29/01/2015 14:12:00

Words by NeedleSports

How to Get Down off Napes Needle


Needle Sports is named after Napes Needle, a prominent rock pinnacle, some 20 metres high, situated amongst the Napes Crags on the southern flank of Great Gable, a mountain in the heart of the English Lake District.

Napes Needle was first climbed (solo) by Walter Parry Haskett Smith in June 1886, an ascent considered by many authorities to mark the birth of rock climbing as a sport in its own right.

Today the original route of ascent via the Wasdale Crack (as seen in the photo on the right) is graded Hard Severe. The Arête follows the right-hand edge and is the least sustained route of ascent, though it too ends up with some hard moves at the top (above the Shoulder) where it joins the Wasdale Crack route and is also graded Hard Severe.

The final moves onto the summit block are the most trying, although manufacturing an adequate belay and descending in safety requires considerably more mountaineering acumen than the ascent (see below)!

Although easy by the standard of modern test pieces, an ascent of Napes Needle will always remain a memorable day in any climber's career.


How to Get Down off Napes Needle in Ten Easy Lessons (and survive to tell the tale!)

NB: These notes are intended to assist the climber who has already gained some knowledge of rock climbing and is fully aware of its risks but still wishes to progress further up the grades, and indeed the mountains. They are brief and not designed to be comprehensive in any way. Ultimately climbing is a dangerous sport and claims many casualties each year. One of the guiding principals of British climbing and mountaineering is that it is the individual climber is responsible for his or her own safety. If you cannot accept this then this site and probably climbing in general is unlikely to suit you. May we refer you to this very interesting site instead!


Whilst climbing Napes Needle is tricky, getting down again in safety can be prove even more so. Although abseiling is possible (with a lot of knowledge and extreme care), there is no obvious anchor, and there have been several fatalities due to this practice which therefore cannot be recommended. Instead the following is suggested :

1. Climb the Needle (by any route - The Arête is the easiest and most pleasant way) to the Shoulder. Belay from the horizontal crack in the summit block.
Bring up your second. Attach them to the belay on the Shoulder. Before starting the next pitch, place a camming device (Friend) in the horizontal crack that runs round under the summit block on the Gap (north) side. This needs to be as far round as you can get whilst still allowing your second to be able to reach round to clip it.
3. Climb to the summit and belay by draping a large loop of rope around the overhang of the summit block on the west side (this is the ovehang seen in the photo above). Drop a second loop down to the south side and get your second to attach it to your belay on the Shoulder. Finally drop a third loop down the Gap side and get your second to lean round the "back" of the summit block and clip it into the cam that you placed there previously. Sit down firmly and tighten up these various loops using clove hitches.
Bring up your second, instructing them to unclip your runners (but not your belay!) and leave them in situ.
Pat each other firmly on the back whilst exclaiming, "Good show Old Boy/Girl!" - or words to that effect.
6. Top-rope/lower your second down to the Shoulder and get them to clip the rope through your runners and re-attach themselves to the belay.
7. Down-climb to the Shoulder (with assistance from your second if required) and belay. If the cam in the back of the summit block is left in place then it is even possible to use it to guide a top rope over the summit.
8. Top-rope/lower your second down to the ground via The Arête (the easiest route to/from the Shoulder). Instruct them to place plenty of runners for you and clip them into the rope(s). If you climbed The Arête on the way up then of course you can simply leave the runners in place and the second only has to clip the ropes back into them.
9. Get them to belay you whilst you down climb The Arête removing the runners en route.
10. Shake hands heartily and proceed immediately to the nearest hostelry to celebrate!

Photo top right: The classic view of Napes Needle as seen from the Dress Circle. The climber has just climbed the Wasdale Crack (the original route of ascent). The Arête takes the arête to the right of the Wasdale Crack. Both routes meet on the Shoulder under the summit block which forms the crux of both climbs. The Gap is the cleft to the left of the Needle, between it and the main crag. Threading the Needle (M) is the traverse of the Gap and is a popular scramble. The highest mountain in the distance is Scafell Pike.

Photo right: What goes up must come down, but how? A climber on the summit of Napes Needle with another about to join him.

Photo below: An unusual view of the Wasdale Crack, taken from the Lingmell Crack.

Photo below right: Stephen Reid on Sick Heart River (E2, 5c), a new route he put up with Ron Kenyon on Napes Needle in 2000. The climb follows the arete above his head and was the first new route on the Needle for over half a century. The name is taken from the title of a book by John Buchan. (Photo: Colwyn Jones)

Photo bottom of page: Craig Matheson attempting the second ascent of Phil Rigby's spectacular climb, The Wasdale Roof (E3, 5c), the first alternative way to climb the top block on Napes Needle for over 90 years! This superb image was used as the cover of the 2007 FRCC climbing guidebook, Gable & Pillar. (Photo: Al Phizacklea)







"Haskett-Smith, Haskett- Smith, Alone he slew the Monolith.".

- George Basterfield


This Bronze Statuette of Napes Needle was presented to WP Hakett Smith in 1938 by the FRCC after he had made a 50th anniversary ascent of the Needle on Easter Sunday, 1936 (aged 74!). It is now rather aptly in the possession of Needle Sports.

The bronze was commissioned by GR Speaker (President of the FRCC in 1938) and made by Una Cameron. Only two copies are known to exist, the other being in the possession of the FRCC.