Wasdale – The Crucible Of Rock Climbing In The Lake District
The Lake District is one of the most important climbing areas in the UK. Climbers were attracted by the scale and majesty of the Lakeland crags and it was natural that the Valley of Wasdale beneath the greatest of the Lake District Mountains – Scafell Pike, Scafell and Great Gable – was the original hub for Lakeland climbing.
The ascent of Napes Needle on the flanks of Great Gable by William Haskett Smith in 1886 was a landmark in British climbing and is considered to be one of the first proper rock climbs in the country.
Although the summit of Scafell Pike is famed as the highest of the Lakeland Fells and therefore the highest point in England, it is Scafell along side, which has the more craggy features and which has always been the forcing ground for Lakeland Climbing.
It was on these crags that Bottrill made his ground-breaking ascent of the great unclimbed slab on Scafell Crag in 1903. Incredibly, in total extremis and seemingly climbing for his life, he was still able to raise his hat to a passing lady – history records that he was a true gentleman rather than a serial womanizer. In those days these hardened climbers used to ‘bivvy’ on the fells so they could get an early rise at the foot of the crags, how they must have longed for Lake District holiday cottages to come back to in the evenings for a bit warmth and a home cooked meal. If only they had been thought of back then!
There was another enormous step forward in 1914 when Siegfried Herford made the first ascent of the Central Buttress of Scafell Crag – This was by far the hardest climb in the UK at the time and it wasn’t superceded for many years.
Since then, three generations of Birkett’s have left their mark on climbing in the Lakes. Jim Birkett brought the extreme grade to the Lakes with his ascents on Castle Rock and the East Buttress of Scafell.
Don Whillans was at the forefront of Lakes Climbing in the fifties and early sixties and with ascents such as Extol in the Ullswater Valley, there was a short period where Scafell was usurped by the Eastern Crags.
Climbing standards in the Lake District were pushed through the extremes in the seventies and eighties by such brilliant climbers as Pete Bottrell, Pete Whillance and Pete Livesy. Then in the nineties Dave Birkett took up where his grandfather left off, pushing standards through the roof and putting the Lakes back in it’s rightful place at the top of the British Climbing. He set new standards throughout the Lake District – from Borrowdale to Langdale but his greatest contribution was naturally in Wasdale!
Rock Climbing can be great fun for all the family and if you are planning your own trip rock climbing, there are plenty of perfect Lake District cottages which make an ideal base camp!