Two more days of sunshine before the September High slipped away, and two psyched climbing companions to go with. It was an easy decision to get back on the M6 south to the lakes for two more days of getting in the big Birkett routes.
Several deadlines were being stretched as usual though, and after the usual 2am finish in the office (in this case to get all the coding sorted out for handling Committed DVD orders from my webshop – available now!) I hopped on the dawn bus south and met Steven Gordon and man of the moment Kev Shields. The warm sunshine lifted our psyche level although the traffic jams quickly cancelled this out. I think I’m settling a little too quickly into Highland life?!
By 1.30pm we jumped out of the car on top of the Honister Pass and headed for Gillercombe Buttress and Birkett’s ‘other’ big unrepeated line Caution E8 6c. In Set in Stone, Birkett tells us that “Caution and If Six Was Nine are harder than anything else I’ve done”. Among the shots of the amazing smooth leaning wall of Caution, Dave also tells us that if he was a newcomer to the UK “it would be the route I’d most want to do in England”. Hence motivation levels were ‘high to hyperactive’ to experience the climb for myself.
Last Friday I had my first session on it by myself in a bitter easterly gale. Linking the crux with numb extremities but still wearing my duvet jacket felt encouraging for getting on the lead on the second day. This time a cool light breeze whistled over the Sunkist Lakeland mountains and all felt very positive.
So I led it. Birkett told me that the name came from the Bob Marley tune Caution which was ringing around his head each time he initiated the hard climbing along a break and he couldn’t commit to the somewhat death defying F8a crimpfest above. Eventually he did of course, and as he says “once you commit on this, that’s it…”
On my lead my mind was silent, as I normally choose as my mental strategy. All I felt was the perfect friction of the crimps under my fingers, the flow on an exquisite sequence of moves. It was a ‘pinch yourself’ moment for me in my climbing life – feeling strong, athletic and confident in a situation that I know would previously have scared the living daylights out of me. I want to have as much of that feeling as possible!
The grade – confirmed E8 6c. No harder as has been suggested, but certainly no easier.
After recent tolerance training, I was able to drink two and a half celebratory pints of lager in Keswick afterwards without feeling ill, my best effort in maybe three years. My all time low was the day I did Rhapsody which necessitated staggering home and much tea after just 1.5 pints.
We even managed to rise at 6am the next morning and sweat it up to Pavey Ark to look at Impact day E9 6c. I’d spent an hour dangling on this a couple of weeks back but the bottom half was soaking. A little font was still dribbling water down the lower wall, but a T-shirt bung soon sorted that out and a couple of hours later I was breathing hard on the lead, grunting through the crux moves. Much safer than Caution, this route is about having the juice left at the top to pull on some fairly small holds (E8 rather than E9 I think). The suspense keeps you psyched right to the last until you get past a mono and a big move into the scoop at the end. The silence of the mountain was broken only by my hard breathing, Steven’s shutter firing off just a few feet away and the distant cries of the Langdale farmers gathering the sheep and taking them down off the high fells for winter.