You know it’s a weird summer when The Lakes is the dry option – Raven Crag and Hodge Close

Jake and I had a couple of days window for a mid-week getaway in Glorious August – if only the weather would play game. Scouring forecasts, options were limited: Even the ever-reliable Gogarth and Pembroke looked like a washout, with the rest of Wales and the Peak a non-starter. The decision came down to a toss-up between the Wye Valley and the Lakes (both grey and damp but at least not torrential!) The shorter drive and the promise of cosy, dry accommodation in the recently refurbished High Moss (The Rucksack Club hut in the Duddon Valley) rather than under canvas swung it. We hit the M60 with rain lashing at the windscreen and headed anticlockwise, fuelled by hope rather than optimism.

Remarkably, skies started to clear around Lancaster and we eschewed the wet-weather contingency of Chapel Head Scar and went for the “glass half full” gambit of Raven Crag Threshthwaite. This would be my second visit in 2 months (having never been before in 40 years) with Jake having been enthused by my tales of the splendid routes on offer:

Dry approaching the crag and a bit cruddier out west
Drab but dry – game on!

Having used up the crag “warm up” on my last visit (Redex, E2, and only a warm up in the sense that you’ll definitely get warm doing it) we kicked off our visit with the next easiest route: Grand Prix, E3 5c. A tough, well-protected crux through the overhangs leads to steady climbing of continuous interest. As as added bonus you can lower off with 60s from a situ rap point, so I availed myself of a luxury lead on Jake’s gear.

Top Gear, just to the right, is a more challenging proposition: E4 6a, with a very committing quest across the vast shield of rock that dominates the upper left side of the crag.

Here’s Jake pulling onto the shield before heading off on his leftwards voyage. Particularly impressive with the complete lack of chalk – the holds are all there, but aren’t obvious, and the gear is distinctly spaced (go armed with a comprehensive set of tiny cammage!)

By now the sun had come out, and I gazed wistfully at the sunbathing sheep on the hillside opposite whilst we shivered on the now-shady crag. Meanwhile, Jake upped the stakes again with High Performance, E5 6b. It lived up to its billing as having a very hard crux, protected by good but hard-won protection from tiny wires. He didn’t quite get the onsight but made short work of a second go. I was nowhere near! There’s a lower off after the first pitch – just as well as the rarely-done upper 6a pitch was oozing gloop.

Early “easy” ground – the crux is the last 5m of the steep, compact wall at the top of this shot, with a loooong reach for a final “jug”

We were running out of daylight (and routes – I’ve only got one E4 and an E6 to go before having ticked the crag – at least the narrow selection featured in Rockfax) so called it a day there. A gentle jog down to the car…

Look closely to spot the bright red sheep!

… and an hour or so drive over Wrynose would see us settling down with a pint to browse the specials menu at The Newfield Inn, well ahead of “last food orders” at 9pm. All was on track, despite best efforts of clueless drivers who were bewildered by the concept of passing places, until the “bridge closed” sign at Cockley Beck – not the most helpful point to bring this to our attention (and no kudos to Google Maps which was blithely showing the road as open!) Aaargh – that threw an extra 40mins detour over Hardknott and Birker Fell into the equation, inserting an unwelcome delay until beer o’clock, and severely jeopardising our chances of food. Some poor tactical decisions on the way, stopping at the three pubs en route to find they had finished serving or were fully booked, ate into the gains we’d made through the application of a heavy right foot. However, salvation arrived in the shape of The Crosby Snack Shed and Cake Cupboard

If you think £3 sounds a lot for a flapjack, you clearly haven’t been marooned in Eskdale without any food 🙂 Anyway, the flapjack is outstanding and comes in a huge serving – highly recommended if you are passing!

… A cafe in Eskdale with a wooden box with homemade cakes, fresh-laid eggs and an honesty box. We filled up with both, and sped on our way, secure in the knowledge that we had sufficient calories and protein in hand to see us through the night. Arriving at the pub 10mins after the appointed deadline, my pathetic smile and hungry look “I know we’re late, but we’d happily eat ANYTHING!” yielded two plates of fish and chips. From famine to feast – happy days and a big thank you to the proprietor at The Newfield Inn.

More kudos – this time for Steve, Boece, and everyone else who’s been involved in the refurbishment of High Moss. It’s even more palatial than ever, as well as still being in a great spot off the beaten track in this beautiful part of the world!

… And we had it all to ourselves!

Grim and drizzly the following  morning, and plans for Dow or Esk Buttress were quickly shelved. Hardknott crag seemed to offer some hope of dry rock, but another slog back over the Pass found it in deep clag. Pike o’ Blisko was similarly blighted, but then we came up with the genius plan (aka last desperate throw of the dice) of Hodge Close. It’s years since I last visited and I’d forgotten what an imposing hole in the ground it is! Imagine what it must have been like coming here to work back in the day!

I’d half expected other teams to have the same idea, but we were the only climbers. No evidence of a  renaissance following the publication of the new Slate and Sport Lakes guidebook – barely a dab of chalk to be seen amongst the cobwebs.

Jake selected Through the Looking Glass, E2 5c, to reacquaint himself with slate – highly unlikely looking from below, with a long traverse taking in the obvious roof along the way. This succumbs to balance rather than brute strength (there aren’t really any holds to haul on!) and interest is maintained up the groove and cracks above. No giveaway but very good.

We had a look at Limited Edition, E4 6a, but the general dampness and threatening rain (note the cag in the photos above) suggested this would be better left for a future visit. Instead, I did the classic Behind the Lines, HVS, which is very worthwhile.

… Before rain finally stopped play! Not the biggest haul of E-points from a two-day Jake and Dad trip, but scored well on the “E-points per dry hour” yardstick, and more than we had any right to hope for from such a barmy (not balmy!) August. Bring on the Indian Summer!

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