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Robinson, J. W. (1899) The West Wall Of Deep Ghyll. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 1 Number 1: pp49-53. Leeds: YRC

The West Wall Of Deep Ghyll.

By J. W. Robinson.

It was Christmas time in Wasdale in the winter of 1894-5, when the question was asked at the breakfast table, "What shall we do to-day?" "Go up Scafell," said one; "Gable, by the Needle arête," was the bold answer of another; "the Central Gully on Great End," suggested a third. "None of these things," exclaimed a Dalesman who had just been out to look at the weather, "it's blowing a regular blizzard high up on the mountains, and looks like snow. I have never been round the Lake, and," he added, "the screes on the other side will be a little exercise for the ladies." A brisk walk soon brought us to the head of the Lake, round past the Hall farm, and along the easy part of the screes, until the loose, active part was reached, where time was spent in hurling great stones down to the Lake, into which they plunged with a splash that reminded me of some lines by the Oxford Don in commemoration of Blake's expressed preference for moonlight bathing in Wastwaters

"The cloud-clad moon blushed while the unclad Blake
Took ' Wasdale Headers ' in the deepest lake."

"We will not return without a climb; let us go up and try the Big Gully," said an over-confident youth who is reported to make sport of the difficulties of experienced guides when he visits the Alps. "Not in a storm like this," said the Dalesman, and just then, in support of this opinion, came three climbers in full retreat who had assayed the Big Gully on their way up from the train at Drigg, two doctors of renown - Collie and Collier - and a friend. They reported the blizzard high up as "awful," which froze the snow on to their clothes and hair; we all returned by the road together, conversing on climbs new and old. "Got any new climbs up your sleeve?" said Collie, addressing the Dalesman. "No, not for weather like this," was the cautious answer, though he knew of one on Scafell, but waited the hour and suitable weather before revealing the important secret.

Long afterwards he wrote to Collie saying, "Come to Cumberland, I know a place that wants climbing, and have kept it for you; it may go easily or it may be hard, but I rather fear it is very easy," and until then he kept the secret dark. Climbing men passed and repassed up and down Deep Ghyll within touch of the first ladder of the climb and none saw it; they all _looked the other way to the more imposing front presented by the Deep Ghyll Pillar. Twice the Dalesman, accompanied by' strong parties of Alpine men, went to it, but passed it saying nothing, because the weather was bad and there was ice upon the rocks. "Where is it? is it near Wasdale?" said a reckless enthusiast one day. "It is a Sabbath day's journey from Wasdale," came the answer. "That means Dow Crag, Coniston, at the very least," said a bystander, but still the mystery remained unsolved.

At length an opportunity offered in the autumn of 1897 on the way to Eskdale sheep fair, which festive gathering an Oxford Don and the Dalesman attend each year in company. Great was the Dalesman's joy on arriving at the inn late one night to find two Oxford Dons ready and eager to join in the attack suggested to them. The pursuit of new climbs was growing hot, and the Dalesman considered that now or never must the attempt be made.

The next day was not promising, but a start was made. The climb began in Deep Ghyll, over the two well-known obstacles, then along the ordinary traverse to a point some twenty yards beyond the top of the right hand escape from the second pitch in the ghyll. Here a deeply-recessed vertical chimney of about 40 feet in height was seen. "This is the start; looks interesting!" was the gleeful comment of the Senior Don. A couple of ledges (some 15 feet) gave access to the chimney, and from it the climbers emerged on to a broad rock-terrace of several yards in length.  Just above this point they were brought to a halt by a steep, recessed rock, with wet and slimy surface and evidently of a more difficult character above.  The Dalesman was well backed up by the Senior Don, but rain came on, the rocks began to stream with water, and the serious question arose, "If we go up this way, are we sure we can get out, because we shall not want to come down it again to-day?" "A safe way is a good way," they all agreed, and round they went to prospect a little from the top in the dense mist and rain, hoping to gain knowledge of the upper and mysterious reaches of the climb. It was too wet to learn anything, so the word was given, " Home once more," and round the inn fire that night they tried the climb over again and eagerly discussed the situation. "Give the' climb away ! No fear!" said the Senior Don, and the Dalesman said it might safely wait another year until they met again; it now had waited four, and the passers-by did not so much as give it a single look.

