Big Blencathra with a Sharp Edge to it!
Date: 8th August 2008.
Map: Landranger 90
Weather: Early sunshine, but generally overcast.
A Blencathra figure of 8 from Threlkeld. Round to the west flank of Blencathra, up to the summit, down onto Scales Fell to the col above Mousthwaite Comb. Back up the valley to Scales
Copyright OS-Click on map to enlarge, then hit the back button to return to blog
I have had a busy time of it lately with some big climbs on my recent walks, which left me with my legs feeling like I’d run for miles the next day. Unfortunately some of the peaks on these walks have been shrouded in low cloud and I’ve missed out on some great views, so I took advantage of a favourable forecast and set off for the
Blencathra in the early morning light – Sharp Edge is on the right
The path up towards Blease Gill
I had an early scare today as I was walking up through a small wood from Threlkeld, I was feeling a bit stiff and I felt a lump – I thought ‘oh no, a hernia’. But after a bit of an investigation I found a ball of silver foil in my pocket that I had rolled up the previous week – panic over! My initial route walked up to below Blease Gill and then turned left above the woodland to contour around the base of the hill. The bracken was wet and very green, and the path passed along grassy slopes, with far views towards many of the hills of the
Blease Gill – I crossed here around to the left
Anticipation building for the views around the corner
The forecast was for rain in the early afternoon, so I planned to have finished the walk by 1pm – I used http://www.metcheck.com and it turned out be very accurate today. It was a nice steady ascent and fall along the hillside, with the path dipping down to the road before climbing up and across the slopes. This route was easy on the legs and in the clear morning light the views were fantastic. I have done a few walks in the lakes this year and recognised many of the peaks I had walked. This time last year I wouldn’t have, as I hadn’t been walking in the lakes for many years. But the landscape here is unlike anywhere else in the
Clough Head and Threlkeld Knotts across the valley
Fantastic clear views of Keswick and the far hills
Lonscale Fell across the valley
All of the big fells in view – with Derwent Water below Cat Bells
The views opened as I got higher up and Lonscale Fell was prominent across the valley, with its thickly wooded lower slopes. But all easy walks come to an end and as the path cut back up the hill the gradient became steeper, and this being summertime I began to slightly perspire! In fact if I put my cap in a pan with some potatoes and boiled them up, I’m sure the potatoes would be too salty. It wasn’t too warm on the west side as the sun was still low in the sky, but Skiddaw was basking in the sun across the valley. Higher up the slopes the path begins to zigzag and takes away the gradient, enabling you to walk quite quickly towards the summit. The views to the east were hidden in the early morning sun, but I could see the mist lingering in the valleys below the
The zigzag path just below the summit
Looking over to Lonscale Fell and Skiddaw
Blencathra summit beckons
As I got to the crest of Blease Fell and up to Knowe Crags I had great views all around, and it made such a nice change to be cloud free. But I could see a few wisps rolling in over the Scafells, and it looked like the forecast was right as it began to become more overcast. The summit area towards Blencathra stretched out before me, nice and gentle and grassy with the Saddleback ahead of me. The same gentle feeling could not be applied to the deeply cut gills and ridges that confronted me when I walked up to the edge. At first sight it is very impressive and the ground drops steeply from every point you look at – from the summit, and from the ridges. I had to count carefully as all the ridges are very similar in nature, to make sure I followed the right route this week! Although there is no mistaking Hall’s Fell or Scales Fell. Hall’s Fell drops away from the summit of Blencathra, which is marked by a couple of cairns and a round circle that marks the triangulation point – not the usual stone or concrete tapering monolith. Scales Fell is easy to spot as you can see the top of Foule Crag to the east. As I wandered along the summit path I looked north to the rolling flanks of Skiddaw, Mungrisdale Common, the Uldale and Caldbeck Fells. They were much gentler to the eye, with the Solway Firth beyond and
Skiddaw and beyond – the weather creeping towards me
Gategill Fell – steep everywhere
Looking back to Knowe Crags
The zigzags down to Scales Fell
The view across to Sharp Edge from Scales Fell
Looking the other way – Doddick Fell and Hall’s Fell
…and this one shows all the fells off Blencathra.. steep they are!
Looking back up to Foule Crag and the top of Sharp Edge appears from Scales Fell
I didn’t hang around the top as I wanted to get to Sharp Edge before the rain did, so I started down Scales Fell. There is a path that cuts down to Scales Tarn if you don’t want to lose too much height, but I continued down the zigzags passing by the top of Doddick Fell on a comfortable path. The top of Scales Fell is broad and there were good views of the steep ridges to my right, and I had a preview of what to expect from Hall’s Fell Ridge later. As I descended Scales Fell the views were now to the east and the rounded hummocks of Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell, with Penrith in the distance still misty. The route reaches down to the col above Mousthwaite Comb and where the paths crossed I turned back up the valley and was now looking up at Bannerdale Crags. The path gently ascended the valley contours and I had the pleasure of seeing the local Shepard rounding up his flock – I was amazed that they had such easy control of their flock. When they saw me approaching on the path they just drove the sheep up the hillside a little further away from me, very considerate as I was just about to move further up the hillside myself.
