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Scafells from Eskdale

PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2016 11:25 pm
by nigheandonn
It felt like forever since I'd been in the Lake District, and it really was almost 7 months - it was the 1st of November when I was on Swirl How with my ghost. I hadn't been able to make a March or April trip as usual because of being caught up in dissertation writing, and a planned early May trip had turned into a late May one because of hostel availability - which had also thrown the Scafell Pike trip that I'd carefully moved from the August bank holiday weekend into the May bank holiday instead.

But it was going to be an especially adventurous adventure, leaving work at lunchtime and getting exciting as soon as I got on the Cumbrian coast train at Carlisle - not to mention the fact that while Edinburgh had been so cold and grey we'd almost forgotten about the sun, Carlisle was actually sunny. The train was 'loco-hauled stock', according to the timetable, which seemed to mean old-fashioned - the windows didn't open, much to the disgust of a teenage girl who was so hot that she had to fan herself vigorously all the way to Workington - to be fair, it was reasonably warm for the north in May.

Coming out to the coast past Maryport made sense of the west coast feeling that the lakes sometimes gives me - it really could have been Argyll, with Scotland across the Solway Firth standing in for Islay and Jura. Past the river mouth at Workington, and I wondered if it would have been a different kind of place if it had been called something like Derwentmouth, because it's a good setting. Cliffs, and Whitehaven looking more like a seaside town, and behind St Bees Head to come back to the coast along past Sellafield, and finally to the loops of the River Esk at Ravenglass.

Here I was getting on an even more exciting train, although sadly I was too late to get a tiny steam train - the diesel one was still lovely, though, with little proper carriages, although everyone was sitting outside in the sunshine. It was a nice journey up, too - too hazy to see much of the big hills even once we came to them, but very pretty around the line, sometimes Argyll-style rocks and rhododendrons, and sometimes more familiar Cumbrian farmland.

Eskdale railway

I was expecting bank holiday crowds, but I was the only person to get off the train rather than going back to Ravenglass, and I met hardly anyone walking along to the hostel - a family coming out of the campsite entrance, and a lady on a horse, and a few farm vehicles. I'd thought about going for a walk, but in the end I spent a lazy evening around the hostel without going further than the Woolpack Inn.

I knew I had a fairly big day planned, so I was trying for an early start - I wasn't quite as early as I'd have liked, but it was still before 9 when I set off the next morning. The start of the path over Slight Side to Scafell wasn't far from the hostel, and went along the side of the hill, rising above a wall until the peaks ahead came into view. There was always a path under my feet, but it wasn't always clear from a distance where it went next, and it definitely wasn't the walkers' motorway I'd expected. I still wasn't sure if I was just ahead of all the people who'd set off for the weekend on Friday night, or if I was actually in the wrong end of the Lakes and would meet them all coming at me from the other side later.

Mountains ahead

Further up the path crossed a great flat place which looked like it should have been a bog but was almost dry, which I walked across by mistake because I didn't realise the path had scooted off round the edge, and then rose towards Slight Side which was looming more and more ahead. It had been a glorious morning but grey clouds were closing in now, and it didn't look like I was going to get the views I'd hoped for.

Slight Side

The problem with a long easy walk in is that all the hard work comes at once at the end - the pull up to the summit was steep and stony and generally quite hard going. The summit was at the top of a rock which had to be genuinely climbed up - with my usual struggle to work out where my centre of balance is with a bag on my back.

Summit rocks

There were two summits, apparently the same height and with not much to choose between their cairns, but I decided the first one I reached was the real one, although I did go over to the other.

Slight Side summit

With grey clouds swirling mysteriously around Scafell's summit it was almost too quiet for comfort - not just the lack of people, but the lack of almost any sounds - and I couldn't find much enthusiasm for going on.

According to Wainwright the pull up to the summit of Slight Side is the only steep gradient on the trip, but it's long established that Wainwright's idea of steep isn't the same as mine (on the other hand, his idea of a rough scramble isn't mine either).

By my standards there was still quite a lot of uphill to get to Scafell, although it was enlivened by views down a steep gap to the right.

Scafell and pikes

The summit of Scafell isn't really where it looks like it should be - on a rise crossed by the path, rather than a stony crest further on towards the edge of the cliffs. There were a few people around here, but still not a crowd.

Scafell summit

The summit area as a whole was fun to explore, though - a steep and well guarded drop into Deep Gill looking like something from a fairytale with the mist swirling through it, and around the edge with a hazy view down into Eskdale until I came to the top of the Foxes Tarn path.

Deep Gill in the mist

This I'm sure was false advertising, because really all Wainwright says about it is that it's easier than Lord's Rake, and it turned out to be the worst place I'd ever been - far worse than the south side of Tinto, which was my previous idea of hillwalking hell!

