Never fear!”, replied I. I’d been there before, I well recalled its November, pre annual dinner, pushover nature!! Thing was though, with all the extra water gushing down, it looked a lot steeper and more imposing than my rather benign memory of events, one November, many years ago. My original thought was that we only needed one person to bother with a harness, because we hadn’t even used the rope last time. Fortunately, everyone but Sue ignored me ;-(
For lakeland ghyll virgins, John H and Her Ladyship, Sue G soon got into the flow of getting wet feet and scampering over soggy, slippery, lethally algified rocks. To preserve some sort of decorum as we skidded, slipped, grabbed and generally clarted our way up the various cascades, Sue had decided to retain gloves. She obviously didn’t want any of that messy green stuff spoiling her manicure.
As Sue and Dan brought up a very cautious rear; Martin, with John in his inimitable enthusiasm, were surging ahead. Stuck in the middle I whizzed back and forth between the two splinter groups. Talk about a Billy No Mates!
Every now and then, I noticed Martin “Taking a Stance” above the slightly more gruesome falls, his caving credentials emerging by the minute: his cover finally blown! This definitely wasn’t the amenable little scramble I remembered from years before. On one fall, I was quite pleased about the little bit of string that descended from heaven.
Round about the halfway mark, it’s necessary to climb out on the left side to get round one cascade. I went up for a shufty and out right along what seemed to be a ledge. Nope! Meanwhile Martin executed a cunning flanking manoeuvre behind me and disappeared higher up, vanishing behind assorted vegetables and slippery slabs. After a while I wondered what was going on and followed his still twitching rope upwards to a peg he only spotted from his perch a few 10s of metres above me. I lashed myself on to the remarkably solid ironmongery, brought John up and then concentrated on safeguarding Martin as he continued his botanical / geologically curious explorations somewhere above.
As time ticked by, John was fetching the others up to the stance, but Martin’s rope had gone even twitchier. He had got himself well and truly in the zone… of . “Oooh – wish I wasn’t right up here, it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere”. Eventually he settled himself into something approximately …. like … a belay and fetched me up. A slight crinkle in the damp slipperyness caught my eye and I decided to try another little rightwards exploration. Sure enough I had found the elusive traverse back into the bed of the ghyll. A quick return the way I’d come and I spotted the chance to give the day an Alpine feel. With everything so damp and slippery, there was more than a fair chance of someone skidding into the wrong bit of the ghyll: so I set up a traverse line. Now I know it was me playing caver games as well, but I was really thinking. “Hinterstoisser!” on Sandbed Nordwand!? It kept me amused for a while and we soon had everybody’s body back in the bed of the ghyll, eyeing up the next entertainment.
A couple of cascades later we arrived at the main drop, a decent sized stream coming over a fairly easy angled slab on the left that steepened into a corner on the right which also carried the bulk of the flow. Now the normal route is the slab on the left, but it looked a tad greasy and not too protectable. This was when Martin brought out some more heritage: interview socks! “Put ‘em on lad, it kept the old timers safe!” Next followed the struggle to get under sized interview socks over outsized walking boots. I promised Martin I would be gentle with them in case he had any interviews coming up next week.
I decided to take a pop at the main flow in the corner. As usual, climbing waterfalls involves the infamous “Rock and Ice” experience of yesteryear: water going in at the wrists and out of your trouser legs … delightful! I think I made a whole 2m of progress before the force of the water, the crumbling corner and crap eyesight hindered by whitewater, persuaded me I was doomed. Retreat was necessary and I did OK until the last half a metre, which I finished with an undignified slither.
So the slab it was and in the event it went ok and there were even a few decent, medium sized runners to protect it. For those seconding however, there was plenty of potential for a grease assisted swing across the fall, as the belays were awkwardly placed. So Sue and then Dan tied on in the middle of the rope allowing the runners to be clipped behind, with tail end Charlie (sorry… John!) half belaying.
At this point I noticed Martin was up to his renegade tricks again. Obviously bored with all the pratting about he was already half way up the corner with what looked like an extra long pair of Christmas stockings helping him pad up the crumbling corner. His face was a picture when he reached the chockstoney lump at the top and ground to a halt. By now there was just John to come up on the rope. Clearly this wasn’t one of his most comfortable “follows”. In fact his words, when he got up to me, were (approximately).”That was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done!” And this from the man who head planted as he held the rapidly accelerating Mike T on his Ben Nevis swoop last winter; in the certainty that the belay was a dud! Clearly, it was a lot better than either of them thought.
As we began to wonder how to extricate Martin from his developing predicament, we saw a marvel of dodgy improvisation. He was edging his way round the boulder, protected by a rapidly evolving and lengthening chain of gear. Despite us telling him to hang on a minute for a rope, he was soon up with us but wondering how to get his gear back. That problem was quickly resolved and we continued our well splashed way upwards.
This was the cue for my stomach to tell me it was picnic time. Every Ray Cassidy jaunt has to have a proper picnic and there was a perfect spot just before the next major cascade. We had a thoroughly marvellous picnic lunch, sat there shivering in the breeze as the chill got into our bones.
A few short and rapidly dwindling cascades later we reached the end of the entertainments. All that was left was to find the top of Fisher Wife’s Rake and pick our way back down to civilisation level. Out of curiosity, I took the gang through the workings of Bram Crag quarry to have a look at the available nastiness in there. It really is the arse-hole of the Lakes that quarry. And yet there was Dave Bodecott, mooching about to have a look at the latest creations that had been put up on the steep wall at the left end. It looked pretty unpleasant climbing but at least it was clear of bombardment from the choss above the older routes on the back wall. And so, via the pub, ended another fine and completely stupid expedition up one of Lakeland’s esoteric little gems!