2003 was the Summer of Dove
A short history of climbing on Dove Crag leading up to the awesome summer of 2003. The original article was written for and published in Climber magazine in December 2003.
by Steve Crowe
Dove Crag has tested the very best climbers down the years from Dolphin and Whillans, to Cleasby, Botterill, Whillance, Berzins and Foster. The long hot summer of 2003 drew the latest generation of bright young things into the shadow of the steepest crag in the Lake District. Steve Crowe was there…
It was reported in the local newspaper at the time that a doctor and ambulance were on stand-by during the first ascent of Westmorlands Route (MS) by H. Westmorland, J. Mounsey and W.A. North in 1910. While the route is still a popular outing 90 years later, nowadays a mobile phone gets a good signal on the route so even today help need not necessarily be too far away! The next major line to be climbed was Hangover (HVS 5a) in May 1939 which sought out a weakness up the very centre of the crag ‘the only possible line of ascent and must rank as one of the purest lines in the country.” Arthur Dolphin. Don Whillans and Joe Brown with Don Cowan climbed Dovedale Groove in May 1954 with one point of aid. It was 9 years before Pete Crew and Bas Ingle made the second ascent of this now popular E1 5b. Don returned with Colin Mortlock in 1960 to climb the timeless classic Extol (E2 5b), again with one point of aid, which is still a much sought after Hard Rock tick. It has been said that on the first ascent, on account of their short ropes and the long run out, that both the leader and second were climbing extreme rock simultaneously!
It was a team of raiders from the North East, Chris Woodall and Ritchie Clarke, that took up the challenge of the North Buttress of Dove Crag during a cold Easter day in 1969. It was generally rumoured that Pete Crew had tackled the wall sometime in the early 60’s and never got round to completing the project. Chris Woodall recalls the day “We simply climbed up to and then followed the existing gear until it ran out at about half height. We treated the route as any steep pegging line; wholeheartedly using the rusting pegs, and still found it quite strenuous, above the stance we trended left to climb a steep fingery wall and I recall resting on a small sharp spike. The right facing groove below the top was green so I came down and stepped right to struggle up a smaller steep but protectable, slimy groove. We used no aid pegs above the belay but placed two for protection. (Nuts, apart from the odd MOAC, were hardly used in those days).” Many of those pegs placed during the 1960’s still form the crucial protection for the many free climbs that followed! One of the ascents that is not well documented was that by Pete Livesey who climbed the original North Buttress route as far as the ledges with a couple of points of aid. He probably followed the line that Martin Berzins and Chris Hamper took a couple of years later (in 1977) with about the same amount of aid. Martin recalls “We carried on to the top of the cliff probably the first time the top pitch was free climbed, a scary lead by Chris Hamper. It was hard to find out from Livesey exactly what he had done. I think that he stopped at the ledges but I don’t know.” It wasn’t until 1991 that Steve Mayers unlocked the final (6c) sequence and was able to free climb the original aided line in its entirety and protected only by the ageing fixed equipment. In 1976 Pete Botterill climbed Explosion (E4 5c) with Pete Whillance; this bold line tackles the right edge of North Buttress and although it is not so steep it is run-out and it does not pay to contemplate the protection (or lack of it). Martin Berzins and Ed Cleasby climbed the first and part of the second pitch of Problem Child (E4 6a) in May 1976 thus commencing Martin’s long association with the new route development at Dove Crag. Martin remembers the day well: “Ed Cleasby had climbed the first pitch with an aid point previously. I led this pitch free and Ed continued up on the next pitch. We were climbing ground up. Ed wanted to finish up Mordor but our ground-up attempt petered out and we finished up Extol. Jeff lamb and Pete Botterill returned to complete Problem Child in June 1979. The top pitches they added were much harder and better than the bottom ones and have been unjustifiably neglected.”
Bill Birkett visited the crag in May 1980 with Rick Graham to explore the possibility of a free line up the centre of the buttress. Some direct aid from a nut and a precarious move off a hand placed peg was needed to climb Broken Arrow (E5 5c A1) ”Absolutely at the limit and beyond.” Bill Birkett. Rick Graham swapped leads with Bill in June 1980 to produce the first free route to tackle the centre of North Buttress, the well named Fear and Fascination (E5 6a) a bold and pumpy route that still commands respect today ‘Fear and Fascination was the first all free route up that wall, and it still takes scalps to this day – a quite visionary effort by Rick in my opinion.” Neil Foster. They revisited the crag with Dave Lyle in 1981 to climb Asolo (E3 6a) which tackles a difficult line up the left side of the North Buttress (Asolo attracted a lot of controversy at the time as it was a blatant sponsorship route name). Rick and Bill returned again in 1982 to produce the popular Fast and Furious (E5 6a), a steep and pumpy line to the right. It is amazing that their pair of E5’s were not included in Ken Wilson’s Extreme Rock and they would certainly make the cut for any future edition.
