‘The most accessible mountain crag in the Lakes’. That’s what they say about Gillercombe Buttress at the head of Borrowdale. The guidebook time gives 45-60 minutes for the walk-in, and I assume that’s from Seathwaite, because it’s barely more than a half-hour stroll from the top of Honister Pass.
The crag is big and rambling with a number of long mountain routes up to 200m in length. These range in difficulty from the lovely ‘Rabbit’s Trod’ (Mod), through ‘Grey Knotts Face’ (V.Diff), to ‘Gillercombe Buttress’ (Sev) and on to the more giddy delights of ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ (HVS 5a) and ‘String of Pearls’ (E2 5c). Up to the right of the crag is an impressively steep wall containing a couple of modern test pieces – ‘Caution’ (E8 6c) and Prudence (E7 6b). Across to the left from the bottom of the crag lies Pedestal Wall with a handful of single pitch climbs, including ‘Pedestal Nose’ (MVS 4b), ‘Clara Bow’ (E1 5b), ‘The Third Man’ (E3 6a), and ‘Citizen Kane’ (E4 6a). Then there’s the delightfully course rock on the aptly-named Gabbro Buttress, way up on the left-hand skyline, best reached by traversing the grassy crown of Gillercombe Buttress and descending to gain the apex of the buttress top. Here you’ll find yet more one and two-pitch routes, including ‘Gabbro’ (V.Diff), ‘Rough Magic’ (MVS 4a), ‘Rough Stuff’ (VS 4c), and ‘Just Say Non’ (MVS 4b).
All of the above climbs are starred routes, and they all feature in the latest FRCC definitive guidebook ‘Borrowdale’. The previous edition including a few other starred routes, all of which have sadly either dropped their stars, or vanished from the guidebook completely. This is a shame, but to be honest most of the climbs here rarely see an ascent, so some are being taken over by nature, and only the dedicated will venture onto them in the future.
This is not the case with the classic route of the crag, Gillercombe Buttress. Gaining a place in ‘Classic Rock’ alongside the likes of Bracket and Slab, Bowfell Buttress, Napes Needle, Tophet Wall, and Little Chamonix has meant that every avid ‘ticker’ of the routes contained in that classic coffee-table book have Gillercombe Buttress on their must-do wishlist. This classic status keeps Gillercombe Buttress well and truly on the low-grade climbers’ radar, and this helps to keep the rock here clean, and the route itself pretty obvious.
It starts to the immediate right of the obvious Gillercombe Gully (V.Diff). Pitch one starts off in the same vein as the climb intends to carry on. It feels immediately steep, a bit bold, but always on superb, clean rock with amazing friction. A nut runner at around 5m makes things feel a little less out-there, and from that point the climb takes you around the corner to the left and into an obvious square-cut niche. There’s gear aplenty here, which is nice because the pull out of the niche is steep and on small, highly polished holds. You expect there to be a nice belay immediately above the niche, but there isn’t. You’re spat out onto a slabby gangway leading back right, up to a small but comfortable ledge 37m after leaving the ground.
Pitch two begins with a wild traverse to the left, and easier rocks lead in 40m to large ledges with a boulder belay on the left, overlooking Gillercombe Gully.
In the corner, just left of the belay, is a steep, awkward crack. The sort that looks like it’s going to spit you out. That’s the next pitch, and it’s actually really enjoyable climbing. Never hard for the grade, it leads to a good stance after 20m.
Pitch four starts with a pull up a steep corner on the right, and lands you on a large ledge. Above, there is broken ground, interspersed with some lovely slabby grooves and corners on rock. After 40m you find yourself on another big ledge with a superb flake belay.
Pitch five is for me the best of the lot. You climb awkwardly onto the flake, then step off the left hand side into a steep and difficult groove. UKC gives this pitch a technical grade of 3c, but I reckon it’s at least 4a, and probably 4b. The groove splits after 7 metres, and you follow the left-hand one with a big grin on your face, then continue up slabs to easier ground after 40m.
A further 25m of scrambling leads to the top, and a short stroll will bring you out at the summit of Grey Knotts. Or, you could head over to Gabbro Buttress….