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Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs


Postby dav2930 » Tue Jul 10, 2018 8:07 pm

Wainwrights included on this walk: Great Gable

Hewitts included on this walk: Great Gable

Date walked: 30/06/2018

Distance: 9.5 km

Ascent: 825m

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It's been a while since I posted any reports, mainly because I've been doing less walking, as such, than climbing. With the weather as it's been, the lure of the crags with their warm, dry rock has been too strong to resist. But climbing quite often involves walking as well, especially if the intended crag is situated just under the summit of a high fell, as in the case of Gable Crag. Engineer's Slabs tops out so close to the summit of Great Gable that it seems silly not to pay a visit. As Paul Nunn writes in Hard Rock, "...the finest way to complete the climb is to continue over the summit of Gable and descend by one of the ordinary paths...", which Karl and myself did, each of us carrying a pair of lightweight approach shoes up in a little rucksack for the purpose. At any rate, that's my excuse for sharing this particular outing on the WH forum.

Paul Nunn goes on to say: "Somehow this climb goes beyond normal rock climbing and is almost a mountaineering route, feeling much greater than its small size justifies." At 60 metres, Engineer's Slabs is certainly not a long climb by Lake District standards. But its situation high on the shadowy north face of Gable, reached by a long, grassy scramble, and the sustained nature of the climbing - its two long pitches divided only by the tiniest of stances - does give it a big feel. "It is this special quality and particular atmosphere, together with an inescapable character, which creates the unique appeal of a remote, isolated and infrequently ascended climb."

One of the main reasons Engineer's Slabs is infrequently ascended, despite its status as a "mega-classic", is that Gable Crag's north-facing aspect and 800 metre altitude make it one of the coldest and slowest-drying crags in the Lake District. The deep groove at the top of the climb, in particular, takes at least four warm, rainless summer days to dry out (you wouldn't want to be grovelling up that when it's wet and greasy, believe me!). But the last day of June followed no less than seven hot, dry days, providing a rare and perfect opportunity to attempt this magnificent climb. Indeed, in such conditions, the very circumstances which so often make Gable Crag repulsive and unfeasible, become a positive attraction.

However, I was under no illusions that this would be a challenge for both of us. A particular old photograph, looking down on a climber precariously wedged in the bottomless v-groove near the top, has haunted me ever since I first saw it in a guide book nearly forty years ago. In addition to the obvious exposure, it looks just the sort of strenuous thrutch that I would normally go out of my way to avoid. So the thought of actually climbing Engineer's Slabs has always filled me with a sense of trepidation. Which goes some way to explaining why I'd never climbed it before.

P1020977.JPG
Climber in the exposed v-groove near the top of Engineer's Slabs


But finally the time had come, and there were no excuses. I'd been psyching up for days, and Karl had been reading the guidebook to find out what he was letting himself in for. The day was warm, dry and cloudless, with a gentle breeze to cool us on the walk-in. We arrived in the car park at Honister Hause at about 9.30am and went in the café for a coffee and quick application of sun cream. By the time we hit the path up to the Drum Hause it was well past 10.00am. But we had all day and evening if necessary, so we didn't rush.

P1020940.JPG
The car park at the Honister slate mines


At the Drum Hause we turned left to follow the cairned path across the flanks of Grey Knotts and Brandreth.

P1020941.JPG
High Stile and Buttermere valley


P1020942.JPG
Pillar


As we walked along I was surprised to see occasional patches of water on the ground, some quite extensive. I'd expected everywhere to be bone dry. I began to worry that the top v-groove of Engineer's Slabs might still be wet, even after all that dry weather. Surely not? If it turned out to be so, there was an option mentioned in the guidebook of avoiding the groove by a crack-line on the left wall leading to the left arete, at the same grade. That would at least allow us to get to the top of the climb, but it wouldn't really give us the full, notorious experience. We'd just have to see when (if) we got that far.

P1020945.JPG
Great Gable from Moses Trod


Gable Crag loomed ever closer, until we could begin to make out the line of the climb.

P1020946.JPG
Zoom in on Gable Crag


P1020946-crop and line.jpg
Line of Engineer's Slabs (red) and scramble from the path to reach the start (yellow).


The path made a nifty rising traverse up to Beck Head and from there we followed the path up the north-west ridge of Gable, until a small cairn marked the start of the traverse path along the northern slopes under Gable Crag.

