Pike O stickle south face directissima
Sunday, 21 March 2004
With a big thaw in the lake district I decided to start the summer climbing season. I’d promised I’d take Adam out climbing so we got in the car and headed for Langdale. Sunday dawned bright and cheerful with the smell of spring in the air. Our chosen climb was the south face of Pike O Stickle. Most mountains in England are just big hills with a limited amount of height, much of it wasted on gentle slopes and ridges. This Pike is different, it rises up from the valley floor from near sea level to 700 m in one go, the upper half ringed with rock walls stacked above each other like ramparts on a fantasy castle.
Not having a guide we decided to go to the summit in a straight line, dealing with whatever we came across on the way.
On a technical note the subway for this climb was a foot long Italian BMT with double meat and double cheese. Full of the joys of spring the man behind the counter put some salad in with it, but if you go to the mountains then you have to deal with certain hardships. Most climbers these days seem to prefer #organic #healthy foods on the hill but I believe in good old fashioned calories to power through a climb.
The first bit was an annoying slog up a 45 slope of grass and rocks before the start of the climbing proper which was guarded by a hundred meters of steep rocks and heather. We scrambled up and immediately hated it. I’ve always found this kind of climbing dangerous and insecure with dusty plant covered rock. I tried to fight my way up a corner but came to my senses and ordered a retreat. We slithered down to a ledge and sat there covered in carpet burns from the heather, looking for another way.
Eventually we got above the rubbish onto a good ledge. Above us half a dozen crags stacked up towards the conical summit. We rested in the sun for a bit while I finished my sub and then it was time for a quick lesson in belaying and general climbing stuff. Satisfied that Adam could hold a fall we set off up the first pitch, a pleasant 15 meter slab which felt around Diff. I hadn’t bothered with rock shoes but they weren’t needed as the rock was grippy enough. From below the rock looked spikey like a punk’s hairdo but all the features were flat topped and rounded, making anchors and belays a rare thing. This wasn’t a problem as things were easy enough to run it out in confidence and with the sun on my back and a great view appearing below, things felt really good.
A couple more similar pitches followed, bold and a bit loose as quiet mountain routes tend to be, but nothing harder than VDiff so no problem. Adam seconded well and seemed to be learning quickly. Things were starting to feel more mountainy with a drop of a few hundred meters below us, growing steadily when you weren’t looking like a monster under the bed. Our first real obstacle appeared a few pitches in, a 10 meter wall that was blocky and loose in the lower half, smooth and holdless higher up.
Zigzagging above the loose blocks and I could see on that the hard upper section was split by a rift on the left. After some bold and balancy climbing, with an empty space beneath my feet that didn’t feel like it belonged in the lake district, I arrived beneath the cleft. It had a nasty loose false floor, as if somebody had pressed pause on a video of a rockfall. With a cluster of half decent anchors to make me feel better I carefully wriggled upwards into the slot, taking care not to disturb the floor.
Half an hour later we arrived beneath the crux: a smooth wall of grey rock which seemed to be made of cement mixed with broken glass. I paced up and down below it looking for a weakness like a prisoner in the yard. A dozen meters sideways from the belay was a groove that I could jump up into with potential for a huge pendulum onto rocks below if it went wrong. A secret hold made it safe and I was up in the thick of it, above was a small overhang breached on the left by a jumbled up corner. The way into this was across a weird stunted pine tree growing sideways from crack in the wall. Wrist thick it flexed unnervingly as I tiptoed along, trying not to look at all the empty air beneath it. Surprisingly the tree held and, after placing some anchors as a gift to Adam I was up and away.
The last hundred meters of rock was pleasant and in a joyful position. Below us a farmer moved a herd of ant like sheep and a raven flew beneath us as a tiny black dot. At the head of the valley Bowfell kept a mantle of snow, melting down the cliffs in great black streaks but here it felt like June and all was well with the world.
Soon we stood on the summit shaking hands and wishing we hadn’t finished, so we wandered over to Harrison Stickle and did a bit of random scrambling.
A good first route of the season on a not very well hidden gem. It’s not very continuous or committing, lots of it is broken up with ledges and grass but its a good route for practicing mountaineering if its raining in Wales.
This photo shows the upper half of the face. The route we took follows the rockiest part, to the right of the ravine splitting the upper left part of the face.