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Part 2: Mosedale Horseshoe minus Kirk Fell

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 10:33 am
by houdi
Certain names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Day Two in Wasdale and the weather forecast sounds very optimistic. Even better than yesterday is the prediction, which can’t be bad. Now, I have no idea what the definitive Mosedale Horseshoe route is supposed to be. On my first expedition I went totally overboard. Obsessed with authenticity, I included Kirk Fell in my route; straight up the front of it from Wasdale Head with no time for a warm up. It still gives me nightmares to this day. No such bravado this time. Kirk fell is out with little chance of a last minute reprieve.
This month’s ‘Trail’ features the Mosedale Horseshoe as Pillar (via the High Level Route & Shamrock Traverse), Red Pike and Yewbarrow. I also incorporated Scrote Fell (yes, I know it’s Scoat Fell but it should be Scrote; it describes it perfectly) and Steeple in my escapade and I was sticking to this formula again. No Kirk Fell but everything else included apart from the batteries.

Early Friday morning and clear summits over Britain’s Favourite View. With the benefit of two cars we would not have to plod along the lake road either at the beginning or end of the route. We parked mine in the car park below Yewbarrow at Overbeck Bridge and drove on to Wasdale Head in Stu’s.

The path starts from the Wasdale Head Inn. Ignore the bridge over the Mosedale Beck behind Row Head cottages as this leads out into the Mosedale Valley directly below Yewbarrow heading for the nasty scree climb to Dore Head. Instead, carry on straight ahead towards the daunting front of Kirk Fell. A gate to the left, however, leads to the path skirting around the bottom of Kirk Fell and out into the valley towards Black Sail Pass. The path climbs gradually at first and then more full on. Higher up, Gatherstone Beck has to be crossed via stepping stones, followed by a spiral navigation of a small hill on the other side. The path splits when things level out again. Anyone heading for Pillar should take the left fork (see Wainwright’s ‘short cut’ – Pillar 9 of the Western Fells) as it leads directly to Looking Stead and cuts out a needless dogleg, even though Wainwright claims it saves no time. ‘So, a short cut saves no time, eh Alfred? Shouldn’t it be called a long cut then?’

From Looking Stead (a cairn marks the definitive view over Ennerdale) the path climbs directly to Pillar summit. It’s a routine plod following the fence line up over a couple of ridges and cols to the flat summit plateau but, as with almost everything, there is a better, more interesting alternative. Keep an eye out for a small cairn at the side of the path just as the climb begins from Looking Stead. It’s very easy to miss. Stu walked straight past it even though I’d already forewarned him, making me wonder (and not for the first time over past few days) if he was off on one of his sheep-worrying trances. This all kicked off last year in Snowdonia when three of us (me, Stu, and his only other mate, Mike) set off from Rhyd Ddu to do the Nantle Ridge. It started raining from the roadside, and as we made our way across the first field (which just happened to be full of sheep) both me and Mike stopped to pull our waterproof trousers on over our craghoppers. Not Stu though. He decided to remove his craghoppers and change into his waterproofs surrounded by some pretty nervous looking sheep. Standing there in his boxers, it immediately brought his sexuality into question, and made for a pretty interesting conversation at work the following Monday. Perhaps it’s all that intense Navy training, who knows? Did I mention Stu used to be in the Navy?
Now, where was I?....... Oh yeah, the cairn. It marks the start of the High Level route, the very best route to Pillar summit and the only decent way to witness Pillar Rock at close quarters. The path from the cairn starts off looking not much like a path at all and would be ignored if it wasn’t for the marker cairn. The first part is a bit wet and loose as it heads down, completely contradicting its ‘High Level’ title. Pretty soon it starts contouring round the mountain with good views down into Ennerdale and of the Haystacks-High Crag-High Stile-Red Pike ridge on the other side, and of the Black Sail Youth Hostel far below.
The path splits at one point and, on my first visit, I was tempted to take the higher route (High Level?), but the traditional route follows the lower path round to Robinson’s Cairn. However, if you look back from the cairn you will see the higher path coming down to meet the lower one some way before the cairn, so I guess either route can be followed as they both lead to the same destination. There is a memorial plaque on a nearby rock to commemorate the life of fell lover, John Wilson Robinson who died in 1907.

