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Satisfaction scaling Scafell Pike's south facing ridge.
by trailmasher » Tue Jul 05, 2016 4:56 pm
Wainwrights included on this walk: Esk Pike, Lingmell, Scafell Pike
Hewitts included on this walk: Esk Pike, Lingmell, Scafell Pike
Date walked: 27/06/2016
Time taken: 7.23
Distance: 20.5 km
Ascent: 1670m4 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
At the back end of last year - 2015 - Chris and I decided to embark on a five day event of walking a few of the Lakeland mountain's giving us both a chance of bagging some new tops, in Chris's case, Wainwright's, Hewitt's, Nuttall's, and Birkett's, whilst I myself could reduce my tally of Birkett's by the grand total of two.
This is an account of the first of the five days of some hard earned tops and mixed weather conditions.
The plan was made, the last week in June was chosen as the chance of decent weather should be high, and Honister Youth Hostel was to have the pleasure of our company for the duration of our walking week, although the planned days walking was juggled around a bit to suit the weather conditions that on some days was pretty dire to say the least.
Somewhere between 2015 and the start of the walking week our numbers grew from two to four - for one day only - as two of the lads from our two day outing at Black Sail chose to come along with us for the Monday walk. So we were accompanied by Daniel - the Lone Ranger - and Sam the Younger of the Great Gables famous chat up line to two young wenches that went down like a lead balloon.
The initial plan was to take on some of the mountains around Grasmoor, but due to the weather forecast it was decided to move Wednesday to Monday and attempt our last three aborted missions to gain the summit of Scafell Pike by its south ridge. The first attempt by Chris and I was aborted due to very bad weather conditions closing in on us, the second was a combination of bad weather and an unwell member of the group, whilst the third was due to the road being flooded at Grange, so this time a determined effort with decent weather on our side should see this particular mission come to a conclusion.
It was cool, cloudy but dry as we left home to arrive at Seathwaite under similar conditions but with the addition of a cool breeze and light rain making it a requirement to wear over trousers and a light fleece under a shower proof coat as we started our journey. There were probably about five other cars parked up which is the least that I have ever seen at Seathwaite and looking to the west could see the water gushing down Sourmilk Gill as it dropped down Seathwaite Slabs to eventually meet up with Grains Gill.
Leaving the car behind we set off on the familiar way through the farmyard and followed the wide track to reach Stockley Bridge…
from where we would follow the path up and alongside Grains Gill and Ruddy Gill to arrive at the main path that runs between Sty Head and Angle Tarn as it makes its way eventually to Great Langdale. In spite of the rain during the night it was good to see that the water courses were not above their usual levels as we need to get across the River Esk in a couple of hours or so. The path alongside Grains Gill and Ruddy Gill is mostly fair with it being alternately paved or normal path conditions as the terrain required, with it being washed out in a couple of places that made a small scramble a necessity over the bare rock and exposed spots. The climb up is a little tedious with being enclosed in the valley between Glaramara to the east and Seathwaite Fell west but looking back the views into Borrowdale and a hint of Derwent Water get increasingly better as height is gained whilst south and forward Great End begins to loom over all.
Despite the cool breeze and small showers of rain it's been warm work getting up the gills and regular stops for drinks were made. Upon arriving at the main drag we turned southeast leaving the main path after a good few metres to take the one that goes on to Esk Hause from where we could take the path that runs down from there alongside the young River Esk to arrive at the foot of Little Narrowcove that we mean to use as our access to the south ridge of Scafell Pike. But, as Daniel and Sam have not been on Esk Pike before and Chris and I wanted to retrace the steps of our second aborted attempt on which it was raining, thick clag, visibility to around three metres, views of zero quality we wanted to re-visit Pike-de-Bield and also stuff in the little isolated island of high rock and grass that is called High Gait Crags - another Birkett - that sits between the foot of Yeastyrigg Crags and Great Moss we went the long way around.
Upon leaving Esk Hause the path is clear and straight forward enough as it makes its way roughly south with an approach over grassy ground before rising over more rocky pathed terrain, meanders over a second easy grassy patch and then the final short scramble to the summit of protruding and pointed rocks of which the highest one contains a cairn of small stones nestled between a cleft in it. The clouds were fairly low when we were at the hause but the summit of Esk Pike was clear to see, but as we got closer to the summit the clouds decided to once again get nearer to us and dropped right on to the summit as we made our arrival there.
