Britain’s greatest scrambles: Threading Napes Needle, Great Gable

Napes Needle may be an historic icon of rock climbing, but there’s a sneaky little scramble that can get non-climbers up close and personal with this Lakeland legend.

Britain's greatest scrambles: Threading Napes Needle, Great Gable

by Ben Week |

Jutting out of the southern face of Great Gable like a great fossilised crochet hook, napes needle is one of the most identifiable landscape features in the Lake district. The star of many a postcard, fridge- magnet and tea-towel, napes needle first came to prominence in June 1886 when its ascent by Walter parry haskett smith helped give birth to the sport of rock climbing in the uk.

Rock climbers still traipse along the traverse from sty head to the base of the pinnacle with the aim of bagging this classic ascent, but the actual climb (graded at hard severe for those who know and care about these things) is beyond the abilities of the humble hillwalker. While this puts the very pinnacle of the pinnacle out of bounds, there’s a short route around the back of its foundations which, while by no means straightforward, gives those with reasonable scrambling ability the chance to at least lay hands on this famous monolith.

Distance 8.5km | Ascent 805m | Scramble rating Grade 2 | Go there after a dry spell. It’s fairly sheltered from the wind, but the scramble is treacherous in the wet or snow and best avoided.

1.

Having reached Sty Head from Wasdale, take the traverse path around the south- west face of Great Gable, starting around the 500m contour below Kern Knotts and gradually climbing up to 650m over a kilometre of rough and initially hard-to-follow path, crossing several scree slopes on the way.

A steep V-shaped chimney leads from the base of the rock up towards the top of the rock which joins the lower half of the pinnacle to the mountain behind it. This clamber is an awkward and strenuous battle of will. There aren’t quite enough handholds or footholds to be entirely comfortable, and when wet the rock can be treacherously slippery. If in any doubt, retreat before you get too high.

2.

As Great Napes is approached, the profile of the Needle juts out from the rocks above. Leave the main traverse path to take a rising diagonal which climbs more steeply towards the needle on its right (eastern) side.

Ascending the steep V-shaped chimney on the eastern side of Needle Gap
Ascending the steep V-shaped chimney on the eastern side of Needle Gap
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3.

A steep V-shaped chimney leads from the base of the rock up towards the top of the rock which joins the lower half of the pinnacle to the mountain behind it. This clamber is an awkward and strenuous battle of will. There aren’t quite enough handholds or footholds to be entirely comfortable, and when wet the rock can be treacherously slippery. If in any doubt, retreat before you get too high.

4.

The top of the scramble is little more than a narrow cleft between Napes Needle and Needle Ridge – the continuation of the rock the Needle was once a part of. It’s not unheard of to have climbers above you at this point, so take a moment to admire their spiderlike athleticism as you lay a hand or two on the cold rock of the iconic landmark.

5.

The way off is on the needle’s western side. It’s blockier, with more steps and places to put your hands and feet than the routeup, but the rock is polished and downclimbing is always harder. some people will look to the security of a rope here, so if you’re not using one, take great care on the clamber down.

Descending the western side of Needle Gap.
Descending the western side of Needle Gap.
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6.

Once in the scree-filled gully below, cross to the other side and clamber up a short way to the ‘Dress Circle’ – an elevated platform from which to enjoy the best and most classic view of the Needle.

7.

Follow the track west from the Dress Circle towards the egyptian-esque profile of Sphinx Rock. a scramble up Great Gable starts from here, but it’s a helmets-on job. The easier option is to follow the rough track around Great Gable before descending to join the main path alongside Gable Beck back to Wasdale.

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