The col above Mousthwaite Comb – turn left here
They didn’t look this tidy on ‘One man and his dog’
The gradient steepened as I approached Scales Tarn, as did the anticipation of encountering Sharp Edge. Once I was at Scales Tarn I had a little rest and a drink of juice with some nibbles. It was very quiet here on a Monday morning and the only people I had met were the Shepards. I pondered the ridge ahead, but I didn’t have any feelings of anxiety as it is a well used route, although I know it could be treacherous in poor weather. It does require scrambling along the crest and particular care has to be taken when passing Wainwright’s awkward spot. But there is a path down at the side of the ridge which takes away the exposure – but if you don’t go up the crest of the ridge you may as well walk up Scales Fell. Even if you take the easy path there is no avoiding the scramble up Foule Crag at the end of the ridge.
The outflow from Scales Tarn tumbles gently down the hillside
Sharp Edge reflected in Scales Tarn
Scales Tarn looking a very strange shade of ?
The path up from Scales Tarn is loose scree but is stable enough and a little steep and this brings you up to the ridge proper. Looking back down to Scales Tarn the water was a weird colour, almost aquamarine, which suggests that it is quite shallow and probably has a fair amount of green algae in it – not for drinking from. I took a little breather and strode onto the ridge rocks which dip away to the left at about 45deg. It was easy to follow in the footsteps of thousands before me and the route can be seen and felt by the many polished footfalls and handholds. I took my time to enjoy the exposure up here and also to look back periodically, as the view of where you have come from is quite surprising sometimes in terms of aspect and airiness! Personally I am not aware of the drops when I am walking up an exposed ridge as I’m too busy concentrating on where my next steps are going to be - I suppose that’s a good thing really. As with all high ridge traverses if you don’t have a head for heights then don’t even consider coming up here – one look from the main road should tell you all you want to know. A little further up the ridge is a wider flatter part that you can easily walk along, but most of the ridge itself requires at least some assistance from your hands! The ‘awkward place’ was fast approaching and from some distance I could see how polished the area was, and in particular the ‘seat’ that is at the end of the ‘awkward place’. I think most people would take a breath here and sit down to admire the views, as well as get closer to the ground for a safer route to the end of the ridge. In wet weather I would exercise extreme care when passing here as the rock slopes away to the valley. But there are good handholds to cling to, and you can always use your bum as a brake! If there was a top trump card of difficulty for Sharp Edge - On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being blindfolded and twirled around for a minute, and 10 being a change of clothes required) I’d have to rate Sharp Edge as a 6. Now I think about it I’ll have to rate all of the ridges I’ve climbed\walked to see which is the toughest and scariest.
Approaching the ridge
Onto the rock ledge a little way along
..and the view back over Bannerdale
Exciting times ahead…getting more polished in my approach
Wainwright’s ‘awkward place’ – note the slope away to the left side
The scramble ahead up Foule Crag – easier than it looks
Looking back down on Sharp Edge
The fast family about to zoom safely across the ridge
All too soon the ridge finishes and I now had the scramble up Foule Crag, which follows a shallow gully up, before emerging onto easier ground towards the crest of the hill. Once I was back up on the top I turned and appreciated the route I had taken up today. I’m sure it would be a completely different proposition in inclement weather and in winter conditions. I didn’t see the white cross made up of quartzite that is on view from the summit, but then again I forgot to look for it – nothing new there then! But I had other things to keep hold of my attention, one of them being the fast approaching rain clouds. Once I had walked back up to the summit of Blencathra, all I had left to do was the descent of Hall’s Fell Ridge. Another bit of fun to end the day – I tried to stick to the crest of the ridge on the way down, which was easier said than done. I knew it was Hall’s ridge because it descends directly from the summit.
The view down Hall’s Fell Ridge – steep either side
Blencathra towers over the start of the ridge
Knowe Crags beyond a heather clad hillside
There are paths worn on either side of the ridge, or one side on the steeper sections. As it was dry and I had good grip with my boots, I hopped, skipped and generally lunged down the hillside, trying not to be too reckless. I had to check myself once or twice as my momentum built, as coming to an abrupt halt was none to simple in places. There were one or two scrambles to overcome, but in general it was far less exposed than many ridges I have been on. The slopes down to the gills on each side were tremendously steep in places and covered with a mixture of loose scree, rock and heather. The purple hued hillside looked marvellous against the dark green and grey backdrop, and it doesn’t surprise me that this route was one of Wainwright’s favourites to the top – I quite enjoyed it on the way down!
The route winds down the steep buttress – Great Mell & Little Mell Fell in view
Nearly down to the base of the hill – the views gradually disappearing
The path back to Threlkeld – I know because it says so.
At the end of the ridge the path winds down the steep buttress towards Gategill and crosses over the stream above a weir. Raindrops were starting to fall on me, but not enough to get me too wet, so I didn’t bother with waterproofs. I had passed by a few people on the way down that were making their way up, and I felt a little sorry for them that the far fells would now be obscured by cloud, and they would be wet as well – oh to be born lucky! Looking back up the valley I could see some old mine buildings, but was short of time and didn’t go and investigate. I had a choice of ways back to Threlkeld and chose to contour around the base of the hill to Blease Gill and then back down the same path I had started on to end up back at the car park. I eased my boots off and put my pack away at 1pm – it took me 6 hours today to walk up Blencathra twice – but at least I meant to go that way this week and I had a lot of ascent today. Once I was in the car the rain started to hammer down – the weather forecasters were spot on, and for once I was grateful to have taken notice of it – they are brilliant when they get it right!