Gallivanting on Gable
An ascent of Arrowhead Ridge direct
The lady wasn’t particularly happy. I had dragged her to magnificent Wasdale with the promise of mountain grandeur and there we were with the heights cloaked in clag and invisible. When the lady is unhappy I am too so it was with a curmudgeonly bent that I trudged up the path towards Sty Head with aching legs and a sorrowful heart. So wrong did it seem to be so miserable in Wasdale that I was also afflicted with an enormous dose of guilt and confusion; how could I be in the land of Lakeland giants and yet at the same time be in such a funk? Not since the occasion when Juggs and I came back down to the valley to find our tents destroyed by a violent tempest had I know such disconsolation. Things could only get better, and in due course they did.
So, our fortunes took an almighty turn when out of the blue, or should I say grey, a brief parting in the cloud revealed a sight that in a stroke lifted our spirits and vanquished any thoughts of misery and woe. Yes, up above we did see a vision which made the strong blood flow, the Napes Ridges of Great Gable. Soon we walked not in clammy opacity but warm October sunshine with the big hills hereabouts on parade and vying for our attention. They would have to wait for another day though, for we were bound for the birthplace of British climbing.
Before long we found our way onto the climber’s traverse, passing beneath historic landmarks one by one until we collapsed in an untidy heap below our chosen climb, Arrowhead Ridge Direct. I was pleased with what I saw there, the lady was not, complaining that she wanted to climb, not scramble with the seed of my protestations falling on infertile ground for even when ensconced at the the first belay I heard rumblings of discontent issuing from below. And then she joined me on my small and airy perch and eyed up her first lead of the day. Her rumblings then turned somewhat unladylike so I won’t repeat them here. Needless to say she her idea’s about our ‘scramble’ were found to be under revision!
High above was the Arrowhead itself, on the top of which the next pitch was due to end but between here and there lay a two tier problem of the most compelling variety. A short wall led to a knife edge and after fiddling in some gear the bouncing one stepped boldly into the unknown and gasped aloud her fears as she wrestled with her nerves, finally finding comfort beneath a small pinnacle. I suggested that we split the pitch and for once she complied without complaint or question. On joining her I collected some protection and climbed onto the pinnacle. Once again I was less than happy.
A steep slab rose to the Arrowhead which overhung alarmingly. My position was very exposed and I took a couple of minutes to gather myself before stepping off the pinnacle and onto the slab. Once committed I was disappointed to find a rather unhelpful collection of holds and certainly not the huge jugs I had hoped for. “Vdiff, more like severe” I was heard to say; the verdict from below was one of concurrence. Beautiful, delicate moves delivered me to within a whisker of the Arrowhead though I choose not to surmount the beast directly and led leftwards to a thin traverse above Arrowhead Gully before finding a fine stance at which to catch my breath. My better half then came up to join me, all the while effing and blinding in disbelief at our situation.
It was at this point I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t scaled the Arrowhead, for between it and the next seemingly hold-less section of ridge lay a deep crevasse which would require an unlikely stride to facilitate further progress. The lady led off again high above Eagle’s Nest Gully and was soon belayed soundly to a hefty block.
Now then, all that lay ahead was a ridge scramble and after our brief but nerve racking pitches of climbing the lady was glad, as was I. I have neglected to mention that we started late and only gained the foot of our route at 3pm so daylight was at a premium if we were to get down before nightfall. However, when finally we reached the top of the climb our eagerness to descend was tempered by a desire to watch the sunset from the heights. Especially when we realised that joy of joys a temperature inversion was rapidly forming, isolating in a sea of cloud the great mountains of Wasdale. We sat in awestruck humility as the sun fell behind Yewbarrow before setting off back down to our sacks, an endeavour not aided by an abortive descent of Arrowhead Gully.
Slowly, we made our way back across the climber’s traverse and as the last glimmer of usable light faltered a large bomber flew below us but above the cloud from the direction of Sty Head Tarn. The sight and sound of this airborne intruder into our dusky mountain heaven made for a surreal juxtaposition of the modern and prehistoric but soon it was gone, leaving us to our own devices in darkness on Gable’s steep scree.