Gordale Adventure Routes

Gordale Scar © Steve Crowe 2005 www.climbonline.co.uk
Gordale Scar © Steve Crowe 2005

Gordale by Karin Magog

For me Gordale is a very special place to climb, both intimidating and awe inspiring at the same time.  Entering the gorge early on a sunny summer’s morning is always memorable.  One minute you’re strolling along the path, enjoying the sun then you step round the corner into the shade, the temperature plummets and the overhanging rock faces glower down on you.  It also seems to act as a wind funnel so it’s rarely too hot – I always take my down jacket and a hat! Fortunately the sun does a good job and picks out virtually all the walls in the gorge at some point of the day so if you time it right you can always enjoy its warmth.  As it moves across the Left Wall the shades it creates are amazing as various gargoylian faces materialise in the rock and glare down at you. I first climbed in Gordale in 1995 but was a bit overwhelmed by the place and it wasn’t till the following summer that I felt confident enough to take on some of the classic trad routes. The rock in Gordale is an interesting mix of top quality, Malhamesque limestone and a looser more flaky variety that demands a bit more respect. My first big route was the classic E3 Face Route and a good example of the adventurous climbing Gordale offers. As you start up the route you quickly learn not to pull out on the holds too much, instead palming down and careful footwork is the key, whilst trying to convince yourself the gear you placed in the usually damp crack is good. Interesting moves on wobbly undercuts through the roof, past some ancient pegs, lead to easier climbing and a sigh of relief as the rock quality also improves. The second pitch is a real contrast, hard moves on more compact rock, but with a choice of sequences success can seem like a gamble. This style of climbing can be seriously addictive and a few weeks later I found myself setting off up Solstice a Mark Radkte classic and one of my earliest E5’s. The route is mainly peg protected, with the guide mischievously informing you that the peg by the crux is the worst but gives no clues as to where the crux may be. This added nicely to the intimidation I felt as I slowly inched my way upwards, taking great care not to pull too hard and testing footholds before I stood on them. I eventually started to relax and enjoy myself when suddenly the crux arrived. The peg looked just like all the others below me, best not to think about  that really and just concentrate on sorting out the moves. After much shuffling up and down a perplexing and awkward sequence led to better holds, a sigh of relief and more relaxed climbing to the belay. Cave Route RH was my next challenge and at E6 it was certainly a step-up. This is truly an amazing route up the searing crack-line, endurance climbing at its best. Unfortunately for me my endurance wasn’t quite up to the on-sight and with my feet skittering on dirty smears and my elbows up by my ears my forearms failed me just a couple of moves from the sanctuary of the final crack. But even though it took me 3 red-points before I finally reached that sanctuary it was perhaps the moment that my love of Gordale was truly born. The best years have been the dry summers of 1997 and 2003 when the place was a hive of activity and routes were getting climbed left, right and centre. These are the years that really stand out in terms of achievements.

Karin Magog leading The Cause E5 6b, Gordale © Steve Crowe 2002
Karin Magog leading The Cause E5 6b, Gordale © Steve Crowe 2002

However, my most memorable lead was The Cause (E5 5b,6b,6a) back in 2002. Gordale was looking a bit neglected, the routes hadn’t had much traffic what with a damp summer following on from the Foot and Mouth year, but I was busy reading Lynne Hill’s autobiography and felt inspired to take on a challenge. The first pitch is shared with Jenny Wren and at 5b sounds like a breeze. However, it is a good exercise in self-preservation with decaying pegs and tottering rock – Gordale at it’s best! The main pitch above is superb. After finally committing to the tricky moves over the overhang I gingerly stepped right into the bottomless groove, quickly placing a couple of small wires before briefly glancing down to admire the drop to the stream below. The fight then began. Dirty holds, quite a bit of dampness and marginal gear all added to the experience. Any negative thought was banished by thinking about how Lynne would have relished such a challenge and it was by sheer determination I got up that pitch. I still rate it as one of my best on-sights. The route wasn’t over yet though and the fierce 6a finger crack above could have put a dampener on things. However, I wasn’t going to be so easily defeated and after a short battle the difficulties eased, good holds arrived and I lead the last few metres to the top with a huge smile on my face.

Karin Magog climbing Huecool 8b © Steve Crowe www.climbonline.co.uk
Karin Magog climbing Huecool 8b © Steve Crowe

Gordale by Steve Crowe

The short stroll through the idyllic campsite does not prepare you for what you are about to encounter further up the gorge. The atmosphere changes dramatically as you turn the corner the pleasant sunny slabs contrast sharply with the dark and threatening overhangs, the foreboding walls of Gordale are certainly not a playground for the faint hearted. Some of the very best sport routes in Yorkshire are found here juxtaposed with some harrowing Gordale Adventure routes.

My relationship with Gordale began in the summer of 1986 with an ascent of Court Jester a popular E2 on the lower left wing. Well protected powerful climbing followed by big run outs on rattling rock and already I am beginning to understand the meaning of the term “Gordale Adventure Route”! Face Route is a superb and popular E3 6a that thoroughly deserves is classic status, I enjoyed it so much that I’ve climbed it more than once.

