Friday, 28 September 2012

Twelve Julys

David Craig leads Dexter Wall with creator Bill Peascod on belay.

June ceases to flame and shine with its precise sting like a burning-glass. The huge dry wind that rushed up Wasdale and blew grit into our eyes as we dropped down Broad Stand after balancing up Birkett's immaculate slab, then moved round to the loom of the East Buttress to weave our ways up Phoenix, has died back into the doldrum of July. The exact apex of the watershed between the months occurs at the top of Bill Peascod's Long Tom on Grey Crag, Birkness Combe.

On a rasping April day I had sat by the fire in the Fell and Rock hut on the eastern slope of Buttermere and scanned the route book line by line. Work on the Buttermere guide was just getting under way and who knew what neglected crannies might come to light in the ballpen jottings — some facetious, some jubilant, some plain factual — by the generations of members? On page 15 I read that on 19 March 1953 A. J. J. Moulam and J. M. Barr had added a new second pitch to Long Tom: 'Take the steep crack up the L wall, awkward exit. Then step L onto face again to finish on easy ridge.' When I mention this to Bill, he agrees that the route 'needed straightening out' — a rare concession for one fiercely proud, and rightly so, of his lines.

As June expires and July begins to brood, I hike up into the Combe with Cameron Self, an excellent young poet from Norwich, who had tried to break upwards out of the flatlands as a student at Hull by joining the climbing club, but had rarely, he says, done more than 'stand about in Langdale, looking up at Raven Crag in the rain'. Now he is gazing all around him at the massive shoulders of the Buttermere Fells, the lake shrinking to a large-scale map below us, the vistas up Honister and down Crummock Water. The scene is a little greyed and blurred by a moistening air-stream which the corrie seems to be sucking in and exhaling in great breaths. Before we move round to reconnoitre the 'new' finish to Long Tom, an imposing VS detains us — not a common thing on Grey, which Wilfred Noyce truly described as 'sunsplashed and restful' with 'fine possibilities of gymshoe wandering'.

That was in 1940. Soon Dexter Wall and Fortiter had announced a bolder approach to Grey. Just after the War two climbers mentioned in no other List of First Ascents found this handsome pitch at the very corner of Mitre Buttress. To the left of the comfortable, slabby tracts explored by A. C. Pigou and his Cambridge young men during the Great War, a dark wall leans over the scree chute. You step left on to it and at once your centre of gravity trembles uncomfortably; balancing demands a concentration of the will. A staircase of ledges rears abruptly towards the skyline. The edges are good and positive but each riser is steep enough to ease you remorselessly outwards until you mantel on to the next tread. At the top I take off my new JB helmet, bought to replace the trusty item which the past decade has crunched and cracked beyond usefulness, and perch it on the stance beside me to let my head cool off. As I bring up Cameron, a gust lifts through the gully, snatches up my Helmet and lobs it down the 100 ft drop into the scree, which it hits with a clunk like the tortoise hitting Aeschylus on the skull (it killed him). When I retrieve it, the shattered white blaze on the scarlet paint is as big as a boiled egg and I rarely wear it again.

By the time we reach Long Tom, via Harrow Wall and the lovely stretching delicacies of Suaviter, not only the crag but also everything else is grey — the scree fans, the lowering clouds, the metallic surfaces of the twin lakes, which dim and vanish and reappear through hill fog like dry steam. Four hundred feet of climbing has set off that lovely flow when you feel you could climb through sunset and midnight to next day's dawning. I climb Long Tom's lower parts a little faster than the fog, which is now filling tidally. Subtle holds entice the fingers upwards; it would all be rated excellent if a mucky gully did not lour in from the right, leaking and oozing. It is Tom's fault: he turns out to be a surly stone gnome who pees his bed continually — uncomfortable for him but he does not mind as long as he spites us. He stands at the back of a square stance close-carpeted with turf. Above his head is a dirty vault, its stones jammed unconvincingly together. Cameron comes up and we speculate about how much help the gnome will be if we stand on his head (as Bill recommends in the guidebook) and 'ascend the bulge above, treating some doubtful blocks with care.' It looks like a bad joke — a malign gnomic wheeze, much harder than 'Severe (hard)' and much more rickety than it must have been when Bill and G. G. MacPhee (pioneer of Gimmer Crack and Deer Bield Crack) explored it 30 years ago.

