17th - 19th May 2019

Rob said he would pick me up at 18:30 and I glanced through my window at Peppit junior rolling into view in Rob’s bright red van, 26 minutes early at 18:34. I frantically stuffed remaining coats and equipment into bags and moved them outside. As I get older, Peppit Mean Time seems to be getting closer to GMT as I get less able to be on time for anything. We set off for petrol at the service station between Calver and Stoney. Mike purchased ‘Driving Beers’, which sounded great; tinged with a foreboding of a hangover for climbing adventures the next day. We drove onward past Kinder Scout. I noticed a sign on a new housing development as we entered the east side of the Manchester conurbation that read: “Kinder Gardens”. A great name, given the location, I thought. 

Conversation flowed during the journey, including some excellent jokes made up, off-the-cuff by myself; Rob and Mike both loved them. Mark Knopfler wasn’t even required to ameliorate protracted silences. After entering Cumbria, normal roads came to an abrupt halt. We had about ten miles of driving ahead of us, along a narrow, winding, stone wall lined road with impressive, somewhat barren, Lake District hills facing-off above us. Our refuge for the weekend lay at the end of the road, where it met Ullswater at Patterdale. Rob’s gleaming vehicle entered the winding roads with glee. Zooming along with speed and agility I thought not possible for a van. I imagined Rob had ‘Sultans of Swing’ running through his head – slightly sped up, as he manoeuvred round the twisting bends at high velocity. Suddenly BANG! A noise rang out to my left-hand-side, as we passed a jutting piece of dry stone. Mike’s bag had migrated, hit the door, at just the right moment to make is seem as though we had hit a wall. On we went until we came to a sudden emergency stop, after Mike had said, relaxed: “The hut is just before the next bend”. Followed by a loud: “Here!” There is about a mile of tolerance in the measure ‘just before’, it would seem. We had arrived at the Swiss Alpine Club’s hut that they had affectionately named ‘George’. The car park was completely full, occupied by the cars of people partying next door. In his usual way, Rob managed to slip his van into a parking space that miraculously opened up before him. His luck with car parking spaces is, indeed, statistically improbable. We stepped out into the fresh evening air and entered George with anticipation of a nice Beer. Not to be disappointed, Rod and Mike W. had purchased little barrels of exceedingly good ‘hop based energy drinks’ as a Peppit R. has been known to call them. At this point, I made a foolish error of judgement and placed my bags on a bunk without seeing where the Peppits had chosen to sleep. As ever, a very pleasant evening was had by one and all. Interestingly, with the exception of Rob, Mike and myself, the entire contingent of the meet was different from the previous month in Wales. This was despite both events being well attended. After two pints, there was a knock at the door and inward entered the club’s nomadic globetrotter, not seen for many months. Sporting new golden locks of flowing long hair and confident swagger: “Lord Flashheart!” I thought to myself. I expected to see girls swooning at his feet with each loud, explicit, double entendre. Ed Shawcross had entered George and was welcomed with warm affections and hugs after a long period away.

I lay down on the bunk, slightly inebriated, and drifted into a beautiful sleep. Suddenly, I came around in a daze. I felt as though the world was closing in on me with the small, rickety, metal bunk bed seemingly taking on potential energy that was about to be released kinetically, with the world closing in upon me. Flash had climbed up and surmounted the top bunk. The sensation was made further disorientating because of the loud Cuckoo outside. Nocturnal Patterdale Cuckoos? I drifted off once more, before waking suddenly, and horrifically; my ears were assaulted by torrents of the most awful and bizarre noise I had ever heard. One of the undertones was certainly that of a small mammal being tortured quasi-rhythmically. There were many other tones in the noise, however. Subtle, awful noises that projected across the room in a way that made them sound as though they were in one’s very own ears: like a rabid Jack Russell growling and spitting right next to me. Between these two aural assaults, there came a ghastly whistling, as though someone that was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were doing vigorous press-ups. I could take no more and dragged my sleeping bag downstairs to sleep on the sofa. I anticipated finding several people there, all sheltering from the snoring. Surprisingly, I was alone. I awoke at 6am after an uncomfortable night’s sleep, showered and then decided I need some more rest and returned to my bunk. I arose for a second time and asked Mike if he slept through the snoring. He said “yes, it was awful wasn’t it? You could hear it through the wall”. That was when I discovered the Peppits, Ed Sampson and George had slept in the women’s dorm. Oh what a fool I had been!

