Pillar is a mountain in the
western part of the English Lake District. Situated between the valleys
of Ennerdale to the north and Wasdale to the south, it is the highest
point of the Pillar group (some dozen fells clustered round it). At
892 metres (2,927 feet) it is the eighth highest mountain in the Lake
District. The fell takes its name from Pillar Rock, a prominent feature
on the Ennerdale side, regarded as the birthplace of rock climbing in
Pillar Rock is a large rocky
outcrop surrounded by cliffs on the northern side of Pillar. When seen
from Ennerdale it appears as a tall and thin column, hence its name. In
the early 19th century it became widely known as one of the wonders of
the Lake District, chiefly due to it featuring in William Wordsworth's
poem The Brothers.
The first recorded ascent of
Pillar Rock was made in 1826 by John Atkinson of Crowfoot, Ennerdale.
His route, known as the Old West Route, is still classed as a rock
climb, albeit one graded Moderate, the second lowest grade on the
British system. It is the earliest recorded rock climb in the Lake
District (not counting Coleridge's inadvertent descent of Scafell in
1802); subsequent Lakeland climbers also concentrated on Pillar, and by
1872 four different climbing routes had been pioneered on the rock.
The easiest route to the top
of Pillar Rock is now considered to be the Slab and Notch route, classed
as a grade 3 scramble, whilst the classic route is the New West, classed
as a Difficult rock climb. By 2007 over 90 climbs had been recorded,
including 17 graded E1 or above.
The Western Fells occupy a
triangular sector of the Lake District, bordered by the River Cocker to
the north east and Wasdale to the south east. Westwards the hills
diminish toward the coastal plain of Cumberland. At the central hub of
the high country are Great Gable and its satellites, while two principal
ridges fan out on either flank of Ennerdale, the western fells in effect
being a great horseshoe around this long wild valley. Pillar is on the
Pillar stands on the southern wall of Ennerdale, three
miles from the head of the valley. Two tiers of impressive crags run the
full length of the fell from Wind Gap in the west to Black Sail Pass in
the east. The top tier fronts the summit ridge, a series of coves being
interspersed between the buttresses. Below is a narrow terrace bearing
the 'High Level Route' path and then a further wall including Pillar
Rock, Raven and Ash Crags and Proud Knott. The lower slopes are planted
with a broad belt of conifers, extending across the River Liza to the
flanks of High Crag.
The southern flank of Pillar looks down on Mosedale,
the more westerly of Wasdale's two main feeder valleys. From Wasdale
Head village Pillar appears to stand at the head of Mosedale, but the
valley curves out of sight, actually having its source on the slopes of
Scoat Fell. The Mosedale slopes cannot compete with those above
Ennerdale, although there is outcropping rock, particularly at Wistow
Crags, Elliptical Crag and Murl Rigg.
The summit of Pillar is at the western end,
immediately above the descent to Wind Gap (2,475 ft). This continues the
watershed to Scoat Fell and beyond. A subsidiary spur branches off north
west of the summit, passing over White Pike before petering out in the
The summit is surprisingly
wide and grassy, patches of stones interspersed with short turf. An
Ordnance Survey triangulation column stands beside a cairn and wind
shelter. At the northern edge of the plateau a further wind shelter
marks the descent to the mountain rescue stretcher-box and the High
The view is excellent with all of the major fells
except the Coniston range in sight. Loweswater and Ennerdale Water can
be seen, together with Burnmoor Tarn. From the north windshelter is a
striking view of the summit of Pillar Rock.
Pillar is usually climbed from
Wasdale Head, by far the nearest road access. The simplest route
involves taking the Black Sail Pass, the main foot pass between Wasdale
and Ennerdale, to its highest point (around 545 metres), then ascending
the mountain's relatively gentle east ridge.
Greater interest may be
obtained by branching off the ridge (at c. 640 m) onto the "High Level
Route", a narrow path which traverses around Pillar's northern crags
before approaching the summit from the north, affording good views of
Many walkers based in Wasdale
climb Pillar as part of the Mosedale Horseshoe, a circuit of the skyline
one of Wasdale's side valleys, which also includes Scoat Fell, Red Pike
and Yewbarrow; Kirk Fell may also optionally be included.
Pillar may also be climbed from Ennerdale. From the
YHA youth hostel at Black Sail at the head of the valley, it is a fairly
short walk (around 1.5 km and 300 m of ascent) to the summit of Black
Sail Pass, from where the same routes can be followed as described
As Black Sail hostel is five or six miles from the
nearest public road, this approach is somewhat impractical to
day-trippers (especially since the Ennerdale valley is itself remote
from the main tourist centres of the Lake District), though attractive
to those staying at the hostel.
Alternatively, there are various paths up the mountain
from lower down the valley, which offer the possibility of closer
acquaintance with the crags of the north face.
It is not unfeasible for strong walkers to approach
Pillar from the Buttermere valley, which has the advantage of being more
accessible than Wasdale from major tourist centres such as Keswick.
It is first necessary to ascend and descend the Scarth
Gap Pass between Gatesgarth and Black Sail, which then allows an ascent
via Black Sail Pass as detailed above.
The walk from Gatesgarth to the summit of Pillar and
back involves over 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) of ascent, more if the High
Level Route is taken.