Broad Stand

Short Sit - Narrow Escape

The following is a letter written by a climber we rescued from Broad Stand on Easter Monday 2000.  The rock step is unfortunately one of our accident black spots. However, for every incident we attend I suspect there are many which we never hear of.  Our thanks go to those fellow walkers and climbers who go to the aid of those requiring assistance thereby alleviating distress and avoiding a major call-out of our team.  This particular rescue was recorded as incident number 21 on 24th April 2000.  (see incidents 98-00.........  )

                                    Richard Warren - Secretary WMRT, 23rd May 2000  

During the Easter holiday this year, I was staying with friends at Cockermouth in the North-East of the Lake District.  On Friday I ascended Helvellyn with a friend and his wife, and then spent the next two days rock climbing with friends although at a relatively easy standard (V Diff), and never leading.  My mountaineering background is, however, quite varied, having ascended 70 Scottish Munros (each over 3,000 feet) and 35 other mountains and have been on various rock climbing and mountaineering courses - also winter climbing in Scotland, so I would not call myself a novice.

On the Easter Monday, four friends decided that they wished to do some more challenging climbs, and I opted to go with my friend's wife, Amy, to the summit of Scafell.

Before I left I was advised that a good scrambling route to the top could be found by ascending Broad Stand, first ascended by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge on August 4th 1802, the first recorded rock climb in the British Isles. I was advised to take a rope and some gear, and thought that I would be able to easily surmount the difficulties at the bottom and then enjoy a good scramble to the summit.

Scafell viewed from the top of Scafell Pike.  Broad Stand is located just to the left of Mickledore Ridge and accessed by a very tight squeeze, 'fat man's agony'   
Pictures by John Dawson at Kendal


We left the Wasdale Head car park at 9.50am and reached the foot of Broad Stand by lunchtime.  By this time, low cloud and cold wind had made conditions fairly unpleasant, but after squeezing through 'Fat Man's Agony', we decided to surmount the first corner of the climb, and accordingly roped up, Amy belaying me around the first exposed corner.

The rock was wet and rather slippery, but I made my way around and hauled myself on top of the large block of rock to it's slightly sloping surface, an area around 2 meters by 3 meters I would think.  I immediately became concerned, as I realised that the difficulties were not all behind me but that an ascent of the corner of the next block would require some ingenuity, and I was not sure which route to take.  I also began to feel unsure of the difficulty of the rocks above me, that I could not yet see.  As everything then seemed more demanding than I expected I decided to descend, but at once experienced an intense fear of reversing my route, it all seemed so exposed.  Also, I could not see Amy, and was fearful for her safety if a belay that I should set up should prove inadequate. 

Suddenly I realised that the moment had arrived when I was to be a candidate for mountain rescue!  It took me a moment to assimilate the facts, and to realise that the only thing I could do was to sit tight in the corner of the rock slab and await rescue.  The transformation from intrepid mountaineer to shivering, wimpish wreck was complete! 

Broad Stand, no more than 10 meters above the grassy ridge but more often than not, the 2.5 meter corner is just too much for most people - definitely not a walkers route.

I shouted down to Amy of my decision, and told her to start descending the way she had come, contacting the mountain rescue as soon as possible, and I then settled down to a long wait.  I reasoned that as I had a fleece jacket, hat and gloves in my rucksack, if I put these on I should easily be able to withstand a delay of many hours - my estimate was that help should possibly arrive by early evening (it was now 2pm).

Before I could remove my rucksack to take out the aforesaid fleece jacket, I heard a voice from below - "John - you are never going to believe this, but I am the leader of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team.  I have two team members with me.  Sit tight and we will be with you in a moment." 

Almost immediately two team members swarmed over the ledge and immediately began to calm my fears and settled my now troubled state. Quickly they set up a belay and, using a karabiner and Italian hitch, proceeded to lower me safely back down the rock.

It transpired that they had arrived out of the mist just as Amy had been about to descend.  She asked one of them if they had a mobile phone, and was told that he had, but why did she need it?  She explained the situation, and was then told that the people she was speaking to were part of the Mountain Rescue Team, and that they had come up to climb Broad Stand as an exercise to keep themselves thoroughly familiar with the different ascent and descent routes in bad conditions.  They subsequently told me that Broad Stand is a notorious accident black spot which claims both cragfast walkers and serious fall injuries.

After thanking them profusely and exchanging names and addresses, Amy and I decided to ascend to the summit of Scafell via Lord's Rake, and then descended, in what was now hot sunshine, to the car, arriving back at 4.15pm.

The main lesson I have learnt from this experience is that I will only now attempt mountain / rock routes that I know to be within my capacity to lead, rather than to go along with routes suggested by others, however well intentioned.  We must always attempt routes within our own experience and ability, as this is what will be tested in the execution of the route.

It may be that Broad Stand has now earned its place in the record books yet again - not only for the first recorded rock climb but also now for the quickest mountain rescue ever. 


letter reproduced with kind permission from John Craig, the rescued climber

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Page updated 16th October 2002 - created 23 May 2000 by wasdalemrt