In spite of the widely variable weather we've been handed over the last year or so - most notably the wild winter storms of 2013/14 - the unshakable British spirit has meant that as per usual the Lake District bouldering scene, whilst small, has yielded another bumper crop of new lines and even venues over the previous year or so.
Perhaps of greatest interest to the wider community is the almost entirely newly developed venue which encompases the blocks and craglets between the base of the Walna Scar road, above the village of Coniston, and the boulder field directly below that most famous of Lakeland trad escarpments, Dow Crag.
Dow may be far better known for its plentiful and often classic multi-pitch outings, but as any visiting climber will testify, there is a plethora of tantalising blocks of varying sizes scattered across the scree field at the base of the crag. Whilst it is clear the easier lines, primarily situated on the shores of nearby Goat's Water, will have been climbed by numerous individuals over the years, the first recorded visitation for the sole purpose of bouldering came in the summer of 2012, when Chris Arthur and Andi Smith climbed a handful of more contemporary additions up to 7B.
Throughout 2013 and 2014 various combinations of Chris Arthur, Andy Hebson, Ben Freeman, Jake Surman, George North, Mike Binks and myself visited the area, further developing this sector along with two others - Nettle Crag and the Cove Stones - both conveniently positioned either side of the Dow approach. Between now and those original forays somewhere in the region of 80+ boulder problems have been recorded and documented, with everything on offer from pleasant grass hemmed 3's and 4's to hard test pieces over purpose built terrace landings. A number of lines have rapidly become modern classics, with Road House (7C), Daggermouth (7B), Deep Green (7B+), Red Clover (7C), Supergene (8A) and The Haçienda (7C+) representing gems across the various sectors. Of particular note on the first ascent front, was Nia Fletcher's success in climbing Casa (7B/+), on the conspicuous Parade boulder. Climbed in a session, this eye catching line takes a direct vector up the the thin crack dissecting the centre of the block and involves some tough fingery moves and a steely nerve for the final snatch. With this in mind, Nia's ascent must surely rank as one of the more impressive female first ascents of the last year or so.
A definitive free PDF guide to the bouldering in the vicinity of Dow Crag can be downloaded here.
Over the hill in Tilberthwaite, the rejuvenated Virtual Crag continued to be popular throughout 2014, with Jon Freeman's impressive ascent of Full Value being the highlight of the season’s antics. This burly and sustained 8A traverse grapples the entire left side of the crag, before finishing up the excellent Skynet (itself downgraded from 8A to 7C thanks to new beta). For those unfamiliar with this crag, it was entirely redeveloped in 2013; transformed via sit starts and modern ethics from an esoteric highballing crag to a Bowderstone-esque face riddled with possibilities. It is a superb destination for those who enjoy steep board style climbing in the mid to higher grades and has a glorious north facing outlook which remains well ventilated throughout the warmer months.
A free PDF guide to the crag can be downloaded here.
Finally, from a new venue perspective at least, we have a minor addition to the north Lakes roster. Summer 2014 saw John Kettle unveil a compact little bouldering area located just north of Thirlmere. The Shoulthwaite Circuit focusses on the boulders dotted across the woods and fellside above Shoulthwaite Farm, itself just of the A591 between Keswick and St. John's in the Vale. A circuit of around a dozen problems has thus far been developed, ranging from 6A to 7B. A topo to the area can be downloaded here.
Carrock Fell has seen a slowdown in development over the last year or so, although its general popularity with visiting climbers continues to increase.
On the news front, the toughest of recent additions came in the shape of Dan Varians' Get a Grip (8A) - a true lesson in steep sloper pulling - located in a pit around 100m north of the iconic Fangtastic Block. On the Fangtastic Block itself, I added a pair of decent lines in the shape of The Grid (7C) and its harder extension Off the Grid (8A). The former is a cool problem which starts as for Hockstack and Two Broken Toothbrushes before contouring rightward around the block to finish as per Mr. Multiverse. Off the Grid (8A) extends this by starting 1.5m further left. Finally, Adam Hocking mopped up an obvious classic by way of The Golden Man (7B); a proud highball arete situated immediately up and left (as faced) of the Mile High Wall and more specifically the popular Sing a Rainbow.
Spring and early summer 2014 saw the majority of the first ascent action taking place in the far western fells. The beautifully scenic Seathwaite Circuit, in the Duddon valley, continues to draw visitors and in turn acclaim. It’s well worth the trip if you haven't yet sampled its delights and is a splendid spot for those seeking some peace away from the crowds. Last year saw the ascent of the area’s hardest climb to date by way of my problem, Ramjet, a super crimpy 7C+ sitter with satisfying finish up the steep front face of the Pike boulder, itself located directly above the popular hub of the Horse How boulder/wall.
Over in perhaps England's most remote bouldering circuit of Ennerdale, I added to Chris Arthur's recent inclusion of Sundowning (7B+), with a few neat problems of my own. These are all on a pleasantly set block some 200m northwest of the Visual Impact boulder. The NE arete of Troll Hunter (7B) and Liza Minnelli (7A+), the wall to the right, are the pick of the bunch, whilst the full circuit is loosly described via this Google map... a full guide to this mythical area is in the pipeline.