Whilst all the moaning and groaning about the low clouds was going on we had a quick snack of chocolate and during this short time the clouds lifted quite a bit and the views were opening up for us. Bow Fell came into sight with the line of the mist enshrouded Crinkle Crags tops running away to its right. To our left and south we can now see the River Esk as it runs down between the clouds infested surrounding fells and mountains of varying sizes. Behind us and north there is Great End and Seathwaite Fell whilst west we could just about see bits of the Scafell Range. Things were looking up as we set off south for Pike-de-Bield, a hill that we had been on last year but could neither see it or anything else as we walked down to it in very, very, thick cloud. Today we could see various rocky outcrops and the ground that we were walking on, which initially, as we left the summit of Esk Pike was mostly full of rocks and a smattering of grass but that soon turned to bare rocky patches and more grass with the ground getting increasingly better the more that we descended.
Our way was pathless as we arrived at a large area of grassy fellside that continued all the way to Pike-de-Bield. There are quite a few large boulders dotted about prior to reaching P-de-B that comprises of a long and grassy patched up thrust of rock that at 810 metres in height is only 75 metres less than Esk Pike and sports the usual small cairn of stones on its highest point.
The last time we were here it was so foggy that we actually climbed onto one crag thinking that it was P-de-B until bumping into this larger one that upon investigation and much pondering decided that this was actually it. Both MiniRambo and I got the wrong top initially on that occasion. Doh!
We were now lower and the clouds were lifting with the views now opening up before us. We could now see Esk Buttress or Dow Crag - whichever name one would prefer - but with the clouds still covering the Scafells, even Pen was invisible to us just yet.
We can see into both Little Narrowcove and the River Esk with the water levels looking favourable although the climb up LN looking steep and rough from where we were at the moment. We couldn't see up LN last time we were here due to the clag, and there were copious amounts of water running down it making for a difficult climb up it. Today it looks much more amenable.
To save losing too much height when we left P-de-B we worked our way down through the rock covered fellside wriggling between the outcrops of rock first moving anti-clockwise then descending south down and around the west side of Yeastyrigg Crags. As we got below the main bulk of the crag we began to swing to the southwest still keeping as high as was practical until we reached a point where we could gain the top of High Gait Crags with the minimum of climbing. In spite of the rain showers the walk across the grass and boulder scattered Pike de Bield Moss was quite dry underfoot and we soon reached the top of the rocky 572 metre high outcrop with its cairn perched on top of the highest typically grey and lichen spotted rock that formed the summit.
There are other rocky outcrops of rock around us all looking much of a similar height to where we were stood on HGC and to be fair none of them look up to much as we have all walked over bigger humps without giving them a second thought. However, the clouds are getting higher and the views down into Eskdale and across to the Scafell Range are getting clearer now, but it's happen as well that we can't see the top of Scafell Pike - or Pen for that matter - as the thought of having to drop down into Eskdale and then climbing back up to the summit of Scafell Pike by - to us - the unknown quantity of the south ridge may tend to make ones bottom lip quiver and eyes water if what is to come could be seen.
We decided to take a break and have food and drink whilst resting up before the punishment of Little Narrowcove and the south ridge begins and takes its toll of our bodies. Sitting having our break was a cold affair and felt more like a January day than a June one. Looking south down into Eskdale we could see Hard Knott and Border End with quite a few of Billy Birkett's hills that have still be visited. More or less directly opposite us to the west was the fine waterfall of How Beck falling around 150 metres down Cam Spout Crag of which the footpath leading to Mickledore from Eskdale climbs up the side of the waterfall.
Feeling refreshed and ready for anything now we set off from High Gait Crags to make our way northwest down the fellside heading in the direction of the River Esk and Little Narrowcove.
The going albeit pathless, was easy enough as we made our way to the river first having to cross a tumbledown wall before boulder hopping across the now shallow River Esk. The last time we crossed here the rain had swollen the river somewhat making for a rather more difficult crossing than we have just now.
