Here, I’m thinking of a pair of classic VS routes up the forbidding walls of the North Crag. I can’t explain why I’d not climbed either of them until just a couple of months ago. Maybe the names were off-putting. The Coffin and The Shroud both sound like routes that can only lead to death. The naming of a route can do that. I know of at least one book that blames Paul Ross for naming both The Coffin and The Shroud, listing a good handful and more of other climbs in Borrowdale with morbid names of which Paul is supposed to have made the first ascents. He certainly did put up The Shroud, on June 1st 1958, with Peter Lockey, but it was nine years after The Shroud that Ray McHaffie first climbed the parallel line of The Coffin, on 12th February 1967. Paul Ross certainly did climb some incredible lines though. Looking at his historical photos from his days in Borrowdale in the 50s and 60s – photos that we’re lucky enough to have Paul sharing with us on the Facebook ‘Lakeland Rock and Ice’ page – it looks like an amazing time to be a climber in Borrowdale. Bentley Beetham had all but stopped new-routing in the valley, and Ross, Greenwood, Fisher and other founder members of the Keswick Mountaineering Club were busy bringing Borrowdale up to speed with standards elsewhere, and pushing the grades beyond.
Anyway. I’d not climbed The Shroud or The Coffin until summer 2017. I had arranged to meet up with Tony Jones at the layby, and we found ourselves gearing-up beneath the tree at the foot of The Coffin. Tony gamely took the first pitch, which is an easy crack followed by a swing around said tree. This left him to arrange his belay on a heathery ledge overlooked by a moss and lichen-speckled wall that looks like it hasn’t been climbed for quite some time. This was my pitch. I made moves to the right of Tony’s belay, up a shitty wall. Then climbed back down again. I looked at the wall to the left of his belay, and thought that looked improbable at the grade, so attacked the shitty wall a second time. It wasn’t that it was hard, but just didn’t feel like a wall that had ever been climbed. Verdant is the adjective I would use. I sneezed – heather pollen full in the face – and climbed back down to Tony’s ledge again. I suggested that maybe he’d built his belay in the wrong place, but knew that this was just me stalling for time and making excuses for my own indecision. I looked again at that improbable wall to the left, and stepped up onto it, using small smears and edges for the feet. A couple of moves upwards brought good holds, and I was away.
I’d worried about route-finding here. The guidebook seems to make a lot about moving left at overhangs, and right up gangways (or was it the other way around?), but once I was up there, making the moves, the route was obvious. Just climb where it’s VS I told myself, and that worked well. A ramp lead leftwards beneath an overhang, and a superb groove line, with rusting nuts in place, took me up rightwards.