P1020947.JPG
Wastwater from Beck Head


The coolness of the shadow cast by the crag gave us welcome relief from the hot sun. Some distance along the traverse path, the unmistakable wall of Engineer's Slabs came into view high above us. A party before us had left a T-shirt hanging out to dry on an A-frame of trekking poles, at the start of the long, grassy scrambling approach to the foot of the wall. We could see people already climbing on the face above, with someone in the infamous groove at the top. We dumped our sacks, changed into our approach shoes, put our harnesses on and geared up; slings, quickdraws, wires, hexes and cams. Helmets on. Our climbing shoes went into our little, lightweight rucksacks, along with a flapjack each. Before setting off we munched on a sandwich or two and made sure we drank plenty of water.

P1020948.JPG
Looking up to Engineer's Slabs from the traverse path. The person on the left is abseiling down the face to the right of the crack-line of Engineer's Slabs, while the pair to the right are on The Jabberwock (HVS).


P1020949.JPG
Head of Ennerdale from the traverse path


P1020950.JPG
Green Gable from the traverse path


We tied on to one of our two ropes for the scramble, just to be on the safe side. It took three full 50m rope lengths to reach the ledge at the start of the climb. A good nut-slot served as a belay. We uncoiled the second rope, tied on to it, then put on our climbing shoes, stowing our approach shoes in our rucksacks. At last we were ready to go.

Pitch 1, 26 metres, 4c
The climb started just to the left of a steep, black looking crack, up a wall of nice, clean rock. The holds looked rather small and I couldn't see any cracks for wires to go in. I crept my way up, until a small crack appeared - just enough to get a small wire in. As I unclipped the wires from my harness one of them slipped off the karabiner and landed on the grass just below Karl's feet. Damn! At least Karl would be able to retrieve it easily once I was belayed on the first stance. Back to the task in hand. Small wire fiddled in, quickdraw clipped to wire, rope into quickdraw. Nice. Always good getting the first one in. A few more moves up and a wider crack appeared; more protection. Then the pinnacle mentioned in the guidebook description, flat-topped. Sling over that. A few more moves up the crack, one or two loose blocks in there, a tricky bit, more protection, a short rising traverse to the right then twin cracks to an open chimney. Plenty of gear going in. A few steep pulls on big holds and hey presto, end of the first pitch. The stance is a tiny ledge at the bottom of a slot in the wall that you can just fit into - well named as the 'sentry box'. At the back of this are a couple of cracks for small cams and a good wire - not great but good enough. Clip onto these, tie off. "Safe Karl!" …"Off belay"..."Taking in"..."That's me!"..."Climb when ready"..."Climbing!" "Ok".

P1020951.JPG
Belaying from the Sentry Box at the top of pitch 1, Karl standing on the pinnacle below, on his way up. The climber below and left is on The Tomb (E3), I think.


Karl made his way up steadily, nicely in control. He was climbing well. It felt good to be on this wall of rock - a rare privilege in fact. I dared to feel that we might succeed. As Karl reached the sentry box there was the awkward matter of changing places on the tiny stance. Confident as he was seconding, Karl had never led anything of this standard and wasn't about to try now, so he would have to clip into the same anchor points as I was presently tied to - no easy matter! Fortunately there was a good foot-ledge just outside the sentry box which I was able to step onto by unclipping from the cams and lengthening the portion of rope attaching me to the good nut placement. Karl then clipped straight into a sling attached to one of the cams and clove-hitched a portion of rope to the other cam. He then fed the ropes through from his end to mine, so they'd run smoothly from the top as I climbed, and at the same time I retrieved all the gear I'd placed on the first pitch from Karl's harness. Karl then put me on belay and I was ready to go.

Pitch 2, 34 metres, 4c
A short, easy traverse right led to a wide crack. This led all the way up to the final v-groove, which loomed ominously above. A few easy moves up holds left of the wide crack, a good cam placement, and I was on my way. The climbing was a joy. Good holds, good protection, nicely sustained. The photo below, copied from a 1990 guidebook, shows this part of the climb well. For some reason the woman belaying has adopted a hanging stance outside the sentry box - certainly makes for a dramatic shot!

P1020974-crop_1.jpg
Photo of climbers on Engineer's Slabs, from the 1990 FRCC climbing guidebook to Gable and Pillar. The second is belaying from a hanging stance outside the sentry box.


I reached a small ledge at the foot of a layback crack, placed a good hex and took a couple of photos. It's not often I think to take photos mid-lead, but on this occasion I wanted to savour the position.

P1020953.JPG
Looking back down to Karl belaying in the sentry box.


P1020952.JPG
Looking up the layback crack which leads to the foot of the final v-groove.