We now had a choice of routes to gain access into the cove, the first being to follow the river of scree and stones up to the long, steep gully or, climb up through the ever lengthening bracken to see if we could find an unmarked but more user friendly path at a higher level, maybe a climber's path. If one was found and it was generous it may alleviate the need to go gill scrambling. We had spotted a path line through the higher reaches of the bracken and although unsure of its intentions we decided to take a chance and go for it. Now, the fellside at this point of access from the river gets increasingly steeper the higher one climbs and there was no relief until we spotted the aforementioned path through the bracken that eased the gradient as it headed under the southeast corner of Dow Crag, then ran out to nothing as we looked down into the gully of Little Narrowcove. It's time to go gill scrambling.
The exercise of path finding cost us nothing nor gave us any grief, just exasperation at not finding a way up the grass and rocks instead of going by the gill. We know that we can get up the gill as we were all but swilled back down it a few months ago whilst on our second attempt at this route. Today the gill was easy. There was not much water running in it, the gradient seemed so much easier, the going was pretty good, and we made good time up it, so, on reflection it probably was the better way up to the cove that sits beneath Ill Crag and is our point of access to Pen and the south ridge of Scafell Pike. All in all the going is good and doesn't feel as steep as it looks. There are one or two places where some dirty scrambling is required but we soon arrived at the grassy area that leads on to the grass covered cove proper.
The weather is much drier now and the clouds are rising as we approach them, but the waterproofs remain where they are, on our backs. We are warm and prefer to be so as the threat of more rain has not altogether disappeared just yet. The last time we were here we could not see the grassy rake for the mist.
It turns up to the west between the surrounding crags before turning more or less south to take us onto the crag infested ground that needs to be crossed before reaching the large rocky mound that is Pen. On our way to Pen we passed a smaller cairn bearing - but no less imposing - crag than Pen that we visited on our way back to find a way up the south ridge.
Passing this first crag we then descended into a rock covered grassy hollow before climbing up the rocky side of Pen to gain its summit and fine pointed cairn overlooking the River Esk and the finely misted hills and mountains to the south.
Just now Slight Side, Scafell, and Scafell Pike are still buried in clag although Bow Fell and the Crinkles to the east can be seen and are recognisable for what they are. From here we now returned to the other unnamed crag where we had a short break whilst surveying the mass of grey rock with its small, bright green grassy shelves that are scattered across and up the face of it.
What we are looking at is Rough Crag, our way to go, but as Chris and Sam head towards the base of it I feel sure that we should be more to the left where the map shows smoother ground and easier contours. I made my way around the base of the unnamed crag until I could get a better view and there appeared to be the bottom of a gully just poking its toes out beyond the base of the main crag.
Gathering the troops I indicated a pile of broken rocks and slabs that had at some earlier moment in time broken away from the main crag and landed in a jumbled heap at its base. Keeping to the rock face at the base of Rough Crag there is a way to be found by making a careful passage over the undulating pile of mountain debris to find oneself at the bottom of a narrow rock filled gully. Now this is steep, very steep, filled with loose rocks and scree but it is the way to go. On either side of the gully there is a narrow pitch of rock and grass that can be used for a short time but there is no getting away from the gully that has to be accessed at some point of the climb as the Lone Ranger - Daniel - soon found out.
Daniel sometimes gets a bit of a small wobbler when feeling a little exposed, but maybe it's really just a touch of agoraphobia - fear of wide open spaces - and he is a lot better than he used to be as it hardly bothers him now. At this point I think he needs some company so we climbed together but as the gully got nearer he moved off to the left as it looked easier ground although I assured him that it wasn't and that there was no way through. At this point we parted company for a while as I made my way up the gully behind Chris and Sam who by this time had reached the top of the loose rocks and were now faced with a 2.5 metre more or less vertical face with just a few grass covered cracks.
In true Don Whillans style Chris started to climb, pulling out clumps of wet grass and handfuls of dirt as he scrabbled with legs akimbo for a purchase on the rocks above him. I couldn't help but laugh as he looked like a four legged spider stuck to a wet window as Sam reminded him that he had an eighty foot drop below him. "And that's why I'm not going to fall," was the half strangled cry as Chris eventually eased his mountainous stature over the top of the step.
If the rocks under my feet hadn't been on the move there would have been a great family album shot in the making. After careful deliberation Sam and I elected to climb out by the left side of the step which afforded a slightly easier though looser option than Chris's.
