'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Corvus (Diff)

Pause O Men for Cumbrians. At this dangerous age some may choose to chase 17-year-old floozies. Others decide to resume rock-climbing.
This began over dinner at the Bearded Lexicographer's. There turned out to be an implausible number of serious climbers around the table and at some point I found myself being encouraged . . .
So yesterday the Lexicographer and I drove down to Borrowdale, parked at Seathwaite, our destination Raven Crag and a climb called Corvus, widely regarded as the best 'Difficult' in the Lakes. (A note for non-climbers, 'Difficult' means 'Extremely Easy' in plain English; whereas 'Extreme', of course, doesn't mean 'Easy' at all). The crag is a great 400-foot lump of volcanic rock just below Glaramara in a spur of upper Borrowdale. Corvus is a line that goes up and across the left side of the crag: it was first put up in the 1950s by the legendary Bentley Beetham, one of Mallory's companions on Everest. It's an odd thing about climbing that, however great your incompetence (mine's considerable), you can literally place your feet in the steps of giants.
I'd not climbed anything but stairs for a very long time & had the impression the Lexicographer had planned the trip with discretion & a variety of contingency plans in mind. He'd brought a huge selection of gear, including devices which hadn't been invented the last time I climbed on rock. We arrived at the bottom to find the crag crowded: three jolly Lancastrians in lurex tights were labouring up the first pitch. Just behind us a Geordie couple were impatient to start. After some light comedy with the Lexicographer's spare equipment (a Heritage Collection Whillans harness that had clearly been the great man's original prototype), I managed to attach myself to not one but two ropes. "Is this the moment to tell you I've never climbed with two ropes before?" I asked him. "Why are you shivering?" he responded and bounded up the first pitch.
I followed in due course, far too awash with adrenalin to actually think about what I was doing or savour the pleasure of movement. After a couple of pitches I calmed down enough to take things more slowly and appreciate the experience: a beautfiully contrived set of traverses and ascents with huge hand & foot holds, wide stances, and an unfolding view of lower Borrowdale and Skiddaw which is heavenly. By the time we reached the sixth pitch, a hand-traverse of twenty feet at the top of a sheer wall, I was even beginning to enjoy myself. The Lexicographer, smoking furiously, announced he'd set his belay directly above the traverse, in the expectation of my falling off. Below us, marital discord was breaking out among the Geordies over the size of nuts being used. I reached up to the right, swung out left and for all of ten seconds was hopping crablike across the wall, fingers jammed into a row of holds at the top. Heaven knows how ungainly it must have looked to the Geordies below, but the Lexicographer (mercifully out of sight on his stance) was sufficiently bamboozled by this display to offer me the lead of the last pitch. Quit while you're ahead, I thought, and politely postponed the moment of truth to another day.
Eventually we returned to the valley below, hot May sunshine, and Sca Fell Blonde (a beer, not a local attraction). This was a deeply satisfying re-acquaintance with an activity I'd given up decades ago. We're already planning further days on the crags. I'd like to think that Mr Beetham would be pleased his discovery has been put to such good use.


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