Pillar Rock by the Slab and Notch route

6th May 2016

To bring my Birthday week to a penultimate end it had been pre arranged some time ago to acompany Rod while he collects his last Birkett summit on Pillar Rock. The collection of Birkett summits is the largest collection in Britain totalling 541 summits which is a huge feat to complete. Many people have collected all the Birkett summits but I wonder how many have done them exactly the same way Bill Birkett walked them as described in his book 'The Complete Lakeland Fells' there's only one person out of that handful I know who has, his name is Rod Hepplewhite.

I myself only know of few people who can claim this impressive accolade and with the greatest of respects many do not make it to the summit of Pillar Rock because they are walkers like myself and Rod which I can relate to during my Lakeland two thousand footers last year were I too adopted the same attitude and drew a line at Pillar Rock, I'm a walker not a Rock Climber.

All the time I have known Rod climbing Pillar Rock had been a topic of conversation, it's always been there but for one reason or another it just kept getting pushed back until he registered his name on a couple of Mountain Guide websites one of whom www.door2dooradventures.co.uk e-mailed Rod back which cemented a date, and more importantly Rod's last Birkett summit.

Rod then asked myself David Hall and Karl Holden of 'Karlswalks.co.uk' to accompany him, sadly this wasn't David's field and more importantly, he was leaving for a holiday that same evening. Karl too sadly could not make it due to his son getting married the day after which just left myself, Rod and Aled, our guide for the day to partake in one of the most memorable days I have ever spent in Lakeland.
Freeman of the Hills

-Pillar Rock

It is more than 150 years since Pillar Rock was first climbed-by Ennerdale Man, John Atkinson on 9th July 1826. Before that it had been deemed inaccessible. By 1850 there had been only six ascents of the Rock and by 1875 about fifty, but thousands have reached the summit since then, and there are about eighty routes, some of them extremely severe to the top.

A.H. Griffin


Ascent: 3,150 Feet - 960 Meters
Wainwrights Pillar
Weather: Warm Dry and Hazy. Highs of 19°C Lows of 13°C
Parking: Car Park, Wasdale Head
Area: Western
Miles: 6.6
Walking With: Rod Hepplewhite - Aled from Door to Door Adventures
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 7 Hours 30 Minutes
Route: Wasdale Head – Mosedale Beck - Gatherstone Beck - Black Sail Pass – Looking Stead – High Level Route – Robinsons Cairn – Shamrock Traverse - The Slab - The Notch - Pillar Rock - Jordan Gap – Shamrock Traverse - Pillar – Wind Gap – Wind Gap Screes - Mosedale – Wasdale Head

Map and Photo Gallery


Wast Water Reflections.


Yewbarrow, Great Gable and Lingmell.

Pillar from Wasdale Head 09.30am °13C

It was agreed that we would meet at Wasdale Head sometime between 09.15 - 09.30 with a set off time of 10.00. I arrived at Wast Water with enough time to take a few photos of Wasdale Head and the Screes from the stone shelter after leaving my car parked in a lay by close by before heading off towards Wasdale Head car park, on arrival it wasn't very busy which I guess can only be expected given that this is a weekday. A young man from the National Park Authority disturbs the silence as he knocks into the ground a new sign, what it read I wasn't sure but we exchange morning nods from a distance. I take out my gear and place it neatly behind the car while chomping at an apple still waiting for Rod to arrive who I might add, is never normally late.

At the side of my car two chaps are kitting up and 'mornings are shared' they are soon ready for the off and pass comment on the weather and which route I would be taking today as I answer with "I'm just waiting for friends to arrive and we're heading up Pillar Rock "Pillar Rock! they look surprised and bid me good luck, boy it felt good to say that.

I soon sight Rod's car as it passes over Down-in-the-Dale Bridge as he explains his lateness by getting caught behind slow moving traffic. Rod starts to gear up and soon we are joined by Aled from Door to Door Adventures, our guide for the day. We introduce ourselves by shaking hands and comment on how nice the weather is. Aled asked a few basic questions before returning to his car and bringing back our harnesses, a fifty meter rope, two helmets and a belt of carabiners clips and cams and other climbing equipment "hope you don't mind, we've got some gear to take with us" Rod and I split the gear between us and clip our helmets to the outside of our packs which all of a sudden, had just got considerably heavier!