The very first part of the path was pitched in steps, but below that it was just stone so loose that it was almost impossible to take a step without sliding away - in most places the larger rocks stay still, but here standing on them just meant that more of the hill went with you. Even crouching so I could use my hands, which is my usual resort on steep loose ground, didn't help - I just fell and took a chunk out of my hand as well as hurting my leg - and splitting the seat of my trousers! Eventually I scrambled onto the grass at the side and made my way down there - I know that you're not supposed to, but I couldn't see that I was ever going to get down otherwise.

Path to Foxes Tarn

Even knowing that Foxes Tarn is much smaller than you expect, it was still much smaller than I expected - I also expected it to be at the bottom of the path, but it was only at a corner where the way got even steeper, although probably not quite as loose.

I decided to keep to the grass, where there was the ghost of a path, and found myself sometime quite a long way above the gully containing the main path. It was fine, most of the way down, but I got in trouble at the very bottom as I'd lost my nerve completely (as well as having hurt my thigh muscle, which didn't help) - there were at least three ways I could have got down, and I knew it, but they were all so steep that you couldn't definitely see where you were going, and I couldn't face it. Eventually, after sitting on the grass for a while, I retreated back up until I could get into the bottom of the gully, and met a father and son who had also come down the grass after the boy had a fall, who went on ahead of me to show it could be done. And then I was finally out on the main path, but the summit felt like it had been a week ago.

I kept to the stony path on the Scafell side of the col, where the cliffs really do tower impressively overhead, partly because the path on the other side was getting busy, but mostly because I wanted to look for the entrance to Broad Stand - as it turned out, it was easier to go up to Mickledore and down again.

Broad Stand again was not at all what I was expecting - I thought it would be a kind of open cave with walls on all sides, and instead it was just a sloping platform with walls at the back. It was tight getting in, though - I worried halfway in that I wouldn't be able to get out again if I could see where to step down, turned round and discovered it was easy to get out forwards, and then couldn't turn back round to get in, and had to get out and start again. But once I was right in it was fine! I wasn't going any further, though, and retreated back to the top of Mickledore, only to be called to by a couple who were trying to find a way down. I didn't really feel qualified to give advice, just that there was a way but it was usually climbed roped and I wouldn't try it, and hoped that they would decide to retreat, but they were wandering about there for quite a while before they finally did.

Halfway up the other side I stopped to have my lunch - belatedly, it was getting on for 3 - and watch another couple climbing Broad Stand with a rope.

Broad Stand

Getting onto Scafell Pike was easier - stony, but not nearly as steep as the path up to the col. I wasn't so keen on the summit, though, which was rough and unexciting and full of crowds and litter.

To be fair the views would have been good if I could have seen them - but I mostly couldn't, and I was sorry not to get my view back to High Street.

Scafell Pike summit

To the south

Extra pikes

Memorial plaque

So I had a prowl around and a rest against the platform and did a bit of what my friend calls wombling, collecting a bag full of rubbish, and then set off for the other pikes.

For a change, getting onto Broad Crag wasn't nearly as bad as Wainwright had said - rocky but perfectly clamberable.

Broad Crag summit

There was even a kind of path from the summit to the col with Ill Crag - I'd thought of leaving it for the Great End day, but that was going to be another long one, and I was almost there.

It was further from the path, a walk across a summit plateau before a climb onto a pile of rock. The pikes were reminding me of clambering about bagging extra Crinkles last year - which had been just the other side of the valley, I realised.

Ill Crag summit

Again there was even a kind of path back to the col, which I hadn't noticed on the way up because I was expecting to leave the main path at the top. I don't really think that following the path across Broad Crag was particularly easier than clambering over the summit - a sort of cairned route over endless rocks where I kept losing the cairns because other routes looked just as good (or bad), which reminded me of Crinkle Crags again.

Back at the main col between Scafell Pike and Broad Crag I was dropping down towards Lingmell and the dramatic gash of Piers Gills - this was another path that was looser than I would have liked, although it was at least the normal small stones between solid larger rocks. I left everyone else behind again as soon as I left the main Esk Hause path - it might have been a busy bank holiday weekend, but only in the busy places.

I lost the path a bit, thought it was winding way off down to the right where I didn't want to go, and had set off to contour round to Lingmell Col before I realised that there was a path leading down to the main Corridor Route path - I couldn't face losing the height, though, and by then anything that was mostly grass looked easy!

I was wavering about Lingmell, because it was 6ish, but it was only about 300 feet above me, and would be 2000+ feet above me if I left it to do with the Screes hills. So up I went, and it was easier than I expected, only about 10 minutes from the broken wall to the summit.

