© Yorkshire Ramblers' Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted.
However, short extracts from it may be used, for non-commercial purposes, provided their source is fully cited, acknowledged and referenced as:
Frankland, C.D. (1921) In The Tracks Of The Rubber-Men. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 4 Number 14: pp214-221. Leeds: YRC.

In The Tracks Of The Rubber-Men.

By C. D. Frankland.

During many years of climbing it had been a source of satisfaction to me to recall that I had climbed my pitches without either taking a shoulder or discarding boots. Nowadays, however, there are many excellent courses which cannot be climbed in boots. In order to try the merits of the new climbs I have followed the methods of the Engelhorner and Dolomites, and climbed in rubber-soled shoes. The following escapades are due to observing the surprising ease with which my g brother, who makes no pretence of being a rock expert, followed up Woodhead's Route by the new direct finish, and to the enjoyment expressed by my daughter after her ascent of the Pillar Rock by the Slab and Notch and Pendlebury's Traverse. Both wore shoes soled with rubber, and the days were dry.

Many experienced cragsmen to-day disparage the use of a "shoulder." By giving this adventitious aid to his leader a second man may help him into a situation dangerous to the party. The supplementary aid afforded by the rope is different. However, on the climbs for which I desired to qualify, the rope is declared to be more dangerous than useful. Anchorage is often lacking. The pitches are very long. Companions capable of leading are few. I came to the conclusion that I must climb alone, and then there would be no question of either shoulder or rope. It would be playing strictly according to the rules of the game if I tried the climbs myself before inviting others to trust their safety to my leadership.

Before undertaking the ascent of the very severe slab routes on the face of the Low Man of Scawfell Pinnacle, climbers are recommended to put in ample practice on difficult slabs. There are two ideal courses for this purpose on the west wall of the High Man, Pillar Rock. At 4 p.m. one fine day last summer (1920) I was ready to start, having stowed coat and boots under a convenient boulder. As I looked over the scree at the climb I believe I was alone on the Rock; the last party was descending slowly towards Ennerdale.

The Rib and Slab Climb is too recent to be as popular as it deserves, but time will rectify this. The route begins to the left of the better known New West, and is marked by a modest cairn at its foot. From base to summit the course is singularly direct. As usual the initial pitches are easy, and the rubber shoes gripped securely the broad, rough ledges. The first 70 feet were passed in a few minutes, and the point of articulation of the Rib itself was reached.

At this point a complete change in the quality of the climbing occurs. Rubber shoes become essential to the successful ascent of the following pitches, which assume the nature of "difficult slabs." The stance upon which I stood resembled those on the severe variations on Gimmer. Movement was restricted, but by hugging the rock the bulge could be inspected. On the right is a sheer drop. It is necessary to step out and over this space on holds unsuitable for boots, using downward presses for the hands. These difficulties continue to the point where this route crosses the New West above the big scoop. I had been so engrossed in the game that I was puzzled to account for the scarring of the track. Rubber shoe climbing has the merit of not defacing the rocks.

The third pitch so closely resembles the second as not to require description. Its attraction lies in the situations. The feet are viewed against a background of distant scree. In no place can the whole of the sole of the foot be placed upon a hold. Handholds in the ordinary sense of ledges to pull on are absent. Divide the holds on the Eagle's Nest Ridge in half, both as to size and number, and then the direct portion above the Nest itself somewhat resembles this Slab. The approach to the lower part of the last pitch of the New West is delightful. Where the big angular fragments act as a belay for the crossing of the "one-step traverse," the climber on the Slab pokes up his head and pulls upon the projecting rock. I concluded my first exercise here, and hastened down the familiar New West. At the bottom an easy traverse was made to the foot of the initial difficulty of the South-West climb.

This more difficult course lies along the north edge of West Jordan Gully. At first sight its aspect is repelling. It looks absurdly impossible, and would be so in boots. On closer acquaintance its character proves milder than its looks. It begins suitably with a steep, flat slab 15 feet across. Two slight flaws and some crystalline incrustations, an eighth of an inch deep, supply the means of reaching the overhang. The method I employed was to walk along the edges of the crusts, using two awkwardly placed little finger holds for maintaining the balance. Once the rock cornice is reached the pull over is easy, and a sloping ledge can be used to stand upon while examining the great wall above.

The prospect looks hopeless to one more used to chimneys, chocks, walls, ledges, and all the ordinary aids to climbing than to a long succession of rough ripple marks and occasional applications to the steeply sloping edge. The few oval platforms, no bigger than dinner plates, are of doubtful advantage. They serve mainly as view points from which to realise the grimness of the gloomy gully on the right and the inhospitable expanse of the West Wall itself. The climbing is not difficult, but the thought of a loose hold is unpleasant. The rock, however, is sound throughout.