The morning air is warm and humid with the potential of it getting even hotter, it was agreed the night before that for the first time this year we would wear shorts which made for some unsightly white legs, especially on my behalf. After a final gear check we lock the cars and head out towards the Barn Door Shop passing the campsite and the Wasdale Head Inn before picking up the path alongside Mosedale Beck with views of Kirk Fell and the Mosedale Valley.

Pillar as we head through the Mosedale Valley.

Today we are following the original route set by Bill Birkett which ascends towards the top of the Black Sail Pass via Gatherstone Beck which is out of view but over on the right beyond the flanks of Kirk Fell. From the top of the Black Sail Pass we will head north west collecting the summit of Looking Stead before continuing over the top of Green Cove until the stone cairn is reached marking the spot for the start of the High Level Route towards Robinsons Cairn, from where we will get our first real view of Pillar Rock.

With the High Level Route behind us we will ascend to the top of Walkers Gully via the Shamrock Traverse before the penultimate climb to Pillar Rock summit, thereafter we again pick up the Shamrock Traverse in order to gain Pillar summit. With Pillar summited and all the hard work behind us all that is left it to descend to Wind Gap and Wind Gap Screes and back into the Valley of Mosedale where hopefully there'l be a pint waiting for us at the Wasdale Head Inn, but that's nearly eight hours away, it's the bit in between which is going to earn us that pint.

The path towards Gatherstone Beck and the Black Sail Pass.

Views back into Mosedale with Dore Head and Stirrup Crag dominating the skyline.

Gatherstone Beck.

It was hard to believe that all of this would have been under snow just a few days ago and not just are we walking in shorts but it's incredibly mild and muggy too, barmy I know but at least we can say that summer has eventually arrived with temperatures rising towards the late teens during the day.

Up ahead is the top of the Black Sail Pass but first we've got to ascend steadily as Gatherstone Beck falls away to our right as we get deep into conversation about Aled's job as a Mountaineering guide among many other titles.

Rod and Aled at the top of the Black Sail Pass.

We agreed to stop and take five at the top of the Black Sail Pass where we learned more about one another. Aled had already asked about how myself and Rod got ourselves into Fell Walking which I guess is one of those questions if you want to be bored over the best part of half an hour it's probably best not to ask it, but seeing as we all share a common love for Lakeland the steady ascent went unnoticed while deep in conversation.

A little about our guide Aled...

Aled holds the Mountaineering Instructor Award (MIA) and was born in Wales and grew up in Snowdonia but now lives in North Yorkshire and was climbing mountains before he could walk, he simply hasn't done anything else other than his passion for the outdoors whose accolades include extensive winter climbing in the Atlas Mountains, Ski Mountaineering in Norway, cycled solo coast to coast across the Pyrenees and to add to this Aled is also a Canoe Coach and Cave Leader.

I think this means Aled is more than qualified to lead the climb on Pillar Rock today.

Views over Kirkfell Crags while we take time out at the top of Black Sail Pass.

Pillar and Looking Stead.
Taken from the un-named pool overlooking the top of Black Sail Pass, a favoured Lakeland spot of mine.

Pausing to look back on Kirk Fell, Great Gable and Green Gable taken close to Looking Stead summit.
It's only a matter of a moments walk from the main approach path to reach the summit of Looking Stead which probably doesn't get the recognition it deserves as there are fine views back along the ridge towards the Gables and into the Ennerdale Valley, yet sadly today the haze is gettimg worse and any long distant views are starting to get limited.

Crossing the top of Green Gove with Pillar ahead.
We left the summit of Looking Stead before admiring views into the Ennerdale Valley then descended easily over the top of Green Cove. Our route now starts to get interesting as we ascend slightly before stopping at a stone cairn where we descend steeply onto the High Level Route which will lead us across the broad flank of Pillar ending at Robinsons Cairn. The path is singular and can be a little tricky in places which is why it's so difficult to spot if you don't know where to look in this photo.

The High Level Route.

A solo walker who we had observed from Looking Stead is now sitting eating an apple overlooking the start of the High Level Route, despite having many years on the likes of us we are soon caught up close to Robinsons cairn and then over taken, our excuses were we are too busy chatting.

