THE LANGDALE LOOP
A travel journal of ultra rocking in the lakes
By Tom Randall
6.0 minute read
Since last year, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Lake District, which is one of the largest (and most mountainous) national parks in England – all of my exploring here has been to really to get know the fells (peaks), the rock routes, and to kind of live and breathe what it’s like to operate for really long days out of climbing mixed with running. My motivations for this has grown from always having a need to explore and find new adventures. I find it impossible to ‘stick with the pack’, and getting inspired by the more obtuse side of adventure has always been central to me.
Getting to know an area of the country that I’ve always been familiar with, but never truly felt comfortable in has been an amazing journey. The paths are far from well-manicured; we’re talking scree slopes and ankle-breaking boulder fields here to name but a few the obstacles. And, the weather can throw your days that you’d swear were impossible at that particular time of year. I’ve been in t-shirts in February and freezing cold in howling winds in June. Many people know that my navigational skills are pretty much zero so this has added significantly to the personal challenge. I’ve also always had a deep-seated desire to put myself into extreme situations to see how I will cope both physically and mentally, and this is something I have relished about my climbing career so far.
Covid-19 has made The Lakes particularly appealing. I’ve replaced my trips abroad with an area just 3-hours from my house. Sure, it’s not super convenient, but it’s a lot easier than a 10-hour plane trip!
As the year has progressed, I’ve been thinking about some cool ways of linking loads of classic multi-pitch rock routes and fells together here in a single day. This way, rather than driving around the Lake District parking in lots of different valleys, I can leave the transport in one location and travel by running. At each crag I complete a multi-pitch or two and then move on to the next one. The amount of climbs you can make with the miles is pretty staggering. I’d never have thought it was possible! As I tested out the idea, I was doing “training days” in just 3-4 hours instead of the 12-hours it had previously taken by walking or driving.
For this trip, I decided to see just how much I could manage to climb in Langdale. This is one of my favorite valleys in the Lakes with an amazing walking hut that I have spent many nights in. From the hut, I have always thought about making a big loop in the fells and on the faces, trying to cover most of the best moderate routes in the Lakes in a day. Inevitably though, the weather can be really random in the UK, so I’ve had to be patient in waiting for the driest rock and a day that’s not boiling hot. This is especially important because all of the routes for my big day would be solos, and there’s an unfortunate consequence with a mess up. For this reason, I’ve often gone out with just a few Friends and nuts, and a skinny 7mm rope to climbed the routes within a slightly safer style.
On the day itself, I set off from Langdale at 7:30 am and made my way up to Gimmer, where I climbed Ash Tree (VD), Bracket and Slab (S), and a few other classics. It was a perfect warm-up, and despite the fact I was out really early, there was a party already halfway up one of the routes, which was impressive keenness! After these climbs, I headed northwards for 20km or so, passing one of the Pavey Ark classics and some extra tops of fells to get “the ticks” in. By late morning, I was down in Borrowdale to climb Troutdale Pinnacle (S) and Little Cham (VD). Weirdly, Troutdale was rammed with climbers despite it being a Friday, and I weaved my way up the route under peoples’ ropes, making sure to thank everyone for being accommodating to the “light traveler.” By Little Chamonix, I’d hit a proper queue, so I’m ashamed to say I wedged myself into a position on the last pitch and did some work emails – probably not what most people would do, but it was a mid-week session, and I felt 15-mins took the guilty edge off missing work.
By lunchtime, we’d hit beyond 25 Celsius, and I was melting in the heat. A quick café hit (always have £1 in your crag bag!) gave me enough energy to make the long slog back towards Gillercombe. By the end of that section, it must have been high 20’s so I took to lying in a stream every half hour to cool off – it worked brilliantly! By the time I’d got back up on the high fells above Gillercombe Buttress (thanks to Tom and Sophie for letting me pass), it cooled down a bit, and Pillar and Napes Needle seemed really appealing. By this stage, I was passing well over 40 pitches of climbing and the 40km mark. It seemed so bizarre that it was only mid-afternoon, though, as I had loads of fantastic routes still to go! Topping out on Napes Needle, made me sit back and appreciate what an amazing place The Lakes is. I was staring down into Wasdale Valley, with a huge lake laid out in front, the majesty of Scafell off to the side and looking over the grueling (if you’ve ever had to walk them!) slopes of Yewbarrow. I felt so relaxed at that point. It was one of those moments where you fully appreciate that you’ve got a life filled with the outdoors and the ability to connect to it.
As I left Gable, I heard a shout from the scree below, and two guys had got themselves into a bit of a sticky situation – perhaps I’d called it “scree-bound”? I spent a bit of time giving them a shoulder and a spare hand of confidence to get themselves out of the situation, and it yet again reminded me how the Lakes really can push you whatever your level. You can always match your challenge up to your ability, and it’s possible to have things that really push you out of your comfort zone. As I made my way over to climb at Scafell, my stomach started to flip on me, and food or water became a serious issue for a while. I may have over-done it on the amount of sun and heat for the day, so I lay down to take a power nap for 30-mins to kill my nausea. This partially worked, but I felt pretty dreadful and must have looked a right state if anyone had seen me. I barely got to Scafell on my own two legs! My intentions of Moss Ghyll Grooves (VS) disintegrated with my shaking legs, and I pushed on to the summit in the hope that missing a rock route would give me time to recover.
Written by Tom Randall
Photos by Mike Hutton
The next hour or so was a little hazy, but by 6 pm or so, I felt a lot better again and lapped up the views and miles. When you mix a long climbing day with traveling this way, it’s quite surprising how bad you can feel at one point, but stick with it, and you’ll get out on the other side. I tracked along the Scafell line taking in Scafell Pike, Broad Stand, Esk Pike, and finally Bowfell. From there, I had my final rock route of the day: Bowfell Buttress (HS). This one’s a nice cruise with a few enjoyable crack pitches, and from there, you’re left with a glory run back into Langdale.
Arriving back at my van just under 14-hours after leaving that morning, I could have sworn I’d been out in the mountains for a few days. So much had passed – I’d seen and chatted to loads of different parties, ascended over 5000m (perhaps 750m of rock climbing), and covered 60km of ground. I had also seen some of the best hottest and most beautiful weather of the Lakes– It had been an absolutely perfect (long) day out!