Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Portcullis Ridge - Deepdale

What a brilliant little mountaineering route this is, i wasn't sure what to expect as the various online descriptions suggested 'a mountaineering route' (FRCC) or a 50m pitch to easier climbing (rockfax). In the end, i turned up with my brother with the summer guide.
We wandered up a snowy Deepdale and exchanged banter with a couple of nice chaps off up to do Pendulum Ridge on Scrubby. One of the climbers said that the second half of the ridge was a beaut and that his friend reckoned the first ridge (crux) was one of the nicer IV's in the lakes.
I however, was unsure and not truly knowing the line and the grade (no feedback on ukc) i was slightly apprehensive.
The walk up to the valley head gave the route a mountainous feel, not like slogging up to tick a winter pitch and head back to the pub. I also found the valley less labourious than Grisedale, which was nice.
At the base of the route i took a good 5 minutes looking at the ridge. I read the summer description and tried to remember the online winter description. Start on the right and then do something, to reach a steep crux wall high on the first steeper ridge.

I geared up and told nick to keep moving while he was belaying (this would be his first winter climb). I started to the right of the foot of the buttress up some turfy grooves. It looked easy, but it was steeper than expected. Some tricky bulges through corners and some mixed moves. I felt that i may have not been on the right route, but it was a strong line in my eyes! I found gear placements poor and far apart, but i wasnt exactly gripped.
Finding a belay was my objective though. My limited winter experiences have told me that a truly bomber belay is essential, but often tricky to find, even on mixed terrain. I might purchase some warthogs, pegs and bulldogs...
I found a rock stance after a short traverse left to below some steep terrain. I felt like rapping off due to the fact i wasnt entirely sure about where i was going and the first pitch was much bolder, and trickier than i expected, it would have been nicer with a Bulldog or Warthog!
Nick came up with his usual grace and technique (read shear physical prowess), some of his axe placements looked like they would never come back out!
He arrived at the belay and congratulated me on my bold lead, something he said 'looked piss, but was steeper than expected!'
At this point, i was glad i had left our rucksacks at the base, as the steep ground above looked tricky and proper rock mixed.
I pulled onto a ledge and saw a nice 4-5metre splitter crack, with an insitu Bulldog! Booyah! I had never been so happy to arrive at the crux of a route. I knew now i was actually climbing the right route, which at the end of the day is what i wanted to do! Also the crack looked nicely technical, i possibly not 4?
I pulled up to it and clipped the Bulldog. I then placed an axe in the crack. Lovely placement. I pulled up and hooked an axe out left for balance, a frozen mossy crack allowing a half hook/torque placement which allowed me to replace my right hand axe higher up the crack. From this point, i moved up on a couple of small rock rails and a high foot move into the crack. I felt a bit sketchy and my gear (the bulldog) was at the base of the crack so i would have hit the ledge below without doubt.
For some unknown reason to, i had Thin Lizzys' 'Hero and the Madman' going around and around in my head. "Those that knew you, always said you'd go far. Are you the one whom i think you are? ...Oh, are you the hero? ...Oh, are you the madman?...Oh, are you the Hero? .. Oh, are you the madman?... The madman climbed the steeple spire..." and so on!
I thew an axe to the top and rather un-expectedly hit some unfrozen turf... great (f**k) i thought. I tried again and once again, shit turf. Up to this point the turf was fine, not rock solid but fine. Why now was it dodgy. I thew again and felt the unmistakeable placement of an axe into hardturf, with the added bonus of possibly a rock embedded in the turf. Sweet.
Big pull into the powder above and then romped up to a spike belay. Due to Nick forgetting his belay plate (Ohhhh what terrible memories) i was belaying Nick using Italian hitches on two Krabs. It was a bit of a pain!

I decided, seeing as i didnt truly know the pitches difficulties i would lead again, just incase. Anyway, the rockfax description said 50metres to the top of the difficulties, this was the second pitch probably around 70 metres from the base.
At the top of the 3rd pitch was the halfway col, where the second ridge led to the top. Apparently grade II, we discussed whether to continue, but in the end the strong wind and the fact descents down snow was somewhat sketchy due to the windslab, i decided to head-off the right hand side, back to the rucksacks.
I didn't really feel it was a good choice to keep climbing as it would only be sensible to pitch it with Nick, but using an Italian hitch on halfropes up was just an annoyance. Never mind, i was happy to do the first ridge and the fact it took 3 pitches was an added benefit. Nick said his back was causing him some discomfort as well so i was happy with my decision.
A damn good effort from Nick anyhow, he didn't fall off and belayed well, the whole situation is somewhat different to summer trad.
End of all things, is that the route is well worth doing! A gem of a route at the head of Deepdale and although it is well worth a visit in its own right, it is worth baring in mind, if you happen to be heading up to do Pendulum Ridge and it's got a few parties on it!

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