The layback crack turned out to be easier than it looked. The left-hand of two parallel cracks, seen in the pic above, had a positive edge to grasp and there were a few small scoops for the feet on the wall. I placed a couple of good nuts then launched off and didn't stop until I reached a good foothold at the foot of the v-groove. So here I was at last. The moment of truth. A zig-zagging crack appeared up the left wall. This was the escape route if the groove turned out to be wet, or if one didn't feel up to the obvious fight it would present. First question, then: was the groove wet? No, it was bone dry! Second question: was I up for the fight? I figured I was unlikely to be in this position again any time soon, so it was now or never. I knew I'd be disappointed with myself if I wimped out, so into the groove I went. :shock:

At first it was relatively easy. There were footholds on the right wall and handholds on the left. Bridging seemed the best technique - right foot on right wall, left foot on left, facing into the groove. Cracks in the left wall offered gear placements, then the back of the groove itself did. Then the holds ran out. The crack in the back of the groove was smooth, but offered a brilliant hex placement and an equally good nut just above it. Having placed these, I tried to work out the next sequence of moves. I wedged myself in, facing left, and tried to back-and-foot. It was too constricted. So then I stepped back down a bit and out on a small foothold on the left wall, so that I had more room to manoevre. I spotted a small protuberance at knee-height on the right wall, which served as a foot smear, allowing me to get my left foot high on a faint ripple. With the feet pushing in opposite directions against the opposing walls, it was a secure enough position from which to reach up left for a horizontal crack. It was a good hold! A small cam in the horizontal crack. A couple of moves up and another constriction. Small foothold on left then up and the right wall gave into a scoop. Foot smear on this then step onto little ledge in back of groove and rest, sweat dripping from brow and nose. The top just above. Holds everywhere. It's over. Place last bit of gear, grasp the big holds and top out between big blocks. Yeehaaa! :D Thread two slings, position myself at edge of groove, looking down it. Clip on to slings. "Safe Karl". "Good...Off belay"..."Taking in"..."That's me"..."Climb when ready"..."Climbing". "Ok".

Karl made good progress up the pitch, climbing in a steady, controlled way. He managed the layback no problem. He got a little way into the groove, removed a runner, moved up a bit more and it was then the expletives began. I tried to explain about the bridging moves but, though I could just about see him, I couldn't make out exactly where he was. He'd got himself wedged firmly in the groove and wasn't making much progress. He tried bridging but was reluctant to move far enough out to make it work. His feet slipped on the walls because they were too close together to give enough opposing pressure. Somehow he manged to avoid falling off and by a supreme effort of squirming and thrutching got up to a semi-resting place. "You've cracked it now!", I said. "Just let me get my breath back", he said, panting heavily. Again I advised him to bridge out, but he seemed intent on squirming as far into the groove as he could get. This time it didn't work though - perhaps he was too exhausted from the previous effort. "Once you've got your foot against that big scoop you're home and dry", I said. He got into a bridging position and with a couple of concerted moves was onto the scoopy bit and then in a resting position below the final pull up to the top, which was easy. "There're holds everywhere now; it's all over bar the shouting", I said. I don't think Karl quite believed me, but as he stood and got his breath back he could see for himself. He grinned and climbed up into the sunshine. We shook hands, and were both relieved and elated. There's no feeling like it.

Hats off to F G Balcombe, J A Shepherd and C J A Cooper, who first ascended the climb in 1934. It must have been a bold undertaking without modern equipment.

P1020956.JPG
Karl coming up the last bit of the v-groove


P1020957.JPG
A final squirm.


We coiled the ropes and changed into our approach shoes, chatting excitedly. Then we wandered up to the summit of Great Gable in a state of euphoria, where we sat down to eat our flapjacks. Not sure what the other folks there made of us with our helmets and harnesses! Karl said that, while he was belaying me on the second pitch, he was secretly hoping I would take the softer option up the crack in the left wall, but admitted that we wouldn't have been quite as satisfied if we'd done that. We also reflected on the fact that, while both pitches are graded 4c, the groove of the second pitch seemed significantly harder than anything below. Grades can be misleading.

P1020958.JPG
Wastwater from Great Gable summit.


P1020959.JPG
The Scafells


P1020961.JPG
Crummock Water


P1020965.JPG
Kirk Fell and Pillar


To save weight, we hadn't brought any water up with us and were quite thirsty after our exertions, so we made our way down to Windy Gap and along the traverse path back to the sacks. It was 5.10pm. We had a good slurp then put all our climbing gear away ready for the off. A last look back up at the crag, and it was time to go.

