Huw Davies writes about completing the Langdale HVS 3 Star Round in a day with Clive Allen...
A guide for average middle-aged climbers who do a bit of running.
Like many great ideas, this started as a really bad idea. Last summer's amazing weather in the Lakes meant that shaded crags were suddenly, and unusually, much in demand. This led to several visits to Neckband Crag, a location that I had previously dismissed as probably being cold and dirty, but which turned out to be a shaded gift for the HVS to E2 leader; namely somebody like me. While looking at Mithrandir and Glorfindel on UKC, I stumbled across Lakesben's logbook tick list 'Langdale HVS 3-star round – climb them all in a single day' and the seed of a really bad idea was planted.
Initially I dismissed it as being, frankly, too much effort. However, over a number of weeks, the idea germinated enough in my subconscious to mention it to my usual climbing partner, Clive.
Now Clive is an unlikely looking mountain athlete – a mutual friend once described him as 'Like a climber, but without the muscles'. His slim frame doesn't tell the whole story though. A couple of years ago he did a no-nonsense Bob Graham Round, and in his (relative) youth he climbed the NW Face of Half Dome, which basically made his CV for this challenge a lot more convincing than mine!
Alongside his CV qualifications Clive, like me, is what Ken Wilson would have called a puerile ticker, so the idea had appeal and wasn't dismissed out of hand. As a result, in idle moments I started to find myself looking at the Langdale map on my phone, and discovered that the running (Clive and I like to call it running, others watching us may not be so kind) would only be about ten miles. In the usual summer post-crag pub debriefs, Clive and I also began to talk about (still 'hypothetically' at this stage) route order, gear and strategy.
The turning point came when Clive went on summer holiday, forgot he was 55, and in a heroic attempt to demonstrate to his far stronger and more talented teenage son that Dad still 'had it' on rock, ruptured a finger tendon.
Our September evening climbing, when time becomes shorter as the nights begin to draw in, usually entails us trying to temporarily become sport climbers. What this actually looks like is us spending a lot of time hanging off South Lakes limestone routes wondering where the holds are. This was obviously not going to work with a ruptured finger, so some light HVS reconnaissance was suggested. This autumn entertainment resulted in us learning / reminding ourselves of several things:
- With climbing wall fitness, Protus and Tritus-Protus were pretty straight forward
- No matter how fit you are, and what grade you climb, Laugh Not is still bloody hard
- Pluto can be climbed on one rope in two pitches
- Despite living in Kendal for twenty odd years, Clive had never climbed Kipling Groove
This was added to in the spring, when an Easter weekend day on Pavey Ark revealed:
- Golden Slipper can be run as a single 60m pitch on one rope
- The routes we knew nothing about – Cascade and Aquarius – although dirty, were not the esoteric horror shows we were imagining
- You don't actually have to wear crippling rock shoes to climb HVS
- There was a good 'racing line' from Pavey to the top of the mid crag descent on White Ghyll
- There was an equally good descent east and then down the fellside from the top of White Ghyll to behind the Fell and Rock Club hut at Raw Head
Suddenly, the fact that this was going to be attempted had snuck up on us, so in preparation we did a bit more running than usual and I told my long-suffering wife of the plan, (whose instant, and in retrospect, given previous experience, predictable response was "What new gear have you convinced yourself you need to buy?!")
Then, an apparent setback – Clive badly twisted his ankle. This meant that we were unable to make the most of the good spell of weather we had in the spring, but the silver lining was that it gave me the opportunity to run all the route one evening, and discovered that it only took about three hours (although, given the fifteen-years-younger-than-me ski mountaineering racer friend I ran it with, this was considerably faster than Clive and I would be planning to do it.)
Fast forward to Sunday 7th of July - two ankle sprains semi recovered from - (I also twisted mine!) bad weather behind us, weekend work commitments dodged around - and we were ready to go. 5.25am found Clive starting up Mithrandir. 16 hours 20 minutes later we were sat on the top on Raven Crag Walthwaite having just finished Protus. The term 'a day's cragging' would never quite have the same meaning again.