The three of us waited at the top of the gully wondering whether Daniel would arrive from our right or, the gully. Within a couple of minutes his head popped up over the rise of the gully, and there he was all smiles at having finally reached us. Going to the left is a no go he told us as it ends up at a large rock face that is for climbers only.
From the top of the gully the ground opens up to a wide open grassy area that is covered in shattered rocks and great up thrusts of rock pinnacles and crags. The incline is less steep now, but nevertheless, still quite steep as we walked on over the still pathless ground and ever upwards towards the still mist covered top of England's highest and finest. Looking back south the views are amazing and it's just a shame that it's not a clear sunny day when in a position such as this.
At this point Chris starts a plea for anything of a lubricative nature as he once again has friction burns on his nether regions, chafing I do believe. Sam unselfishly accommodated and gifted him with a small tub of Vaseline.
The higher we climbed the easier the going got as the fellside gave us more grass over an easier incline to walk on. We were surrounded by large boulders and crags mostly to our left as on our right the ground fell away towards the upper reaches of Little Narrowcove that is around 200 metres below us. Ill Crag is to be seen across from us with Broad Crag just peeping around the corner more to the northeast of us.
As we got higher we left the grass behind for now and arrived at a faint path through the stones and scree - the first signs of one that we had seen - that appeared to lead down to Chambers Crag…
and wondered if it also ran down the side of the crag into the cove as the brown coloured scree run looked as though many feet had used it. It was a little steep and slippery on this path but we were soon off it and onto easier ground when suddenly, and surprisingly, the ground levelled off and the large summit cairn came into view on the not too distant skyline. We were there.
The short walk to the summit over stony ground took but a couple of minutes and upon arriving at the large round stone platform with its built in plaque found but a few people, no more than ten I would think, and I was surprised at that because I've seen more on a bad weather day.
Fortunately for us as we had been ascending the mist was doing the same, and when we had arrived at the summit the mist had cleared almost completely although there was still a faint touch of it about, but at least the clouds were now sitting above the summits instead of on them. The three lads had big smiles and any signs of a hard walk up Rough Crag were gone as handshakes were made between themselves, photos were taken, and a refuel was demanded before setting off to pick up the north westerly running path that would take us down to Lingmell Col and our last top of the day, Lingmell.
We walked down the Corridor Route for a short while before turning off along a narrow path that brought us out by the old wall which was crossed to reach the short, stony path that runs right to the summit crag that is topped off with a large round cairn. Once again the views from here are awesome with Round How over shadowed by Great End to the east, Kirk Fell and Great Gable is north as is Styhead Tarn and Seathwaite Fell more to the right.
From the wall it's but a short and easy climb to the summit and all business was done in less than twenty minutes as we arrived back at the wall to continue on our way off the fells via the Corridor Route. To reach this we simply followed the wall northeast and when it broke away from the wall simply followed it across a small grassy hollow to then climb up the short bank to arrive at the main path proper.
The view down Piers Gill as we passed across the top of it is, as usual a sight to behold with the waterfall on the left holding its own amongst much more impressive neighbours. The path is both good and clear as it passes across Greta Gill, under Round How and Great End before arriving at the 'bad step' on Stand Crag.
The 'bad step' is a short rock scramble that sits high above a deep and narrow ravine that carries the tributary of Greta Gill. The path ends at this point for now and a white painted arrow points the way to go, which is upwards. When we arrived at the 'bad step' there were a mixed group of teenagers - most of them inappropriately dressed - who had been on Scafell Pike as we had arrived there and were parked up whilst a couple of the lads were about to climb out to the left trying a work around instead of going the correct way. When I called out a warning to them they just looked at me and carried on. I told them once again and I got the same reaction as one of them continued his in front of girl's macho antics. Chris told them to listen to me as I had been that way a few times before and they sort of faltered, probably in awe of the giant in front of them. Daniel wasn't too sure of this himself so I sent him up a short grassy rake to the right and told him to turn left at the top from where he would meet us on the path above the step.
That he did and duly met us at the path from where we had an uneventful journey apart from a blister appearing on Daniel's left foot. It's a fairly long drop off from Lingmell to Seathwaite but despite blisters and Chris's chafing we made good time down to Styhead Tarn followed by a drink at the 1,000 ft boulder at Greenhow Knott. From there to Seathwaite and then to clock in at Honister YH before taking a trip to the Bridge Inn at Buttermere for a well earned meal, and most important of all, a glass or two of ale.
