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Mountaineering Feature: The Napes

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

This is a great day for anyone looking to get out into some of the Lake District's most dramatic and impressive mountain scenery.

The route winds its way along the flanks of Great Gable and takes in the most famous rock feature in the national park - Napes Needle.

Napes Needle and Threading the Needle
Napes Needle from The Dress Circle

The route can be started from either Wasdale or Seathwaite (Borrowdale) and heads up to the mountain rescue stretcher box that sits at Sty Head, overlooking the tarn.

From here the climbers traverse is picked up and the path traverses under Kern Knotts Crag before winding its way up the screes towards Napes Needle.

The climbers traverse cuts across very steep terrain, this involves boulder hopping and movement on loose terrain and scree until the scrambling is reached just below Napes Needle.

At this point it is a good idea to rope up and gear up for the scramble. The scramble heads up behind the needle and is known as 'Threading the Needle'. Although this is a grade 2 scramble it is quite serious as it involves a long down climb over polished rocks.

Scrambling on Sphinx Ridge with Wastwater behind
Sphinx Ridge

We climbed this is one pitch to the high point behind the needle and took a belay here. This then allows any less experienced or less confident scramblers to head down first, with a rope above to assist in any tricky steps down as they go.

From here, the scramble keeps traversing around and hits an area known as The Dress Circle, which is a small piece of flat ground that offers fantastic views back along the route. Napes Needle is best viewed from this point as it has an impressive back drop of the Scafell Massif; this includes Scafell Pike, Scafell, Lingmell, Great End, Broad Crag and Ill Crag.

The scramble then heads for Sphinx Ridge. Aim for the rock that resembles the famous Egyptian Sphinx and you won't go too far wrong, however good route finding is needed at this location. There are a few ways you can go, but we prefer the narrow gap in the rock and before heading up high along the gully to then drop down towards the start of the ridge.

The ridge goes at Grade 2 and is quite a grassy affair, but there are some amazing positions if you stick to the crest as much as possible.

At the start of Sphinx Ridge, there are two possible starts. Starting directly behind the Sphinx rock and climbing the steeper walls directly warrants a rock climbing grade. Unless confident or laden with rock climbing gear, we do not recommend this as there are some tricky moves to gain the ledges above.

We did the direct start on our trip but there is an alternate way up, using the scree and gully to the side. Care needs to be taken in any loose gullies and rock checked before pulled on and committed too whilst scrambling.

Weave your way along the ridge and this will top out above the screes of Hell's Gate.

Westmorland Cairn
Views from Westmorland Cairn

More scrambling can be undertaken on Westmorland Crag. Head down to the right and to the lowest point of the crag and follow the blocky spine to the top, again staying on the crest where possible to get the most out of the scrambling.

This scramble will top out at Westmorland Cairn - arguably the best view in the Lake District, looking down Wasdale and Wastwater.

The summit of Great Gable is now just a stones throw away.

Descend off the summit and head to the stretcher box for the easiest line off, this will then allow you to descend back into either valley and your starting location.

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