Many things happened to the Dalesman in the interval. He was tempted away to Switzerland by a kind and skilful climber of many seasons in the Alps, and had thus an opportunity of comparing, for the first time, the Dent de Satarma with the Gable Needle; the chimneys of Mont Collon and the Aiguilles Rouges with those of the Wasdale Screes; the rock faces of the Dent Perroc, and the Aiguille de la Za with the Langdale Pikes; and the rock towers of the Matterhorn and the gendarmes of the Dent Blanche with the Ennerdale and Scafell Pillars; and it is whispered that Cumberland held its own in the estimation of the perhaps too enthusiastic Dalesman.

On his return to England he said to his comrade, the Alpine Expert, "Come to Cumberland, and back up a Dalesman and an Oxford Don who are going to risk their necks on a new climb." And so it came about that on the evening of September 9th last, amid a storm of wind and rain, the dangers of the Sty Head pass were faced in the dark, until, when nearing the Tarn, the darkness seemed to pass away though dense wet mists hung all around. The Dalesman thought it was the moon. " Nonsense!" exclaimed the "Expert," in his superior wisdom, "There is no moon." And he was right, for the unwonted lightness was caused, we discovered later, by an unusual display of Aurora in the northern sky. Wasdale again! Hurrah! The Don is here and eager for the fray. "What has he come for ?" (with a suspicious glance at the Dalesman) was the whispered question of a bystander to the Don, whose evasive _ reply is not recorded. "What are you going to do to-morrow?" was the open query of another. "We are going to have a walk round on Scafell to see what we can find," said the Dalesman, and with this answer they were fain to be content. "Breakfast at 7 o'clock and an early start," said one. It was done, and they were away in the morning, with their two coils of rope, by 7.35.

When it became known that the Don, who had been resting for two days, and professed to be unwell, had gone off at that unearthly hour with the Dalesman and the Alpine Expert, it was felt at once by the other visitors that some deadly mystery was on foot, and, without intending it, all found their steps lead towards Scafell.  Foolish Dalesman to have given even this much away; for the result was that Deep Ghyll was full of men just at a time when the most ticklish part of the climb was in progress, but the kindly mist hung over the climbers, and obscured them like a pall.

The early start allowed the persistent three to send down stones and rake the ghyll from end to end without doing any harm. They ascended the mountain by way of Red Ghyll, and arriving at the top of the climb the Dalesman went down some distance to prospect. He had often looked at the climb from the ridge of the Deep Ghyll Pillar opposite, and felt there was one doubtful place where a small leaning pinnacle seemed to be undercut. Getting down to this he threw his arms round it, and calling for more rope was soon seen lying flat on the top of a rock below and looking over. "Yes! it will go," he cried. "Pull in the rope, I am coming up," and as he did so he cleared out the loose and dangerous stones, sending them thundering down the ghyll, small ones being sent first as pilot engines to give warning to unwary tourists and make them run for cover.  Round to the foot of the climb in Deep Ghyll was the work of a few minutes, and the chimney was tackled at once - Dalesman leading as before, until the upper ledge above the chimney was reached, when he decided to pass over a corner of rock round to the right. To make this possible, it was necessary to pull out a number of loose stones which rested in the crack of the ledge above, which done, he planted himself firmly on the rock ledge, and, with the Don holding on to the rope, he gave the Alpine Expert a shoulder. The Expert, thinking he was on the face of the Za once more, went up the rocks like a chamois, until a halt was called on a ledge about 20 feet above. There the others joined him, and having passed a detached rock slab (which from Deep Ghyll seems to be a rock post) arrived at the foot of the undercut pinnacle. The Dalesman again took the lead and went up the left-hand side for about 10 feet, then passed over the nose of the pinnacle into a little gully on the right-hand side.  Here a rock shelf led to a small recess from which the climb ' could be finished direct up the arête, or by a traverse on the left to and along the edge of Blake's chimney. Both finishes were taken.

Thus a new and easy climb of interest was added to the list, as the west wall had hitherto been climbed only by the Great Chimney and by an open route rather nearer the head of Deep Ghyll.