VIDEO: A Winter Ascent of Botterill's Slab by Dave Birkett

Dave Birkett has had a long association with Scafell and the Lake District. Here he recounts two of his winter ascents of Botterill's Slab high on Scafell. Dave describes the nuances and fickle nature of winter climbing in the Lakes, as well as entertaining us with a video of him 'groaning and moaning' up the tight unprotected chimney of the third pitch.

Botterill's Slab is "one of the best winter routes in the Lakes" and is given a modern grade of V,6.

More historical information on the route is below, including an excellent video from Alison Stockwell.

Dave Birkett cranks frozen moss on Botterrill's Slab  © Andy Hyslop
Dave Birkett on a thin Botterill's Slab in 2003 © Andy Hyslop

A Winter Ascent of Botterill's Slab

By Dave Birkett

I first did Botterill's Slab in winter with Andy Hyslop in January 2003. Conditions were thought to be good that year, but they weren't really; they were lean and mean and the top pitch wasn't in condition. Good conditions on Scafell are rare and fickle even in a good winter - even though it is high. But there again conditions are always fickle in the Lakes. Most know you have to grab what you can, when you can.

Fast forward to early 2009 and it was freezing at Hollow Stones, but not below. The crag was completely covered white, covered like you have never seen it before.

We got 20m below the crag and it was out of this world. As soon as we saw Botterill's Slab we knew we had to do it. It's one of the best winter routes in the Lakes. During the summer it takes the slab, in the winter you stick to the corner and chimney.

The first part of the second pitch is the crux. The chimney pitch, the third pitch is horrific. I did it leashless which helps, as you put an axe on your shoulder if need be, rather than letting it hang from your wrist - in the way. It's a narrow tight squeeze and there is no room to swing axes and no gear. It's a squirm, full body tension. Mary said there was lots of groaning and moaning as I got some gear around the chockstone. I hope you enjoy the video below.

VIDEO: Botterill's Slab in 2009 with Dave Birkett, Mary Jenner and Andy Mitchell.

PHOTO GALLERY: Dave Birkett on Botterill's Slab in 2009

The mighty Scafell Crag on a midsummer evening. Climbers can be seen on Botterill's Slab.  © Gordon Stainforth
The mighty Scafell Crag on a midsummer evening. Climbers can be seen on Botterill's Slab.
Gordon Stainforth, June 1992
© Gordon Stainforth
Introducing her short film on the first ascent of Botterill's Slab (embedded below), Alison Stockwell writes:

"In June 1903 Fred Botterill did the first ascent of the climb now known as Botterill's Slab.

This climb, on Scafell in the English Lake District was one of the first to be graded Very Severe, and unusually for a climb of that era it still maintains that grade today. It was climbed with an ice axe which Botterill used to clear moss and grass from the holds. He famously carried this implement in his teeth until he inadvertently left it behind, and in an attempt to hook it with his foot, sent it tumbling to the base of the climb. Botterill also reported that during the ascent he raised his hat to a passing lady, as was the custom of the day."

The first winter ascent of Botterill's slab also utilised an ice axe of course, but by all accounts there was no passing lady. The first claim was by Al Phizacklea and D Kay on February 14th 1984, however in the FRCC's Lake District Winter Climbs guidebook evidence is documented that the first winter ascent may have occurred in 1907 by Geoffrey Winthrop Young and, as the route is now given a modern grade of V,6 "it would have been a remarkable achievement by England's finest Edwardian alpinist."

VIDEO: Botterill's Slab by Alison Stockwell

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2 Nov, 2009
Also featured in this article is the video: Botterill's Slab by Alison Stockwell .... a reenactment of the first ascent, first climbed in 1903 by Fred Botterill.
2 Nov, 2009
I found the re-enactment video in particular really interesting. Looks like a well thought-out re-enactment. It's an interesting point that I now habitually carry a long ice axe when summer climbing on the West Face of Aonach Dubh, as I find that many of the more neglected ridges there require the cleaning of turf or mud from holds. Perhaps in some cases not a great deal has changed.
3 Nov, 2009
Fantastic. I've done one winter route in the Lakes in similar conditions and it was brilliant - a shame it doesn't get that blootered with snow more often. Alex - hope your Aonoch Dubh face doesn't provide any rare flora habitat!
3 Nov, 2009
looks like good shape that day :O) soon be back
3 Nov, 2009
I take it that the 3 similar photos are of the first pitch, but I can't recall a chimney at the top? But it was damp and very misty (and greasy) when we did it.
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