With thoughts for our rural communities at the forefront of our minds, we didn't simply want to turn up and be walking through isolated farmyards. So I contacted the farmer who's land we planned to climb near to and sought their advice. He responded quickly and politely, saying he was happy for us to park on his land and pass through the farmyard, providing we took great care to sanitise gates after use and that we don't bring dogs. As we would have Don with us this particular venue was not going to work for us this time.
So as we were taking Don with us today, we completely changed venue, by miles in fact. Heading instead to the remote Duddon valley. The lower slopes of Harter Fell have seen much forestry clearance in recent years, this work has unearthed a lot of rock. Local activists have been busy cleaning many of these buttresses and enjoying the wonderful climbing on offer. We thought it about time we had a look too.
We had two particular crags in mind. One a single pitch venue offering slab climbs up to VS grade. The other having some low grade multi-pitch climbing. Both settings looked to be idyllic.
Setting off from Birks Bridge car park armed with climbing rack, ropes, picnic, and a sense of adventure, we made our way onto Harter Fell. Both of us have walked and scrambled on Harter Fell many times, albeit quite a few years ago now. So we remembered some of the paths. We were gaining a lot of height and could see a confusing array of rock outcrops littering the hillside. Using a mixture of map, compass, pacing, and digital navigation techniques, we made our way closer to the crags. But the amount of rock was confusing, which bit did we want. After one false crag was visited we found our chosen venue and from here could easily work out where our second venue was. Phew!
The approach walk had been over some very rough, tussocky ground. But the views and peace this valley offers more than made up for that.
After a picnic we set about to do some climbing. Not paying much attention to the route details, we simply picked lines that looked appealing - this is generally my preferred way - and thankfully the rock rewarded us greatly. The friction was superb on this super rough seemingly untouched rock.
Whilst protection on the climbs was quite reasonable, it took an age to find decent belays at the top of the crag. But after much digging out of cracks, some quality placements were located. We left all this in place to safe time on the following climbs and to enable abseils back to base.
After about 5 routes on the slab it felt like we had done all that was here, so decided to explore the neighbouring venue.
The information we had showed 3 multi-pitch climbs all graded 'Severe'. They looked okay from below so we thought let's do all 3 then go home.
The first climb was great fun but very easy, more like a Diff. The second climb was slightly more tricky, giving a move or two that needed some thought. The third route looked to be covering very similar ground, so we decided not to bother as it was getting quite late in the day.
The Southwest slopes of Harter Fell offered us a secluded and idyllic venue to climb in peace all day. We didn't see another person whilst at the crags. It is far easier to aim for the honeypot climbing and walking venues and be guaranteed good climbing with easy access, but let's not forget there's lots of amazingly good esoteric climbing out there. These venues allow for far easier social distancing, so well worth considering in the current climate. You may also be surprised at just how good these places are.
The crags visited were: Upper Buck crag slab & Upper Buck crag. Details for both and many more can be found on the FRCC website. Although do feel free to ask us too.
Our opinion is, if you're looking for lower grade single or multi-pitch climbs in a stunning setting and want peace and quiet, give these a try. If looking for harder climbs, there are plenty of other crags on Harter Fell that tick that box too, certainly up to around E5/6.
And to reiterate: The Lake District is welcoming visitors again. We know many of you need some time in the countryside, up on the mountains, or on the crags. We know how important mountains are to many people. So please visit if you want to. Be considerate to the rural communities, avoid farmyards as much as possible. Be self sufficient by bringing food and water with you. A few more car parks are re-opening but check ahead as some are still closed. Many public loos are still closed too.
All accommodation is still closed and no overnight stays are allowed.
We are now offering activities on a 1:1 basis. We will social distance in line with government guidelines and keep all equipment as clean as is practicable to help ensure yours and our safety.
Thanks for reading
Mark & Kate