The Lake District is the undisputed birthplace of climbing in the UK, particularly the region of Wasdale. Here is where you will find Scafell, Scafell Pike and Great Gable, which hold some of the oldest routes. In fact, Napes Needle on Great Gable was ascended by Walter Parry Haskett Smith in 1886 and is considered one of the first proper rock climbs in the country! Find out about the amazing historic climbing feats that have taken place in Wasdsale.
Climbers visiting the national park aren’t short on choices, classic lines and amazing settings and our friends at Open Ascents have put together this guide to some of their favourite climbing locations in the Lake District. There’s something for everyone, like hard-to-reach Pillar Rock, or friendlier locations such as Black Crag and Longscar in Langdale. Each location has a range of grades and hopefully enough choice to avoid any queues!
Note: rock climbing is a dangerous sport and only experienced climbers should attempt these routes. Some may be suitable for beginners with guidance and support from a more skilled climber. There are a number of outdoor activity providers such as Open Ascents in the Lake District who will take you out on guided climbs (discounts available for Sally's Cottages guests), or head to an indoor climbing centre for some practice and lessons.
All these descriptions are brief guides only, and you should do your own in-depth research before attempting them. Remember that some may require long walks to reach the start point, so you will need hiking kit as well as climbing gear.
1. Napes Needle, Wasdale
Of course, we had to start with the original rock climbing route! The most popular way up, and the first, is The Wasdale Crack (HS). This obvious route is highly polished because of its years of popularity, so take care. Alternatively, The Arête (HS) is an easier option to get to the shoulder. After this, there are some trying moves onto the summit where you can pat yourself on your back for your hard work as you admire the incredible views! You’re not quite done yet though – the descent is also a challenging climb. Abseiling is strongly advised against.
Approach via Styhead Pass after parking at Wasdale Head. Follow Climber’s Traverse below the crags until you’re below Napes Needle, then ascend Needle Gully to reach the start of the climbs.
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2. Grey Crag, Buttermere
Positioned in the Buttermere valley at 660m, Grey Crag’s series of buttresses hang over Birkness Combe close to the summit of High Stile. Visible from the roadside, the volcanic buttress has a whole range of routes to climb, from the high-quality scrambling lines of Chockstone Ridge (M) to the harder midrange climbs of Dexter wall (VS 5a). It’s a crag that has something for everyone!
A fantastic link-up can be made from the lower of the three buttresses, Harrow Buttress at Diff, through to the mid way buttress using the Slabs West route and finishing on the classic test piece of Dexter Wall. With very little walking between climbs, it’s hard to think of a finer link-up in the Lakes.
Approach via Gategarth farm (parking charges apply) and make your way below Low Crag before climbing into the Combe. Once below Eagle Crag, strike right up the screes to the base of the crag. Approach time: 1hr 30mins.
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3. Castle Rock, Thirlmere
Castle Rock is a contender for the crown of easiest Lake District approach at a friendly 10 minutes! Sitting in St John’s in the Vale some 5 minutes off the A66, its full name is the epic-sounding Castle Rock of Thriermain!
The impressive compact dome of Borrowdale volcanic rock has two main features: the north-facing higher crag (75m) and the sunnier south crag, which hosts a range of easier climbs. In 2018 there was a large rock fall on the north crag, which wiped out a few of the routes. Most of these have now been re-climbed but care should be taken when following any guidebook descriptions.
The south crag is often basked in sunlight and features a large variety of great routes across the grades. In particular, don’t miss Gangway Climb (HVD), Via Media (S 4a) & Gazebo (HVS 5a).
Approach via Legburthwaite Car Park before crossing the road and following the track over the water culvert. Continue following the track to the base of the crag.
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4. Black Crag and Long Scar, Langdale
The large outcrops of Black Crag and Longscar sit below Pike o’ Blisco and offer some of the finest single pitch climbing in the Lake District. Because of their altitude (580m), the wind can dry these crags relatively quickly, and the south-facing aspect also helps. It’s a good choice either side of the summer climbing season and when the wind is not whistling through it can be a beautiful setting that boast some fantastic climbing across all grades.
With easy access to the top of the crags, climbers can be found pushing their grades with the help of a top rope. Seek out Glass Slipper (E2 5b), Ann’s Agony (HVS 5b) or the easier Vlad the Inhaler (HS 4b).
Access can be achieved in around 30 minutes from Wrynose Pass where there are a variety of laybys and parking spots around the Three Shire Stone area (please avoid blocking the road). You can follow the Red Tarn footpath for about 15 minutes before striking out right to the base of the crags.
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5. Shepherds Crag, Borrowdale
“There’s always Shepherds.” This is the local climber’s saying that plays out each rainy day! Such is the popularity of Shepherds Crag that climbers can be found here throughout the year, even on the wettest of days.
