There looked to be some good freeze-thaw cycles going on in the Lakes over the preceding 48 hours so a trip to the Lakes on Sunday looked potentially worthwhile. Worst case scenario was that we would end up at The Works if things proved warmer than expected. With a freezing level forecast at 700-800m Gable seemed an obvious choice. Maybe some mixed routes would be in nick, however I anticipated the thaw cycles would have stripped the buttresses. We went with an open mind with the view to climbing whatever might be in condition.
The buttresses looked black on the approach, except towards the top, so gullies provisionally looked the best bet. We aimed for Central Gully. The only problem was that the snow was still soft amongst the boulder field directly beneath the crag. Ominous signs that we might be walking back to the car shortly. Maybe 50-100m below the start of the route the snow started to firm up and our optimism improved.
I wasn't convinced that any mixed routes would be in condition but Engineer's Chimney looked worth a closer look all the same. From a distance there looked to be plenty of white stuff and possibly be some ice going on. I traversed across, peered up, saw plenty of signs of winter but remained unconvinced. Largely on the basis that all the turf my immediate vicinity looked unfrozen and damp. It looked a day for gully bashing.
The first 50-60m of Central Gully proved tough going. The snow coverage wasn't giving many hints as to where the cracks were hidden in order to find protection and the snow consistency was a little unnerving. Some places it was bomber hard, other places only the top surface had formed into neve, below which the snow remained unstable. I backed off the first steep step after the thin coverage of neve fell apart to reveal nothing useful below. Fortunately the snow slope immediately left was better formed. Not good enough to blindly heave on axes but fine provided I kicked in firm ladder of steps and just used my axes for support. Only the outer few inches of snow felt really firm and always I could feel my steps moving down an inch or two as I packed them down for reassurance. I found no runners on the first pitch but after my most recent winter outing this was feeling the norm.
We suspected the second step wouldn't be much better than the first so Anna climbed a short, cramped chimney to the left, which looked to be in better condition. And possibly more fun if cramped chimneys are your thing. Still not much in the way of gear though... Possibly the crux of the climb.
Snow conditions were clearly improving with height though and the final pitch leading to the headwall was a joy with first time placements into firm neve the whole way. With so much neve on offer the lack of frozen turf was irrelevant. One solid piece of gear at half height as well, which felt a real treat to find. Maybe the greatest pleasure though was the weather with clear skies and virtually no wind. Would this count as a proper winter ascent without storm force winds to accompany?
Anna led the traverse right and then continued up the final gully. Conditions had been perfect in the upper 2/3 of climbing and today there was no reason to run from the summit. Sometimes when you are not sure what to expect from conditions, a positive outcome feels all the more rewarding.
|Anna climbing towards the headwall|
|The traverse right|
|The final gully|
|And of course the views!|