Monday, 1 September 2008

Climbing in Great Langdale

On Friday, Becca and I had a wonderful day climbing and abseiling, in Langdale. We're both beginners with some experience of climbing walls but none so far on real rock. I managed to get a day's climbing instruction with Adam Marcinowicz of Adventure Peaks, via the Destination Cumbria agency. I can recommend both Destination Cumbria and Adventure Peaks: within hours of my initial enquiry, Lindsay Gibson had located three good options for us, and once we'd chosen AP it was all arranged quickly and efficiently. Great service.
Me on Lower Scout Crag
We met Adam and colleagues at the Adventure Peaks store in Ambleside. AP is in the business of organising and running real expeditions to challenging places - the shop is full of serious (and expensive) equipment - so our little day out is really small-beer.

We spent the morning climbing on Lower Scout Crag, in Great Langdale. This is a beautiful place, but somewhat busy. It wasn't long after we got started that two other groups arrived and began setting up. We tackled two routes, Cub's Wall and Cub's Crack.

The first is relatively easy, but the crack is far harder: the initial moves required to reach good handholds completely defeated me! This was due to a combination of lack of experience / poor technique, and my hands and forearms being weak and out of condition. Becca finally made it up this route, after hanging on the rope and persevering.

We had a brief lunch stop on the pass between Great and Little Langdale, looking out over the valley to Gimmer Crag - beautiful scenery, but we were plagued by flying ants!

Then Adam took us to Cathedral Quarry, to do an abseil down the 30m quarry face. The walk from the car takes you through attractive country, and eventually into the quarry tunnel which leads into the cathedral cavern. Becca and me in Cathedral Cavern.

There are other tunnels leading back through the rock to the approach path - we took a wander through these, too. They are at a constant (low) temperature and pitch dark: climbing helmet or torch (or both) recommended, as I was glad of the helmet on one or two occasions!

The climb up to the abseil point is a scramble up some steep and wet paths - you need to take care here as you're more likely to get hurt on the way up here than on the way down the rope.

The abseil is around 30m, and sheer. About two thirds of the way down the rock face ends and you lower yourself down past the cavern mouth. At the top (quite unprotected and with no warning signs!) I was initially somewhat nervous. Like most folk, I don't like edges at height, so I prepared myself mentally for something I knew I was going to find challenging. I concentrated on two things: (1) treating it as exactly the same as coming back down from a climb up, and (2) trusting the equipment. It worked! By the time I was attaching myself to the rope, I was ready.

As I leaned back, put load onto the rope and stepped onto the face, I felt OK, though my heart-rate was a good bit above resting! It was really only that initial step over the edge which was hard - once I was comfortably into the abseil, I didn't really think about the height.

I ended up doing the descent twice, the second time with a different (and better) belay device which made it more comfortable. Becca managed three descents!

Someone has posted a YouTube video of their descent, which (if it's still there) gives you some idea of the location. I think their estimate of the height (140 feet) is a little on the high side, though: Adam thought 30 meters or so, which is nearer 100 feet.

We had a fantastic day, achieving more than I had expected, all thanks to Adam who was patient with us, and worked hard to give us the best possible experience.


  1. Question for Roger: Are you related to Wilfred & Isabel Searjeant? He was born in Ipswich, a few hours from London; moved to the states when he was just 20 years old. I'm his granddaughter and wondered if we're related.

  2. @jmmtbc: Hello, and thanks for getting in touch! I'm not sure whether we're related, but the spelling is so unusual I'd be surprised if not. Do email me directly, if you wish: roger (dot) searjeant (at) gmail (dot) com.