To finish directly means severe going from the level of the scratches, marking Far West Jordan. A little above this point the wall steepens, and for a short way even overhangs. This is near the top. The exposure is something to be remembered. It was about here that I found myself trapped inside a little incomplete chimney with convergent walls. Had the rock not been so rough in texture I could not have climbed it. The sudden change from the steady drag from one inequality to the next, where strength was unavailing and care all important, caught me out completely. By wriggling higher, making full use of rough rubber soles and woolly jersey, I was able to press over the sloping top and resume the cat-walk business.

The climb finishes at the summit cairn. It is a very enjoyable route. The most difficult part is the bottom slab, though the finish is also severe, much of the severity being due to the exposure. I descended by the Old West Route, an excellent way off, and returned to the valley after about an hour's steady practice in the tracks of` the rubber-men.

The next morning was fine. The ladies desired a quiet day exploring the gills, in view of a hard day following. The men packed the sack, picked up the rope, and headed for Scawfell. We reached the top of the first pitch of Deep Ghyll by way of Moss Ghyll, the Jordan Gap, and the upper reaches of Deep Ghyll, at the expense of a damaged finger. We found ourselves at a convenient place for lunch a hundred feet above the foot of Lord's Rake on the face of the Low Man buttress, and looked up. High on the left was a huge rectangular block. Displacement on a joint plane had left a vertical chimney between the block and the face. Jones's route follows a fairly straight course up to this chimney. He went into the cave below the block, climbed out by the roof, and traversed along the ledge at the foot of the block into the chimney. My scheme was to avoid the Waiting Room, as the cave is called, and make directly for the chimney, as the rubber-men's tracks led that way.

This was my first intimate sight of the climb, which is called in the guide books the Ascent of Scawfell Pinnacle direct from Lord's Rake. By this time lunch was finished. I had assumed the requisite rubbers, and was prepared to start. The first thirty feet entailed easy rocks followed by lusty hauling on high recessed ledges on the crest of the ridge. The buttress straight ahead is unclimbable, but a traverse, called the Gangway, runs off horizontally to the left. The floor slopes steeply down. Standing on this and leaning outwards, the climber can overcome a strong tendency to fall by placing his upturned hands under a deep flange of rock near the floor. Twenty feet of side-stepping follow. Half-way along the traverse the underholds vanish, and finger holds at head height must serve in their place. A crooked crack next leads up to the left until broken rock affords support as far as turf ledges. But little higher is the first stance, Nest I.

The second nest is forty feet higher still to the left. The ascent to it needs care, but is hardly difficult. Fifty feet of very difficult climbing are now encountered, where a bulge is hailed as a boon and a ledge as a luxury. The chimney, our goal, is well in sight, but to reach it a difficult traverse must be made. I postponed making it until it was nearly too late. The steepness increased. The gully on the left was shallow and forbidding. Easy rocks leading immediately up to the chimney on the other side were hardly more than six feet away, yet I think the crossing of that shallow chute was the most difficult, delicate piece of slab work I had yet attempted. Perhaps it looked "thin" only by contrast with the jagged edges and the tumbled arrangement of the "Promised Land" viewed from an uncomfortable "Pisgah."

I looked down with a new interest upon the route up which I had just climbed. Near by, also, was Jones's toe-traverse. Curiosity demanded a peep into the Waiting Room. It was in ruinous condition; most of the floor was missing; there was no front wall, and the furniture consisted of a jumble of cubical rocks. A most uncomfortable place. Half regretting that my way had not led me into a ruin so crowded with interesting associations, I toed it back along the narrow shelf and raced. In forty feet the Crevasse beneath the foot of Slingsby's Chimney was reached. The scramble into Steep Ghyll and round to the easy ledges did not take long. The whole climb had taken twenty minutes.

After discussing the merits of the climb, I eagerly hastened with more confidence this time, along the Gangway, past the first nest, to the second nest. A very helpful crack, an inch or so wide, provides the means of ascent for twenty feet, and little difficulty was met until a pitted ledge was reached where the luxury of walking could be indulged in freely

This ledge is worthy of more than a passing glance. A hundred feet of such slabs as those just surmounted would make any old ledge agreeable. But this charming spot had other attributes besides security. At the back a 6 foot wall rises abruptly to the edge of the slab which shows so plainly on the photographs of this part of Scawfell face. The front and left are open, but the right is bounded by the vertical wall of the crest of the buttress. Like the stage of a theatre the platform slopes forwards. Perhaps the block that once rested here now lies somewhere in Hollow Stones. I wondered if the curious pitting of the floor was due to the moss, whose velvety green, rich and deep, made the pattern of nature's carpet. The ledge has been named "Moss Ledge."