Face Route E3 6a Gordale © Steve Crowe www.climbonline.co.uk
Face Route E3 6a Gordale © Steve Crowe www.climbonline.co.uk

Things got more interesting in 1992 when I decided to try Solstice given E5 and protected mostly by pegs it sounded straight forward however this was when I began to understand the term Gordale Adventure Route. My log book simply states “11 peg runners, some are good.” Ten years and many routes later I could no longer avoid the challenge of Cave Route Right Hand (E6). I set off with a huge rack and great confidence fiddling in many wires to back up the dozens of rotting pegs. After 25m and 25 runners later my forearms gave out and my scream echoed around the gorge! All told I had placed 35 runners before I reached the sanctuary of the cave. My next ambition was to attempt both pitches of Pierrepoint (F7c+) in one huge runout. My first attempts with a single rope were thwarted by horrendous rope drag. Success on this powerful pump fest came when I decided to use two 9mm ropes. This time with less resistance, I was able to latch the long slap to that hidden hold and I was filled with a great sense of achievement as I reached the top of one of Yorkshire’s classic sport routes. By the time I had reached the ground however I was already pondering with some trepidation at what would be next?

The long hot summer of 1997 was one of great confidence and many successes that I am still very proud. Masochism Tango at E6 6c was a massive challenge up the line of depressions to the right of Revival and the stunning white wall above. I remember the crux was a powerful and a perplexing sequence between the first and second depression. The second pitch was more straightforward, simply enduring a screaming forearm pump to snatch my hardest trad onsight ever! 

The following weekend remains one of my most memorable. It began with a successful redpoint of the crimpy stamina route Supercool my first grade 8 sports route and was followed by my first E7 onsight the next day. I had been looking at Bliss all summer from every possible angle but mostly lying in the sun beside the stream in between attempts on other routes. The time had come to try it. No more excuses. The first pitch is shared with Bite it and Believe It which I had done before but it still felt hard the second time! The thin overhanging crack leads to a long runout up very steep grass and the belay. The guide states that the main pitch requires cool, cunning and considerable confidence. I set off hesitantly and shaking but with growing confidence I reach the huge roof. I remember looking at the row of three pegs below the roof and wishing I had three ropes. I knew that I needed to extend the runners to reduce the rope drag if all went well but as I struggled to reach out to the lip of the roof I was wishing that I hadn’t. My fingers were playing along the lip like a piano player searching for “The Lost Chord”, then suddenly I found something, I cut loose and swung my feet up and pulled on to the headwall above. My heart was pumping hard as I struggled to place a micro wire desperate for any possible hint of protection. However by the time I got my second runner in I began to relax and realised that I could actually take my hands off. The situation eased, fear subsided and relief turned to pleasure. The ultimate Gordale Adventure Route safely in the bag – Sheer Bliss! 

Rob Fielding on Solstice E5 6a,  Gordale © Steve Crowe www.climbonline.co.uk
Rob Fielding on Solstice E5 6a, Gordale © Steve Crowe www.climbonline.co.uk

Gordale Adventure Routes

Cabaret E1

A light hearted introduction with spectacular views of adventures to come!.

Light E2

It’s worth doing a warm up first because the hardest moves are encountered immediately with powerful moves up the steep crack. Take your time over the superbly positioned second pitch and savour the exposure as you stride across the bottomless chimney.

Face Route E3

A classic “Gordale Adventure Route” where a good head and a confident approach is required to push on past the remnants of rotting pegs. The second pitch has a perplexing but well protected crux.

Thriving E4

A commiting start up the delicate wall leads to a fine groove. Saunter nonchalantly up this before attacking the well protected roof and headwall above. The best E4 in the gorge!

The Cause E5

Perhaps less well known that it’s famous neighbour Rebel but certainly well worth seeking out for the superb middle pitch up the groove

Comedy of Errors E5

A great introductory E5 with a bold and committing lower wall which then leads to a superb crack in the steep headwall. Top tip: take lots of mirco wires!

Jenny Wren E5

Low in the grade but not to be under estimated. The highlight is some delicate traversing with sparce gear in extremely airy positions. Top tip: Take a competent second!  

Solstice E5

Protected by many pegs but are they any good?

Cave Route Right Hand E6

Probably the most sought after route in Gordale follow the prominent sweeping crackline. A superb endurance route.

Cement Garden E6 6c/7c

Classic hybrid mostly bolted but some wires/cams needed for the final section which leads powerfully to a good bolted lower off.

Mossdale Trip E6 

I decided to try the classic rattler Mossdale Trip (E6) in 1999. I pondered over the wisdom of this decision many times on that long lonely lead while seeking out the most solid holds with my ropes swirling worthlessly in the breeze! Top Tip: Write your Will.

Bliss E7

The ultimate “Gordale Adventure Route” with a little bit of everything. Rarely repeated!