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29th September 2015

Mel Evans

Pillar Rock, situated between the valleys of Ennerdale to the North and Wasdale to the South is often said to be the home of rock climbing in the Lake District. Immortalised by Wordsworth in ‘The Brothers’:

You see yon precipice – it almost looks
Like some vast building made of many crags.
And in the midst is one particular rock
That rises like a column from the vale,
Whence by our Shepherds it is call’d, the Pillar.

Pillar Rock has more recently been singled out by Ken Wilson in his book “Classic Rock” and by John and Anne Nuttall in “Mountains of England and Wales”. Depending on taste each work has its devotees.

With high pressure dominating Ken and I decided to make the long drive north to climb on this iconic Rock. It would be our second visit. An earlier newsletter details the first visit but suffice to say, on that occasion we failed to find it! Leaving at 7pm on Tuesday 29th September we booked in to Ennerdale YHA and enjoyed a welcome cuppa followed by a good kip. Next morning we were not disappointed, high pressure was still in charge, it was an absolutely glorious start to the day – not a breath of wind with a clear blue sky – perfect.

Leaving the hostel at 9.30am it was a good two and half hours before we were positioned to look directly at the West Face of High Man and pick out our intended routes, ‘Rib and Slab’ and ‘New West Climb’. Both are 90m in length and both are described in Classic Rock.

With a sly look at the watch a quick plan was discussed. Climb the harder route first, abseil down, collect our sacs, climb the second route, abseil into the Jordan Gap and walk out. Sounded no problem but with nine pitches in total, even at a rate of 30 minutes per pitch, plus abseils the question was, were we in for another epic? Still, the sky remained a brilliant blue, almost Alpine, but no, this was even better, this was the British landscape just showing the first stages of autumn, this was perfect and no time to be worrying about getting down for a YHA meal.

Climbing from shaded scree about 25m down from West Jordan Gully we were soon on the sustained and exposed ‘Rib and Slab. The rock was rough and warm as we climbed from shade into bright sun and the four pitches raced by. It was brilliant climbing, so far removed from the polished climbs I’d recently been doing in the Wye Valley that it felt almost a different sport. Since our two climbs shared some stances as we abseiled a couple of belays were left in place (cams and all!) for the second route. This not only speeded up our second climb but, with cams now costing £50+, it also meant we were committed to going back up!

When you’re having fun time seems to fly and so it proved. We climbed quickly, ate and drank on the move, left belays in place, etc., but, as we prepared to use the considerable tat left by ‘Baggers’ descending into the Jordan Gap, the western sky was beginning to turn a vivid shade of red. Visions of our YHA meal were becoming distinctly blurred.

After a short detour to view the infamous Walker’s Gully, must have been some walkers, an immediate about turn saw us back on track and we crossed the river at exactly 7pm. Thirty minutes later we were enjoying a meal, well done YHA, with a bottle of YHA Red to celebrate Ken completing the Classic Rock Routes, Wales and England, no mean feat. It had been the perfect day.

This article was written by Mel Evans and published on this website on the 1st November 2015