Rock Climbing in the Lake District

If you are new to rock climbing, take formal instruction or learn from someone with experience. If you’re already a climber, you know the script.

Climbing, both indoor and outdoor, is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. As a sport it is a great leveller, as although some expensive equipment is ultimately required, it doesn’t help you to defy gravity, merely slow your fall. Having said that, and acknowleging the obvious danger of any sport involving potential falls from height; approached properly, climbing is a relatively safe activity. Figures from the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Organisation for 2005 record 19 deaths on the hills, yet only two of these were rock climbers.

Of course the Lake District is where rock climbing formally began. Whether you take that to be Coleridge’s descent of Broad Stand in 1802, or Atkinson’s ascent of Pillar Rock in 1826 is up to you.

Climbing Crags

The Fell and Rock Climbing Club (FRCC) publish six definitive climbing guide books covering grouped areas, they are:

Gable and Pillar
Dow, Duddon and Slate
Scafell, Wasdale and Eskdale
Buttermere and Eastern Crags

Coniston Area

Cathedral Quarry

Cathedral Quarry is often visited by stray walkers and used by outdoor education groups for abseiling, so if you turn up and it’s busy, you might want to go elsewhere.

Directions: From Coniston, follow the A593 and turn left onto a minor road signposted high park. Take the right fork and drop down through two farmyards to the obvious (limited) parking area. Last time I drove down here, four very large red deer were ambling up the road.

After parking follow the path for 100m then use the steep path to get to the top of the hill. You can ab in from here if you have a long enough rope, or just use the descent route to the left.

There are 22 routes here ranging from E1 to E5, notable are:

Orifice Fish – two star 40m E4 5b, 5c

More Banana Related Japery – two star 38m E4 (F 7a) 5b, 6b

Night of the Hot Pies – two star 30m E1 5b (the only route that I’ve climbed – excellent)

An Alabuse – two star 32m E2 5c

Darklands – three star 38m E3 5c

The Turbulent Beast – two star 33m 6b, 6b

Burly Dudes – two star 22m E5 (F7b) 6b

Basilica – three star 45m E4 (F 7a) 6a

Dow Crag

First recorded as a climbing crag in 1886 when WP Haskett-Smith and JW Robinson climbed on E Buttress, Dow Crag comprises of six buttresses providing over 100 routes ranging in difficulty from Moderate to E6. It’s a stiff one hour walk in from the car park.

Directions: Dow Crag lies 3 miles west of Coniston village. The car park is reached via a turn off (opposite the petrol station) in the village itself, which is signposted “Walna ScarTrack”. After a mile or so you’ll meet a gate, whilst on the way you’ll encounter the steepest section of straight road in the Lake District. Take care on this road which is often populated by walkers and by horses from the nearby riding schools. After the gate you can stop for a refreshing ice cream (if the van is there) then continue left, for a further half a mile. Eventually, the track becomes unsuitable for driving on, and you can park. Follow the track west, then branch right to Goats Water. The crag is reached via the scree slope with the first aid box being a marker for the start of Murrays Route.

There are many climbs of note, amongst them are:

Arete, Chimney and Crack – three star 96m Mild Severe,six pitch

Abraxas – three star 85m E3 5c 5c 4c 5b

Eliminate ‘A’ – three star 107m VS 4b 4b 4c 4a 4c 4b – “One of Britain’s greatest routes”

Giant’s Crawl – three star 115m Difficult, seven pitch.

Nimrod – three star 84m E1 5a 5b 5c

Holocaust – 72m E4 6a 5b 5b

Catacomb – three star 60m E1 5a 5a 5b

Pink Panther – three star 40m E2 5c

Leopard’s Crawl – three star 48m HVS 5a 4c

Murray’s Direct – three star 48m VS 4c 4b 4c

Murray’s Route – three star 78m Severe – “One of the greatest classics in the Lakes” – the only route that I’ve climbed on Dow, something that I intend to remedy soon.

The Shining Path – three star 28m E5 6b

Paths of Victory – three star 59m E6 6c

‘C’ Ordinary Route – three star 100m Difficult, seven pitch

Hopkinson’s Crack – three star 45m HS

Quotes from Al Phizacklea – Dow Duddon & Slate F&RCC Guide

Hodge Close Quarry

Hodge Close is an old slate quarry about 3 miles north of the village of Coniston reached via a turn off on the A593 signposted “Hodge Close Only”. Some of the finest slate climbing in the country is to be found here, both bolted and traditional routes. There are over 80 routes at Hodge, ranging from the odd VS to E7 with most routes in the Extreme grades. Of note are:

First Night Nerves – three star 55m E5 6b, 5a

Stage Fright – three star 50m E6 6b

Ten Years After – three star 45m E4 5c

Wicked Willie – three star 45m E5 6b

Great Expectations – three star 42m E5 6c (F 7b)