Martin Berzins and Neil Foster had not climbed Bucket City (E6 6b) until after Extreme Rock was published in 1987 but it would also be a contender for Extreme Rock – The Return of Trad. Martin coerced Al Manson to join him in 1989 and went on to continue the bucket theme producing Beyond the Pail (E6 6b) with a hard crux on the first pitch and a complimentary serious (6a) run out section on the second ‘A very worried looking Alan Manson was belaying while I climbed quite a long run-out on crap gear from what wasn’t a great belay on the first ascent late in the evening. The route was cleaned and climbed in a day. “Martin Berzins. 1990 was a productive year for Berzins and Foster. Martins powerful and technical Pail Face (E6 6b), along with Neil’s two very steep and spectacular variation finishes, The Flying Fissure Finish (E5 6b) and the photogenic Outside Edge (E5 6b), were all popular routes during 2003. The Outside Edge should not be underestimated as it continues to shake off would be leaders; E9 was proposed after two spectacular falls in 2003 – the second, from the top of the route ended 60ft down and only 4ft from the ground with five pieces of gear sliding down the rope to thwack the unfortunate flying machine, Chris Hope as he swung silently to a rest!
The fact that Martin Berzins ascent of Vald the Impailer (E7 6b) was unrepeated for 13 years says it all, hard, pumpy and committing. “Although the route was extensively cleaned on abseil it was climbed ground up getting more gear in on each try. On the different attempts that took place over a number of days I took several falls (they seemed pretty safe though as the gear is good but spaced) before eventually leading it red-point style. Typically no sooner had I done it than Neil seconded it flawlessly! The day that we successfully climbed the route it poured with rain.” remembers Martin. I asked Martin if he was confident before venturing out on such a bold lead? “I was far from sure that I could do the route and had to resort to lots of midweek hand traversing on the Henry Price buildering wall at Leeds University to get fit enough.” Martin and Neil added one more fantastic and underrated route in 1991. Bucket Dynasty (E6 6b) was repeated soon after by Dougie Hall, as Ian Carr recalls: “lt was a funny day, Dougie turned up at the crag short of some gear, Charlotte volunteered to go back for it. By the time she got back to the crag, we’d done three routes, one of them being Bucket City. I had my eyes closed for most of the time, as he was in one of his “go for it” moods. He only got 3 or 4 pieces in the whole Bucket Dynasty pitch, and on a tatty single 9mm rope. We definitely ended up at the Asolo belay as we did it afterwards (as a warm down!) so we could get some gear back.”
During the poor summer of 2002 AI Wilson cleaned off Pail Face and The Flying Fissure Finish while the rest of his team took shelter from the rain in the Priest Hole, the bivvy cave above the North Buttress. They were all ready to go home when ‘Awesome AI’ enthusiastically geared up and set off up FastandFurious only to find himself too pumped to tackle the FlyingFissure and elected to continue directly up the easier (but dirtier) original finish! James McHaffie subsequently onsighted Pail Face declaring himself pumped after the crux – a scary thought James then decided to have a look at freeing the aid pitch on Broken Arrow. A very hard (6c) sequence was needed to pass the poor in situ peg, then Caff continued with an extremely daunting runout above which eventually joined Bucket City part way up the headwall to produce Fear of Failure (E8 6c). The first new line to fall in 2003 was the bold Fetish for Fear (E7 6b), which is effectively a direct start to the Flying Fissure Finish, being led by both Chris Hope and Duncan Booth, seconded by Alan Wilson and Jimmy Beveridge. This saw a quick repeat by myself then subsequent on-sights by James (Caff) McHaffie and Dave Birkett.
Initially abseiling in to clean off Vlad the Impailer, Alan Wilson was distracted by a line of holds that led up the leaning headwall above Vlad. AI left Chris and Duncan to sort out Fetish and started to clean off a line that was soon to become his stunning Dusk ’til Dawn (E7 6b). His belayer Chris Hope was straight in for the flashed second ascent of the incredibly pumpy (F7c+) line, confirming the grade and quality. Neil conceded that was one amazing line that the Berzins/Foster team had missed out on!