Things I learnt
- You know you are getting tired when you realise that your internal mental IPod has changed from Vivaldi's Four Seasons to Five Finger Death Punch without you noticing
- You know you are hungry when an energy gel (that we all know is just sweetened frogspawn) becomes appetising
- Laugh Not is bloody hard, (did I mention that?)
- Any HVS, when you have already done ten of them, is bloody hard
- If challenging yourself in climbing is sometimes your thing, pushing into the next grade is not the only way to do it
- Climbing trad routes on one rope is a lot easier than a conditioned twin-ropes climber might think
- Modern lightweight gear is fantastic
(This will make a lot more sense if you have working knowledge of the layout of crags and routes in Langdale – if not, grab a map!)
The order we chose was Mithrandir and Glorfindel on Neckband, straight down into Mickleden and along to Raven Crag Langdale. Up Pluto, running the first two pitches together, and then Holly Tree Direct in two pitches with backpacks. From the top of the route, we went up the gully and fellside above Ravens Crag to the New Dungeon Ghyll to Langdale Pikes path, and then cut off this to Gimmer. We scrambled up to Ash Tree Ledge and climb Kipling Groove, with the second carrying both packs. (We took an early belay in the cracks below the pod belay on Kipling Groove to avoid rope drag.) At the top of Gimmer we took a trod rightwards, which popped us out below Harrison Stickle from where we went over the shoulder and traverse to the top of Jack's Rake. We descended to the base of Golden Slipper, which was climbed in one pitch with the second again carrying both sacks. From here, we went off the top of Pavey and down Easy Gully for Cascade and Aquarius on the East Wall. From here we ran around the east end of Stickle Tarn and over to the top of the mid crag descent on White Ghyll, where we left our packs before descending to climb back up Laugh Not. From the top of White Ghyll we ran/bushwhacked for 400m through head-high bracken to come out on the road at Raw Head. Our last section was a run along the road to Raven Crag Walthwaite for Tritus-Protus and Protus.
On a good day we lead E2 with the occasional E3, so HVS is usually reasonably comfortable, but not soloing / moving together / minimal runners comfortable. Therefore, we took a full rack consisting of two sets of wires, a set of cams and twelve quick draws, (eight of these were 4ft slings trebled up.) We just tried to make this as light as possible. We also took a 16ft sling for a runner on what is usually the first Pluto belay, and to speed up the belays at the top of the first pitch of Holly Tree Direct and at the top of Golden Slipper. We took a single 8.5mm triple-rated 60m rope and for clothing wore running gear, fell shoes and took stiff, comfortable rock shoes. Everything went in two running packs.
We chose to run the route as a linear outing rather than a round, as it is not a natural circuit, and it meant that getting up to Neckband is not included in the timing - we started the clock at the bottom of the first route and stopped it at the top of the last.
In terms of the climbing, the first third of Mithrandir and Glorfindel, the top chimney/crack of Cascade and Aquarius, and the first half of Protus and Tritus-Protus are in common with each other. To speed things up this allowed us to leave the gear from the first ascent of these parts of the routes in place for the leader on the second ascent to clip.
We ran on a reasonably warm day carrying a maximum of one litre of water each. Bottles can be refilled in Mickleden, between Gimmer and Harrison Stickle, at the stream into Stickle Tarn and on the descent to Raw Head, although this last one can be a bit dodgy if there has been a lot of dry weather.
Due to work commitments we had to run on a weekend, which meant that our biggest worry was being caught behind other parties. As it happened we didn't, but this was exceptionally lucky. If at all possible, I would try the route on a weekday.
We ran at the beginning of July, which meant we had lots of daylight. This did, however, mean that the bracken had grown to nearly its full height and really slowed us down between White Ghyll and Raw Head in particular. Given the choice (and good enough weather to ensure Neckband was dry), the end of May would give enough daylight with no bracken.
All in all this was a superb day out that made me look at familiar ground in a whole new light, and has really reinvigorated my climbing. If you are looking for a challenge that does not demand superhuman levels of fitness and commitment, but will need some working towards, this may be the really bad idea for you.