A SHADOWY organisation has claimed responsibility for sabotaging a unique Lake District climbing site, leaving it ‘dangerous and unclimbable’.

Safety bolts were chopped from high rock faces and a cavern roof by the self-proclaimed ‘People’s Climbing Front Of The Lake District’.

The culprits either abseiled in with bolt-cutters or were highly-proficient climbers armed with hacksaws, say users of the site.

The damage is the first known ‘direct action’ stemming from a long-running debate which has divided the UK climbing community.

In an email to the British Mountaineering Council (BMC), the group said it was a protest against a controversial method of climbing flourishing at the Coniston site.

But users described it as ‘petty vandalism by purists’ and have vowed to carry on.

The BMC has called for dialogue, while renowned climber Alan Hinkes says there is no place in the sport for ‘vigilante’ action.

The incident happened some time between last Wednesday and Friday at an area called The Works, at Hodge Close Quarry near Coniston.

As well as safety bolts being interefered with, a number of ‘quickdraws’ - a form of clips for use with ropes – were removed and buried nearby.

The site was established last year by enthusiasts as a dedicated space in the Lakes for practicing winter climbing out-of-season, or ‘dry-tooling’.

Common in America and Europe, dry-tooling involves using ice axes and crampons on ‘naked’ rock not protected by snow or ice.

But the method angers some traditional UK climbers, who believe sites like The Works will eventually lead to more dry-toolers heading on to Lake District climbing routes and causing irreversible damage.

They also say it flies in the face of the ‘leave no trace’ ethic of UK climbing.

Environment body Natural England has no dedicated policy towards ‘dry-tooling’ and said it would only act if rocks on protected sites were damaged, while Cumbria Police said they would treat it as a criminal damage offence.

Climber Peter Holder, 22, of Ambleside, said: “The people who have done this would say a place like The Works will eventually lead to more people climbing on natural crags and damaging them. The other side is if you introduce something like this you don’t have loads of people going out there doing it on bare or natural rock.”

Peter Hill, 23, also of Ambleside, described the damage as ‘naive’.

“Winter climbing has become much more popular and glamourised in the mountain press so there has been an increase in the numbers doing it,” he said.

“We have had so much support for the place and only a small minority of climbers have an issue with it.”

Both this week praised the support of the climbing community and equipment makers who have helped to reinstate the routes at the site.

The British Mountaineering Council revealed that the email it had received read: “The People’s Climbing Front of the Lake District Does not approve of encouraging the destruction of traditional rock routes and questions the decision to fund The Works dry-tooling venue.

“The new winter guide (a BMC publication) suggests dry-tooling will keep people off out of condition crags.

“There’s a small flaw with this theory – it’s been shown to be absolutely b******s.”

Rob Dyer, of the BMC, said it had not funded the gear used at The Works.

“The consensus of climbers certainly seems to be that they support the use of The Works,” said Mr Dyer.

“This area is of no use to anyone apart from that type of climbing and gives people a place to go and train without damaging other crags.”

Professional climber Alan Hinkes, who regularly climbs in the Lake District, said: “It’s a shadowy thing to do because they are not saying who they are, which is vigilantism in one way.”

Jeff Carroll, of Coniston Mountain Rescue Team, said the damage at Hodge Close Quarry did not represent a danger to climbers as news of it had circulated quickly.