Somewhat jaded, we set off for Gouther Crag. The climbers that day were Mike P., Rob, Ed Sampson, George, Syd and Flash. Flash had woken up Ace Rimmer (of Red Dwarf fame), still with long flowing blond locks and now fearlessly dedicated to overcoming the vertical perils ahead. We had a mile, or so, to walk from the parking place to the footpath and a surprisingly hard slog up the grassy approach; finally arriving at the 40 m high lump of rhyolite known as Fang Buttress. “A quiet crag with a small selection of rather fine routes”, as the guidebook put it. Rob set off up “The Fang”, which was reportedly the best climb on the buttress. The Sampsons climbed Kennel Wall, which the guidebook said was a ‘delightful’ severe crack line. Ace, Syd and I then climbed the route between them, known as Left Edge, also severe and “a steep but well-protected route”. Ours was certainly a pleasant meander: up, left, up right, up left; belay, up right and finish. Ace’s first climb for two years was a good effort. No time for top-rope practicing, but straight back to leading. What a guy! Rob seemed to be taking an age on the second pitch of The Fang. I then realised “Peppit Cam Rescue” was in action. As ever, Rob would not be beaten and, somehow, managed to extract the ceased piece of valuable gear. We then had lunch. For the second meet running, I forgot my lunch. Luckily Ace came to my rescue, having brought an additional sandwich. What a guy! After lunch, we were about to do the fine crack line when the Peppit team barged past us and onto it. Unwilling to wait, Ace heroically announced we would lead Hindleg Crack. “A classic struggle.” This brought amusement from the others and a retreat from our team, from Syd. “You’ll have to get his gear out for him after he gave you his sandwich” they shouted down to me. “It looks impossible!” Underestimating Ace, they watched as he surmounted it with ease. What a guy! Then, it was my turn. The first section was enjoyable fingery crimping to the side of the rising bank that one could have left out. The climb proper was steep and involved working up detached slabs of rock. Half way up, I slipped but caught myself before the rope did. I let the adrenaline subside, composed myself and then moved a couple of meters to the right and up onto a slab of rock that ended in a triangular point: not to be fallen on! I could then see the ‘classic struggle’ ahead. Above was a cave-like chimney and the climbing became easier the further rightward into the cave one moved. Inside gave a reassuring feeling of rock to my back and the un reassuring sight of cobwebs and wet, slippery rock. Deep into the wet cavities I jammed and squirmed up, until I reached a sling. I wedged myself between rock faces and with both hands free, unthreaded the sling. With no room to put it over my neck, I fumbled and unzipped a pocket before, inch by inch, I used my butterfingers to stuff the sling inside. The final section of the climb was an overhang, next to the roof of the cave. With bravery fashioned from simply not looking down and imagining I was somewhere else, I stepped out into the daylight and over the exposed abyss. Bridging the overhang and then working my feet on small tufts of rock and pulling up, I arrived at the belay. In spite of the jibes, it was a really good climb and something quite different from the usual fare. At this point, Mike was clearly “in the zone” and the Peppits and Ed Sampson decided to climb the E2 5b known as Bloodhound; albeit on a top rope. “Brilliant, absorbing, sustained slab climbing.” The final climb of the day for Team Ace was The Fang. Ed Sampson had led the climb and placed a walking cam into a detached slab. George had not managed to retrieve it. It was now our turn; re-joined by Syd, again, Ace led, stopping only to extract Ed Sampson’s cam for him. What a guy! The climb looked quite steep and with some blank looking patches. It was the hardest grade of the day but I felt it should be within me at Mild-VS 4a, which seems to be the Lake District version of HS 4a. I climbed up the first section to a bush, which was steep but easy, satisfying bouldering. There was a tentative step left, past a slab of rock that did not appear to be attached to the substrate beneath; this was where the cam walked in. I crimped horizontally to my right, with my fingers under the detached slab, and pressed myself against the rock as I felt for a hold with my left hand. I started to transfer my weight to the left with all the delicacy and balance I could muster. Then, thought occurred: “there is no way on earth this is 4a!” Looking down to the left and I could see good foot holds at a lower level. Stepping down during a climb seemed most unnatural. As I stepped down, my right foot slipped off as I moved and the feeling of heart-in-mouth welled up, though the slip only transferred my weight onto my left foot. A series of vertical moves followed, each of which felt very difficult, until a good, sharp hold was found and transformed the move into manageable and enjoyable. My skills developed in The Works were beginning to become useful! I was then confronted with a two-meter-long ramp of blank rock, completely absent of holds. At the top of the slab was a gear placement, extended with a particularly long sling. Increasingly moving in the direction of a potentially bigger swing, should I fall, I moved left, away from the belay, and up, around the blank slab. At the top of the slab were excellent holds that I used to traverse across, smearing delicately with my feet. I then reached Ace at the belay and clipped in. Syd then came up after me and we were three climbers confined on a small ledge together; in far closer proximity than is usually considered comfortable, socially speaking. I felt vulnerable as Ace climbed the sheer 6 m, or so, of crack line immediately above my head. A fall at this point would have few consequences for Ace but, tethered to the spot and unable to move out of the way, it would likely leave me requiring a visit to A&E. What was I thinking? Ace reached the top without the merest hint of trouble. What a guy! He then climbed out of sight, where this climb joins the final pitch of our first climb of the day. The rope was pulled in and I began to climb. The difficulty of the crack line was much like that of the first pitch: delicate but manageable, once the best holds were found. With some relief, I pulled myself over the top and onto a large shelf, before looking at the final left-hand corner before the top. Oddly, this final section, perhaps 4 m high, was quite difficult to climb and entirely unfamiliar to me; in spite of having climbed it only a couple of hours earlier in the day. Funny how the mind works.