After Daniel and Sam had left us Chris and I went back to Honister to sort out our things, and the kind man there - Tim - had no qualms about opening the fridge and supplying us with a bottle or two of the local bottled ale.
This has been a fairly hard day out with all of us achieving something new. The weather when we set off was about 10°c, breezy, and raining lightly. The rain showers came and went until around noon when it became dry for the day but it was quite cold at height with plenty of low clouds covering the higher fells and mountains. Despite the cold breeze it was warm whilst walking and the clouds finally cleared off the immediate fells but were hanging about and threatening to drop down on us at any time.
The climb up Little Narrowcove didn't seem as bad as the first time we did it probably because we had done it in worse conditions and knew what was ahead. The south ridge holds no fears now that we have done it. Going into the unknown was exciting and even though I had researched the ridge I found very little information about it apart from that it was 'bouldery' and I wouldn't hesitate in passing through that way again in the future.
by MiniRambo » Tue Jul 05, 2016 10:31 pm
by thefallwalker » Wed Jul 06, 2016 2:26 pm
by ChrisW » Wed Jul 06, 2016 6:43 pm
he looked like a four legged spider stuck to a wet window
had me in stitches, a perfectly constructed rib tickler is ever there was one
Interesting how those young lads ignored your warnings...I'll bet they ended up with a sheepish retreat soon after
I think this might be the first time I've seen the clag raise up with the hikers allowing views from the summit, as you are no doubt aware it's usually the other way around
Great stuff mate
by dav2930 » Wed Jul 06, 2016 8:12 pm
by johnkaysleftleg » Thu Jul 07, 2016 9:24 am
by trailmasher » Fri Jul 08, 2016 9:10 pm
MiniRambo wrote: A couple of memories came back to me: there is a view from Pike de Bield (I remember it being absolutely horrid when we missed, then finally arrived at its summit); the mere mention of Little Narrowcove puts a shiver down my spine - it seemed to go on for ever.
Thanks very much MR and it's surprising how the weather can make things appear so different this time LN seemed like a different gill altogether from the last time we went up it I see that you're knocking the hills off nicely now. Well done you
by trailmasher » Fri Jul 08, 2016 9:15 pm
thefallwalker wrote:Terrific report bud it was indeed an incredible day out especially as it was day 1 of 5 a massive sense of achievement to FINALLY bag scafell pike & not by the usual routes available well done on a cracking report of a unique day out cheers!!
Yes it was a good day out, one of the best this year and well done the two lads How are both ends of you doing Thanks for your comments and well done you too the noo
by trailmasher » Fri Jul 08, 2016 9:27 pm
ChrisW wrote:he looked like a four legged spider stuck to a wet window
A damn big spider at that Chris and just a pity I couldn't get a close up of him hangingInteresting how those young lads ignored your warnings...I'll bet they ended up with a sheepish retreat soon after
They eventually followed Daniel's route and later on an older couple passed us going on to the fells and then came back with one youth who had sore feet from wearing plimsollsI think this might be the first time I've seen the clag raise up with the hikers allowing views from the summit, as you are no doubt aware it's usually the other way around
This was a god send for everyone on the Pike especially the new visitors to it Always nice to hear from you Chris and thanks for your comments
by trailmasher » Fri Jul 08, 2016 9:30 pm
dav2930 wrote:An adventurous way up the Pike, looks interesting. Nice one TM
A great way to go dav2930 and nice to walk on some new ground Thank you
by trailmasher » Fri Jul 08, 2016 9:34 pm
johnkaysleftleg wrote:Looks an entertaining and adventurous way up England's highest. another great report full of info and of course chaffing.
Thank you JKLL a bit rough and steep in places but still a great walk I must get some Vaseline gauze in my 1st aid kit for the more tender skinned people Thanks for reading
by HalfManHalfTitanium » Sat Jul 09, 2016 11:01 am
by trailmasher » Sat Jul 09, 2016 7:33 pm
HalfManHalfTitanium wrote:A great exploration of the wilds of upper Eskdale and the least-known side of Scafell Pike!
I wish that we had more time to roam around as it looks very interesting on that side Thanks Tim