Lakes Festival of Climbing: Under Pressure (1027mb) and Wide Hell Fetish

© Mick Ryan -

Under Pressure (1027mb) by Martin Kocsis

Martin Kocsis at the top of Seathwaite Buttress at Seathwaite Crag
© Mick Ryan -
Ten years ago, I knew the score. If my department passed the special measures of Ofsted then the school was Good and we were all saved. If it didn't, the bullying headteacher made it clear to me that I was fucked. As my teaching team hunkered down for the day, I gazed out of the classroom window. I reflected that being indoors on a glorious June morning was no place to be under this much pressure. At such times, you can choose to be fatalistic: In the end, who cares? In the end, what does it matter? In the end, whatever. This is a temporary reprieve from the pressure. It's like those moments when the dentist removes his drill and you think there'll be no more uncertainty, and the possibility of pain has gone.

Max Biden at Brandy Crag
© Mick Ryan -

This time, the score was not so clear. The outcome was doubtful, but the consequences less life threatening. Events for climbers are demanding to organise and, had it gone to pot, I would not have had to go down with the ship. These things depend on good weather and good will, and they need good people with honest intentions behind the scenes. With certain recent events I was unsure that there was much good will towards me. I felt alone in trackless terrain looking for the support I had assumed would have been there from the start: I was hoping for some sort of epiphany. In the end, it took the climbers who turned up in force and with good cheer to show me that the things we did were Good, and that people loved us for it.

My team in the Lakes had chosen the Duddon Valley for their first BMC Lakes Festival of Climbing. My Welsh team had shown what was possible with two successful Tremadog Festivals, and a Gogarth festival poster that triumphantly upset and angered dozens of people. I had emails about that Puffin with the giant erection.

Camping at Turner Hall Farm
© Mick Ryan -

Many things could go wrong, but only a few needed to go right. With 48hrs to go, there was little left to do but wait for the Great What If Tormentor to visit. What if I had done this or that extra thing? What if I had emailed every club in the north of England? What if it was Monday and it could all just be over? But on Friday evening we were all there, “locked in” and unable to escape whatever was steaming towards us. It was hard to tell how anyone felt. It was easy to get involved in setting up frame tents, preparing the propaganda and buying all the chocolate digestives from the village store. However, I caught various people glancing skywards, and twisting their faces into “I really hope....” frowns.

Dave Thornley on Yellow Slab, Scafell
© Tom Hull
In the end, the quiz & the raffle, the rain & the sun, the tea & the biscuits, the midges and the music and the beer and the laughter swept us along on a wave of human warmth. I spent a memorable half day at Brandy Crag with a team so friendly and chilled out that Dolly, our Husky of Doom, didn't attack anyone all afternoon. This says much about the positive atmosphere. Its heart warming to be able to say that everyone came away from our event feeling better and with fine memories and good stories to tell. For me, driving off back to Manchester through the peaceful morning birdsong of a deserted Duddon Valley, it was a masterstroke of redemption.

Martin salutes the real heroes of the Festival: Carissa Lough (Big Chief), Ewen Turner (website), James Bumby (camping & catering), Ellie Fowler (local promotion), Polly Sullivan (live music), Tom Ripley (enthusiasm and ideas), Tom Dixon (sponsors), Al Phizacklea (topos & credibility), Mick Ryan (national publicity, topos & good sense), Chris Plant & Mark “Dez“ Walker (quiz) and Dolly (not killing anything)

He also wants to thank Climber magazine for the support it gave to the Festival, and to the mighty Noddy from DMM, Ed from Boreal, the FRCC, lakesCLIMBER and Needlesports all made significant contributions to the love. The Dead Letters and Supacuba are on Myspace.

Wide Hell Fetish With Young Spring Chicken at The Lakes Festival of Climbing.

By Mick Ryan

Wallowbarrow Crag, actually quite good. © Sarah Clough
I can't really fathom why anyone would actually climb on Wallowbarrow Lower Crag never mind actually put it in a guidebook. I hadn't thought that when quickly putting together Al Phizacklea's topos in a little Mini-guide for the Lakes Festival of Climbing. It actually looked OK from Al's photos and lines, but guidebooks sometimes lie, I should know.

Reality: uphill with a heavy sack, bushwhacking through thick temperate scrub and woodland and they weren't joking, killer ants, everywhere, in your socks and underwear, and the midges were as big as bumble bees and as persistent as New England black flies in the spring. I'm sure that hiding in the undergrowth was the Duddon Valley equivalent of infamous Mojave Green, a poisonous flying snake that inhabits the approaches to classic canyon routes in Nevada's Red Rocks.

My mood was dark. I hadn't even drunk that much at the Newfield Inn the night before. Why would anyone climb here when we all have a thousand classics to climb? Has anyone actually climbed at Wallowbarrow Lower? Twenty foot sections, if that, of dirty and licheneous rock split by jungle ledges infested with all kinds of creepy crawlies. Should have gone to one of the few decent crags in the area, Burnt Crag for example, solid clean rock, no trees and good climbing.

I used to be an incorrigible optimist. What happened? Could always make the best out of the bad. I blame that on many things, some too private to divulge, but not least a reason is that I'm getting infected by the collective neurosis that infects the inhabitants of the UK; the national obsession with money, property, gossip, celebrity, tv, things, status, cars, what others think of you, and the overcrowding topped by the darn weather of course. Ten years under desert skies and no one for miles has a habit of freeing your mind and yes your ass, your sorry arse, will follow. Weekends out climbing are a relief from this as we all know.

