Dodging the crowds on Lake District winter climbs
Steve Scott assesses some of the Lake district's less crowded winter climbing venues and offers some ideas for alternative days out.
You may have missed it on your way up the M6 to Scotland, but the Lake District offers an array of quality winter climbing. Arguably, the best routes are to be found high in the mountains; on the Scafell massif, around the summit of Bowfell and on Gable. The most popular, and a very reliable venue, is of course Great End. But if you want to get away from the crowds to find yourself good climbing with little or no company here are a few suggestions.
Patterdale – Rampsgill Head Crag
A mile or so north of High Street on the old Roman road is the indistinct top of Rampsgill Head. The crag, on the North West flank of the mountain at a lofty 670m and near the heart of the area, collects a good covering of snow and offers a selection of routes across the grades in a traditional mould. The ridges of the Pinnacle Buttresses offer the most interesting mixed climbs; South Pinnacle Ridge IV (6) and Central Ridge IV (5) being the best, while North Gully IV (5) offers a worthy challenge with plenty of protection on the main pitch.
Buttermere – Chapel Crags
A sprawling damp mass lies between the summits of Red Pike and High Stile at 670m. When it gets cold and the snow has consolidated Chapel Crags are well worth the drive into Buttermere and often overlooked in favour of Great End or Combe Ghyll. There are two sections with the right offering the longest and meatiest of the routes here. Central Buttress III (4), No.3 Buttress V (5) are recent high quality routes. Bleaberry Chimney III (4) and Chapel Crag Gully II (3) are entertaining and atmospheric. And what’s more – the descent is straightforward.
Langdale – Shelter Crags
Pop across to the left as you go up ‘the Band’, instead of following the herd right, to climb a route on Shelter Crags. Lying neglected at 700m this is a large, high crag just below the Three Tarns. Shelter Corner II/III an amenable turf route on the left or Central Chimney III (3) are good warm-ups for The Big Issue IV (5) or the Shelter Icefall IV (4). Descent is down the main footpath from the Three Tarns or on steep ground to the south of the crag.
Honister – Green Gable
If you can get to the car park, Honister Pass makes a great place to start your day as you are already at 400m. An hours walk gets you to the West face of Green Gable (750m), not particularly impressive but high and with a good selection of short routes. Overlooking the head of Ennerdale the panorama of Great Gable and Gable Crag and down to the Irish Sea is sublime. Epsilon Chimney III and Garden of Eden III are two of the best and Beta Hammer Belter III deserves more attention.
There are many more routes in Lake District Winter Climbs, published by Cicerone and the Lake District Fell and Rock Club.
Keep you climbing sustainable and ethical – new free BMC guidance booklets
Due to its accessibility outdoor activities in the Lake District are hugely popular and climbing is not immune. One of the key issues is sustainability. Many really fine classic summer rock climbs have become equally sought after hard winter mixed climbs and in 2014 an accord was reached to protect some of these climbs from irreparable damage. Equally important is the protection of rare plant colonies that thrive in the unique conditions found on some of these crags. Copies of guides covering these important issues can be downloaded from the BMC website, or can be obtained at good gear outlets or downloaded from Cicerone's website homepage – please respect the guidance that these provide.
So turn left at Junction 36, have an adventure and enjoy your days out.