Cumbria Scenes – 16.4.12

Napes Needle

This is one place you will never find me.
I am not, nor have I ever harboured any ambitions to be a rock-climber. I am too much addicted to having at least 50% of my boot soles on solid ground whenever I put my weight upon them.
And this is Napes Needle, a 72′ spike of rock springing up from the Napes Ridge, the band of rock cliffs hanging just to the right of the summit in that classic image of Great Gable above Wastwater. It is heralded as the birthplace of the sport of rock-climbing (as opposed to just having to get up and over the damned things to get to where you are going), stemming from its first ascent by W. Haskell Smith in June 1896. And it’s graded Hard Severe: and if a rock-climber calls it that…
No, thank you. Not even at my fittest and lithest, even with the most responsible, experienced and heavy-load-bearing leader imaginable.
But though you couldn’t drag me onto the Needle, I still hope to one day see it for myself. Not, as once before, guided by my patient father in the car parking ground at Wasdale Head, by training binoculars onto those cliffs and picking out the tiny sliver of rock. And perhaps not even by getting myself onto the “Dress Circle”, the shelf of rock from which all the famous photos of the Needle are taken.
The South Traverse cuts across the face of Great Gable, rising from Sty Head. Part climbers’ approach, part adventurous walkers’ glimpse of glory at close hand, the Traverse skirts the bases of the two massive bastions, the Great Napes and the White Napes, crossing the scree-shoots of Great Hell Gate and Little Hell Gate, and contouring eventually to join Gavel Neese (Gable Nose), the long ridge falling to Wasdale.
From the Traverse, the climbers’ path ascends towards Needle Gully and the base of the Needle itself, and I could sit, my head in the air, watching men and women with greater skill, strength and nerve than I, ascending towards that awkward, overhanging millstone, knowing that I could never have the courage to stand there, if ever I had the ability to reach it.
Dreams, however, may be realisable in real life, though it won’t be without immense effort.

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