Leeds Mountaineering Club Blog

Wasdale Head Meet13/14th August 2010


Despite the good forecast, Saturday started windy, cold and drizzly. Hypothermia started setting in just sitting around having breakfast. There were sullen mutterings about having to go for a walk instead of climbing. In the end, most of us decided to flog into the climbs to 'have a look', with a big group of us heading up to the Napes and Kern Knotts on Great Gable.

PJ set a cracking pace up the long ascent to Sty Head, closely followed by Bruce, whilst Paul, the third member of 'The A-Team', grumbled along at the back. John and I didn't even try to keep up. Meanwhile Dave C and Rob ('The Real A-Team'?) quietly overtook everyone on the hill. Clag continued to obscure the tops of Great Gable and Scafell Pike. The nagging cold gusts of wind refused to subside. I watched to see if the spattered drops of rain on the rocks would start to coalesce; hoping to find a valid excuse not to climb in these conditions.

As we neared the top of the pass, the cloud began to lift. At the sight of the crags above, the 'A-Team' bolted, leaving the path and shooting off up a steep scree slope. John and I didn't much like the look of that, and continued to plod up to Sty Head, where we picked up the Climbers' Traverse. We followed this round to Kern Knotts, where Clive, Anna, James, Keiran, Dave C and Rob were already getting established. "I think the others are going the wrong way" said Anna, pointing to three small figures marching steadily up the slopes above towards Westmorland Crag. "They're miles above the Climbers' Traverse".

We continued our pleasant stroll along to the Napes, enjoying lovely views down Wasdale, which was now bathed in sunlight. As Napes Needle came into view, we looked up to see the "A-Team"; now teetering rather sheepishly back down the 70 degree bilberry slopes above us. We restrained ourselves from making smug "Tortoise and Hare" observations when they eventually caught up with us at Napes Needle...

We'd all decided to do Needle Ridge, a classic 100m long VDiff route that climbs up directly behind Napes Needle; but not before a spot of lunch and helping a couple of scramblers to reverse the awkward scramble behind the Needle, after they'd realised that "threading the Needle" without a rope possibly wasn't such a wise plan.

John and I weren't in a rush, so we let the "A-Team" go first, and they positively romped up the first two pitches. It was then my turn to lead the first pitch, the start of which was much trickier than they'd made it look. A steep, very polished slab, totally unprotected for the first few metres, with difficult balance moves needed to gain the crucial handholds that were out of my reach, and a particularly nasty deck-out if I fell off. After a couple of goes and a short bout of whimpering, I got established and things soon eased off. It turned out to be a very nice route, mainly due to the exposure and spectacular position looking down over Napes Needle and Wasdale.

By the time John and I got to the top, the others had scrambled down the scree to the side and were eyeing up Arrowhead Ridge Direct, another VDiff which tackles an interesting rock feature on another of the Napes ridges. We were in a prime viewing spot, so settled down to spectate and take photos while we ate our second lunch. We were treated to some entertaining "traditional" climbing antics, but didn't fail to notice the CHEATING that went on as they half-heartedly grappled with the Arrowhead. They'll have to go back and do it again properly if they want the VDiff tick…

It had turned out to be a glorious, baking hot day. Having set out in cold weather gear, with only limited scope for stripping off layers, I got completely cooked. Several people returned to base very dehydrated due to water running out.

Claire, Dave T and Keith had a pretty arduous day after setting off on a supposed "entry-level" mountain bike route over to Eskdale and back. It turned out that most of this was unrideable, and after spending more than seven hours mostly carrying their bikes over hills and through bogs, they were somewhat less than impressed with the guidebook writer.

Neil and Steve also had a rather frustrating day. They set off to climb Slingsby's Chimney on Scafell Pinnacle Face, but were unable to locate it and were then repelled by Broad Stand, which was still greasy after the previous week's rain. They finally resigned themselves to walking up Scafell Pike.

We all celebrated or consoled ourselves with fine ales and tasty food in the Wasdale Head Inn. It was also the peak of the Perseid meteor showers, and I counted nine in the space of 20 minutes in the pristine night skies above the campsite.

