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Botterill, F. (1903) Two New Climbs On Scafell Crags. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 2 Number 5: pp13-20. Leeds: YRC

Two New Climbs On Scafell Crags.

" Ce monde appartient à l'énergie : la lutte est la condition
méme du success : notre ennemi est notre auxilliaire "

By Fred Botterill.

North Face of Scarfell.  © Yorkshire Ramblers' Club
North Face of Scarfell

I.

We are ordinarily a party of three; but last Whitsuntide, 1903, our part at Wasdale was augmented by one more member, a novice at rock climbing, but an athlete of considerable skill and of a strength quite out of proportion to his size.  We were interested in seeing how a good gymnast being in a roped party and placed on difficult rock for the first time would manage.  The results were exceedingly interesting and rather different to what we had expected.  The weather during the whole of our holiday was fine and all conditions in our favor.  Throughout the climbs the gymnast was placed third in the party, and as all were in fairly good form, we attacked, as a commencement, Moss Ghyll by the direct finish This being successfully accomplished, we descended by the Broad Stand, and after lunch ascended Scafell Pinnacle via Steep Ghyll and Slingsby's Chimney, finishing the day by walking down the West Wall Traverse of Deep Ghyll.

Somewhat to our astonishment the gymnast seemed quite at home on the rocks, taking the difficult parts with great ease and sangfroid and after the above heavy day seemed in no way tired.

To make the experiment a thorough one, we did the following climbs in the next two days, and in the order named:- Kern Knotts Crack, Kern Knotts West Chimney, Gable Needle, and the North Climb Pillar Rock by the Hand Traverse.

The gymnast managed quite as well as any rock climber I know, his methods being perfectly sound, if somewhat peculiar.  At the more difficult places he would insist upon taking elaborate precautions.  If no belaying pin were handy he would go to great lengths to manufacture one, and to provide against a slip, would carefully engineer the rope-though not always in the most orthodox fashion.  Throughout these climbs he declared his want of sympathy with rock climbing, considering it rather risky, and we were not always able to reconcile him to the utility of the rope as a safeguard.  It may be thought that in taking him direct on to some of the first class climbs we ran the risk of killing any affection he might have eventually entertained for the sport, but he admitted afterwards that he had thoroughly enjoyed it.

The fourth day, June 2nd, the gymnast having gained the confidence of our party, it was decided to attempt Jones's route up Scafell Pinnacle.  We had made careful enquiries about it, and although the details were somewhat vague, we thought we knew sufficiently well what we were about.  That morning the leader was very much out of sorts and unable to touch his breakfast.  The climb now seemed out of the question.  The poor invalid's companions however insisted upon dragging him up Brown Tongue, assuring him that climbing would cure any sickness.  He was prodded and tugged as far as the first pitch in Deep Ghyll and then laid tenderly upon some uncommonly sharp stones.  Observing that his lips moved we tried to distinguish what he murmured.  "Soup!" The patient wanted soup.  What could we do? Our invalid was our cook as well as our leader.  Our second however volunteered to get out the spirit stove and endeavour to make a little Maggi.  It was done.  The steaming cup was placed to the invalid's lip, and lo! he revived.  Four thick slices of bread, three cups of soup, salmon, followed by bread and honey, and plums were consumed by that invalid, and then without a word he went straight up the first pitch of Deep Ghyll.  At all events we were to have a climb of some kind.  "Did he feel inclined for that second ascent" we enquired.  "No, he was not sufficiently recovered." "Could he manage Scafell Pinnacle from Deep Ghyll?" "Yes, he might try that if a few raisins were given to him." Knowing that the leader developed a marvellous instinct for discovering handholds when chewing dried fruits he was supplied with a pocketful of Valencias and promptly landed us safely at the summit of the Pinnacle.  After the descent of the Broad Stand we decided that we should finish the day with a trial of the Keswick Brothers' Climb, while our gymnast went to the summit of Scafell Pike to enjoy the view.

II.

