According to Hard Rock: “The East Buttress of Scafell is the finest crag in The Lakes. A great lonely crag. Its walls overhang. Water drips out instead of down.”
Quite a write up, and probably accurate in all aspects apart from the “lonely” bit – on the hottest day of the year, with half of the Lake District’s climbers seemingly on furlough, it’s rammed!
Rewind to a 6:45am departure from home, I happened to notice the car thermometer reading 24C as the clock ticked past 8:00. Paul and I left the car park in Wasdale at 9:45
and were at the foot of the crag by 11 (he doesn’t hang about!)
There’s already a queue at the foot of Ichabod, our primary objective
… so we backtrack up the hill to check out Leverage, the obvious E1 crack which slices through the more amenable Mickledore Grooves.
Nothing amenable about Leverage – the start is in-your-face brutal (and a bit contrived) and the initial 10m of the crack are surprisingly steep. Great lead by Paul from cold,
and he combined both pitches to soon have us at the handy rap point. Abbing down we exchanged banter with Liam as he approached the unappealing off-width on Chartreuse.
By now the Ichabod queue had dissipated and we were soon roping up beneath one of my outstanding Hard Rock ticks, and “one of the finest E2s in the country“. It didn’t disappoint. An awkward pull rightwards from the initial easy crack lands you in a niche (here’s Jim in situ, taken as I rapped down afterwards)
… and is followed by a tenuous traverse right on crimps, where you really appreciate the great friction underfoot. Here’s Jim completing the traverse:
A tricky mantle onto a sloping ledge (originally a stance, but why interrupt the flow) brings you to the steep, clean-cut corner. This is steady to start with, but finger and footholds run out as height is gained, leaving a tricky move to exit. The final groove is easy by comparison and it’s a romp to the top – 45m of fun!
Another handy ab (convenient designer climbing!) and we contemplate Phoenix, but someone else has the same idea before us. Instead Paul proposes Overhanging Grooves Direct, E3 5c, which I readily agree to before realising that he’s earmarked me to lead the crux pitch. This is accurately summed up in the guide: “On a less steep crag this would make a good HVS!” Two impressive lay back flakes sit one above the other and glower down imposingly, and I question my decision not to carry anything bigger than a gold Camalot up to the crag. The climbing is athletic and pumpy, in complete contrast to Ichabod, and the final crux moves up the thin wall above the final groove are made with a certain degree of urgency. Easier climbing up corners leads to a comfy belay where you can enjoy the view whilst your second puts in a shift. Unfortunately the remaining corner pitch is streaming, so we transferred onto Yellow Slab to finish (a fabulous HVS and another Top 50 tick for the day).
By now it’s 5pm and there’s a chilly easterly blowing which has cooled things down significantly. Three routes on East Buttress represented a real Feast on The East and any reasonable person would surely have called it quits after such a stupendous Starter, Main and Pudding. However, how many days like this in a lifetime do you get to be on Scafell? We figured that back over Mickledore, Scafell Crag would be out of the wind and just coming into the sun. With sunset still over 4 hours away, it would be rude to leave before the Cheese Course!
Sure enough, we drop down into a different world as we descend from the col, and it’s off with the windproof and the T-shirt. Central Buttress is the obvious “warm down” as it’s a yawning gap in Paul’s Hard Rock logbook. I did it almost 30 years ago, before the famous chockstone parted company with the flake, and so Marr’s Variation on the Great Flake pitch would be new to me. A bit of guidebook studying yielded the alternative lefthand “New and Superior Start” (starting up Saxon), combined with the Direct Link 5b crack from Jeffcoat’s Ledge and the last pitch of Nazgul meant I could repeat the entire 120m route with all but a few metres on new territory.
Here’s Paul arriving at The Oval
… and about to launch out onto the front of The Great Flake.
Stunning panorama from this commodious ledge.
Here’s a couple of shots of a climber on the crux pitch 2 of Saxon
… The conditions a far cry from when we climbed it a year ago (this is more or less the same view of Dave on the crux!)
Here’s Leo Houlding making short work of the damp crux crack, with the sun sparkling on the Irish Sea in the background.
Back on CB and the intricate face climbing on the front of The Great Flake might not be as historic as the original but proves highly enjoyable. Here I am following the pitch
The Direct Link involves a really stiff pull, especially with fading arms, and the last pitch of Nazgul lives up to its reputation as one of the best on Scafell.
What a route! And what a crag!… especially when it’s lit up in gold by the setting sun
What a day!