Lake District - Classic Rock Challenge
Lake District Classic Rock Challenge 2018
The Challenge consists of climbing the 15 Lake District routes from Ken Wilson’s 1978 book ‘Classic Rock’. To crank the challenge up a notch you have to run between the routes and aren't allowed any support. Meaning you need to carry your food, water and kit for the day. The rough stats on it are around 55km of running with ~4000m of ascent. From the bit of research I’d done it was first completed on foot in 2005 (there’s a great write up on Needle Sport’s website) and has been done by a handful of people since.
For someone who likes fell running and rock climbing and a modicum of suffering it’s the perfect day out!
I messaged James on Tuesday 26th June asking if he might be keen for a punt, secretly hoping he’d say “No” but deep down knowing I wanted him to be up for it – The bloody idiot was up for it!
6 days later with little planning and hopes we could just wing it we met up in the National Trust car park by Derwentwater. James had just driven back from North Wales and I’d headed up from Sheffield post work so it was quite late. With it being an A-B challenge we left James’ car and drove down to Walna Scar near to Coniston. We had our heads down by 11.30pm ready for our 1.30am alarm.
There hadn’t been time to recce any of the routes, walk ins/outs or the running lines between each crag (this is not recommended). We’d done some reading, James had climbed some of the routes before but most of them half a lifetime ago and I was about as much use as chocolate tea pot, I’d never climbed on any of the crags and knew maybe 40% of the running route.
The walk into Dow was spectacular, not a cloud in the sky, a big moon, gentle breeze and warm enough to just be in shorts and a t-shirt.
First up was Murray’s Route on Dow, 3.10am and we were off. Murray’s was great, the sun was coming up and it was warm, the climbing was spot on and the Lakes looked stunning. It was maybe 50 metres up the route I wished I’d scanned the guidebook at a higher resolution – what a moron. It was just about legible if you contorted your face and filled in the blanks.
Sunrise on our run from Dow to Langdale.
From the top of Dow we headed north to Goat’s Hawse and contoured round to Lever’s Hawse, then more contouring beneath Swirl How and Great Carrs to drop down Wet Side Edge. We were too busy admiring the views and missed the path down to Three Shires Stone so went cross country. Beneath Pike of Blisco then down, what I think was one of my least favourite bits of the route, to Oxendale.
I think it was about half way down that the metaphorical shit hit the fan and we realised that the Lakes were so bone dry that most of the rivers weren’t running, it was hotting up and only 5am.
We went direct up to Gimmer, after a little bit of faff and trying to decipher the utterly shocking excuse for a guidebook I’d made, James set off up Ash Tree Slab, linking this into C Route. We scuttled down the gully climber’s right of Gimmer, I’m not sure if this is the guidebook descent route but it felt fine and deposited us at the base of Bracket & Slab. B&S went smoothly and we picked up the path over to Martcrag Moor and onto the BG route around to and beneath Rosset Pike and onto the base of Bowfell. A little spring was flowing a few minutes before Bowfell, our relief at finding water paled in insignificance compared to what was to come!
Top - Not actually sure which route was. Bottom - Some tool.
Bowfell Buttress was spectacular, we simul climbed again but more or less soloed roped together, following the crampon scratches made route finding simple. From the top of Bowfell there’s a fairly technical running section, it’s not particularly far nor hilly but the rocky nature makes it slow going.
From the reading I’d done of the Challenge and the routes, Moss Ghyll Grooves had put the willies up me a little, it sounded pretty intimidating with talk of some airy steps and exposed positions. As we dropped along Lords Rake a party were halfway up MGG so we opted for Jones’ Route instead. After more faff scrambling up then back down Lord’s Rake to find the base of the route James set off, after a little trouble route finding we topped out and descended the gully & path climber’s right. The other party had set off on the last pitch of MGG meaning we hopefully wouldn’t have to pass them. I set off, with a small amount of trepidation up the exposed hanging slabs. I’d built the route up in my head but it went by swimmingly, until I caught the other party. I followed on having a good natter with the chap ahead, this was the first point during the day where I wondered at what point James had had to halt progress mid-move lower down on MGG.
