The first ascent of Nape’s Needle in the late 1880s is said to have been the birth of the sport of rock climbing. Fast forward 130 years and the Lake District National Park is still one of the world’s best areas to get your hands on the rock. From road side bouldering to full mountain days out there are routes and locations to challenge and amaze climbers of all abilities and experience. No two days are the same which make the Lake District a must for any climber in the UK.
Wayfarers Independent Hostel is the perfect place for climbers to stay when visiting the Lake District. Penrith is ideally situated for a climbing trip to these parts, only a short drive to many of the Lake’s best crags. There are also a few hidden gems outside the National Park that see a lot less traffic but still offer excellent quality climbing. Armathwaite, Scratchmere and Headend Quarry are all well worth a look when the Lakes are getting a bit too busy. Wayfarers Hostel provides excellent value accommodation for climbers.
There are so many different options near to Penrith that it would be impossible to talk about them all here. Instead here’s a selection of my favourite places to climb when the sun’s out:
Shepherds Crag: Thirty minutes from Penrith in the Borrowdale valley lies one of the most popular crags in the Lake District, and with good reason. There are routes here for all abilities and you could easily fill two or three days without ever having to repeat the same line. The ultra-classic Little Chamonix (VDiff) tends to be most climbers first taste of exposure and is a route every climber should tick at some point. On the way home you could always head to George Fishers in Keswick where they still have a photo of Ray Macfee on the wall that climbed the route in roller skates and boxing gloves! Routes at Shepherds tend to be one to two pitches long and although slightly polished in places, still offer excellent quality rock.
Black Crag: Slightly further down the Borrowdale Valley lies Black Crag, home to Troutdale Pinnacle and one of my favourite days out. The approach here is slightly longer but still an attractive walk in its own right. Once you’ve made it to the rock I’d strongly recommend either Troutdale Pinnacle (VS) or the direct version (HVS) as your route to the top. Both routes feature a wild belay stance on the pinnacle itself which provides perhaps the best view you’re likely to find in the Lakes. Bring some sandwiches, climb a couple of routes, make a day of it and you will not leave the area disappointed!
Castle Rock: Perhaps a personal favourite of mine and only 15 minutes out of Penrith is Castle Rock. This striking cliff face overlooks Thirlmere reservoir and is clearly visible on the approach down St John’s in the Vale. The approach from the car park is short and brutally steep, but it should take no more than 10 minutes to reach the base. The south side of the crag is made up of some excellent quality one and two pitch routes around the severe to HVS grade. The main face of the crag is higher and largely overhung, making for some very exciting and potentially challenging routes. Overhanging Bastion cuts the main face on an obvious line and for four pitches of fantastic VS climbing, should not be missed out on when visiting the area! A more direct line is Rigor Mortis at E2 and is a real thrill ride from start to finish.
Swindale: This one’s a little bit off the beaten track but features some excellent quality routes. The approach is straight forward and should take about 20 to 25 minutes to complete. During the several trips I’ve made to this valley I’ve always found it to be deserted making an excellent place to visit during the busy periods. The Fang is a nice easy (VDiff) long run that could serve as a warm up before getting on the many shorter, more difficult lines the area has to offer.
Carrick Fell: If bouldering is more your thing or you’re looking for a short distraction one evening then Carrick Fell is the place to be. This is an absolute playground of boulders only 10 to 15 minutes away. Most are concentrated near the road but some of the most exciting boulders are a few minutes’ walk up the fell. The Lakes bouldering guide by Rocfax covers this area brilliantly, but if you’re on a budget a similarly useful guide can be found here.
Trad climbing is the order of the day in the Lake District so it’s worth making sure you’ve got the right gear before you head out. If you find yourself lacking, Go Outdoors in Penrith or Needle Sports (www.needlesports.co.uk) in Keswick can hook you up with anything you need. A full set of nuts and cams up to wide hands should see you protected on most routes up to the E1 kind of grade. Two ropes can be recommended on some routes to avoid rope drag so are worth bringing if you have them. That being said I have spent most of my time climbing in the area on a single rope without too much of a problem.
On those few days of the year we have where the weather is less than perfect (I know unlikely, but it does happen) you can still get a climbing fix at the local wall. Penrith Leisure Centre houses an 8m climbing wall with a surprisingly good variety of routes. Your own equipment is required as there are no fixed ropes, and aside from the in-situ quick draws no gear is provided by the centre. With easily enough to go at for a couple of sessions it should tide you over until the sun comes out again. Slightly further afield is Kendal climbing wall, recognized as one of the best and highest in the country. With a 25m lead wall and masses of bouldering there is more than enough to keep a climber going all day. Thirty to forty minutes south of Penrith it’s well worth calling in if you’re passing by, or just love pulling on plastic!
If you’re looking for any more information on places to climb in the area then UKClimbing is the place to start. They have detailed information on practically every crag in the country!