We are now on the High Level Route which spans the horizontally across the broad flank of Pillar, despite the path being quite narrow in places and with the odd little scrabble thrown in there is no real feeling of exposure as you may expect, down below another fainter path also traverses across the mountain side but if my memory serves me right the lower path is 'rougher' than the higher of the two paths, this I can claim because I've now used them both. We strike out towards Robinsons Cairn which for now, is still out of view.

Looking back along the High Level Route with Looking Stead, Kirk Fell and Great Gable in the distance.

Pillar Rock and the Shamrock Traverse from Robinsons Cairn.

Robinsons Cairn was soon reached as our fellow walkers passes and comments "you do know there's a plaque on the other side of the cairn don't you" we politely smile and say yeah we know, he then heads off towards the start of the Shamrock Traverse which can be seen in the top left of the photo. It was here the reality of what we are about to do started to kick in, the best way to deal with this are the natural adrenalin rushes that keep building up, even so, it was also time to be a little nervous too.

After a few moments we press on towards the start of the Shamrock Traverse.

The John Robinson plaque on Robinsons Cairn.

Views over Pillar Rock, Pillar Cove, Ennerdale and the High Stile Ridge.
It's such a shame the haze is hampering the views, but I guess for once, today isn't about the views.

The familiar rock slab on the Shamrock Traverse.
Even on a day as dry as today the rock slab was greasy and care had to be taken whilst crossing over it.

The Slab and Notch route on Pillar Rock.
I've tried to keep our route as accurate as possible although it may vary by a few feet here and there.

'Base Camp' at the top of Walkers Gully.

We continued our ascent along the Shamrock Traverse until a stone cairn was reached where we branched off right over a faint grassy trod towards the top of Walkers Gully. Having just traversed the High Level Route it was agreed we would stop for a bite to eat while Aled prepares kit. After a quick lunch we were eager to get kitted up which meant a lesson in how to attach the harness which is simply stepped into and adjusted at the side of the waste and the tops of both thighs, I asked Aled how tight the straps had to be as Aled smiled and replied "tight enough so you don't fall out of it" a laugh was shared but Aled's comment sunk in.

After we had strapped ourselves into the Harnesses Aled attached the end of the fifty meter rope to my harness in a figure of eight knot then also attached Rod's harness to the rope in a sequence which meant that I would be at the rear separated with Rod by around five feet of rope, it was crucial that the rope was kept taught at all times Aled went onto explain but putting this into practice was trickier than first thought.

Aled explains how to use the Cams.

Aled went through how to use the Cams and how to get them back once the last man had passed, this type of Cam worked by using your two fore fingers on a control lever to open and close the Cam, It was probably a lot easier to insert the Cam into a crevice than it was to retrive it as I would later find out.


Preparing the rope.

The last man to pass the Cams or Nuts is responsible for retrieving them, this also applies to any Slings with Carabiners attached. After a quick bite to eat and a final gear check we leave our packs at the top of Walkers Gully and begin our descent.

Walkers Gully, named Walkers Gully after Mr Walker who tragically fell to his death while mistaking the Gully as a safe descent route back to Ennerdale.
After a final gear check Aled ask me to descend first into Walkers Gully closely followed by Rod while trying to keep the rope taught between us, Aled observes from the rear and directs me down to the first of two boulders that you can see in the Gully from where we'll gain the grassy terrace then thereafter the Slab.

Passing the Gully below Jordan Gap.
We will descend Jordan Gap by abseil then perform a roped scramble descending the gully to the same spot from where we are stood in this photo.

Looking back along the grassy terrace path towards Walkers Gully taken from the Slab
We had our first taste of roped scrambling whilst traversing the terrace path, it may not look it but some of those rocks are the size of small cars which had to negotiated with care. The Slab was reached via various four point contact scrambles, I was instructed to wait until Rod too had made the climb before continuing over the Slab on my backside picking out grooves with the edges of my boots which were etched into the stone Slab, Rod soon follows until we reach a rock ledge.

Rod and I wait at the rock ledge.

We are soon joined by Aled who unclips himself from the rope, now Aled needs to make the first pitch where he'll insert the cam and slings into the rock, but to do this, he has to climb ahead. Aled makes sure Rod and I are left safe my making a simple counter balance by placing the climbing rope into a natural stone groove, should one fall the rope inside the groove will act as a counter balance thus leaving the other climber safe.