The idea of a new climb of any importance in the Wasdale district had never crossed our minds, and the suggestion of one on Scafell Crags-perhaps the most frequented rocks of all-would, if proposed, have been received with derision.  Nevertheless, whilst looking for the foot of Keswick Brothers' Climb we chanced upon a square opening which, judging by the quantity of moss and grass in it, seemed to denote something new.  The leader had by then quite recovered his spirits, and although the others protested there was nothing new to do on Scafell the party started up, H. Williamson being second and J. E. Grant third.

We soon found ourselves facing a crack some six inches wide which leaned away to the left at an angle of about 70°.  It was decidedly rotten, but after clearing away a few loose boulders up went the leader with both hands in the crack for about 40 ft.  until he was stopped for want of hand or footholds.  He then bore away to the left and upwards until the ledge of Keswick Brothers' traverse was reached, and three yards along this the leader found a cairn.  Whilst trying to locate the ledge Williamson attacked the continuation of the crack and managed to lead up what proved to be the second mauvais pas) the first is at the commencement)-a hand-over-hand climb of about I2 ft.  After this we entered a good sized chimney with a large chockstone overhead and by the aid of back and knee we passed up the chimney, underneath the chockstone, and then up into the final gully.  From here the ascent was easy, and coming for the first time across nail marks, we rightly concluded this was the upper part of Collier's Climb.

Our second and third were now convinced that something new had been done, and entered heartily into the task of building a cairn at the head of the gully.  We again descended by the Broad Stand and were joined by the gymnast, to whom we somewhat boastfully announced the news.  He was not adequately impressed however-mere gymnasts never are-but only made some discouraging remarks.  He said we were as excited about it as a party of school boys who had found a sixpence; but then he did'nt understand.

After dinner that evening we learned that we had climbed the entire length of the crack for the first time, and had unintentionally deprived another party, who had been hovering around it for some days, of that pleasure. 

III.

The next day, Wednesday, June 3rd, we arranged to spend another day on the Crags in order to examine the crack to the right of the new climb, and see if a way could be found connecting it with the finish of Keswick Brothers' Climb.  Business called the gymnast away, and he left us to proceed to Boot, via Burnmoor, thence to be whirled away into civilization.  During the whole of our visit we had had perfect weather, and that day was no exception.  We slowly made our way up Brown Tongue, and leaving our rucksack at the foot of Deep Ghyll walked along the Rake's Progress, taking with us a light axe, which judging by the previous day's experience we were sure would be useful.

Botterill'S Climb Scafell By J.H. Taylor.  © Yorkshire Ramblers' Club
Botterill'S Climb Scafell By J.H. Taylor

At the foot of the climb we roped up and noticed that the time was 12.15 p.m.  The going, over grass ledges, was found fairly easy, until we reached the narrow crack which may be seen from the Progress.  The bottom of this was entirely hidden by grass and earth, which when vigorously attacked with the pick, was dislodged in such quantities as to seriously alarm a party coming over Hollow Stones.  The removal of some boulders uncovered a large sloping slab which afforded excellent hand and foot holds and enabled the leader to proceed about 15 ft. up the narrow crack.  Clearly no one had been here before, so we made greater efforts to advance; it was absolutely impossible however to do so in the crack, it being only 6 inches wide and about 12 inches deep, and the sides almost as smooth as the inside of a teacup.  The leader reluctantly decended to the afore-mentioned slab and examined the projecting face of the crack, which leans away towards Scafell Pike at about the same angle as the crack we had ascended the day before.  This seemed equally hopeless, the ledges being all inverted and the slabs too smooth to climb with safety.  Traversing about 12 ft. outwards to the edge formed by one side of the crack and the face of the crags, I saw that with care we could advance some distance up this nose.  Clearing away the moss from little cracks here and there I managed to climb slowly upwards for about 60 ft.  The holds then dwindled down to little more than finger-end cracks.  I looked about me and saw, some 12 ft. higher, a little nest about a foot square covered with dried grass.  Eight feet higher still was another nest and a traverse leading back to where the crack opened into a respectable chimney.  If I could only reach hold of that first nest what remained would be comparatively easy.  It seemed to be a more difficult thing than I had ever done but I was anxious to tackle it.  Not wishing to part with the axe I seized it between my teeth and with my fingers in the best available cracks I advanced.  I cannot tell with certainty how many holds there were; but I distinctly remember that when within 2 ft. of the nest I had a good hold with my right hand on the face, and so ventured with my left to tear away the dried grass on the nest.  I also remembered my brother Ramblers, who were at that moment exploring the depths of Gaping Ghyll, and wondered which of us were in the more comfortable situation.  However, the grass removed from the ledge, a nice little resting place was exposed - painiully small, but level and quite safe.  I scrambled on to it, but on account of the weight of the rope behind me, it was only with great care and some difficulty that I was able to turn round.  At last I could sit down on the nest and look around me.

