The Best Routes in the Lakes Article

© Jordan Manley

This summer, the Arc'teryx Lakeland Revival heads into it's third year, highlighting the heights and heritage of Lake District climbing. Ready for an A5 adventure? For 2016 you'll need your rack, a rope and a pencil to take part. The Revival has drawn together 5 community tick-lists from a trusted range of L.D. experts. Tick-off the favourites of some infamous heritage heroes, British Mountain Guides, unknown Lakeland wads, BMC ambassadors, Lakeland Retailers and the real locals. Collect your preferred route cards from a supporting retailer, tick the lot, or if not, have a grand and reviving day out. Return your card to be in to win an Arc'teryx prize.

Here are six of the routes chosen for you by some Lake District stalwarts and the country's top climbers, and the stories behind them.

Steve McClure - Top Gear, E4

Top Gear (E4 6a), Raven Crag Threshwaite  © Ged Desforges
Top Gear (E4 6a), Raven Crag Threshwaite
© Ged Desforges
I chose Top Gear (actually E4 not E3) as it was featured in some really good books that inspired me as a kid, pictures of climbers way-out-there on an amazing sheet of rock, it just looked amazing. And it's a good name, implying you need to be going well, and switch to performance mode!

It's a really varied route in many ways, even just getting to the cliff is a bit of a walk, and takes you well off the beaten path into a quiet valley with no views of any habitation or roads. It feels truly out there in Lake District scenery.

The route has a steady start (I think it goes in 2 pitches, but can easily be done in one), and the meat of the route is of real contrast. The first bit is steep and pumpy and requires a bit of go-for-it to place good wires hanging from the arms, a definite bit of strength required, and skill in finding gear fast. Then you commit to bulges and the unknown, moving around onto the slab hoping for the best, only to land on the slab in a strenuous position now way above the gear and only just teetering right on the edge on small footholds. You have to keep it together here and hunt for the gear, it's fiddly and not obvious… And then it really starts!! A rising traverse across the immense face with only just enough holds. There is time to figure it out, but not much, and not much margin for getting it wrong. It's about keeping cool under pressure.

A hugely varied route on perfect rock in a fantastic setting. 3 stars for sure.

Judith Brown - D Route, Severe - Gimmer Crag, Langdale

'D' route on Gimmer  © Sean Kelly
'D' route on Gimmer
© Sean Kelly, Aug 2010

I first encountered D Route as a nervous second in the early 80s, never thinking that I ever lead it. It is only one pitch. But what a pitch, 31 metres of intricate climbing high up on one of the finest crags in Britain. It made an impression, which turned into ambition. When I led it the first time I was going well. The Severe grade felt easy, then, but did not diminish the experience. The second time I led it was completely different. I was 'coming back' after a year of pushing my grades had led to leader falls and dented confidence. It was a cool, cloudy day and my belayer was soon lost in the mist. I felt very alone and frightened. It was not a pleasant experience. I scrabbled to the top feeling I had merely survived the route. I certainly had not enjoyed it. The last time I led it was in 2014. Once again I was coming back from trauma – a broken wrist. But the experience was entirely different. The rock shone with sunlight. When I looked down at my distant second it was with a feeling of elation – looking at that space, moving up the crack line, the satisfaction of placing bomber pro, sitting on the top and soaking in the sun and the view. That's why D Route is a favourite of mine. It reminds me that you can work through the bad times - the joy of climbing is always there, waiting to be found again. There are many great lines with interesting climbing on perfect rock, but it's those personal associations that makes them special.

Justin Shiels - Endurance HVS 5a - Borrowdale

Sergeant's Crag Slabs were discovered as late as the 90's, which is surprising, as today it must be in most climbers top 5 Borrowdale crags (the crag first featured in the 2000 guidebook). Sometimes described as a HVS heaven owing to a clutch of 3* routes at that grade; the most well known being Lakeland Cragsman. Both that route and Endurance being the work of Mac (Caff's Dad) and two of his finest. It was in the mid 90's when a topo of the crag "fell into my hands" from somewhere. Like most of the routes here Endurance HVS 5a *** climbs beautiful rough rock at an angle best described as a steep slab. The name gives a hint and whilst sustained it's never desperate. It follows a thin crack for the height of the crag and takes as much gear as you can carry; a feature of many routes here. The obvious overlap at half height takes bomber gear, though it takes a long pull to overcome it. I remember the top being a bit wet so a finish up the neighbouring route was called for. The grade will flatter the tall but the good gear makes it a great target for the aspiring HVS leader.

My guidebook tells me that I have done it three times and the crag still draws me back; a testament to its quality.

Charlie Woodburn - Yellow Slab, HVS - Scafell

Although most of us are generally inspired to climb the hardest routes we can, sometimes climbing the hardest routes can be a solitary experience. I have often found that the best days are had climbing gentler routes at a level that both you and your partner can enjoy, without pressure or trepidation. Yellow Slab on Scafell's East Buttress is a route I would love to do. It's a relatively amenable HVS amongst a world of big chunky E numbers. It'd be great to go and do it with someone who enjoys the setting as much as the challenge.

Siegfried Herford, Central Buttress, E1 5a

Well, HVS in my day, a wonderful adventure, allowing for a glorious development of friendship as one's top mate massages out the stress held in one's shoulders in order to gain the crux pitch via combined tactics. Today's youth don't know what they are missing with the loss of hobnails, tennis balls indeed. Physio aside, this route is also recommended for real technical development. Now I know you all yo-yo around like nobody's business, but do you do it at relative altitude, with a rope slung round ones waist? Give it a try. Descent was never so excitingly exposed, or so deathly. Other highlights of Central Buttress include straddling a giant flake, cricket boxes optional, (not in my day, obviously) and luncheon on the Oval, leave the gels and Cliff Bars at home please. Lemonade, or indeed an Easdale Ale is the only thing for this Lakeland Day out.

Siegfried Herford was the first ascentionist of Central Buttress, and is respected as one of the first 'Rock Gymnasts'.

Rocio Siemens - Isengard/Eliminate A, HVS - Dow Crag

Eliminate A, Dow Crag  © Dave Talbot
Isengard: the Fortress. Straight out of Tolkien, the name is enough to make me want to climb this rising line up the middle of 'A' buttress on Dow Crag. The day is sunny and warm. Dow Crag faces east and you wouldn't want to be there on a cold day.

An unassuming crag, yet never to be underestimated, as it can very quickly turn treacherous in poor conditions. Walking in, on a breezy late Spring day, the crag had remained hidden for most of our walk in. Only in the last section, had Dow Crag made an appearance. If ever there was an accessible crag with real mountain atmosphere, Dow Crag is it; very much like a fortress, towering over Goat's Water. Isengard/Eliminate A was one of my first ever HVS, and a big day out in 'proper' mountainous terrain. I felt like I had graduated away from roadside cragging. This was the real deal. I was actually climbing a multipitch route over an hour's walk away from civilisation and I was going to get great views from the top. I could call myself a 'trad' climber after today.

The line follows the natural weaknesses in the buttress, searching out here and there slightly more sustained variations. By the time we're high up and committed, the difficulties slacken off when we join Eliminate 'A'. This allowed us to enjoy the position and marvel at the views, west towards the sea, east towards the Old Man of Coniston and the cawing ravens.

Rocio Siemens is a International Federation Mountain Guide and she runs her own guiding outfit; Ibex Guides, based in North Wales.

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