Limited Edition – three star 33m E4 6a (F 6c)

Behind The Lines – three star 33m HVS 5a – the only route I’ve climbed here

Malice In Wonderland – three star 45m E3 5c

Parrock Quarry

Parrock Quarry lies adjacent to the north end of Hodge Close Quarry, access is as for Hodge. There are two distinct climbing areas; The upper slabs are open to the sun, whilst the lower area is dark and slow drying. The routes are mainly bolted. there are around 40 routes available a solitary HVS up to E5. Of note are:

The Groove – two star 18m E4 (F 7a)

Master Blaster – two star 18m E2 (F 6a+)

Hang ’em High – two star 40m E5 (F 7a+)

Tilberthwaite Quarry

Tilberthwaite Quarry is a great place for evening climbing as the walk in is just a few minutes from the car park. There are both bolted and traditional routes.

Directions: From Coniston, follow the A593 and after about 2 miles, turn left onto a minor road signposted Tilberthwaite. Follow this road for about a mile until you see the obvious car park. Take care on this road as there are many blind bends and you may meet a mountain biker going flat out in the middle of the road !

After parking follow the (initially) stepped path for a few minutes and enter the lower quarry via a rock archway. The first possibility for an entry point is a red herring.

There are close to 50 routes here ranging from Hard Severe to E6, notable are:

Megabyte – two star 15m E4 6a

Ingham’s Route – two star 16m E6 (F 7c)

Violation – two star 17m E3 (F 6c)

Look Sharp – two star 21m E2 5c

And for those (like me) climbing at lower grades:

Kick Off – one star HVS (5a)

Big Tree Corner – one star 12m E1 5b

Rock Climbing in Borrowdale

Sergeant Slab Crags

I climbed at Sergeant Slab Crag in May 2008. You can see my climbing report by clicking on the link to our blog sergeant crag slabs

Rock Climbing in the Duddon Valley

Running from the Duddon Estuary to Wrynose Pass, the River Duddon marks the line of the Duddon Valley. Somewhat off the beaten track and all the better for it, the valley provides us with some excellent climbing on mainly south facing crags. From North To South the main areas are: Stonestar Crag, Wallowbarrow Crag, Wallowbarrow gorge, Pen, Seathwaite Buttress, Peel Crag, Troutal Gorge, White How Crag, Little Blake Rigg, Burnt Crag and Viz Crag. The valley can be accessed from the north via the Hardknott Pass / Wrynose Pass road, or from the south at the turn off the A595 at Duddon Bridge.

Seathwaite Buttress

Continue past the Wallowbarrow turn off, heading towards the hamlet of Seathwaite and park opposite the church. Seathwaite Buttress lies about half a mile to the north. After parking head left through the stone squeeze stile, turn right and cross the bridge over the beck. After a hundred yards or so strike off right to the bottom of the buttress. If you think you’ve gone to far and missed the right turn, you are probably right. Gear up in the obvious place (below Crackle) and watch out for the ants !

There are around 15 routes on Seathwaite Buttress ranging from Difficult to E2, notable are:

Snap – one star 30m Diff

Alpen – one star 29m VS 4c (two pitch)

Crackle – two star, 33m, three pitch, Severe

Seathwaite Buttress Direct – one star 26m HVS (5a) – a great line

Cereal Killer – 27m MVS (4b) no stars, but an entertaining route at the grade

The descent route is to the left as you look at the buttress

Seathwaite Buttress also benefits from its close proximity to the Newfield Inn – a great pub for an after climb pint, excellent food too.

Stonestar Crag

Stonestar crag is the first large crag on the journey up the Duddon Valley from the turn off the main road after Broughton in Furness. It is usually considered as an evening crag because it it often bathed in sunlight at that time of day, however it merits a visit at any time of day.

The walk in is short and steep and the area at the bottom of the crag for gearing up is narrow and steep. The crag itself is of good quality rock and dries quickly, some green areas are evident though. Descent is to the left as you look at the crag.

The easiest climbs at severe grade, are at the left hand end of the crag, after which the climbs become more difficult until the MVS at the right hand end is reached. There are 16 climbs listed in the guide book, with a few more new routes added since it was published. Grades vary from severe to E4. Of note are the two star Columbia (27m E1 5b), and the one star climbs The Challenger (30m E2 5c), The Breech, (27m E2 5c) and Teenage Mutant Hero girdles (47m E2 5c).

Wallabarrow Crag

High Wallabarrow Farm, is where to park before walking up to the crag itself. Parking is free, courtesy of the owner, but there’s a charity box for donations. Just before the farm there is an area of flat(ish) land on the left – park there. Walk through the farmyard, turn left, and follow the track up to the crag – about 10 minutes.

