Tuesday 28 June 2016

Return of the King

High on Return of the King, E9 6c, Scafell. Photo: Steve Ashworth/Lake District Images

Over the years I’ve repeated several of Dave Birkett’s excellent hard trad routes in the Lake District - If Six Was Nine (E9), Caution (E8), Impact Day (E8) Dawes Rides a Shovelhead (E8) and John Dunne’s route Breathless (E9). But I’d never got myself up to Scafell where Birkett left a trio of E9s that looked fantastic.

To me, Return of the King looked the most appealing line to try first. Last Tuesday I headed down and drove round to Wasdale for the first time. Lovely place! Having observed lots of ‘Vote Leave’ and UKIP banners in many of the Cumbrian villages on the drive round from Keswick, and having overheard several conversations in cafes and shops en route, I walked in with a head full of contemplation about the UK and its future, which at the time I still hoped would be to choose to stay in Europe. With the realisation that the bubble of ‘remain’ support I came from in Scotland was evidently not widely shared in the north of England, the enormity of the week and the prospects for my daughter’s life began to dawn on me.

So my first session on Return of the King was a little distracted. Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself. I sussed out the line, give it a quick clean and top roped it first try after trying the moves once. I was aware that both the previous ascents used preplaced gear and I could see why! The crucial small wire placements were right in the middle of the crux sections. So placing them on lead would basically be the crux of the route.

I had a bit of a cold so decided to take a rest the next day and go up on the Thursday to lead the route. On my rest day I bumped into Steve Ashworth who decided to pop up with his camera, hence the nice pictures!

Next day I dropped Alicia off north of Ambleside for a long run on her Bob Graham round preparation and drove round to Wasdale, with the agreement that we would rendezvous at Scafell and I would do Return of the King. Alicia arrived just as I was having a quick warm-up shunt on the route and I got on the lead straight afterwards.

I’ve only been bouldering and some winter climbing for some time now. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the sharp end on an E9. So I did feel that my normal routine of getting into a very psyched-up mindset for blasting off up a hard route with only a couple of RPs clipped to your harness. It did definitely help that I still had a bit of strength in my arms from the bouldering season. The moves of the route were feeling fine. 

The crux was placing the first crucial RP. I had found a heel hook that allowed me to hang the crimp long enough to get the gear in and clipped before my right arm started to melt. I have a low volume heel and found my left Muira was slightly more secure than my favourite boots (the Otaki). I only have one size of Otaki at the moment but a tighter pair would have worked just fine.

Placing the crucial wire on Return of the King (E9 6c), Scafell. Photo: Steve Ashworth/Lake District Images

The wire went in just fine although in my bubble of psyche I managed to clip the wrong rope into it which meant I had to reverse back down a move or two and sort ropes out. The rest of the pitch went really smoothly and I had plenty in the tank. Placing the second wire on the traverse left wasn’t as hard as I expected. Nice feeling to have some results from my training once again.

I did write a conclusion to this blog post referring to my inevitable linking of this climbing experience to the EU leave. But since I feel rather depressed right now with things outside of climbing, I deleted it. Right now, I will just get on with being alive.

Mid move on the second tricky section of Return of the King (E9 6c), Scafell. Again, the hardest bit was stopping mid moves to place the fiddly wires! Photo: Steve Ashworth/Lake District Images


  1. Nice one Dave. Fair play for placing those wires on lead.
    I also feel deeply depressed, lets hope everything will be ok!

  2. Looking a bit scrawny these days Dave, assuming the special diet is working?

    1. Not feeling that scrawny. Quite a lot more muscle and a quite a lot less fat than 9 months ago. So yes the diets (I've been experimenting with several strategies) are working.

  3. Great stuff, thanks Dave! A nice distraction from current events.