We awoke early on Sunday to another scorching hot and perfect day! There was nothing for it but to head up to the high mountain crags again. Dave C and Rob went back up Great Gable to climb Tophet Wall, the classic Hard Severe, while six teams headed up towards Scafell. Paul, Keith, PJ and Bruce tackled Moss Ledge Direct and Jones's Arete (MVS 4c) on Scafell Pinnacle Face, whilst Clive and Anna took a harder line up Right-Hand Edge and Pinnacle Face Direct Finish (HVS 5b). Meanwhile Keiran and James climbed the much-coveted Botterill's Slab (VS 4c). John and I, followed by Neil and Steve headed up to Pike's Crag, which faces Scafell Crag across Mickledore, to have a go at Grooved Arête, a 130m long VDiff. I'd been inspired to do this route in the pub the previous night when thumbing through my guidebooks and notes. One of the Severes on Scafell looked tempting, but climbing in the shade all day on rock that was potentially still damp from the week's rain wasn't so appealing. Pike's Crag however promised to be in the sun all day. One of my books described Grooved Arête as being "both technical and strenuous for the grade". Taking an impressive line of seven pitches direct up a steep arête for thefull height of Pike's Crag, it looked like a pretty worthy objective for the day, and John didn't take much persuasion to agree to it. For some reason, Neil and Steve thought it would be a good idea to follow us. In retrospect, I rather negligently failed to mention the guidebook quote to them, and the climb possibly turned out to be more interesting than they'd bargained for!

As we slogged up to Mickledore like over-laden mules in the sweltering heat, and the crag came into view, the line looked pretty improbable for the grade. And par for the course for a traditionally graded mountain route, it did indeed involve some improbable and “very difficult” climbing manoeuvres, with every pitch throwing in a different challenge. The pitches went a bit like this: grassy scramble (-), steep delicate wall and arete (S4a), sustained long chimney (VDiff), tough layback corner crack (S4b!?!), meandering slab (requiring several reads of the guidebook and much head-scratching) (Diff), slab and chimney (Diff), ledge traverse, unfriendly corner crack and steep headwall (HVD). Of course, this all averages out as VDiff… It was a wonderful climb, with long pitches on lovely rough rock, spectacular exposure, and an exhilarating final pitch, topping out right on the summit of Pulpit Rock. Going by UKC, it sees very few ascents, but I reckon it's one of the best I've ever done at this grade, and free from the polish and queues of its namesake on Tryfan. Perhaps one of the Lakes' best kept secrets?

We climbed in baking sunshine all day, with fantastic views over Wastwater, the mountains of the North West Lakes, and across to the others climbing on the huge crag of Scafell Pinnacle Face. Although their routes were of the same dimensions as ours, it looked like they were on some vast Alpine north face, with their tiny figures dwarfed by the scale of the crag. It looked absolutely awesome. They seemed very small and vulnerable, so there was something reassuring in being able to hear their familiar voices all day, sounding much closer than they were. Each time I shouted, my voice also echoed back powerfully across the great cwm between the two mountains, somehow reaffirming my own existence too.

Perhaps what was most amazing though was that, other than one other pair (plus Leo Houlding and his dad being filmed for some promo), there was no one else up there! The highest and finest crags in England were the LMC's exclusive playground for the day.

It was one of those days you never wanted to end. Even the walk off was gorgeous, with the path following the cool rushing waters of Lingmell Gill down through the woods in the still radiantly warm early evening sun.

We got back to the campsite at 7 pm. Claire and Dave T were cooking tea; having decided to sack off mountain biking, they'd had a glorious walk over Scafell Pike and down via Piers Gill. Dave C and Rob had already left; reportedly having had a good day on Tophet Wall with "(ahem..) 'interest' maintained from beginning to end…" according to Dave.

We'd just started to speculate about the other teams when they started to return. Last back were Neil and Steve at 8.30pm; tired but deservedly pleased with their successful day.

All in all, it gets my vote as one of the best meets this summer: a fantastic venue, awesome mountain routes, and for once the weather was in our favour!

The great unwashed (Barn Door Campsite): Cath S, Dave C, Rob M, John L, Paul L, PJ, Bruce, Keith, Welsh Neil, Steve W, Claire T, Dave T, James Rowe, Keiran
The fragrant ones (NT Campsite): Clive and Anna
Sleeping in a field somewhere: Ed and his rather dazed-looking mate.
For future reference:
NT Campsite. About £8 pppn, showers, strictly no groups, strictly minimum 6 metres between each tent. Midgey. FULL!
Barn Door Campsite. £2.50 a night, A Tap. No showers, fly-blown toilets, maximum 6 cm between each tent, loud Scouse neighbours. Good pub. Lovely views. We only just all managed to squeeze in on Friday night.

Cath Sanders


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