Piers Gill and Great Gable

I was impressed by Scafell's crags towering above - I thought the Wainwright drawing was part of a larger whole, but they really do stick into the sky like that.

Scafell Crag

Lingmell has a nice little summit, with a big cairn and a rocky drop to the east, and a dramatic view of Great Gable that I forgot to look at until I had left it again.

Lingmell summit


The first part of the descent was gentle over grass, then the nose narrowed and steepened, with a path that couldn't make up its mind - now rock steps, now more loose stuff, now back to grass. It didn't take too long to get to the point of feeling like you were looking down Wasdale Head's chimneys, but it took a long time to get any further down, and the further I went and the steeper it got the more my right knee hurt (unexpectedly, because it was my left knee I'd bruised on a bus seat in Edinburgh and a rock on Ill Crag!).

Patchwork fields

The view was a bit of a consolation, with Scafell definitely back to being the dominant one of the set. But I was getting thirstier too as my water ran out, and tireder, and aware that my bed was a long way away.

The last steepest bit seemed endless, but finally I was down , and able to get down to the burn for water (I was too thirsty to care if it was a bad idea). I had thought about going up to Wasdale Head for dinner, but it was a good mile away, and I couldn't face the extra distance even more than I was worried about the light - which I was.


The Eskdale path started off as a lovely solid paved one, and although I didn't much want to face more uphill I knew that the first part was steeper than anything to come later. The paved path unexpected went up Illgill Head, as I realised when I came to a fence that shouldn't have been there, but a little shortcut obviously made by other people making the same mistake led me back to the coffin route, now broad and grassy and marked with cairns.

The path to Eskdale

Not only did the sun now drop under the bank of cloud that had been hiding it for most of the afternoon, as the hills on the other side of Eskdale first came into view, it then chased it all away, so that after three hours of evening it became a sunny afternoon again at 8pm!


The path stayed clear all the way across, although sometimes I accidentally ended up in a streambed instead - and sometimes the stream wanted to walk on the path, but it was so broad and shallow that it didn't really matter.

It was lovely walking through a lovely place, up past the cairn of Maiden Castle and along past Burnmoor Tarn with its lodge - the only problem, apart from the time, being that my knee had started to hurt again after a while of feeling better once it wasn't going downhill - it really did feel wobbly, but there wasn't much I could do except try to keep it as straight as possible, which was more comfortable. The highest point, alongside Boat How and an unexpected ruin, seemed a long time coming, but I was there in the end, and heading down again to come inside the walls which marked the approach to Boot, and along the edge of a succession of rough fields.

I was too late for food at the Boot Inn, and although they told me that the Woolpack was still doing pizzas the one I'd had the night before had been so peculiar that I preferred the wraps and hummus and things I had in the hostel - which disappointed me by having run out of cake, although it did have beer.

I'm not sure if my plan for the day was daft or not - it was ambitious, but if I hadn't had such trouble getting down to Foxes Tarn I'd have been fine - but if I'd known how loose it was, I could have predicted trouble. I don't see me ever doing the two Scafells together again, but I've got no real desire to go back to Scafell Pike anyway - Scafell might be worth a second visit!

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Re: Scafells from Eskdale

PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:50 am
by johnkaysleftleg
Bit of an epic when all said and done. I must sympathise with the back pack situation when scrambling, I did Tower Ridge on Eel Crag yesterday and had a few interesting moments. Hughie by contrast had no bother whatsoever.
The Foxes Tarn route is perfectly fine in ascent but I can certainly see it being not so great coming down. Never done Lords Rake but I suspect you'd have had similar problems.

Re: Scafells from Eskdale

PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2016 10:00 am
by nigheandonn
My general conclusion is that I did it the wrong way round - but starting with the mostly steady climb over Slight Side and finishing with the long but gentle walk out seemed like a good idea at the time! Oh well.

There was a dog going down the top bit of the scree at the same time as me, and I was wishing very much that I had proper four foot drive :)

Re: Scafells from Eskdale

PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2016 7:53 pm
by trailmasher
Good report and photos :clap: on a dodgy kneed day full of trauma :crazy: As JKLL mentioned it is easier doing Fox's Tarn the other way around :wink:

Re: Scafells from Eskdale

PostPosted: Tue Jun 21, 2016 10:29 pm
by ChrisW
That's a great effort N&D, not sure why you escaped the crowds but glad you did. The descent of Foxes Tarn sounded positively miserable...I'd have taken to the grass too :wink: I think you made up for it with your wombling anyway and the lack of cake later was certainly punishment enough :lol:

Great effort, not one that many will follow I'm sure. :clap: :clap: