Pillar Rock – Round 2 – Technical Knockout
Around 14 months ago, me and my climbing partner Mike, attempted to ascend the only peak in England you could not walk to, Pillar Rock, however we were beaten by a combination of having constant drizzle on the day, making the rock unclimbable, and taking too much weight in with us. Last year we took in a full tent, wet food and far too much gear we would never use. Camping on a 15% slope on the Ennerdale side of Pillar, about 450m up, was an experience as well, with you hearing the wind shoot up the valley well before it tried to blow you off the hill.
This year we geared up properly with the large tent rejected for light one man tents and bivi bags, and lightening up on food and climbing gear, with us leaving 3 sets of nuts and hex’s behind compared to last year. We planned to camp as close to Pillar Rock as we could so given the right conditions we could get 2 good days climbing in, and hopefully 4 or 5 routes.
What we also learned from last year was the walking up 2 hills is too much if you are going to climb later in the day, so the route over Honister Pass from Buttermere, going up the face of Pillar from Ennerdale was rejected in favour of the walk in from Wasdale Head, up the Blacksail Pass, and a traverse walk on the Ennerdale side of Pillar.
The fun started when driving over Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass, the first time I had experienced this particular section of road, and its an experience having to use first gear all the way for both the uphill and downhill sections. However once you are pass this, then its not far to the stunning valley of Wasdale. Its the first time I have visited this valley, and its one of the most beautiful I have seen in the Lake District.
We started the walk up to Pillar Rock about 10am, with the easy undulating path up along side Mosedale Beck, at which point we didn’t think the 3 stone packs were too heavy. However when we reached the point where Blacksail Pass starts we soon came to wish that we had cut back on weight even further. After about 2 hours we were at the top of the pass, and after a well deserved rest we moved up onto the ridge for 1/2 a mile until we diverted off to the traverse walk to Pillar Rock.
Up to this point the weather has remained dry despite the forecasts, however about halfway along the traverse walk it started to shower on and off, despite this we still hoped it would stop, however 40 minutes later when we reached Pillar Rock, it was time for wet weather gear. We decided to hang around and see if the rain would stop, however 45 minutes or so later it was obvious that it wasn’t going to improve any time soon, and that we had to go for it or not, foolishly we went for it.
I lead the first pitch of Slab and Notch (which due to the damp conditions included the scramble to the slab), using a combination of cams and good nut placements I moved across to the first slab, joined at the top and moved carefully down the slab with a solid large cam in a crack at the top. As I moved across the slab, a couple of directional small nuts covered me before I moved into the second section of the slab and after an easy crossing with a nut for protection, I got to the end of the slab and set up an early belay point, comprising of a sling and a nut, which in hindsight was not as solid as I thought it was.
Mike came across to me, cleaning as he went along, with no major problems. He then went to move up the wall to get to the start of the notch section, this proved alkward as we had kept our boots on rather than use rock shoes, due to the condition of the rock. This was also due to us underestimating the difficulty of an ‘M’ graded route in the wet. After an tentative left foot jam, he made it up and had the second short wall to get to the belay point for the actual notch to the top of Pillar Rock. The second short wall was well protected and after a few minutes of looking for a good foot placement in conditions he was up and setting up a belay with 2 cams in some nice looking cracks. However from what happened next, we have now decided to have at least 1 bit of passive protection at a belay in the future.
I followed up the two walls to the base of the notch, cleaning as I went, a bit scrambly in parts due to the wet. At this point we really should have turned back, but we carried on. I was due to lead the notch, so I swapped gear and started to lead up the short wall at the base of the notch. It was an alkward stance with greasy foot holds, and about 1-1.5 metrs above the ledge I decided to place a large cam, however getting its position right took a bit of time, a bit too much time!
Before even realising it, I had slipped off the rock, and was passing Mike upside down with a surpised look on my face. I came to a stop about 3 metres belong the belay ledge and about half a metre above a small grassy ledge. I looked up still dangling on the rope to see Mike had been dragged over the edge of the ledge and was now holding me on belay while hanging. He lowered me to the ledge and I got a solid placement, while he tried to regain the belay ledge, it wasn’t helped by the damp undergrowth and rock. We were wary of putting too much pressure on the system, as we were down to 1 cam holding us in place, as one had popped on the fall, and who’s wires were looking in a bit of a sorry state now. After about 5 minutes of careful movement he regained the ledge, put in some extra protection and I came up a nearby neighbouring gulley. Once at the top we decided that Pillar Rock would wait for another day.
I had however left the large cam on the ledge where I had been trying to place it before I fell.
I did a reverse lead down the 2 small faces and across the slab, placing gear so Mike could decend the alkward bits while taking gear out as he came down. After about 1/2 hour and 2 belays by myself, we reached the bags, and packed up the now very damp gear. At this point we decided to move to Plan B, this was if we were not going to do 2 days climbing, we could ascend to Pillar, and then take the walk out via Black Sail pass or complete the Mosedale Horseshoe. Black Sail pass won.
It was ironic that after we decided to head up to pillar and back to Wasdale, the rain stopped for the rest of the day and night, but by then the rock would have out of condition until well into saturday.
It took us about three and a half hours to get back to the Wasdale Head Inn, eventually arriving at about 8pm, and after pitching the three man tent we had left in the car in case Plan B had to used, we retired to the pub and sampled as many of their own brews as we could. I recommend them all. About 10pm we retired to the tent for a three course meal of cup a soup, balti rice and flapjacks, washed down with southern comfort and whisky.
The next morning we were aching too much from the previous days walking, so took the easy option of window shopping in Ambleside and an early drive home to avoid the busy part of the day. It also didn’t help that I tweaked my ankle on the walk down and was now swollen up, and that I could just about bend one finger, which must have tweaked as I came off the rock. Thankfully after couple of days both have healed.
So next year, its Round Three and hopefully this time we will make it to the top.