The one thing that we learned was how important saftey was to Aled, the eventualities were at first, difficult to swallow but it was great to know we were in safe hands.

Aled climbs overhead and starts to make the first of four pitches.
Aled re-appears a few moments later over our heads and after securing the Cams and Slings he then instructs Rod to start climbing while he belays.


After Rod had made the climb towards Aled's position I wait until Aled has climbed further around towards the base of the Notch, before I leave I need to extract a Cam that is holding the rope and me to the rock face but on instruction to move I can't get the Cam from the rock no matter how hard I pull on the lever it just wasn't budging.

It's a good job I'm used to heights and exposure.

Rod by now is continuing to climb out of view and my rope tightens and I have no choice but to go with, now my feet are perched on a small ledge as I shout back to Rod "hold on mate I'm not ready"

I pulled and tugged at that Cam until my knuckles bled and finally, after what seemed like an eternity I managed to retrieve it. OK Rod, I'm coming up.

Aled close to the top of the Notch.

Once we were close to the Notch I had no option other than to put the camera away, in doing this I am unable to record the next three pitches from the base, to the top of the Notch purely based upon safety reasons. To reach the base of the Notch a vertical slab had to be negotiated from the side, to my immediate right a sudden drop which certainly stirred at my senses, we both found it easier to just not look down. Aled is by now making the third pitch and although we can hear him, he is out of sight, Rod however, has a view or a rock terrace that we have to traverse before we would find ourselves at the base of the Notch, because I can't see Aled, nor the ledge I'm left feeling a little uneasy.

Aled shouts Rod to come up and I have the length of five feet of rope to get myself together, Rod starts the crossing but I am left looking at a huge slab of vertical rock 'with good hand holes' to negotiate this isn't a rock climb but a means of getting across the terrace whilst feeling for hand holes while trying not to look down, Rod makes it across and I start my crossing before I realise that I had set off with my best foot forward instead of my second, which was required further along the narrow rock terrace "Rod hold a minute I need to go back and swap legs" or words to that effect but I'm sure he knew what I meant!

I double back just a few steps and leave again with my second foot forward enabling my best foot to negotiate the rock terrace, phew!

Looking down from the top of the Notch.

The ascent of the Notch was by far the best part of the climb so far, made so by the good scrambling via the almost vertical rocky buttresses seen in the right of the photo, all the while Aled belays both myself and Rod from the top of the Gully.

The light at the top of the Gully is by now clearly visisble and I found myself saying is that the top, is that the top, of course it was, I knew it and Rod knew it, we were just so thrilled to have made it.

Rod claims his final Birkett summit, Pillar Rock.
We top out on the summit of Pillar Rock and I congratulate Rod by shaking his hand commenting well done you've done it! It wasn't difficult to see just how pleased Rod is in this photo and I can tell you I wasn't far behind him, you simply couldn't wipe the smiles from our faces, meanwhile four walkers look on from Pillar summit, it felt great to be looked upon just as I would if I were in their shoes.

Myself and Rod at Pillar Rock summit cairn.
Still smiling...

The High Stile Ridge from Pillar Rock.
Sadly the haze seemed to be getting worse but it didn't matter, we had made it to the summit of Pillar Rock.

Pillar Rock selfie.

Meanwhile Aled prepares the rope for our abseil into Jordan Gap.
Rod and I go off to explore the summit when Rod explained that a group of climbers once wild camped up here as we looked around for a possible camp area, we found just one, a meter from the edge! I had previously read that the summit of Pillar Rock was broad which I couldn't agree with but I guess it depends on who's using the term 'broad'

The summit of Pisgah over Jordan Gap from Pillar Rock.
Aled and the equipment is now ready for our abseil into Jordan Gap.

Abseiling into Jordan Gap.

I dont often use the term fear because it's not often that I come across it, but watching Rod first scramble to the ledge you see to the left of his right hand it sure got the old ticker going, come on adrenalin I need you!

