The Downfall Hype

Once in a blue moon Kinder Downfall freezes over and turns into the Peak District's premier ice climbing venue. The social media hype was incredible, so Rory Southworth decided to check it out...

The hype was unreal. The rumours, the messages, the social media buzz.

Then boom, a photo.

Then another and another until I couldn't escape from seeing the Kinder Downfall in elusive winter condition plastered all over my social media feed.

Preparing for a big day ahead., 166 kb
Preparing for a big day ahead.
© Jessie Leong

Not wanting to miss out on this once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity, but equally realising that I had left my ice screws at my parents' home and my helmet at my house in the North West, I set about trying to borrow gear. Luckily Sheffield is a great place to try and borrow gear from climbers and by the end of the evening I left the pub with a rack of screws and a helmet.

With the snow still falling in the city the night before, we set about planning and decided on a longer walk-in to ensure the bad weather wouldn't affect the roads we planned to travel on. We plotted the route, packed our bags and prepared breakfast for an alpine start on Saturday morning.

Arriving in Edale, we headed up Jacob's Ladder and onto Kinder Low, the biting wind forcing me to put a second pair of mitts on. The wind stung my hands every time I took my mitt off to take a photo. At the top of Red Brook, we started to descend, down-climbing the short ice section before wading through deep snow for the majority of the gully.

Approaching the Downfall., 149 kb
Approaching the Downfall.
© Jessie Leong

As we joined the now well-worn snow track up towards Kinder Downfall, we started to see others heading towards the frozen falls. The anticipation was high and with the visibility so low that we were unable to see the ice fall until we were right below it! A group of teams queueing and chatting lined the base, with some hikers watching on the ledge below. The mood was jovial, as coffee was shared and jokes made.

My nerves kicked in as I realised it had been over two years since I last ice climbed. I looked around at the hardened climbers, in well-used gear and helmets that didn't look borrowed. I sank back, suddenly doubting if I should be here, worrying if I would even be able to climb the Downfall.

I watched the teams before us, eyeballing every axe placement and mentally noting the moves and screw placements. My confidence increased with each climber, until my turn came to lead and I felt nothing but excitement for the first ice pitch. I stepped up to the wall, put in my first ice screw and ascended, hooking my way up the well-travelled route and enjoying every move.

The Kinder Downfall in rare winter nick., 134 kb
The Kinder Downfall in rare winter nick.
© Jessie Leong

The second pitch is an exposed traverse to a good belay ledge. This is where the three routes combine making it a pretty busy point, with everyone clambering to claim something to belay off. The final ice pitch is short but enjoyable, and I top-out to a group of bemused hikers taking photos and watching as the climbers appeared from the frozen falls. Packing up our gear, the realisation that we still had a 10km walk-out in the dark forced us to push on without time to really enjoy the moment.

In an attempt to make it off the Kinder plateau before the darkness descended, we squeezed the last of our energy out to produce a little jog. We were ladened with heavy bags and stiff boots made moving quickly difficult, but the idea of being on the hill any longer forced us on.

The author contemplating his next move., 177 kb
The author contemplating his next move.
© Jessie Leong

Back at the bottom of Jacob's Ladder we accepted we could not escape the darkness anymore and put on our headtorches, slowing down the pace now that we were in the comfort of the valley and sheltered from the wind. The long day and big effort was getting to us, now that we were out of water and food. The pace lowered to a silent plod.

In the valley, I proposed we take the road, rather than the fields to increase the pace and shave some time off the day. With the road practically empty due to the snow, we made great progress and in no time we could see the car. As we shrugged off our sacks to feel unburdened, a wave of tiredness from a real mountain day came over us.

We sunk into our seats and gulped down the water we left in the car. Checking the time we realised we had been on the move for 13 hours. It was worth the sore feet and aching shoulders to experience the Kinder Downfall in winter and the buzz surrounding it.

The hype was justified.

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