Lake District, Pillar Rock: Your scribe was quaking in his boots as he led off up the lichen-speckled rock, its crystals pin-pricking blood from the fingertips
Recently as I lay racked with food poisoning, my climbing days flashed by. The north-west climb on Pillar Rock stood out. Oh, to lead that tour-de-force again.
The axe-gash profile of the Low Man looks inviolate. This was the cliff that Wordsworth wrote “rises like a column in the vale”. Wasdale landlord Will Ritson (1808-90) put it another way (when speaking of Scafell Crag): “Now’t but a fleein’ thing cud git up theer.” Fred Botterill – he of the eponymous Slab on “Scorfle” – agreed; only the “impossible” attracted him.
What an epic he and his friends experienced on the first ascent of the north-west in 1906, the Manchester Guardian splashing the news in headlines. It was three years since four climbers had fallen to their deaths on Scafell Pinnacle when one slipped and dragged the others down – and 41 years since the similar Matterhorn disaster involving Edward Whymper.
Risky? Climbing was lethal. No wonder your scribe was quaking in his boots as he led off up the lichen-speckled rock, its crystals pin-pricking blood from the fingertips. The gunmetal-grey rock unreeled in a blur, the harp-like sounds of the wind blowing through the Forestry Commission firs of Ennerdale growing fainter below.
Above is the crux, Lamb’s Chimney, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As George Abraham wrote a century ago, “a slip on the part of the leader [here] would almost certainly mean that none of the party would take any further interest in old age pensions”.
Finally Oppenheimer’s Chimney arrived – named after one of Botterill’s co-climbers, Lehmann J Oppenheimer. Climbers are obliged to hang like sloths from this overhanging fissure. Would-be rescuers at the top, ready with ropes to lower just in case, greeted them with champagne. We just shook hands.
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663875/s/318ec2b5/sc/4/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cenvironment0C20A130Csep0C220Clake0Edistrict0Elambs0Echimney/story01.htm