Despite seeing little exploration or further development in the subsequent 10 years since it was first opened up, steep approach aside, Wasdale's Stirrup Stones isn't a bad little circuit. In June 2014 myself and Chris Arthur decided to reacquaint ourselves with this much maligned venue and it turned out to be one of the year's better decisions. Having reexplored the circuit we soon honed in on a smart looking project which tackled the steep sheer face right of the little known classic, The Confabulator (7B+). Quintessence (7C+), as it became, starts as per The Confabulator before swerving right to some thin but appealing crimps, this is ensued by a tough throw, whereafter big but straightforward moves gives access to the top and possibly some of the best holds in the Lakes! This is highly recommended for those operating at the grade and was one of my favourite climbs of 2014.
Staying in the west, Upper Eskdale to be precise, early summer saw the addition of another tough, lengthy and quality line at Sampson's Stones. Monte Carlo Method (8A) came at my hand and tackles a sweeping left to right swathe of the Asteroid boulder's main face. This sustained affair starts sitting on the left hand arete before traversing rightward to and through the central groove of Stargazer (crux) and gradually up to finish at the summit of Pulsar on the far right of the face.
Lastly, for this corner of the region, I found and climbed a few fine new problems in the vicinity of the Horsehow Crag boulders (topo link here) at the far end of Eskdale, on the south side of Hardknott Pass. This northern slope of Harter Fell is literally covered in rock and for those seeking a near endless supply of problems in the 2+ to 6A spread it’s well worth some exploration. Sadly harder lines are a little less prolific, however if you look closely they are there. The best of this sterner crop are a pair of peerless highballs located on a compact slab come wall above a lush emerald carpet of flat turf, itself located on the far right side (as faced) of Demming Crag. Peach Melba (7A!) is the left hand line and three stars by any standard, however even this trails in the wake of the stunning central line that is The Giant Peach (7B!); a line offering some of the best rock and moves you could ask for and all in a quintessentially Lakeland setting.
Back on the beaten track, Dan Varian left his mark at the iconic Langdale Boulders. This was an ascent of the Steffan Grossman arete exclusively climbed on its right hand side. Whilst Dan played this down, it seems an obvious harder inclusion and in some ways an improved method, avoiding by definition the sketchy heeltoe over the wall to the left. As you might imagine this bumps the grade up, and is said to be somewhere in the region of 7C+/8A. Dan went on to mention that the sitter could also be climbed into this at a slightly harder grade.
Finally, what better place to end on but that most celebrated of destinations and everyone's favourite coastal haven, St. Bees Head. Unfortunately all sectors of theheadland were hit hard over the stormy winter of 2013/14, with a number of blocks and walls being damaged and in some cases completely destroyed through harsh seas and land slips. Quality and popular problems such as The Trash Vortex, Lost Buoyz and The Kraken have become unclimbable, whilst the relatively recent addition of Izaro was completely lost to the waves. Perhaps one of the worst consequences of these wet and stormy winters is the amount of algae which has built up on a great many problems, in a number of cases purveying a false air of longstanding neglect. If you encounter such conditions a stiff Nylon brush will suffice to remedy the issue (providing the algae and rock is dry) and if everybody who visits the crag over the coming months cleans up a line the problem would soon be sorted (go to it kids!).
Of course every cloud has its silver lining and those rambunctious thunderheads of the winter storms were no exception, as for every climb that was damaged or destroyed a new possibility was seemingly opened up...
Most newsworthy of these freshly exposed climbs was Dan Varian’s topnotch Wilson (8A!), a huge hanging arete directly below the central Apiary Wall descent. Previously marred by a large block at its base, the winter storms put pay to this, dragging it back to the murky depths. This literally cleared decks and allowed Dan the opportunity to climb this true leviathan of a line and leave the headland with perhaps its most impressive line.
Amongst a number of new variants and other minor lines, everkeen local Chris Fisher added probably the best of the remaining recent offerings. At the South Head he conceived of a lengthy and arduous traverse, in the shape of Moby Dick (7C). This is on the crag itself, a couple of hundred metres past the main sector and looks great. At the lesser frequented noman’sland between Fleswick Bay and the popular Fisherman’s Steps circuit of the North Head, Chris added a brilliant new highball wall climb, adjacent to the existing highball, Higher Learning. Take it from me, both Sol (7C/+!), as Chris named his new line, and Higher Learning (7C!), are big, bold and well worth the effort! Finally, back on the South Head, the winter storms again worked their wonders relocating a block which until then had impaired the landing of the Honeycomb boulder. With this gone Chris moved in to climb the now obvious sit start to Tale of the Talbots and thus creating yet another belting 7C. Jack Metcalfe drew proceedings to a close by climbing the same sitter into the alternate finish of Honeycomb at 7B+.
For full details on any of the above, plus all the latest first ascent news, as well as updated guides and approach info tune into Lakesbloc.com.