Steve Pardoe's Dow Crag Page
[Pedant's corner - Dow Crag ought to be pronounced "Doe Crag" (as in "doe, a deer, a female deer") according to my late father's 1938 F&RCC Guide; and is written as "Doe" by George Abraham in his "British Mountain Climbs" (1948 ed). So now you knoe]
Murray's 'B' Route, and Eliminate 'A'.
For my 60th birthday present, my best beloved had bought me a day's Guiding with Robin Beadle. I'd climbed with him and Other Steve in Scotland six winters ago, but today we were in the Lakes, walking up the Walna Scar road towards Dow Crag. The weather was glorious, warm, hardly a breath of wind, and a clear blue sky.
Reading the new edition of "Classic Rock", I'd made a note of Murray's 'B' route as a possible climb, and this seemed to suit Robin. It gets S 4a and three stars, both grade and stars well deserved, I'd say. After a quick refresher from the guidebook he set off, swarming up the initial chimney and fixing a thread to protect the slab traverse. I was left wondering whether I'd be able to follow - those first few moves on real rock after the winter layoff always seem the hardest. What's more, we could see a sling and krab hanging from a spike above the slab, presumably from a previous party lowering off the crux. However, the chimney went OK and the slab was fine - it's very polished, but my ape index helped. The hardest part was getting Robin's sling out at full stretch, and then matching feet in a slippery pocket before a huge step to the left (presumably the 4a move) and easier ground with a jug exactly where it was needed. My Dad's old 1938 guidebook mentions a fine knob, and it certainly was.
At another stance I fumbled getting the gear out, and dropped a krab out of one of Robin's quickdraws. At first I thought it had landed at my feet, but as I looked down I heard another 'plink' and it was clearly some way below, and too late for a shout. Oops. After some pleasant climbing we reached the superb hand traverse, reminiscent of Milestone Buttress Direct, but less exposed; and with another steep pitch we were at Easy Terrace, and the climb was over, far too soon.
We scrambled down for a sarnie (fending off hungry dogs) and an unsuccessful look around for the krab, and Eliminate 'A' was suggested. This gets VS 4c, and again three stars. After Murray's, Robin seemed happy to give it a go, but I asked him whether it was escapable - "no" - and what happened if I couldn't get up - "that's what I'm here for". Good point, though on these multi-pitch mountain routes it can be difficult for the leader and second to communicate at the best of times. By now I was quite nervous, and we trudged across to 'A' buttress and roped up at the big grass ledge. The first section round a bulge above Great Gully seemed quite hard and exposed, but it was all there and I began to feel more comfortable. Silly me. There followed a horribly claustrophobic squirm, with a long reach to retrieve a threaded sling, which got my arm very tired, and a couple of times I really thought I was coming off. Amazing what the prospect of a big drop does for the adrenaline.
When we reached another belay stance and had sorted the rope out, I noticed that Robin had a few tentative tries at getting off it. As he said, the better the stance the harder it can feel on leaving it, especially when you are stepping downwards without a rope above. I was reminded of leaving the Pedestal to get onto Technical Slab at the Roaches, but scaled up somewhat. He made the best of the handholds and dabbed a toe on the slab to the left, before swinging confidently round the next bulge and out of sight and earshot again. When my turn eventually came, I could see why he'd been tentative. For the hand(s) there was a small and polished block which was a lot less positive than it looked, and for the feet, well, smears at best. And as for balance, forget it - the block was on the right, I was moving left, so the move had to be dynamic and there could be no reversing it. Three points of contact? I don't think so. And this above a lot of fresh mountain air, with the rope horizontal.
Well, reader, I made it, teetering on sketchy toeholds and feeling for phantom features for the fingers, and reached the funny little thread on the buttress; but my heart was in my mouth until a little later when I was within earshot of Robin again. I told him I was hanging on to fiddle the sling out, and he said "well done". I replied that I hadn't got it out yet, and he said "no, well done for making the move", which was gratifying. I'm not sure what he'd have said if I hadn't made the move, but it's academic since he couldn't have seen or heard me anyway.
After some steep but pleasant climbing we were up on yet another stance with a dodgy exit, this time to the right, and even more exposed. The next pitch was a long and winding one, so while Robin led it away from me I had plenty of time to contemplate (a) how I was going to step apparently into space while getting a well-wedged nut and cam out (the cam filling the only handhold worthy of the name), and (b) what might follow, assuming I achieved (a). When it was time to go, the matter was complicated by having to scream for slack to release a long sling from the belay behind me, which I might have anticipated had I not been so preoccupied with the next moves forward. Then I was screaming for whatever the opposite of slack is, while I worried about the step-off. I'd watched where Robin put his feet, but that seemed a long time ago now. He'd also pointed out an excellent quartzite handhold, but that was way out of reach, of course. So, an undignified crawl to whack out the nut, key clipped to the rope so as not to drop it, clip it and the nut to my loop, shuffle back, then restore balance and step into space towards the Friend in its cosy pocket.
This was a full-on "Oscar Foxtrot" moment - there is really quite a lot of space on Dow Crag. By now I was close to panic, but the friction was superb and my toes held, and after some imaginative defiance of gravity I whipped the cam out, leaving it clipped to my rope, and gratefully grasped the quartz before sorting my feet out and then racking the gear. Big intake of breath, Tango Foxtrot Foxtrot Tango. Then steeply up and round to the next stance, at the end of the traverse on Gordon & Craig's Route, and a comfy sit-down.
After having 'A' buttress to ourselves so far, it was a surprise to find another second belaying where we wanted to be, and another leader then climbed over me (off-route, it turned out) trailing a pair of ropes, but eventually we got to our own route and some confusion. The location of the next pitch of Eliminate 'A' was clear enough from the guidebook, but there seemed to have been no traffic on it, in contrast to the polish and chalk lower down. Perhaps everyone uses the easier pitch of Arete, Chimney and Crack instead? We purists followed the true line, which started very steeply but eased above, and became a jugfest with good pulls and excellent toeholds all the way, if you looked around a bit. This was a delightful finish to a superb route, surely one of the great climbs in the district.
Robin took coils and we moved together over the easy scramble to the summit ridge, and emerged into warm sunshine before the tedious descent of the loose gully to the base of the buttress and our sacks. Robin's was adorned by the dropped krab, which had been found by none other than Stephen Reid from Needle Sports. Result.
Gear packed, we headed off down the boulders to Goats Water and the path. What a fantastic day it had been.
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Steve & Judy Pardoe
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