When the winter nights have ended, and the warmer days come round again, the first place we head to is Wallabarrow, and the first climb is Thomas. This three pitch, two star severe, soon reminds you the wall is great for honing technique, but rock is just different.

There are about 30 climbs in total at Wallabarrow, raging in grade from V Diff to E3, with plenty in the MVS to HVS range. Climb lengths vary from 30m to 70m and single pitch to 7 pitches.

On the West Buttress, Western Wall is a 2 star rising traverse with a steep finish. Next to it is a 2 star VS (4c) 49m climb called Maladiction Direct, which shares its first pitch with another VS (4c) the 1 star The Plumb. West Buttress Girdle is an entertaining expedition which finishes up the final pitch of Thomas and ranks as a 2 star MVS. If you’re climbing in the VS grades, there are about 11 climbs to choose from, all within about 50m of each other.

The East Buttress (separated from West Buttress by Red Gully) begins with a single pitch E1, then follows seven one and two star routes ranging from V.Diff to HVS. Digitation is an entertaining 2 star, 2 pitch (47m) MVS, and Trinity Slabs is a very worthwhile 2 star, 4 pitch (60m) V.Diff.

There are five further routes on Far East Buttress in the MS to HVS range with “Paradise” – a 32m single pitch VS(4c) being the pick of them and meriting a star.

If you can find it, the small isolated crag called Sharks Fin which sits below Far East Buttress, provides further entertainment with three routes at V.Diff, VS, and E1.

White How Crag

Onwards from Seathwaite towards Cockley Beck, White How Crag is to be found on the hillside above Troutal Farm. Park just after the farm where the edge of the forest meets the road. Follow the stone wall to the crag (10 minutes in the guide book, i found it took double that).

Nine climbs are listed here, two of which merit a star:

Squeal Like a Hog – 20m E1 (5b)

Natural Progression – 20m E1 (5b)

I’ve done two routes here, White How Crack 20m Severe, pleasant enough, but as I had no gear big enough to protect the top half of the climb, I had to solo it; and Playing Tents 20m VS seconded and hated it.

Rock Climbing in the Langdale Valley

Raven Crag Walthwaite

Raven Crag Walthwaite is a little gem of a crag located near Chapel Stile in Great langdale. Limited parking is available below the crag on the minor road to that passes through Walthwaite village. It’s only a 5 minute walk in, but it is steep and the path was covered by rock deposited by the large rockfall in December 2006. As the notice on the gate that allows entry to the fellside warns, be aware that further rockfall is a probability.

The rockfall has removed two routes: Walthwaite Crack and Cliff at Christmas, but more than 20 routes remain on this compact crag. Noteable are:

Route 1 – two star 22m Severe

Enterprize – two star 22m VS 4c (I haven’t climbed it, but a number of people have reported that the climb is over graded)

Route 2 – three star 37m HS – excellent

Tritus – two star 27m HVS 5a (some loose rock / hollow flakes)

Protus – two star 30m HVS 4b, 5a

Walthwaite Gully – two star 27m VS 4b, 4c (recommended if you need to gain confidence laybacking at this grade)

Swing to the Right – two star 17m E1 5b

Ice Climbing in the Lake District

Ice Climbing Lake District

Having only ever climbed on ice in Scotland, I’m not well qualified to describe Ice Climbing in The Lake District, but apparantly, the last time anywhere in the lakes was in condition was around 1986. I’ll find someone from that era to describe the best routes. If you would like to contribute to this category, please contact us by email.

We’ve had a recent submission (photo and text) from Pat Duffy – can anyone identify the climb?

OK 1985- Bill Birkitt leading, me following as 2nd Man. Bill Peascod took the picture. It was a big ice route north of Keswick and the name escapes me for now. Bill Peascod was 65 and just got back from Australia to retire. We met him on the walk in and he asked if he could be 3rd man.

We went back to his place for tea after and met his new wife. He died just after he recorded the BBC series with Bonnington on Lakeland climbing – his was episode 1. Don Whillans was Episode 2. They both died in that order. Forget who was episode 3 but when it aired I was in the Golden Rule and Bonnington was there when climber 3 walked in. The whole pub as one shouted “Climbing with Bonnington can seriously damage your health – you’re next!”

If you can fill the gaps please let me know.

New Lake District Winter Climbing Guide Available:

The creative forces of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club and Cicerone have come together to provide the definitive guide to winter climbing in the English Lake District in a handy-pocket-sized format. Every known winter climb, from all over the National Park and beyond is explored, including over 200 new routes for this edition recorded only in the past few years. All manner of winter climbing is covered; from Snow and Ice to Mixed Climbing, Water Ice and Dry Tooling. There are routes for those who are new to the adventure of winter climbing, as well as challenging ascents for experienced climbers. Click Here for More info and to get the Guide Book