I hug the gnome, paw at the blackened flanges, back down and wipe my hands on my trousers. Just below us the image of the combe has wiped as blank as a switched-off television. Greyish tendrils blow upwards past us. Cameron's long face (he is a professional pessimist) has taken on the look of one who does not expect to see Norfolk again in this life. We seem to be standing like the last two people in the world, marooned on the top of a skyscraper as the waters rise.

I edge along the wall above the stance and feel round the arete. Is this what Moulam meant? My fingers curl round a knobby jug. Here is the acme of commitment — a move into the unseen and unknown. But Moulam and Barr left their frail clue and Moulam's rock-sense was, on his record, as fine as anyone's. I step up, grip, swing round. It is technically comfortable, only the swimming white blindness of everything makes it awesome. It is not hard to perch in balance and spy out the next moves upwards, and they are imposing. A clean-cut crack splits the wall, homing on a niche, cleaving on into the cloudy upper reaches. I jam with both my hands and they lodge like dovetails. Pull up, smear with the feet, pull up, jam a toe. It feels more like gritstone climbing, but the hands suffer less. A faintly precarious half-mantel gets me into the niche; step up and jam and lay-away with growing ease until the crag lies back into a rickle of boulders.

Tied on, I look out into an ocean of wool. Cameron's voice reaches me like the last faint calls of a castaway as his ship recedes. When he calls up, 'What do you do?' and I shout back, 'Jam it — it's really solid —easier than it looks', his reply floats up, 'I've never jammed!' For some minutes I play himlike a fish, gauging his progress or resistance by the tension of the rope. But it is no good: he is perceiving the wall as impassable. After a shouted conference I set up an abseil and swing down the gully, pendule out on to the face to retrieve my gear, and in half an hour we are crunching downwards to Gatesgarth under the sombre overcast.

From now on it is no good expecting the radiance of high summer. The sycamore and hawthorn leaves are darkening from the luminous lettuce-green of their youth last month; the verges of the tracks, and the canal towpath near home, are filling up with the surly leafage of nettles; thickets of rose-bay willow herb have replaced the white lacework of cow-parsley and may-blossom; the fell-sides have grown a scaly hide of bracken. Advancing middle-age and natural melancholia alert me slightly prematurely to the signs that the British summer is levelling out, beginning to fray and sag, too heartbreakingly soon after its. prime. But Bill and I defy all this on a clammy 6th July at Shepherd's when the sky is more white than blue, the sweat won't evaporate, and we climb all day coated in it as though buttered ready for grilling. 510 ft of rock, scarcely a move below 4B, our combined ages 114: by the end we are wearied by the continual coiling and uncoiling and downward clattering on slatey paths but utterly attuned and content.

We start up North Crag Buttress, which has intrigued Bill for 30 years, since he put up Eve. His climbing diary for 11 August 1951 claims proudly for that route: 'This is the first ascent of North Buttress', boldly underlined in ink. He never attempted the awkward, chunky, frontal line of the Buttress itself, which took the best efforts of the next wave, three years later. It has been daunting me for years, the fault of the old guide from the far-off days when you were allowed to describe climbs and use words like `green' and 'dubious-looking' to evoke the rock itself. The Buttress has not quite become one of my pet challenges, grimacing at me in the small hours of the morning (like Sword of Damocles and Perhaps Not and Deer Bield Buttress and Cenotaph Corner and The Link on Lochnagar and...). But I have always known it is there, demanding to be tackled, as I slink past to easier things. As I work my way up the long first pitch, it is like learning to climb again — how steep a facet will support the feet by friction alone, how cramped a hold (three fingers' breadth? Two?) will be enough to pull up on? Little blackened saw-edges have to be trusted, the occasional small hex lodged none too securely. I'm never at ease, never enjoying myself, until the crucial traverse back right faces me with a long stride supported by nothing better than a finger or two stuck into a hole with broken lips.

