14 October 2010

Summits, Scree and Scrambles

» An ascent of Scafell Pike from Wasdale Head via the scree slopes at Mickledore before returning to Wasdale by Lingmell Crags.
Distance: 6.8 Miles | Time: 4h 46m | Difficulty: Medium with Scramble

There's something about the Scafells, I can't quite put my finger on it.  Maybe it's due to to Scafell Pike being the highest point in England, maybe it's the beauty of the massif as a whole, or maybe it's just the accessibility of them. But something keeps drawing us back. Last time it was to explore the corridor route to the summit.  This time it was a fact-finding mission and to bag another route. This time it would be the Mickledore approach.

Kirk Fell

Unfortunately the Mickledore route is best accessed from Wasdale Head - a pretty little hamlet at the head of Wast Water. "Where's the downside in that?" Well, it's an absolute pig to get to, from our base in Yorkshire it's a 3-4hr drive depending on which of the two routes you choose. So with our numbers falling yet again Lesley and myself set out to take on the scree slopes...

Quick Links: The Map | Photos on Flickr | GPX file for your GPS device
Leaving the car park at Wasdale (it's actually the village green but a) everyone parks on it, and b) it's free unlike the National Trust car park lower down) we hoisted our packs and made our first mistake of the day - setting off on the wrong path. It'd be totally unlike a Fellfaller's adventure to go with an air of military precision, so we cracked on along the route towards Brackenclose rather than straight up the hill to Lingmell Gill.  That way we'd be joining the 'proper' route at the foot of the gill and it gave us a couple of river crossings to negotiate - which in fact weren't at all necessary as we were on the right side to begin with, but such is life and hey, it's only water.

Lingmell Gill

It's an enjoyable walk up through the trees along the side of the gill to the base of Brown Tongue where gill forks and the path takes off in earnest up the hill towards Broad Crag and/or Lingmell Col depending on the route you're taking up the Scafells. No bridge to cross the water here, it's a splash through the stream or take your chances on the large slippery stones, so here's an excellent opportunity to find out just how waterproof your boots really are, intentionally or by accident.

Now whilst the corridor is probably the most popular route to Scafell Pike, up through Mickledore must be one of the steepest.  It'd be best described as a short, sharp, shock - climbing rapidly over about 1.5 miles.  My biggest complaint is that it's mostly uneven, badly spaced, stone steps making the going tough and hard on the knees until you reach the scree slopes at the foot of Lord's Rake.

Base of Lord's Rake

I know there are few other options to prevent the erosion of paths in the Lakes, but surely someone could come up with a better alternative.  I mean, if I wanted to spend all day walking up and down stairs I could do that at home with a laptop playing an ascent of any old mountain at the top of them. Maybe this is their long-term plan - cover every fell in the Lakes with horrible stone steps to deter people then sell DVDs of the climbs so you can "re-live" the experience at home...

About half way up the path forks three ways; the left two paths wind like a motorway up onto Lingmell Col and the end of the corridor route up to the summit, whilst the right hand path continues the slog up to Mickledore and Broad Strand. Easy to take the wrong path here if you're watching your feet rather than the route ahead.

Entrance to Lord's Rake

Elton John sang that "The Camera Never Lies", he's obviously never tried taking pictures of mountains - everything gets flattened out to the point of looking like a gentle stroll, you wouldn't believe the angle of this slope! Lurking behind these crags is the mouth of Lord's Rake, one of the steeper and more treacherous scrambles in the Lake District.

Reached from Wasdale by an insanely steep scree slope (or a path down from Mickledore), the rake is a rock and scree filled gully winding it's up way to Symonds Knott and the summit of Sca Fell - and the subject of our fact finding expedition to plan a scramble for better weather. Subject to many closures over the years and a number of fatalities, it's best attempted when quiet as there's nowhere to hide if someone dislodges rocks above you.

Down to Wasdale

Leaving Lord's Rake behind it was on up the scree slopes to the final section up to Mickledore, comprising a fun little scramble up the rock face (and probably the only enjoyable part of the route so far!) then onto the summit of Scafell Pike through the boulder fields. From Mickledore the route to the top is much easier going than the end of the corridor route.