It’s a fairly lengthy traverse from Looking Stead to Robinson’s Cairn and quite physically demanding although the scrambling is minimal and reasonably simple. The path then carries on for a short stretch before zig-zagging up a short section of good scree (if there is such a thing) to the Shamrock Traverse. This presents a puzzle in itself. The path goes both ways on the SR Traverse and, to confuse matters, the left option is the more distinct. It leads up to the col (Great Doup) just before Pillar summit on the main tourist route and I have seen several people heading this way on my previous visits. I can only guess they have taken the huge chunk of rock on view from Robinson’s Cairn to be Pillar Rock and they have naturally assumed this to be the continuation of their route. Wrong. What you see from R’s Cairn is the top half of Pillar Rock. The rest is obscured by the Sham Rock, hence the ‘Sham Rock Traverse’ (the name has no connection with the Emerald Isle). The Sham Rock ‘pretends’ (sham – see it all makes sense) to be Pillar Rock and you have to ‘traverse’ over the back end of it to reach the true crag for which Pillar is famous. Don’t know about you but I’ve just read back over this and I’m totally confused now.

Okay, so go right on the Traverse. The path has a wet slabby section (unless you do it after a dry spell) to begin with and there is one point before it starts climbing up over the back of Sham Rock which is quite tricky with a steep drop on one side. After safely negotiating the slabs the path gets better and it’s up and over the top to get your first close-up view of the true Pillar Rock in all its glory. It is actually two separate rocks – the smaller Pisgah is detached from it at the back end – and there is supposed to be a Scrambling route on it (Grade 3) called the ‘Slab & Notch’. Ignore this. Without ropes it’s virtually impossible unless you are Spiderman or that crazy French bloke who walks up skyscrapers. The Slab & Notch section is lower down and looks relatively straightforward. It’s what comes after it that puts it completely out of bounds to us mere mortals. I have studied it in detail on several occasions and I cannot see any way of getting up there without ropes. There is an abseil point overlooking Pisgah for anyone who makes it up there without the benefit of super powers. I did climb up onto the top of Pisgah though and, once again, Stu excelled himself with the camera managing to make me look like a Lowrie matchstick character exactly as he had done on Scafell the previous day. ‘Look Stu, that’s the zoom button and it does exactly what it says on the tin………’. Why do I waste my breath?
It has to be mentioned that Pillar Rock is quite a way down the mountain on the Ennerdale side and cannot be seen from the summit, not even by looking over the edge. It is a frightening piece of rock and I couldn’t help thinking that, if nature had taken a different course and stuck the rock on top of Pillar instead of halfway down one side, it would have been the most formidable summit in the country. It would certainly have taken some kudos away from the In Pinn.
Wainwright’s sketches indicate a stretcher box at Pillar Rock but it has long since gone. As far as I know, only the Gable and Mickledore ones remain. And his scree route to the summit from here is no longer the preferred route, A path winds its way up through the rocks directly behind Pillar Rock all the way to the summit and some pretty decent scrambling is required at the higher reaches, although there are easier lines everywhere. The summit itself is actually a disappointment; a flat, featureless plateau (apart from the shelter and trig point) which is saved by its extensive views in every direction. Here, Ennerdale Water is seen for the first time on the route, Great Gable shows its pudding shape from here and is quite a contrast to its Wasdale view.