Now I have played myself in, the previous 80 ft have charged me up and reminded me vividly what good traction can be got on little features. Confidence wells as palpably as the tide filling up an inlet, and I step and pull, step and pull with. the good feeling of singing in tune until I am perched on the eyrie of the stance and I can look out with cleansed, rejuvenated vision across the reaches of Derwentwater, oyster-grey and silky under an opaque sky.

Bill has called up more often than usual `What's it like?', and I've been answering, less sunnily than usual, 'Not easy... quite awkward... sharp but thin,' and other breathless ambiguities. On vertical moves he is liable to call up 'Take my weight!', and I never do, and he never needs it, but today the familiar shout makes me fear more keenly than usual that this might be a route when his heart, damaged by a massive coronary ten years before, suddenly gives way and leaves him dangling from my Sticht-plate. But all goes happily and he joins me on the stance in high good-humour at following the redoubtable line at last. The first 100 ft of it, anyway. Now `Step left and ascend the overhanging groove.' How quickly said, barely a line of print. I have been craning doubtingly up at it, I know it will put a brake on me, and it does. You stand under the mouth of a passage like a leaded valley in a slate roof. It is defended by an eave. Move the feet up, sway back, eel over, reach up, pull up (all this in fantasy, you understand) — on what? The valley sides are smooth as the hull of a foundering ship must look to those cast overboard.

 In the joint up there a thick old hand-forged peg, or so it looks, offers its eye, big enough for a finger, asking for a krab and a sling, round which the desperate hand could clench... I must not do that — I will not do that — I will free-climb this classic. I just can't. I glare at it for quarter of a useless hour, fidgeting upwards, groping at the sides of the valley, getting nowhere, explaining away the impasse to Bill, who can see it all anyway. Finally I swallow my pride — a bitter gulp —and quest off rightwards to escape. Still the climb is not over and I sketch incredibly steep moves up what I later find to be (El 5b) until at last I give the buttress best and monkey across a slab to the sanctuary of an oak.

As we eat mint cake and butties, the book tells us that the Slab Finish was the original line, done by Peter Greenwood and E. Mallinson. To finish directly, Peter had to come back a few weeks later with his `bodyguard' Pete Whitwell (as Mike Thompson calls him in Paul Ross's 1965 guide) and Don Whillans. Even that spearhead team needed two pegs for aid to surmount the overhang and the groove above, so who am I to scourge myself for failing? We are in top gear now, if not overdrive, and I point Bill at Paul Ross's companion to Eve, Adam, whose handsome swarthy front I first climbed on an early visit to Shepherd's with my eldest son, Pete. The black faces marbled with Stilton green have the beauty of barbarous jewellery, jet and turquoise combined in jagged patterns. Chunks have acute edges, like hardwood logs that have surrendered more to the hammering of the axe than its splitting.

Thick canines stick up, black yet undecayed, good for decades yet. Puckered surfaces, wizened like leather turned to stone, offer wrinkles perfect for edging. Trees here are bonsai — 7 ft hollies, 12 ft oaks, with the squat trunks and muscled limbs of dwarfs. The holly in the middle of Adam is unforgettable, stability incarnate amongst all these verticals. Its satin-grey bole welcomes fingers, arms, slings, a harbour where it would be delightful to spend a day, contented as a full-fed buzzard, though the guidebooks invite you to steam past it on a 90 ft run-out and Roper, Eilbeck and Cram point you straight up the wall above it, as though directness was a virtue. Paul Ross had noticed this and objected to it: 'It goes out right, doesn't it?' he asked me, annoyed, and so it does, moving towards an arete which drops its great blade darkly against the gleam of the southern sky.

The magnetism of that profile draws you irresistibly into an area which seems improbably steep, as does the wall above it, but- both these passages offer finger-jugs so angled and so spaced that you swing up them in ecstasy untainted by desperation, each surge so free and dynamic you wish it would never end. Bill, proud father of Eve, wonders jealously if the upstart Adam, was any harder at the finish and it has to be said that the slanting cleft on Eve pitch 3 makes a handrail more secure than Adam's mini-flakes. But the contrast, such as it is, is minor beside the fact that both routes soar to their very finishes on the solid turf belvedere where the Borrowdale woodlands end in mid­air and a gulf of pure space hollows northwards towards Bassenthwaite.

By now we had embarked on a tour of the VS classics that had been found while Bill was overseas. Among the tall trees at the north end, where midges are gathering as though the lake was a loch, we climb Vesper — traversing at its best, more or less unprotectable after the bulge, so that both leader and second can savour the naked daring of the pioneers Greenwood and Ross as they spy out ledges no broader than the spine of a guidebook or hook fingerends into ragged sockets to sustain strides at the full reach of the legs. I climb quickly, either because Bill is holding the rope one-handed while he swats midges or because I do not have the strength to hang about on so steep a wall. He climbs with the nimbleness of the man who was first along the traverses on Cleopatra (Buckstone How), Delilah (High Crag), and Jezebel (Newlands). Surely we are finished for the day? The fells are featureless in the haze and the last walkers have gone from the water-meadows between Grange and the lake. But we have to contour back the length of the crag to reach the car and as we pause in the stony bay at the left of the Chamonix area, the narrow mouth of Kranzic Crack says `Climb me'.

I have been wondering for years how good the jams are, so up we go, revelling in the narrowness of the flake top, finding the moves off it on to and along the wall to be at the most taxing and finely-whetted end of VS/4c. It takes the exact placing of a toe or finger to unlock each problem and we are reminded of last month's climb along the more delicate edgings on pitches 6, 9, and 13 of the Pillar Girdle, the longest climb in England. Back at the foot we unbuckle harnesses and unlace PA's in a happy trance, looking at each other and laughing in wonderment at the desire for rock that has prolonged the day so far into the phase of hunger and fatigue (and so long past opening time).
From now on the month is steeped in moisture — drunk, perspired, exuded by the crags and teemed down out of the clouds. On the 7th the sky lours, blurring the summits of High Pike and Red Stile. The mosses in Birkness Combe are gemmed with droplets, the stains of seepage are as dark as Guinness.

On a reconnaissance for the guidebook, Rick Graham shepherds me firmly across the boundary between my half of the territory (up to HVS) and his. On Eagle Crag this occupies the rock around the impending cracks of Carnival and Hugh Banner's Direct Finish to Bill Peascod's Fifth Avenue. The start of the Avenue should be mine but the difficult move on to the wall of pitch 2 (old pitch 4) flummoxes me. I cannot believe a wet PA would stay put on so rounded a knob, Rick takes over, and from then on I have to wait patiently, staring at the mortifying feature, while he rains down clots of sodden earth as he digs out slots for wires. (It is the only Peascod move I have ever failed to make.)

At least I can see him and enjoy the work of A master-climber at close quarters when we move on up to have a look at the Direct Finish. This cleft through a beetling overhang looks impossibly steep and it is a sight to see Rick hanging by one hand, probing holes for runners, leaning back onto the air as though it is a deck-chair, minute after minute. When I try to follow, my arms feel as weak as a child's and I simply ask him to winch me up. It is a comfort when he upgrades it to El/5b, which is more or less my limit — although the 5b crack on Carnival incites me to a burst of unaided climbing and I lay-away from its knife-edge so vigorously that the pads of my fingers ache afterwards as we zig leftwards towards the great gut of Central Chimney, then zag, back across a wall barely equipped with fingerholds.

As we coil and review the routes, we hear the dreadful flutter of wind ruffling fast round a falling body. It sounds like a climber's clothes flapping as he falls. I look round: nothing. It comes again and two peregrines, close together, are in semi-free fall, a few feet out from the stance, letting gravity rule for a second, wrenching out of it with incredible athletic tensioning of the wings to cut widely off and up and over the summit ridge, streaks of brown and white fire flaming against the damp shade of the north face and the colourless sky.