Roadside cragging in the historic valley of Borrowdale offers some of the most accessible multi-pitch climbing in the Lakes and a grade spread to suit anyone. From the classic lines of Little Chamonix (VD) & Brown Slabs Direct (VD) to the mid range 3 star routes of Adam (VS 5a) & Eve (VS 4c), Shepherds Crag delivers for everyone in a social setting with great views over Derwentwater and the Northern Fells.
Be prepared to queue on a busy weekend, but with an open mind and careful route choice, a full day’s cragging can be had. If you continue into the evening, you’ll even have the sun on your back!
Approach from either Kettlewell or Boulderstone car parks or catch the bus from Keswick and walk in past Shepherds Cafe to the base of Jackdaw Ridge area. Alternatively, approach from opposite the Chinese Bridge footpath through the woods to Brown Slabs area.
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6. Pillar Rock, Ennerdale
Pillar Rock is unquestionably one of the most remote crags in the Lake District, sitting at the back of the Ennerdale valley. However, it rivals any other location on a sunny day!
Steeped in history, it’s unique for the fact that its summit can only be accessed via scrambling or climbing. Sitting proud as the centre column of the north face of Pillar mountain, Pillar Rock is ideally climbed during sunny spells. It’s a magnificent, complex and sometimes daunting crag but once you get your bearings you’ll be treated to some of the best climbs of their grade in the Lakes.
To top it all off, once summited, there’s an abseil off Jordan Gap followed by a scramble down the south side of the gap!
Climbs to look out for are the classic rock routes of Rib & Slab Climb (HS) and New West Climb (VD).
The best approach is to park at the head of Ennerdale at Bowness Knott then mountain bike the forests to below the crag before making your way through the woods and up the fell on foot. You can also approach on foot from Buttermere in approximately 2 hours.
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7. Gouther, Swindale
Gouther Crags offers the advantage of remaining dry when the central fells are dripping wet. It consists of four main buttresses with Fang Buttress holding the largest selection of climbs. Some striking lines can be found here on solid compact rock including The Fang (VS 4b) and Thruss Buttress (VD) or, if you’re feeling bold, Bloodhound (E2 5b) will give an excellent outing.
Gouther also hosts an excellent selection of boulder problems at the base of the crag. Enough for a varied day of climbing!
Approach via the obvious parking on the Swindale road, then walk up the road for 10-15 minutes. Cross the Bridge or stepping stones before following the steep track above the drystone wall to the base of the crag.
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8. Gimmer Crag, Langdale
The guidebook describes Gimmer as the jewel in the Langdale climbing crown and it is easy to see why! Facing southeast through to northwest, it captures the sun (and the wind) and dries a lot quicker than most high mountain crags. The rock is of high quality and so are the routes, hosting three classic rock routes in the form of Ash Tree Slab (VD), C route (S 4b) and Bracket & Slab Climb (S 4b). Those wishing to climb more than one route may wish to use double 50m ropes in order to abseil down the west face to the base of ABCD routes.
It’s worth noting that this is a popular face and care should be taken not to drop ropes on other climbers!
Access is best by parking at Stickle Ghyll Car Park and then starting the hour-long ascent along the Mark Gate footpath, striking out left under Loft Crag. Be aware of the steep Grave Gill path approach where you fill find first-time visitors regretting their arduous decision!
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9. Wallowbarrow, Duddon
This quintessential crag is known for its peaceful views, hidden feel and brilliant routes. Wallowbarrow hosts one of the best spreads of mid-grade routes outside of the popular central crags.
Whilst the rest of the Lakes hides under a shadow of rain, Wallowbarrow can often be the crag of choice due to its southwest aspect and its ability to dry quickly. Added to this, its fantastic views over the Duddon Valley will bring a smile to anyone’s face! Don’t miss out on Thomas (S 4a), one of the finest outings of its grade in the Lakes. Alternatively, Malediction Direct (VS 4c) and Trinity Slabs (VD) are also superb climbs.
Approach via the friendly High Wallowbarrow Farm, where a small donation box fee goes direct to the farm. Bear left once in the farmyard and walk uphill for 15 minutes before getting to the base of the crag.
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10. Buckbarrow, Wasdale
Buckbarrow is the definition of traditional climbing. With the odd loose block and a hint of vegetation you’ll feel like you’re on the higher crags and yet you can still be within view of the car! A great alternative when the higher crags are wet, it catches the sun throughout the day and there’s enough wind to keep it dry without hindering your climb.
There are some brilliant climbs here, from the delicate Witch (VS 4c) to the must-do Buckbarrow Needle (VS 4c), which offers climbing in a unique position.
Approach from the roadside parking at on the Wasdale Head road. Ascend steeply for 20 minutes on a broken path to the Witch buttress, which is visible from the road.
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About Open Ascents
Open Ascents is a climbing & mountaineering company in the Lake District. With well over a decade of experience in the outdoor industry, we have a vast amount of local knowledge when it comes to all these mountains! We specialise in bespoke and private bookings aiming to inspire, motivate and encourage independence in the mountains. You'll receive a discount for their tours when you book with Sally's Cottages, or find out more at www.openascents.com.