Mountain Journeys

Napes Needle – Mountaineering day on Great Gable


Threading Napes Needle

Napes Needle

Today we've enjoyed a mountaineering day of the highest quality. Great Gable and the Napes is the spiritual birthplace of traditional rock climbing here in the UK and holds a special place in many climbers' hearts, including mine.

With a reasonable forecast, we set off from Seathwaite, in the Borrowdale valley. This is also a popular starting point for walkers heading for Scafell Pike, so there were a fair few people around. We set off aiming for Styhead tarn, it became apparent very soon that today would be cold! Jackets, hat & gloves were all on from the word go.

After a short rest at Styhead, we continued towards the 'Climbers traverse' of Great Gable. Once on this narrow path the terrain levels out and the scenery becomes ever more impressive, with Wasdale soon coming into view. We pass by Kern Knotts crag, the Tophet Wall and Great Hells Gate areas, then the unmistakable Napes Needle, wow!

I've visited and climbed on and around these crags many times over the years, but still they cast their magic spell over me on every visit. Definitely the 'kid in a candy shop' feeling.

There were half a dozen people near the base of Napes Needle, all waiting to 'thread the needle' which is what we had planned too. Thankfully for us they were having a short rest, so asked if we'd like to go ahead.

The narrow gully up to the neck of the needle was a little damp, but the holds all very positive and the climbing fun. Descending the other side was a bit less fun. It was soaking wet and with a stiff wind blowing, felt very cold. We were both pleased once over in the Dress Circle and able to relax, whilst watching the others threading Napes Needle.

We continued along the traverse as far as 'Sphinx Rock' and from here joined the Sphinx ridge for more scrambling fun. The rock was damp and slippery, this required 100% focus the whole time, and we found ourselves using more upper body strength than should normally be necessary.

From the top of Sphinx ridge we traversed under Westmorland Crag to the base of Pinnacle ridge. This provides yet more top quality grade 3 scrambling in a dramatic setting. A further 150 metres of height gain brought us to the end of the scrambling and a great feeling of satisfaction.

About a 5 minute walk to the summit of Great Gable. Visibility was poor today, so no views. Cloudy days add so much atmosphere to the mountains though, it's always well worth venturing out when the mist covers the summits. What is important though, is to have map & compass and the ability to navigate effectively with them. We have been offering bespoke navigation courses for many years here in the Lake District. If you'd like to improve your navigation skills, check out our courses here: Navigation courses

​We quickly established the correct direction of descent from Great Gable summit, and soon arrived back at Styhead tarn, emerging back out of the cloud and into what felt like a bright and almost sunny day. honest.

Many hundreds of metres of first class rock scrambling, atmospheric mountain walking, and great views amongst the fine mountains of the Lake District.

Thanks for a grand day out Joe.



Joe threading the Needle

Mountaineering routes in the Lake District - Great Gable

Mountaineering high above the Wasdale valley

Sphinx rock, Great Gable

Sphinx rock from the 'Climbers traverse' - Great Gable



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