A quick bite to eat (no wind on the summits today, only in the valleys) and it’s off to Scrote Fell, a nothingness hill which would never get a visit if it wasn’t for the ridge to Steeple. Actually, Black Crag has to be negotiated first and this is a far better top than Scrote Fell with a huge cairn to prove it. As if to back me up, the main path skirts around the bottom of Scrote Fell, missing it out completely to head off in the direction of Red Pike. We did the necessary detour to Scrote Fell summit and here’s the stupid bit. Some wise ass has built a cairn right on top of the dry stone wall running across the summit. Why? Don’t ask me. The wall is an artificial structure, right? Okay, that makes the cairn null and void. Wherever the true summit is, it most definitely is not on top of that wall. Next time, just build it on the ground next to the wall. Simple, eh? In any case, a huge cairn marks the ridge path to neighbouring Steeple and having this as the summit marker makes much more sense.
Steeple is really only a minor detour on a ridge path resembling a sort of arête, but it does offer a glimpse of Crummock Water between Red Pike and Starling Dodd, and also the lowland Scottish hills across the Solway Firth (also in view from Pillar, if I remember correctly), weather permitting of course. Pillar shows its vast bulk properly from here. Please note the large rock visible lower down on the Ennerdale side is some nameless entity and not Pillar Rock which cannot be viewed from here either.

On the way to Red Pike, Stu got excited (at least I think it was excitement – it’s hard to tell) about having his photo taken sitting in The Chair. For one reason or another we missed it and he immediately took the huff. ‘Look Stu, it’s a few rocks which vaguely resemble something out of the Flinstones. What’s the big deal? Anyway, I had my photo taken sitting in The Chair the first time I was here, so what do I care?’
He cheered up on the way down towards Yewbarrow when a particularly striking Herdwick took his fancy.
‘Don’t you think it looks like an Old English Sheepdog?’ he asked me.
‘I’d rather not think about it, if it’s all the same to you? And you shouldn’t be thinking about it either. Remember all those sheep impressions at work? Do you really want to go through that again?’
‘You’re making a mountain out of a molehill as usual’
‘Nice analogy, Stu, but I’m beginning to appreciate why you’re forty and still living with your mother’
Cue deadly silence, at least for the time being. Oh, and did I mention that Red Pike’s true summit is off the beaten track and not visible at all from the main path? You have to walk over to the Mosedale side and look for the cairn in a pile of rocks on the edge of the ridge. There is another large cairn (not the true summit) over on the south side.

Yewbarrow is a fantastic hill. It’s upturned boat profile is a classic Wasdale view but it shows a different aspect from Red Pike. It’s a long old walk across the top and a good one at that as the Wasdale panorama is pretty striking with near perfect views of Great Gable and the Scafells. The Screes and Wast Water are particularly outstanding from Bell Rib. But first Stirrup Crag has to be negotiated. The problems are all in the lower half and it really isn’t as difficult an obstacle as it looks on the approach. A scree path leads to the start of the rocks and it’s just a matter of picking the easiest line. It is a proper Scramble though and hands have to be used for most of the climb. Oh, and if you’re of a nervous disposition it’s probably best not to look down. Sounds easy, eh? Seriously, if you don’t fancy the Scramble there are two good alternative routes along the Over Beck valley on either side of the stream. Do not take the excessively steep and slippery Dore Head scree route as it is a total nightmare, especially after a good session of rain. Use it in an emergency only, otherwise avoid it like the plague.

The descent route is good if you avoid the scree between Bell Rib and Dropping Crag, purposefully ignoring Wainwright’s unwritten law of sticking to the main route and going down the grass on the right hand side and then crossing the scree to a good path on the left which avoids all the slippery stuff. A stone wall runs down the front of Yewbarrow and there is a path on both sides down to the car park at Over Bridge. The left hand path is most frequently used and is the better one, so cross the wall at the first wooden stile and head down from there. Job done.
Because of its unique situation (there’s nowhere better in the Lakes than Wasdale), the Mosedale Horseshoe is one of the better rounds; certainly superior to the Fairfield Horseshoe as the scenery is more dramatic, especially if the High Level Route is used. It does involve some Scrambling and so will not be to everyone’s liking. If not, some of the difficulties can be avoided by taking the direct route to Pillar. But why would you want to miss out the best part?

And now on to the pub; the Wasdale Head Inn to be precise. I anticipated another real ale lecture from Stu the Trainspotter and immediately put my master plan into action.
‘Can I have a gin & tonic please barman, with a slice of lime and one of those cute little umbrella things, if you’ve got one?’
After that, Stu practically begged me to drink real ale shandy.

