Thursday, 20 September 2012

Blencathra via Sharp Edge, and Skiddaw 15/16.9.12



A linear walk, 15.9 miles. 

A superb linear Northern Lake District fell walk starting at Scales, that takes in the knife edge ridge of the legendary Sharp Edge - Blencathra, and then continues to the fell's loftier neighbour, the mighty Skiddaw, before heading into Keswick.

This walk I had been planning on and off for over a year. I had wanted to do Blencathra in particular after seeing it featured in various documentaries, books and walking magazines. I also wanted to scale it via the infamous Sharp Edge route, which has a certain notoriety as a dangerous place that has claimed its victims over the years.
 Blencathra or Saddleback as it is also known, is a fantastic looking mountain, it was Alfred Wainwright's most written about fell too. It stands next to its mighty neighbour - Skiddaw, of which  if possible I wanted to scale on the same walk.
 The Lake District is new territory to me. Apart from a day trip to Windermere about 20 years ago as a kid, the place has always been the stuff of legend. Those distant Lakeland peaks always look so inviting when visible on a clear day from the Pennines, so these two fine mountains I'd chosen for my Lakeland walking introduction looked like a good start!

 I was going to arrive into Keswick at around 13:00, so a very late start to any walk, especially with the nights closing in again now, so I would need to stay overnight - or Wild Camp out on the land, which I was looking forward to doing to test out my new one man tent. 
 The forecast was mixed, the Saturday I'd be arriving on was set to be sunny turning cloudy as the day went on, but the Sunday however was looking set to be a bit wet.

 So it was a train journey along the full route of the famous Settle - Carlisle line, then a bus from Carlisle to Keswick. The journey was great, opening up some more walking ideas from stations beyond Langwathby, and the bus journey was great as it snaked its way passed Bassenthwaite Lake and the flanks of Skiddaw into a very sunny and to be honest, hot Keswick. I felt a bit over dressed in my full mountain attire whilst all the other folk were walking around in shorts and t-shirts. I then had to find a taxi in this town so I could get to Scales to start my walk, this proved a task worthy of a blog entry in itself to find, in the end resorting to my phone based map navigator to find the seemingly one and only taxi company in Keswick which was in a residential street some way out of the busy town centre.

 The friendly taxi driver dropped me off at Scales outside the White Horse pub. I then walked back along the edge of the A66 for about 200 yards before turning right onto the public footpath that takes you up onto the lower slopes of Blencathra...
The gentle path here winds its way up through the bracken and gorse bushes of Scales Fell...
Getting a lot steeper here, and the first test of the day with my heavy back pack on...
Looking across Mousthwaite Comb towards the A66 snaking its way towards Penrith, with the distant out line of Cross Fell and the Pennines beyond. Great Mell Fell is the small hill on the right...
After turning the corner I got my first glimpse of Sharp Edge...
Heading up the steps here around Brunt Knott at the side of this waterfall, towards the ridge approach...
Doing this walk on my own (very Wainwright) I was going to follow someone up along Sharp Edge who had done it before. I was, I have to admit, a little bit nervous about doing this one, but excited at the same time...
The two figures just about visible in the below picture was a young couple who kindly allowed me to follow them up onto the ridge...
Here goes...
Onto Sharp Edge now looking down on Scales Tarn...
On asking the couple if they had done the mountain before, which I was sure they must have done, they replied not at all, and I detected a German accent this time. They had apparently done most of the famous mountains in Europe, but had come to see what England had to offer.
 So here we were, three people who had never scaled Blencathra before on one the most notoriously dangerous arĂȘtes in Lakeland, this was set to be fun.
 Me on Sharp Edge...
Here about to cross the notorious  'Bad Step' before getting onto Foule Crag...
After crossing the Bad Step, I can only assume that this gully is what the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team call 'The Usual Gully' due to the amount of people that have ended up in it after slipping from Sharp Edge...
Sharp Edge...
Onto the base of Foule Crag now, with Scales Tarn far below...
Foule Crag was a great experience, I was in my element climbing up the grade 1 scramble. And when making it onto the summit path of Blencathra, it was a real rush to know that I'd got here via Sharp Edge. An awesome moment indeed!
Looking back at Sharp Edge from the summit path...
And to the summit of Blencathra at 868 metres, with its bizarre ring Trig Point...
The old Cumbric name of Blencathra was re-popularised by Alfred Wainwright after noting the mountain as Blencathra in his famous guide books. Since the Victorian times the mountain was known as Saddleback due to its distinctive shape. However this has meant that Ordnance Survey still haven't made up their minds, as both names are noted on the OS maps.
 Here looking across Middle Tongue towards Knowe Crags...
Skiddaw...
Heading downhill now across Middle Tongue...
Looking back at Blencathra's summit...
Derwent Water from Knowe Crags...
Helvellyn and Thirlmere in the gathering cloud...
Cat Bells...
The path from the heights of Blencathra comes out onto this track that I took around the base of Blease Fell...
The track continues along an impressive valley that cuts between the western flanks of Blencathra, and Lonscale Fell. The Glenderaterra Beck runs along the valley floor, Great Calva is the pointy hill at the top of the valley...
A Herdwick guards the pathway...
Lonscale Fell...
This bit of upland is listed as 'Burnt Horse'. The pathway crosses over the Glenderaterra Beck, and heads up towards this rise in the land, it was also going to be dark soon, so was time to pitch the tent. I managed to find a good raised and sheltered spot between the Lonscale Fell and Burnt Horse...
My new one man tent facing the awesome profile of Blencathra...
So the next day was set to be wet, and there had been some slight rain in the night. There had also been some big gusts of wind in the night too down the slopes of Lonscale Fell that rattled my new little tent! 
 Here Early morning view of Blencathra...
Looking towards Mungrisdale Common...
Back onto the track now heading along the flanks of Lonscale Fell...
Heavy cloud over the fells this morning...
Eventually onto the well maintained pathway of Skiddaw...
The rain was already starting, and the wind was getting quite strong too. I found the hike up the pathway a tough challenge, and it doesn't start to level much until you hit the 750 metre mark. Until then it's a really steep bit of pathway...
Just in case you thought this wasn't the correct way...
The weather was harsh now. At least 60 mph winds, driving rain and about 300 yards of visibility. It also seemed like a really long walk across this plateau until I reached the summit. Skiddaw's summit plateau is a series of humps that means slightly descending and ascending three times before finally reaching the true summit of the fell...
Skiddaw summit 931 metres, the 4th highest peak in England. Here the summit Toposcope and Trig point...
It was such a shame that the weather was so bad, as the Toposcope shows the points of interest that are apparently visible. This mountain will have to be done again!...
So I wasn't hanging around on here. My new camera was now getting water logged, and the weather was only getting worse.
 My chosen path off the summit was a tricky descent down across the slippy slate scree, this was pure scree surfing now, and at one point it seemed that the entire mountain side was on the move with me!
 Here reaching a visible pathway...
My camera by now was out of power, and dripping (somehow it's still working) so that's the last of the pictures.
 The route continues steeply downhill across more tricky and slippy ground, across Carl Side, and eventually back into Keswick. It was even grim weather in Keswick, of which after fish and chips was time to get my bus back to Carlisle for the train back to Leeds.
 Overall a fantastic walk taking in two of the finest fells in the Lake District. Skiddaw was a struggle due to its steepness, and it was a shame with the weather. But Blencathra was an awesome experience, especially doing it via Sharp Edge. Sharp Edge is a very dangerous place though, I have posted a link at the end of this entry to the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team's list of incidents on that ridge.
 Thanks for reading.
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