Aled is instructing Rod to go over the edge and as expected Rod is reluctant before a matter of seconds he has vanished from view talking back at Aled "Ive got it, got it - I'm fine"

It was now my turn.
I at first struggled getting a foothold from at the top of the Gully as seen in the previous photo, Aled was calm but precise, "just go Paul you'll be fine" Walking backwards off the edge of a crag takes some getting used to, my mind was listening to Aled's instructions but my body was having trouble putting them into practice, it was only seconds but during that time at the top of Jordan Gap it felt much longer before I made the plunge and went over the edge.

Abseiling into Jordan Gap.
From the moment I committed I knew I was going to be fine, the abseil was by far the best thing I've ever done although please excuse the size of my backside as my shorts had ridden up due to harness, I guess the last thing your thinking while abseiling for the first time is what you look like!

And now Aled descends into Jordan Gap.

With all three of us now in Jordan Gap all that remained was to descend via a rope scramble down Jordan Gap gully, with the rope re-attached we did this one by one. I went first followed by Rod and then Aled. From the base of the gully we found ourselves on familiar ground again in between the Slab and the grassy terrace, Walkers Gully was only a few moments away as we started to retrace our steps still roped up until the Gully was reached, just a few feet above our heads our packs are waiting and I for one could drink a gallon of water right now.

We soon found ourselves back at the 'Base Camp' our packs still in exactly the same place as we had left them just over two hours earlier. We detach ourselves from the rope and I take my helmet off while Aled starts to recoil the rope, the first thing I do is head for my pack and take long sips from the nozzle of my bladder pack, the water is warm but it does the job and replenishes my thirst.

We hadn't eaten all of our lunches earlier so we choose to finish them off before regaining the Shamrock Traverse, after all there's still a steep climb ahead towards Pillar summit. With bellies fed and gear packed away I exchange my helmet for my baseball cap and we all begin the steep climb towards Pillar never failing to look back on Pillar Rock and what myself and Rod had just achieved.

Pillar Rock from the Shamrock Traverse.


Pillar summit.
It was a tiring climb whilst we ascended the Shamrock Traverse made more so as my previous walks during the week started to catch up on me. Nevertheless Pillar was reached and we spend a few moments chatting whilst stood at the Trig Point, on the other side of the summit plateau a couple sit whilst looking over Mosedale towards the Gables and beyond as we start to make our descent towards Wind Gap and Wind Gap Screes.

Descending Pillar with views over Wind Gap, Black Crag, Scoat Fell and Steeple.

Views over the Mosedale Valley towards Red Pike (Wasdale) Dore Head and Yewbarrow.

Descending Wind Gap Screes.
Our descent into Mosedale via Wind Gap Screes was quite a hellish one not helped by just how loose and steep the gradient of the path was, the best way of descent was by controlled slides but these eventually shocked though the knees and I was left zig zagging my way down keeping a constant eye open for alternative routes down, slips, slides and even falls occurred but I think I'm correct in saying that that pint we were eager to swallow kept up momentum and we soon found ourselves down and walking over the smooth wild grasses of the Mosedale Valley.

Lingmell and the Scafells seen from the Mosedale Valley.

It is here I will draw today to an end as we cast eye over the Scafells safe in knowledge that we had climbed Pillar Rock and that now Rod can say, he has finished all the Birkett summits including Pillar Rock. We've made good time too in just over seven hours but limbs are starting to ache and that pint is on the tips our tongues.

We chat and go through the highlights of the day which for me started at Wasdale Head and will end at Wasdale Head. We soon reach Mosedale Beck and the old Packhorse Bridge close to Wasdale Head Inn where we swap the climbing gear from our packs as Aled walks it back to the cars, but before he leaves he agrees to join us for that celebratory pint.

There's only a few people inside the Bar and I instantly recognise one of the barmaids from the Inn's Facebook page but say nothing, we wander over to the bar and Rod treats me to a pint of Ennerdale Blonde which I could swallow in one go but I don't, I savour it. Aled walks back in and joins us at our table as we go over more highlights that we had taken from today and how we felt about todays achievement, soon we are looking at empty beer glasses and it's time to leave, Aled leaves first and we part with a hearty thank you followed by firm handshakes.

We head out back to the cars where the afternoon is at its hottest, the campers are enjoying BBQ's and beer whilst sitting in the sun while Rod and I have three hour journeys ahead of us before we get home.

It's going to be the best drive home ever all the while creating more memories charged on from a day that will never be forgotton.


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