The summer is set in its ways now, no longer a revelation, as I find when I next walk up for a work-out on 'my' crag — my 'secret' crag — a mile from home. It is a ragged limestone edge, no classic battlement like Twistleton or Giggleswick or Malham Right Wing, more an assortment of low, ruined towers like chunks of abandoned concrete, but seamed with fierce problems and wholly to my taste as a practice ground because it was not built, it evolved, rowans and ashes spring from its deeper clefts, and as you rest on top looking northwest to Coniston Old Man and Bow Fell across a tussocky plateau, you may see a roedeer, head up, ears pricked, in silhouette against the mountains. One limestone forehead bulges into a split overhang and this is my 5b problem.

Pull up on shallow mouths (one of them liable to drool), bridge widely and go for the split with the right hand. It closes on your flesh like pliers, it hurts and it will not work unless it does — resist the temptation to hang off for a rest, pull on up, go for the boss on the left with your other hand, extract your right and entrust yourself to the air in one sheer swing, rock over on to the skull and mantel up... All right, 5a perhaps, but I never manage it at the first shot, or the second.
This evening the problems feel like work or sleep-walking, because the verve seems to have drained out of nature. Summer's first flush has dulled. When I get home, Anne is amazed by my hangdog' face and thinks I have had bad news or seen an accident. Next day I write out as a poem this vision of the season's change:

In less than a month our fastness, The hidden vale on the fell's flank, Has wasted under Saturn.
Dust from the planet of age
Has dowsed the sycamore's flourish, Withered the whin-flowers,
Emptied the larks from the air, Choked the throat of the curlew. It has petrified the bracken.
The bracken bides its time,
Scaly and uniform, tough green pelt Of a single pack, the rat-plant Consuming the upland. Beyond,
The mountains in June were oven-stones Swollen with secret fires.
Now they are pale-blue dreams, Barely-remembered pasts. A ban Has fallen upon the hill.
The leveret and the roe
Absorb to brown shadows. The carrion crow is a branch On a ring-barked tree.
The pipit's nest is a wisp
Of last year's wind-gleanings.Now my brain's screen blanks, Every silvery image dulled,

As the fell dwindles to an islet Becalmed in faceless haze, Helplessly waiting for the ebb
At the year's slack water.

On the 9th I go to Swindale with Rob Crawshaw to do one or two of its harder and more recent routes, post Charlie Wilson and post Harold Drasdo. The Nymph is as good as we hoped — a rising traverse leading to a bulging crack which demands quick combinings of lay-away and mantel — but Garm is a revelation. For some reason Rob believes me to be a connoisseur of obscure grot and he is not surprised that I am intent on finding an 'excavated slab'. 'Excavated' makes us look for a dug-out start or base. It turns out to be a sweep of rock as pale (after its stripping in 1966) as the newly-shaven cheeks of a once-bearded face. I pad up it from ledge to tree root to half-way terrace and shout down warm words to which Rob responds in a tone both cynical and humouring.

In this semi-artificial environment I feel like a bear on a Mappin terrace and he is my tolerant keeper. But he warms to the route, leads the taxing wall above the terrace in his `super-cool' and unerring style, and does seem to concede afterwards that there are excellences to be found in byways of the Lakes. From the 11th to the 14th I am in Sheffield, my annual venture around the fringes of that hot-bed with its latest news of Paul Nunn's sayings and Ron Fawcett's or Jerry Moffatt's doings, Birtles's disenchanted move over to the new mania, parapenting, the intrigues etc..

Although an ocean of moorland lies just over the rim of Stanage, Sheffield climbing, to someone from Wordsworth country, feels wholly urban. When I stop off en route to work out at Millstone Edge, I see a perfect subject for a Hogarth of the climbing scene. Beneath the blunt prow of Master's Edge which Fawcett has recently whitened with his great chalked paws, this fashion-plate is standing with turquoise singlet, wasp-striped Italian nylon tights, red-laced Fires and gaping chalk-bag. He inspects his soles, has a dip and looks round to see who is watching. He sets hands to rock, moves up three feet, paralysis sets in, he grunts, drops off, shakes out, looks round, clambers a little more... As I move on to the Scoop (described by Nunn with amiable pedantry as 'D 2b'), he is still deep in his narcissistic rite, and probably still is.