The view was glorious.  I could see Scafell Pike and a party round the cairn.  Far below was another group intent on watching our movements, a lady being amongst the party.  I once read in a book on etiquette that a gentleman in whatever situation of life should never forget his manners towards the other sex, so I raised my hat, though I wondered if the author had ever dreamed of a situation like mine.  I now discovered that our 80 ft. of rope had quite run out and that my companions had already attached an additional 60 ft.  Further, I began to wonder what had become of my axe, and concluded I must unthinkingly have placed it somewhere lower down.  There it was, stuck in a little crack about 5 ft. below me.  Not knowing what was yet to come I felt I must recover it, so I lowered myself until I could reach it with my foot.  I succeeded in balancing it on my boot, but in bringing it up it slipped and clattering on the rocks for a few feet took a final leap and stuck point downwards in the Rake's Progress, Standing up again I recommenced the ascent and climbed on to the second nest à cheval, from where, after a brief rest, I began the traverse back to the crack.  This was sensational but perfectly safe.  As usual I started with the wrong foot, and after taking two steps was obliged to go back.  The next time I started with the left foot, then came the right, again the left, and lastly a long stride with the right brought me into the chimney.  The performance was what might have been called a pas-de-quatre.  Complimentary sounds came from my companions below, but without stopping to acknowledge these I pulled myself up 10 ft. higher on to a good grass-covered ledge to the right of the crack, smaller but very similar to the Tennis Court Ledge of Moss Ghyll.  "How is it now?" my companions enquired, "Excellent," I replied, "a good belaying pin and just room for three.  Do you feel like following?" Without answering me the second man commenced the traverse to the chimney edge whilst I carefully belayed the rope.  Up he came in splendid style and without stopping, taking only a quarter the time it had taken me.  He then untied and we threw down the 140 ft. of rope to our third, who soon joined us.  We hailed a climbing friend who was watching from the Progress and invited him to join us, but he very generously refused and said he would hover near lest we might not be able to advance further and so require the aid of a rope from above.  We next christened our berth "Coffin Ledge," built a cairn on it and left our names on a card.

Starting off again a, long stride with the left foot took the leader back into the crack, and a stiff climb of 20 to 30 feet landed us all into an extraordinary chimney, which though only wide enough to comfortably admit the body sideways ran right into the crag for about 15 ft.  Like the crack below it leaned to the left at an angle of 70° or so.  About 23ft up, chockstones and debris formed a roof, and suspended in the middle, some 6 or 7ft.  below it, were three more chockstones.  When the second man had joined me he exclaimed with astonishment: "What a place! how can we get out?" "Wait a bit," I answered, although for the life of me I could not then see a way.  However, I went as far as I could into the crack and with restricted use of back and knee climbed upwards until the level of the suspended chockstones was reached; from there a narrow ledge rendered these easily accessible.  They were securely wedged and safe to stand upon.  The ledge continued along out of the crack until the most outward chockstone of the roof was within reach.  This I seized with both hands, and a steady pull upwards landed me into the Puttrell Chimney of Keswick Brothers' Climb.[1]

Our main difficulties now being over, the comparatively easy upper gully was soon finished, and as we clambered out at the top, at 3.45 p.m., our climbing friend met us with congratulations on what 'we all agreed was the hardest three and a half hours' work we had ever done.  During the descent we recovered the axe and built a Cairn at the foot of the climb.

On our return to the Hotel at night we received cordial congratulations from our friends.