Off the top of Scafell Crag, a reverse of Broad Stand before contouring North on the path beneath Pulpit Rock to reach the Corridor Route. It was hot. James was on his 4th maybe 5th wind, tip toeing down the rocky steps. As per, we paid the price for this overzealousness, on arriving at Tophet Wall we were cooked, literally melting. Another party were setting off on the last pitch of Tophet, without talking we both crawled into the slither of shade at the foot of Tophet Buttress. I had a feeling James wasn’t feeling too chipper at this point but held my tongue as I wasn’t feeling tip-top either. I set off up Tophet Wall, chasing the shade. Unfortunately the party ahead weren’t moving as quick as we thought and I had to play the whole “we’ve been up since 2am card” along with a flutter of my eyelids and smiling sweetly. The bloke obviously saw I was a desperate man and let me pass. Thank you.
Idiots on Napes Needle.
The next challenge was finding the top of Needle Ridge, this proved to be fairly simple. We located Napes Needle below, lined ourselves up with the top of it and hey-presto. James set off solo down climb to hit Napes. Napes was a relief and a relatively easy tick.
We were more concerned with water, we’d been reliably informed by Chris (who was going to meet us at Pillar) there’d be water in Sail Beck but this seemed a really bloomin’ long way away. We pressed on, skirting beneath Boat House Crag. The sound of a babbling brook was music to our ears, we guzzled down more water than was comfortable and carried on to Cloven Stone. We’d decided to head into Pillar via Robinson’s Cairn, the path was very rocky and not that easy to run. Chris appeared out of nowhere, offered some words of encouragement, pranced along next to us to the base of Pillar and wisely chose to leave (had to pick the dog up) as we couldn’t find the base of our next objective – Slab and Rib.
The path heading to the base of Pillar Rock. Ennerdale valley in the background.
Best. Stream. Ever and a snickers at Sail Beck.
If there was one section of the Challenge I wish I’d reccied it would be this. We’d no idea how far up the western buttress the routes began. After bucket loads of faff, scrambling and guidebook abuse we found the obvious start to the route. I set off and made a total hash of route finding, we climbed what was roughly Slab and Rib. The summit of Pillar is pretty fantastic, a lone tower overlooking Ennerdale valley. From the top we chose to ab (15m) into the gap between Pillar and Pisgah then contoured round to the descent gully.
It’s from here you can see the path which drops into Pillar rock from the main footpath on Pillar’s eastern ridge. After our second route on Pillar, North West Climb we opted to run back east via the top path. This was much easier than the Robinson’s Cairn path coming in. In hindsight I’d have rather run in on this path too.
Top - Looking at the back of Pillar after abbing off the Pinnacle. Bottom - Trod running east from the top of Pillar Rock.
A combination of the temperature dropping and the realisation that we might actually do this and me not wishing to downclimb Gillercombe Buttress in the dark meant we moved swiftly from Pillar to Gillercombe.
A down-climb of Gillercombe Buttress is the most logical thing to do; however, down-climbing a route on a big mountain crag you’ve never been to before poses some problems. I’d found a few images of the route online and new the top of the route was directly in line with the drystone wall below, I wasn’t sure this would actually work but low and behold it did and before we knew it we were on the home straight.
We were shifting, at least it felt like we were, my watch clocked a kilometre and we’d smashed a 6m20s km! Night had drawn in, I’d eaten all my food, was low on water but James was plugging away so I hung on to his coat-tails.
James had made a bit of a school boy and hadn’t charged his headtorch. He dealt with it pretty well and just sucked up the fact he'd have to climb the last 2 routes like he was reading braille. But the Gods were smiling on us and as we trudged our way up to Troutdale Pinnacle two headtorches came bouncing down. Two friends of James’ had had a mini epic so were late, very very late leaving the crag but to our fortune they didn't need one of their torches anymore and leant it to James!
Troutdale Pinnacle is an exceptional route, due to rope drag I pitched up on top of the Pinnacle and brought James up to me. It had been a fantastic day and the 5 minutes I had to myself up there was amazing, the moon was shimmering off of Derwent Water, not a cloud in the sky and still warm enough to be happy in shorts and vest.
Maybe I relaxed too soon, on arriving at Shepherd’s Crag we showed our combined years of climbing experience… it took the best part of 25 minutes to find the bottom of the most climbed route in the Lake District. What a route this is, despite lack of sleep, 30 odd miles of running and 14 routes Little Chamonix was fantastic – A fitting end to what is and was an awesome day in the hills.
3 x Original Chia Bars
1 x Marghetita Pizza (so good)
4 x Eccles Cakes
4 x Coconut Macaroons
1 x tube of Shot Bloks
Several litres - not enough.
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 15
Salomon Sense Ride Shoes
30m of 8.4mm rope
1 x 16ft sling
4 x Extender quickdraws
2 x DMM phantom QDs
2 x DMM Torque Nuts