P1020969.JPG
Gable Crag with Engineer's Slabs centre. The v-groove is easy to see at the top of the wall.


It seemed a long walk back in the hot afternoon sunshine.

P1020971.JPG
Buttermere valley


Back at Honister we piled the sacks into the boot of the car, changed into our shoes and drove down the pass, through Borrowdale and Keswick, stopping at the Sportsman's Inn on the A66. Still buzzing, we quietly celebrated with a pint of Snecklifter and a bowl of chips.



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Climb:
Engineer's Slabs (Gable Crag)
60 metres, VS 4c, 4c
First ascent: F G Balcombe, J A Shepherd, C J A Cooper - June 1934.
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dav2930
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Re: Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Postby LeithySuburbs » Wed Jul 11, 2018 12:48 pm

Enjoyable read, cheers :) .
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Re: Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Postby Alteknacker » Wed Jul 11, 2018 2:20 pm

What a cracking read! I could really feel I was there (watching anyway!). Keep posting! :clap: :clap: :clap:

And some great action - and historical - pics. I love the black-and-white one - it certainly makes it look as hairy as it undoubtedly is.

It looks like the crag has a huge number of climbs, with quite a range of difficulty...
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Re: Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Postby dav2930 » Thu Jul 12, 2018 5:58 pm

LeithySuburbs wrote:Enjoyable read, cheers :) .

Cheers Leithy :)

Alteknacker wrote:What a cracking read! I could really feel I was there (watching anyway!). Keep posting! :clap: :clap: :clap:

And some great action - and historical - pics. I love the black-and-white one - it certainly makes it look as hairy as it undoubtedly is.

It looks like the crag has a huge number of climbs, with quite a range of difficulty...

Thanks for the encouragement AK, much appreciated. :)

There are quite a number of climbs on Gable Crag, ranging from Diff to E3 and including two put up by George Mallory in 1908. But there're nothing like the number of climbs you'll find on crags like Scafell, Pillar, Dow or even Gimmer, and a lot of the crag is quite broken and vegetated. The wall of Engineer's is the best bit of it.
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Re: Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Jul 12, 2018 9:11 pm

I enjoyed that, your writing really took me there with you.

I remember looking at this in Hard Rock, when I was leading that sort of grade, thinking it looked interesting, but that V-groove looked just like the sort of thing I always hated. In the end, I never did it, or many other routes in the Lakes.
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Re: Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Postby dav2930 » Fri Jul 13, 2018 8:06 pm

Mal Grey wrote:I enjoyed that, your writing really took me there with you.

I remember looking at this in Hard Rock, when I was leading that sort of grade, thinking it looked interesting, but that V-groove looked just like the sort of thing I always hated. In the end, I never did it, or many other routes in the Lakes.

Thanks Mal, it's nice to know that I've managed to convey something of what it was like being there. I think it helped that I wrote up the report while the experience was still fresh in my mind. :)

As regards the V-groove, like you, I really don't like that sort of thing at all. Whenever conditions were suitable for it, which wasn't very often, there was always somewhere else I'd rather climb, like Scafell. But on this occasion it just seemed I couldn't avoid it any longer - a classic VS in the Lakes that I'd never done. It had to be done! And if I was going to do it, then I had to do it properly, no cop-outs, otherwise I'd regret it. So I was very glad to finally get it done. If I ever did it again, though, which is unlikely, I'd definitely finish up the crack instead of the groove!
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Re: Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Postby prog99 » Tue Jul 24, 2018 7:41 am

Looks good, for some reason I thought it was in classic rock but must be one of these strange anomalies(like the crack) thats snuck in.
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Re: Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Postby dav2930 » Tue Jul 24, 2018 6:58 pm

prog99 wrote:Looks good, for some reason I thought it was in classic rock but must be one of these strange anomalies(like the crack) thats snuck in.

Yes, it's a fine climb, one of the best VS's I've done in the Lakes.