Sheer towers of grit and castles of limestone are waiting a little further on, and so are grizzled friends who first climbed here before hexes were invented and still have a handful of fine items on their agendas (and always will). `Let's start at Willersley,' they say, 'then drive round to High Tor if we're going well.' Left to myself I might never have tried Willersley. `The crag is approached via iron gates near the Cromford junction' sounds grimly urban. `Access is strictly forbidden, for obscure religious and other reasons' might have incited me, as Nunn doubtless meant it to. The crag is excellent, towering parallel with mature trees. The Great Corner offers the reasonably-angled start that I need to adjust my early morning nerves and then I please myself, leading the first pitch of Porthole Wall.

It is steep enough to press its broad stone hand against your chest, forcing you to move with the chary deliberateness of a bomb-disposal squad. After 70 ft of that I am happy to follow Norman Elliott past the pothole to a dizzy perch and a finish amongst jungle threaded with sinuous paths, an unkempt Avon Gorge without the prams or ice-cream vans. In the shade the earth is still darkened by dew. Two hours later, High Tor glares like a threshing floor tilted to the vertical above the chimney pots of Matlock. The temperature must have peaked near 80' and the honeyed air seems to run down our skins. When I lead the jamming pitch of Skylight, my hands slither as though I have been handling fresh fish — two steps upwards, one downwards. The sun roasts the back of my neck, a Mediterranean dazzle all around, the horrendous battlement of Castellan jutting on my right.

Here is a great beauty of climbing, that ordinary climbers can enjoy themselves on the very verge of an area, can see close up the minutest features of a route, that represents the summit of the sport.
The shade of the upper chimney on Skylight is actually welcome: strange after years of huddling into shelter from chilling winds. It makes High Tor feel like Buis les Baronnies. Up above, Terry, Norman and I walk about dazed, in a lush beauty-spot equipped with a cafe. With local knowledge they have carried up small change to buy mugs of tea but now, at the very end of a sweltering Saturday, we feast for almost nothing. They offer us, free, slice after slice of bedraggled strawberry cake whose fruit and cream will not last another day and we gobble it up and wash it down with scalding draughts until the plate is empty. It makes, me feel I have stepped through the looking-glass: there is nothing like this to assuage you as you haul out on to the top of Gimmer!

I am in Sheffield partly to climb as many pinnacles as possible with Terry, photographed by Ian Smith, for a section of a book (Native Stones). An impure experience, you may say, but good climbing shots are almost impossible to get on the spur of the moment; they have to be set up. So we burrow into the steamy woods at Wharncliffe and monkey about happily on the rocks that look blackened by industrial smoke, too little visited to be rubbed through again to their native red. We spiral up the Prow and leap across to the mainland from its top, then move along to sample the blocky natural masonry where J. W. Puttrell launched gritstone climbing a century ago and gave his lines stately names like Puttrell's Progress.

But the hard core of our project centres on Rivelin Needle. It was once called Rivelin Steeple and this change pleases me because I believe that these quarried pinnacles (at Tegness, Wharncliffe, Mow Cop, Wilton) are totems, therefore the phallic sense of 'needle' is more apt than the churchy 'steeple'. This tower rising out of the bracken jungle is blunt and bald, with few weaknesses. The nearer we get, the more it repulses me.

We go for Croton Oil, though 'go for' is too dynamic for my nervy gropes and fumbles. Terry is all patience as I move up to the last substantial feature, a rounded 2 in ledge, where I stand for what seems days like the Frog Footman, immobile with my feet turned outwards. I eye the next cluster of chalk marks, a poor straight—up edge, a slightly better one above it, both apparently the keysto the passage up and left to a coign of vantage profiled against the pale blue hazy sky. I inch upwards, stretch fingers for edge 1, sketch a sideways pull, my sweaty extremities slipping. This farce is repeated three times until my will turns soft as a rotten apple and I back down wishing that I was Whillans, that I had started climbing at fifteen — anything other than I really am.

Self-yeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see The lost are like this and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

But as Hopkins also says,
Soul, self, come, poor Jackself, I do advise You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room...