Back in Strands Hotel the celebrities were gathering. David Powell-Thompson helps out behind the bar, serving food and suchlike (when he’s not helping Julia Bradbury over Striding/Sharp Edge), and Eric Robson popped in for a pint just in time to sign a copy of ‘The Southern Fells’ for one of the clientele. I don’t usually pander to celebrities, but would have ditched my principles for Julia Bradbury or, better still, Cheryl Cole. ‘What’s that Stu? She’s nothing but a Geordie chav? I bow to your superior knowledge of females. Incidentally, there’s a sheep outside asking for you’.

Enjoyed my time in Wasdale as always. It’s like a little bit of Scotland brought to Lakeland. And a Big PS for Strands – clean, comfortable accommodation, awesome breakfasts, good food, and their own micro brewery offering a bewildering selection (seventeen at the last count) of real ales. These are rotated on a regular basis. During my stay there were four on offer (plus Jennings’ ‘Crag Rat’) these being Irresponsible, Tete a Tete, Errrrm, and Brown Bitter. The latter two appeared to be the most popular. And I have to say they are absolutely delicious with a drop of lemonade and a few ice cubes.

No, we definitely won't be going up there today.

Pillar & the Mosedale Valley.

Is it me, Stu, or are you starting to look like a sheep?

Start of the High Level Route.

Looking across Ennerdale to High Stile/Buttermere Red Pike.

Robinson's Cairn.

Sham Rock/Pillar Rock

Shamrock Traverse.

And again.

Pisgah & Pillar Rock

Why do I bother?

Pillar Rock from summit route.

Pillar summit.

Ennerdale Water.


Two Valleys - Mosedale & Wasdale.

Looking to Yewbarrow from descent of Red Pike.

Yeah, I think you might be punching above your weight a bit there, Stu!

Stirrup Crag.

Strange rock formations below Stirrup Crag.

Looking back to Red Pike & Pillar.

The Scafells from Yewbarrow.

Bell Rib & Wast Water.

Last Descent!

Re: Part 2: Mosedale Horseshoe minus Kirk Fell

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 11:06 am
by houdi
One last photo which it seems to have left out of my report.

Yewbarrow from Wast Water.

Re: Part 2: Mosedale Horseshoe minus Kirk Fell

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 12:53 pm
by malky_c
Great stuff. Did this precise route some years back (plus the walk back down the road), but I'd forgotten what Pillar Rock looked like. Thanks for the reminder! Great circuit. Think I must've been on a bit of a Wainwright bender back in the mid - late 90's as I did a lot of these sneaky little traverses and rakes that he talks about in his guidebooks.

Re: Part 2: Mosedale Horseshoe minus Kirk Fell

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 10:17 pm
by houdi
Same Here. I spent a week in the Lakes a few years back and I did Jack's Rake (Pavey Ark); Climbers' Traverse/Great Slab (Bowfell); High Level Route/Shamrock Traverse (Pillar); Lord's Rake/West Wall Traverse (Scafell); GableTraverse (Great Gable); and of course Striding/Swirral Edge, and Sharp Edge. It was the end of May and I had great weather very single day, which was a bonus.

Re: Part 2: Mosedale Horseshoe minus Kirk Fell

PostPosted: Sat Oct 02, 2010 1:10 am
by mountain coward
Thanks for the pics of the Shamrock Traverse - still working up to ever doing that one... but the High Level Traverse isn't part of the standard Mosedale Horseshoe - that's just a deviation for people who like too much excitement!

The cairn on the wall top on Scoat Fell is hilarious and I'm sure was built there purely for fun so saying it's null and void is probably out of place really.

As to Wainwright's shortcut onto Looking Stead (which I've never taken as it would be too hard work) - he means it saves distance not time...

Re: Part 2: Mosedale Horseshoe minus Kirk Fell

PostPosted: Sat Oct 02, 2010 1:30 am
by houdi
Out of place, eh? Go on, admit it, MC you built that wall cairn on Scrote Fell :lol:

Re: Part 2: Mosedale Horseshoe minus Kirk Fell

PostPosted: Sun Oct 03, 2010 1:30 am
by mountain coward
Nah - it's even older than me!! :o