We packed up and set off down the slope and along to a stream crossing that consisted of a line of disjointed rocks. I did not enjoy the crossing on the way in and decided that the less time I spend on the rocks, the less was the chance of falling in the river. I realised that this was a mistaken strategy, as my right foot slipped from a pyramid of rock on the penultimate step. Down it sunk into the water. As I regained my balance, I felt as cold wetness penetrated through my right approach shoe and sock. I looked up and saw Rob and Mike parked in the van immediately in front of me. They were waiting for us and had watched what, doubtless, they considered an amusing mishap. Fortunately, I had a change of shoes in the van and the incidence caused me little impediment; other than having to use ancient walking boots for what unexpectedly turned out to be quite an interesting walk the following day.
Returning to George Hut, a fine evening of food, beer, wine and chat ensued. I had an excellent night’s sleep only interrupted by my flushing the loo in the night and the pipes sounding like an aeroplane taking off. Apologies to one and all for interrupting the slumber.

In the morning, from the focused look in Mike’s eyes, it was clear that an epic caving day was ahead for Peppits junior. This left me in need of a hitchhike home. Syd came to my rescue and amazingly kindly offered to drive some miles past his home and deposit me in my village. Syd and Ace had come to the same idea about which activity to undertake that morning. I had not previously appreciated that a famous hike, peaking at Helvellyn, began almost at our hut door. The weather was dry, though the hills were shrouded in cloud. Team Ace, together for a second day, set off for the walk and I had no idea either of the treat or the exertion ahead. Dear reader will be delighted to learn that, on this occasion, I remembered my sandwich. However, I spent the next seven hours with acute pain in my calf and other leg muscles. Not being a medical doctor, I cannot be certain, but I presume this was due to anaerobic production of lactic acid, poisoning of my lower limbs. I feel similarly about endurance sports, such as walking up hill, to how I feel about caving and lettuce: probably good for me but generally to be avoided. By climbing standards, this was a Hard Severe 4b walk. We set off through Patterdale and a hundred meters past the cricket ground were two middle aged women who were confusedly looking for a mountain to walk up. Who would come to their rescue? Ace of course! The girls latched onto him like a big shaggy dog , with a cold wet nose and a gallon of dribble round its mouth, onto someone that doesn’t like animals. Just like the other day when I sat on a log in the countryside above Holymoorside, with my foot in the face of a walker’s dog, shouting “get off my bloody ice-cream!” as I looked incredulously at the idiot owner who seemingly had no idea that there are people that do not want a grubby wet dog anywhere near their food. There was no shaking off these ladies. In actual-fact, they were pleasant company. It amused me to hear on the following Wednesday climbing when Syd mused that it was nice to have walked with them because the walking pace was very gentle. Well, they all left me behind on the uphill. After crossing a stream and walking over a picturesque pasture at the end of a mountain valley, we went through a wood and then headed up. The up was varied in its uppieness. It went relentlessly up for mile upon mile, upon a normal footpath. It went up on rocky broken paths. It went up on steps cobbled together with boulders and