I turned my back upon the familiar view, and thereby increased my reluctance to leave Moss Ledge, for Hopkinson's Slab canted steeply up from the wall in front. It is 30 feet across. The smoothness of its surface is emphasised by the presence of a platform in the centre, an oasis in a wilderness. Although a lady's handkerchief would cover it, its importance is great, as it reduces the lively apprehension, hard to put aside, of sliding down the slab and shooting over the shelf.

There are two ways of mounting from the ledge to the slab. Alternatives are often a bad sign. They denote hesitation and difficulty. Usually the rejected way is to be preferred to the chosen one. I attacked the right corner, climbed half way, and thought the left must be easier. I went up the left wall instead, only to regret my choice as I crawled carefully upon the slope. Had a watchful mouse made use of the stance for a playground, no furtive cat could stalk it more cautiously than the climber, who feels his way delicately towards that coveted ledge. The next step is a long one. Then roughnesses change to ledges, and at last to holds, which bring one speedily above all difficulty.

The amphitheatre so attained was graced by a big cairn, often seen but rarely approached. It was built thirty-four years ago to mark the limit of exploration downwards. I drew near with respect, and being alone, yielded to sentiment sufficiently to look around for a stone with which to pay my tribute, but found none!

Scratches now blazed the trail. The climbing up the steep, broken crag to the summit of the Low Man is most exhilarating, but rubber shoes are not in the least desirable, and would soon be torn to shreds if used. I soon lost the trail and made my own way to the outlet of Slingsby's Chimney. Short work was made of this old friend, and when I stepped down across the Crevasse I wondered how I had ever managed to find any difficulty there.

Botterill's Slab is familiar to any who have ascended Scawfell Crag by Keswick Brothers' Climb. Its fine lines stir the imagination when viewed from the traverse by which the top of it is crossed. I had seen this view more than once as an awe-inspiring piece of rock scenery, and not in the least as s a climb. It is a course up which a leader will take a party more justifiably if he has tried it over first without the responsibility for the safety of others. It will probably need all his skill, strength, and courage to safeguard his own.

Before leaving the Pinnacle I had put on my boots for the safe crossing of the grass-covered terraces on the way down to Rake's Progress, and still retained them during the preliminary 50 feet of slippery chimneys beneath the foot of the slab. Although I had inspected it from above, this was to be the first time I had ventured upon it, and I was in doubt about the footgear most appropriate to its peculiar difficulties. The author of the climb held strong prejudices against discarding boots. Not only did he make the first ascent wearing his climbing boots, but he cleared the holds as he went. Precedents are dangerous to follow when created by such an outstanding figure in the climbing world as Fred Botterill. I settled my doubts by putting my boots into the sack and lowering them down. I untied and threw down the rope; found my pipe was in my mouth; threw the pipe down. If the climb went at all it would be in rubber shoes.

The ample ledges dwindled according to the ratio, "the higher the fewer." Their quality, however, is beyond reproach. There were good grips for hauling, and consequently I felt much more at home than I had felt crawling up the Pinnacle. Still the ledges narrowed; yet uniform upward movement was maintained with frequent reference to the edge on the left. It was slow going, but continuous. The exposure was as impressive as it could be. To watch the left foot to its place was also to see the little sheep quietly browsing amongst the scattered boulders of Hollow Stones.

The trying section is very far up the climb. It can only be overcome by great muscular effort. How the course must have suited its originator! The culminating point is where the right hand has to be content with a ledge a quarter of an inch wide. The right foot must make the best use of a ledge twice as big. On a more vertical face these would be insufficient. I found them very much helped by the general slope, and reached very high to a fairly good grip. The biggest pull is necessary when the right foot in turn must use the quarter inch ledge. The "press up" on the palms of the hands marks an easing of the strain. In 10 feet of vigorous hauling two succeeding bulges on the vertical outer face form stances. I took breath on the second one, and called down reassuringly that the climb was all but done. The straight lines, which enhance the height of the slab, received a more appreciative admiration than ever before.

A balance walk along a narrow crack leads horizontally across the face of the slab to a sudden widening of the corner crack formed by it and the vertical crag. Several luxurious minutes were spent in this roomy resting place where the fine downward views could be appreciated once more, this time at leisure. Reluctantly the back and knee work was begun, and an entrance forced into the upper reaches of the narrow cavern. At a height of perhaps 30 feet a return traverse was easily made which brought me to the outer edge again. Exposed climbing followed, until a traverse around Keswick Brothers' Pinnacle proved the last novelty.

Whatever may or may not be the advantages of rubbers and climbing alone, I feel to have accomplished two aims; I have myself enjoyed fully the exhilarating courses so ably laid down by much better cragsmen, and now I am in a position to help others to the appreciation of those delights, secure in the essential knowledge that their leader can lead.