The last time we'd been up on the summit it'd had been a little cool, however it's seems it's now reached the time of year where it's genuinely cold up there - the 70mph winds probably didn't help though - so we didn't hang around, a quick stop for a drink and some yoghurt-covered banana chip goodness before heading down to Lingmell Col.

Heading for Lingmell

They say the Lakes attract all sorts (and not just the liquorice variety) and, again, today didn't disappoint. Last time it was hopelessly lost Americans, this time it was hopelessly ill-prepared tourists of the Southern variety (No offence to those of you unfortunate enough to live south of Watford, but you were represented by a fair share of odd 'uns today)...

Just as we approached the Col we were met coming the other way by a fellow with a Labrador in a dark jacket and jeans. Now, I may be preaching to the converted here, but jeans are the absolute worst thing you can go walking in.  Sure they'll stop you getting stung by nettles, or scratched by brambles, but get them wet and you'll know about it for the rest of the day - and they'll chafe something horrible. And in the Lakes at this time of the year there's fair chance you'll be getting wet.  But 20 yards behind him was his female companion which really made us do a double take.

At the summit it was gusting in excess of 70mph, and the temperature was approaching zero before you even started to factor in wind chill, yet here was a woman on her way to the boulder field in a strappy top, denim pencil skirt, tights ... and a pair of walking boots! She'd obviously struggled with the route up as she was red faced and telling all that would listen about how hot she was. We advised her it was a bit cold up further up, but her non-chant reply was "Oh good, it will be nice to cool down". 

Now I'm not doing to call her daft, or cloth-eared, any anything like that, but it really does make you wonder what people are thinking before they set out for the day. At the time "Hypothermia" sprung to mind, but I let it pass as with toddled down to the pass for our lunch.

Lingmell Crags

How best to describe Lingmell? Beautifully under-appreciated perhaps? From above or below you wouldn't give Lingmell a second look, but it's worth taking 20 minutes or so to have a real good explore around its crags. It has a unique beauty, with stunning views of the surroundings peaks and down its gullies to the valley floor below. Unfortunately by the time you've climbed up onto the summit you're back in the winds that were howling over the top of the rest of the Scafells, so we bid a hasty retreat down the path along the spine of the hill to Wasdale Head.

Wast Water

Having spent the last couple hours with nothing but unforgiving rock underfoot the path off Lingmell was like walking on the thickest, softest, most luxurious, carpet you can imagine. Even with gale force winds doing their best to blow us over it was a pleasure to head west back towards Goat Crags and the car. 

The only advantage to the wind was it was doing its best to clear the cloud that had been enveloping Sca Fell all day.  So when an opportunity presented itself I threw myself down in the grass (there was no chance of standing still in the wind with a camera) and at last got a photo of the day's objective - Mickledore and Lord's Rake.


A quick peek at the map shows the path descends by 300m in about 500m distance, so it's a steep path down - equally as steep as the ascent to Mickledore but without the steps, so at least it's easy going on the feet and knees.

As the path starts to level out the main path back to the village green crosses it, so it's a right turn here to get back to the starting point. Heading straight on would take you to the National Trust car park and campsite, whilst a left starts you up towards Mickledore again.

All in the route was 6.8 miles and just shy of 4 and three-quarter hours. Personally I wouldn't recommend it if your plan is to reach Scafell, there's better and easier routes up. But if you're just looking to get it done, then go for it.

Scafell Massif

As an aside, Wasdale Head is an absolute beggar to get to. There's only three real routes there, two of which are the A595, the third being the pass over Wrynose and Hard Knott from Little Langdale. Now if, like myself, you enjoy a *ahem* "spirited" drive on a good technical route then this is the road for you. Timing is crucial though, attempt it on a weekend and you'll be disappointed, but a wet weekday morning is perfect.

Take something grunty though, you'll need it for the gradients and hairpins. No need for a soundtrack (though Matt Monroe's "On Days Like These" would be a good choice, it's one of the closest roads there is to an Alpine pass this side of Hadrian's wall), poor visibility, oncoming traffic and wandering sheep mean you've got to be quick on the horn before bends and have your wits about you.

The Map

OS Maps: Landranger 89 | Explorer OL6

View the trip at | See all the pictures on Flickr | Or go get the GPX file
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