Next morning we are back. Ian has arrived, slung about with cameras. Now it must be done. But this is not all that is going for me: yesterday's failure turned the Needle from a bogey into a material challenge. Now at least it will not be aura that beats me but only (only!) the stature of the rock. Terry stands on the plinth. I move up briskly to the ledge, carrying his chalk-bag. Was this huge ethical concession the key? I leave the last sure footing and friction up to edge 1, try the leverage, feel how slight it is, and retreat — tactically —wailing to Terry, 'It's no use — this place is for good climbers.' The faithful lad shouts up, `You are a good climber.' What Ibsen calls 'the saving lie'. Next time I feel together, unified; I can think what to do and do what I think of. Toes stick on the merest worn layer-ends in the sandstone, edge 1 eases me readily upwards to edge 2, my floury fingers grapple firmly on to it and I am. toeing leftwards towards that perch, all tremor gone, my muscles flexing smoothly. The knowledge that I am at my optimum has me whooping wordlessly, hardly pausing on the bracket, jamming on upwards between the rickety final flakes with a fierce pleasure, almost, as they sandpaper the backs of my tingling hands.

It had taken my utmost in nerve, balance, finger strength, technique, and really I do not want to separate these 'faculties'. The nerve to balance up, trusting the feet, then lay­away leftwards with right arm tensed to hold weight on the assumption that as the fingers took full load the traction would get good before the toes slid backwards off — this was all one conception and one movement —conceived of too much since yesterday, but at least it won through to actual experience today.
On the way home across the Snake Pass the car rides on an air-cushion of happy retrospect while the sky bruises over and practises a few warning drops. July has some sweets left of a dampish kind. In the newly defoliated Car-park Crags in Borrowdale with Bill Peascod. we climb Green Fingers on Nagg's Slab and dig out a new route, Stingray, on Beth's Crab. then an epic voyage up Y Gully on Haystacks, Buttermere, where moisture never ceases to irrigate the lady's mantle an saxifrage even in the middle of an anti-cycle (22 July). On the 17th we had outsmarted the water by arranging to climb Cleopatra for the photographer at noon, no earlier, so that her tawny front ('with Phoebus' amorous kisses black, And wrinkled deep in time') was already being sunned, drying out the seep and sharpening the image. And that was a highlight, Bill girding himself up to lead the pocketed traverse 31 years after he was the first to cross it.

 Bill Peascod's Honister Wall:Buckstone How

A few miles down the dale from Buckstone How, the month glided coolly to its end as Anne and I rowed over Crummock Water. I to have found a perfect bed-and-breakfast place at Rannerdale. We had to suss Ling Crag for the guidebook. It is a landmark — one lone hummock of Skiddaw slate whose forepaw stretches out into water pure as liquid rock. We climb the Slabs, where the glacier has graved an old volcanic rib to a gradual angle, corrugated now and again by rounded sills where you must reach up, find nothing, and pad upwards with faith in friction. This is awkward because I have brought two left-footed EBs for Anne and have to lend her one of my Fires, so she climbs in odd PA's and I in one Fire and one Walsh fell-trainer. Then she gives me a top-rope down the precipitous northern side where some force has torn out rock in jagged masses, creating VS and harder pitches. The wind is planing across the water now with almost an autumnal edge, tinged with the firmness of apples and the rustiness of tarnishing bracken.

Twelve July's have been packed into the above passage though this month has been stretched to an entire year, and in all these twelve years, according to my records, I have spent only one memorable day on rock between 22 July and 31 July. It is a shame and a crime that English holidays are distorted so that the House of Lords (and a few hangers-on in the Commons) can shoot grouse from 12 August, partridges from I September, and pheasants from 1 October. By mid-July rainfall is markedly increasing, the nights are cooler, gales arrive, rending tents and setting fishing boats adrift — and at last the children are given their holidays. Late May to late July is our prime season and it is then that the schools and colleges should be on vacation so that the families can go into the mountains when the sun is at its height and the days, are longest.

Pillar Rock: Oil on Canvas: John Appleby

David Craig: First Published in 'The Book of the Climbing Year'-Patrick Stephens publishing.