Some other strange VS anomalies that have snuck into Hard Rock are The Great Prow on Blaven, South Ridge Direct of the Rosa Pinnacle on Arran, Great Slab/Bow-Shaped Slab on Cloggy and Chee Tor Girdle in the Peak. But then back in 1974, when Hard Rock was first published, VS was considered the entry grade for 'hard' climbing. As Ken Wilson writes in the preface, 'the book was conceived to span the grades from VS to Extreme (the numerical subdivision of Extreme or 'XS' had yet to be devised) and to reflect the tastes and aspirations of the active climbers of the early seventies.' Wilson acknowledges that 'climbing standards have improved so rapidly that a whole new category of difficulty now exists that is barely touched by Hard Rock .' But any temptation to tamper with the content was rejected in favour of allowing the book to stand as a statement of its time.
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Re: Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Postby past my sell by date » Thu Jul 26, 2018 1:51 pm

Nice one Dave. it's one of the few classic VSs (Tim Nobles great book) in the Lakes that I never got around to - A long way to walk, but as you say in this dry weather you head for remote crags. Have you done Trespasser grooves on Esk buttres - incredibly well protected HVS. i can recommend it if you haven't.
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Re: Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Postby dav2930 » Fri Jul 27, 2018 6:54 pm

past my sell by date wrote:Nice one Dave. it's one of the few classic VSs (Tim Nobles great book) in the Lakes that I never got around to - A long way to walk, but as you say in this dry weather you head for remote crags. Have you done Trespasser grooves on Esk buttres - incredibly well protected HVS. i can recommend it if you haven't.

Thanks Tony. :) I've seen Tim Noble's book but never bought a copy for some reason. I haven't done anything on Esk Buttress, I must get round there sometime. Trespasser Groove sounds great - I especially like the sound of 'incredibly well protected'! Looks a great line too. Would make a good practice climb for Centurion I'd imagine, which I don't think we'll be getting round to this year, but maybe next if we keep pushing at it. We were climbing at Armathwaite yesterday evening and I managed to lead an E1 I hadn't done before; my first E1 for about a decade! Karl declined to follow unfortunately, which meant tricky abseil antics to retrieve the gear. :?
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Re: Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Postby past my sell by date » Fri Jul 27, 2018 8:03 pm

dav2930 wrote:
past my sell by date wrote:Nice one Dave. it's one of the few classic VSs (Tim Nobles great book) in the Lakes that I never got around to - A long way to walk, but as you say in this dry weather you head for remote crags. Have you done Trespasser grooves on Esk buttres - incredibly well protected HVS. i can recommend it if you haven't.

Thanks Tony. :) I've seen Tim Noble's book but never bought a copy for some reason. I haven't done anything on Esk Buttress, I must get round there sometime. Trespasser Groove sounds great - I especially like the sound of 'incredibly well protected'! Looks a great line too. Would make a good practice climb for Centurion I'd imagine, which I don't think we'll be getting round to this year, but maybe next if we keep pushing at it. We were climbing at Armathwaite yesterday evening and I managed to lead an E1 I hadn't done before; my first E1 for about a decade! Karl declined to follow unfortunately, which meant tricky abseil antics to retrieve the gear. :?

Hi Dave
Tim's book was almost my bible for these grade routes. Definitely the right sort of weather for Esk Buttress - you can get there from Borrowdale over Esk Hause or (probably quickest) from The Duddon - up Mosedale and straight across upper Eskdale under some small crags (forgotten name). I enjoyed Medusa Wall as well as Trespasser. Heron crag also good - reached from Eskdale. I led part of Bellerephon, but found Gormenghast hard!
Tony
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Re: Great Gable by Engineer's Slabs

Postby dav2930 » Sun Jul 29, 2018 11:06 am

past my sell by date wrote: Definitely the right sort of weather for Esk Buttress - you can get there from Borrowdale over Esk Hause or (probably quickest) from The Duddon - up Mosedale and straight across upper Eskdale under some small crags (forgotten name). I enjoyed Medusa Wall as well as Trespasser. Heron crag also good - reached from Eskdale. I led part of Bellerephon, but found Gormenghast hard!
Tony

You've given me an idea there, Tony; the Mosedale approach to Esk Buttress sounds reasonably accessible in a day from my place - just over the other side of Wrynose. :)

Gormenghast is pretty hard. I remember doing it with Geoff Oliver way back in 1989. He had a cold at the time so he let me lead the crux pitch - in fact I led the first two pitches in one. By the time I got to the top of the unprotected, overhanging wall, where you step right into the crack, I was feeling a bit pumped, so it was with some urgency that I fiddled a runner in! Geoff then led through up the third pitch, which itself is no pushover. Pretty good going for a bloke in his sixties with a cold, I thought. Geoff was a very strong climber and a great character, though some of his opinions used to irritate me; "what we need is a good war", he used to say, which made me want to strangle him. He invited me on a trip to Chamonix once, which unfortunately I was unable to accept at the time. I've often wondered what routes we might have done if I'd gone. :roll:
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