Mick attemping to second me through a chimney
© cider nut
What was this young girl thinking squirming up this off-width in a pair of shorts. Madness. Sarah Clough, Cider Nut to some, never did ask why, never saw her drinking cider; a bit grade obsessive, in 'training' for Red Rocks, talks a lot but to her credit an aficionado of the off-beat and the esoteric, a typical English climbing eccentric. A group of us, including Sarah and the infamous Tom Ripley, had failed to get to Dow the day before.

Team Dow, rain stopped play.
© Mick Ryan -

Started out fine enough but once on the tops it was February, yes the rain was nearly freezing. Time to put up an umbrella. The afternoon was saved however, the sun came out, and there was good company and good rock at Brandy Crag. Bob Curry cruising up his first E4, the white wizard of Little Langdale was present, Amelia from Boulder Colorado over for a conference about free newspapers that help the homeless, a whole crew of climbers enjoying the rough and solid rock; when we had finished Dave Noddy of DMM supplied us all with a beer back at the forestry road as we chatted and enjoyed the pastoral view of the Duddon.

Bob Curry of Kendal onsighting his first E4, Duddon Challenge, at Brandy Crag, Duddon Valley, Cumbria.

Sarah Clough climbing the initial chimney of Un-named Diff (5.6)
© Mick Ryan -

There was no way I was setting up this off-width chimney though, I knew the topo was wrong and I had some new pants that I didn't want to scuff. Sarah was a trooper, shot up the initial fissure like a rat up a spout. She is a self-proclaimed 'through route' specialist though, mumbles of satisfaction at the initial chimney turned to shouts of ecstasy as she discovered another fat crack with three chockstones, and guess what, rather than climb on the outside she morphed into a speleologist, got up and dirty, and went inside fissure. Whatever turns you on. I'm a bit fatter than her (I was carrying our shoes too) and when I reached the second chimney try as I might I couldn't squeeze inside and follow the Cider Nut. I had to clip in, untie, and Sarah threw the ropes down the outside and I tied back in. Solid 5.6.

Sarah said:

"5.6 my foot! I don't know my American gradings much but you give me too much credit. It was way easier than Monolith Crack on Clogwyn y Tarw/Gribin Facet - Severe, and easier than Window Slit at the Dewerstone - VDiff, both of a similar ilk."

Welsh and Devon grades Sarah are notoriously soft.

Sarah's account as recounted to Al Phizacklea:

"No name VD.

Anita Gray at Brandy Crag
© Mick Ryan -
We intended on doing "Last Man Standing / Harry Patch" HS (I think that's what it was called), from your photo (all we had to go on). I decided it started up the chimney on the right hand side of the leaning flake - "your pitch then" says Mick (he predicted E2, I predicted VD - think I was right, hehe).

From the top of the flake I proceeded up the groove to the vegetated ledge. On checking a guidebook later, this is basically the first pitch of Yspytty, but starting up the right of the flake not the left. I had intended to bring Mick up here, so didn't have the topo to check where LMS/HP was meant to go next, but I got totally drawn by the chimney, which looked like it would go as a 'through route' if I headed in between the second and third chock stones (I love that kind of thing).

So I carried on up. From the guidebook later, I think this is the variation second pitch of Hangover. So to summarise, I think we did a combination of three different routes (going at VDiff), but it seemed like the natural line to me, and might be worth inclusion if you want to 'sell' the crag. (Martin and Anita's really didn't like Leprechaun - they though it was undergraded technically too).

I make it my mission to seek out through routes so I've done a few, and I really rate this one - it had nice moves all throughout with a mixture of exposure and confinement, enough gear (not much on the first udge part but you can't really slip out, and the chock stones in the top chimney are bomber) and is a logical line that doesn't meander, and I personally would give it two stars (and I'm normally pretty stingy on the star stakes) although others may disagree. The crux is probably the move onto the vegetated ledge, although perhaps that would improve if it was cleaned. “

There's hope for British climbing yet and her name is Sarah Clough. She'll piss up Epinephrine, the infamous Red Rock chimney climb she plans to climb this October. Just kidding about the Mojave Green.

What a cracking weekend though. My friend, Fat Elvis, took two lads from Manchester on their first outdoor rock climbs, single pitch Saturday, multi-pitch Sunday. Anita Gray cruised a Very Difficult in fine style. Tom Hull and Dave Thornley went up to the East Buttress of Scafell and did the three star Yellow Slab on one of those perfect days when the air is clear, the light celestial and sun set orange over the Irish Sea. Ann at the bar asked when the next one will be. Chris Plant's quiz was far too hard. Is Franco Cookson Italian? Two Geordie lads had one of their first outdoor jaunts. I'm sure you have a story to tell. Thank you to all involved and thank goodness it wasn't this wet weekend just gone.

© Mick Ryan -

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23 Jun, 2008
I enjoyed this article - and, organising events as I do, I totally feel for Martin! His description of pre-event trepidation is worryingly familiar to me. Looked like a great weekend - I'd have been there but I'd been up to the Duddon valley the weekend before, basking in the sunshine (sorry!).
23 Jun, 2008
You obviously didn't look hard enough then! Couple of errors?: speologist should be speleologist? Photo comment should be VDiff not Diff? Hmmm! You can't jest like that, people will be false impressions and expect me to be able to climb stuff other than easy chimneys :S
23 Jun, 2008
Agreed, Martin's a star for all the extra effort he puts into stuff! Plenty of enthusiasm for the cause.
23 Jun, 2008
It's not about difficulty or the grade.
23 Jun, 2008
Good article guys, where should we have the next one? You didn't put those ridicous photos of me on the Dow walk in up - Thank god! Mr Ryan also fails to mention that he got rained off Dow too.
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