rocks. As I trudged on, many people overtook me. After a couple of false, soul destroying summits, I could see the prize of Helvellyn in the distance. It stood proudly above a lake, like a one third scale model of Snowdon. Clouds had lifted so that the summit was almost visible and the landscape for miles around was picked out in lovely patches of sunshine. I caught up with one of the Js and she told me about how they were in training for a trip to Kilimanjaro. She had jacked in her job and stuck the trip on her credit card. A veritable role model for us all. We reached rocky ground and the pace of the Js slowed considerably. Ace was brought into action, teaching the Js about the ways of the outdoors. With such a lack of wherewithal, if they do not come back from Kilimanjaro then they won’t have to worry about the credit card; not such a bad strategy after all, I mused. Certain advanced knowledge was imparted to the Js; such as the function of the upper chest strap on the rucksack and how to fasten it. Going was so slow that it was painful and I slipped off at my own pace. The path had become like a typical climbing descent; not quite worthy of a mod grade. I became aware that people were getting in my way that had passed me earlier on the footpath. Luckily, they made life difficult for themselves by not noticing the most worn path and instinctively heading up, rather than going around obstacles. This gave me the opportunity to go around them. There was a particularly nice down climb that could well have been mod in a guide book. I had to try two different slabs to work my way down on good holds but smearing with feet. I wondered if my mistake of the previous day could lead to an unfortunate chain of events where I would take a fall due to using ancient walking boots, as opposed to having my nice new approach shoes. I was now well ahead of the others and within 50 m of the summit. I had to wait for what seemed like an age for two large groups of walkers to get up this final steepest bit of the ascent. The cloud had completely lifted and I got to the top and looked out over the beautiful expanse of the Lake District in front of me. I pulled out my lunch and eyed the sandwich suspiciously. My fussy-eater sixth sense told me that the sandwich needed scrutiny. I took a nervous bite. “Cheese and pickle, like the previous day”, I thought to myself. “That’s fine.” “No: what’s this? Chewy, gristly stuff?” A slice of chicken, of all things, had been added to a perfectly nice cheese and pickle sandwich, contributing absolutely nothing to the flavour but altering the texture diabolically. With chicken discarded, I enjoyed the remaining sandwich.

We walked to the highest point, where there was an ingenious X-shape walled wind break and then down the other side of the peak. The rocks on this side were covered with myriad Jackson Pollock like scratches from crampons, left from uncountable numbers of winter ascents. Once again, Ace honed his skills as Sherpa for the Js and we made slow, steady progress. The homeward stretch was surprisingly slow. I kept thinking how unbelievable it was that I managed to endure all this down when it had previously been all such a lot of up. Descending was quite strenuous on the knee joints and leg muscles, though it was preferable to the early bout, fighting gravity. The weather had improved further and the scenery was mostly taking my mind off all this. Finally, we reached Patterdale and offered fond farewells to our companions. I very gratefully collapsed into Syd’s passenger seat and headed home with a lovely feeling of having enjoyed another excellent weekend with the DPC.