Karin Magog and I climbed several links between existing routes, with Inside Out (E5 6b) (Fast and Furious into the hard Outside Edge) providing a very pumpy but possibly a safer way of tackling the soaring arête of Outside Edge. This was followed quickly by a sweeping girdle traverse. The Brasov Incident (E6 6b) starts as for Bucket Dynasty before breaking out right below the roof to then take in the crux’s of both Fear and Fascination and Fast and Furious before finishing either up the Outside Edge or the Flying Fissure Finish, the choice is yours.
The hardest route on the crag, Caff’s route from 2002, Fear of Failure (E8 6c) was quickly repeated by Chris ‘The Flying Machine’ Hope. After powering through the technical crux, on his second attempt, Chris went very quiet on the “harrowing” traverse above! Meanwhile, while AI was looking for holds to brush in the exit niche on Vlad the Impailer (E7 6b), he became frustrated when it wasn’t obvious how to climb it or even what needed cleaning! No beta could be gleaned from Berzins or Foster despite numerous emails the following week. Was it that they couldn’t remember or just that they didn’t want to make it too easy for us? On his first attempt on Vlad the Impailer, AI just jumped off, frustrated, unable to unlock the crux sequence. Next up was Karin who soon made it to Al’s high point where she shook out below the crux for nearly an hour, unable to either climb up any further, or reverse to the ground but reluctant just to give up! She eventually spotted the crucial hold, which was in need of the brush treatment, just as she fell off from exhaustion. This hidden hold proved to be the key. Promptly returning mid week Alan Wilson clinched the second ascent of Vlad the Impailer and I flashed the third. Karin claimed the 4th ascent the following weekend. Chris Hope also led Vlad the Impailer but not without falling frustrated out of the demanding and problematic niche on his first attempt. Chris made up for his disappointment by flashing the 3rd ascent of Bucket Dynasty (E6 6b) thinking it to be top end E6. Personally, I’m sure that Bucket Dynasty deserves E7, it’s in the same league as Vlad the Impailer and Dusk till Dawn for sure!
‘Awesome’ AI had one last link-up in mind by climbing the headwall of Dusk ’til Dawn starting up Vlad to give the biggest, pumpiest E7 on the North Buttress. Two routes not repeated during 2003 due to the poor condition of the in situ protection were Beyond the Pail (E6 6b) and North Buttress (E6 6b) and they would probably both merit E7 in their current state as well. The world of the internet meant that news of our activities travelled fast and soon queues formed on Fast and Furious but curiously not for Fear and Fascination, whereas Bucket City must have been the most climbed E6 in the Lake District in 2003.
Bizarrely many of the team commented that the walk-in felt further and harder as time went by (53 minutes was the record for the walk in, an hour and a quarter the norm) however the climbing was a different matter as we would take turns leading the Flying Fissure so that everyone else could warm up on it. Towards the end of the summer our knowledge of the cliff grew and our aims became more defined, so we would meet at the Beetham Hut to sort out a specific and lightweight rack for the team for the day. The North Buttress comprises of a unique matrix of routes which share only three common starts and the team shared their increasing insight and knowledge along with a combined trad experience of over 100 years, and as our fitness grew so did our confidence. It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, and some spectacular falls were taken off the Outside Edge (E5 6b). Expectant father Duncan Booth took a 40ft swoop from the crux luckily suffering no more than a bad headache. Not to be out done Chris (The Flying Machine) Hope took the previously mentioned 60ft fall, the maximum possible. Everyone else on the crag decided that was it for the day and were discussing abseiling Fast and Furious to retrieve some gear when Chris just dusted himself down and offered to climb up and strip the route for them.
Where was Dave we asked, could this be the end of the Birkett Dynasty? Well, Dave Birkett arrived on Dove Crag late in the summer but soon worked his way through the routes flashing everything he tried, including Fetish for Fear a very serious E7; also Vlad the Impailer and the Vlad into Dusk link, two very hard and pumpy E7’s. After abseiling off the incredibly steep Vlad the Impailer Dave’s body language expressed the effort that the ascent had taken as he quietly shrugged his shoulders, sighed and rolling himself a tab he acknowledged “Aye, that was hard. “Dave topped all that with a stunning onsight ascent of James McHaffie’s route from 2002, the hard and serious Fear of Failure (E8 6c) after finding a painful knee-bar rest that enabled him to recover below the crux after sorting out the crucial gear. The ferocity of the steep and strenuous lines, the extreme sustained and technical difficulties, the long run-outs and the overpowering atmosphere of the place all combine to make climbing on Dove Crag an unforgettable experience. But what I will always remember most from the summer of 2003 up on Dove will be Awesome AI’s insatiable enthusiasm (especially with a brush), the tremendous team spirit and the shared trad experience. Oh and the bottle of Jack Daniels that we found in the Priest Hole. Cheers!