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5 October 2010

The Scafells

» An ascent of Scafell Pike along the popular Corridor Route, then descending via Broad Crag with a quick detour up Great End before dropping back to Seathwaite along Ruddy Gill.
Distance: 9.3 Miles | Time: 5h 55m | Difficulty: Medium

"Did I dream it or did we just pass a snowplough?", "What?", "A snowplough, big yellow thing, flashing lights, wodge of metal on the front, strips paint off passing motors as it sprays grit out the back, you know a snow plough", "Oh, yeah, looked like a snowplough, wonder if they know something we don't?" or so the conversation went as we approached Keswick. Hoping it wasn't a sign of things to come I cast it to the back of my mind as we pulled into a waterlogged (again) Seathwaite. The Met had forecast a reasonable day for fell walking so we were determined to make the most of it.

Great End, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike

Even with the lesser spotted Telfaller bolstering our ranks we were still down by a four-legged companion as we set off to make our first assault on Scafell Pike. A certain wariness of the suitability of a "dangerous step" for doggy dare-devils meant it would be Terry's job to run up and down like a loon, chasing rocks, splashing in puddles and scrounging butties. We decided he needn't bother with the less endearing task of rubbing his neck into the sheep doos but should feel free to do so if he really wanted to get into the role.

The corridor route is, by far, the most popular way of reaching the highest point in England. Starting from Styhead Tarn and skirting underneath Broad Crag, reaching the boulder-strewn Scafell Pike after a couple hours of moderate ascent.

Borrowdale

The first slog up the side of Taylorgill Force is good preparation for the final climb up onto the top of Scafell Pike, not because the path runs up the side of a waterfall but because it's bleedin' steep. You leave Seathwaite thinking "Yeah, this is good, nice and easy going, a bit uppy-downy but I'm good" before you get hit with a sudden climb of the "Christ, where did that come from?" variety.  The previous night's rain had once again turned the path into a river of its own, streaming down the hillside to meet Grains Gill.

Like approaching Green Gable through Gillercomb, the trail up to Sty Head from Taylorgill follows the gill along the floor of the hanging valley, providing tantalising views of the landscape to come.  Wet weather, held back by the western edge of the fells, made for Scafell massif to be shrouded by a foreboding cloud front.

Broad Crag, Scafell Pike and Lingmell

Sty Head and its tarn make for a crossroad of routes through the western fells, ever popular as a place to stop for a bite to eat and a chat with other walkers, hikers and the strange group that are a law unto themselves; fell runners. Rather than shake our heads in bemusement at the fell runners whilst we munched on our deliciously tasty, chewy, malt loaf (N.B. this site isn't in any way sponsored by Soreen, but if one of their PR people happens to be reading ... nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more) an obviously hopelessly lost couple provided a bit of amusement. 

This pair started up towards the corridor, turned round, looked at their map, started down towards Wasdale Head, turned round, looked at their map, started down towards Seathwaite, turned round and, you guessed it, looked at their map. As they were passing us on our perch by the mountain rescue box (as modeled here by Fellfaller Lesley) I saw a glimmer of purple in the fellow's hands. "Please don't tell me that's a Landranger map" I muttered to Lesley. "Certainly looks like it" came the reply.  Now I don't have anything against Landranger maps, per se, but they're hardly suitable for hill walking and really should come with a disclaimer to that effect.

As luck would have it they set off up towards Esk Pike and the start of the corridor for the second time (but could well have been their sixth attempt for all we knew) just as we were setting off so, being the helpful sort, Lesley enquired if they were lost. "Yeah, thanks. I think we are, we're from Salt Lake City you see and we're trying to find what you Brits call the 'Corridor Trail' to the top of Ska-fell Pike? Is it?" Well that explains it; Americans.  So I could let them off about the whole map thing - however the shop assistant that sold them the map in the knowledge they were going up Scafell Pike needs slapping with said map. Now as they were kind enough to help us out with a little problem we had in the '40's I thought it only right we point them in the direction of the highest point in England.

Dangerous Step

So without further ado we set off on the corridor itself with the couple from Utah in tow.  Or more to the point Lesley set off with the Americans, I hung back with Telfaller as he played at HDR photography with his new iPhone. Compared to the Mickledore approach to Scafell Pike (another trip for another day) the corridor is a gentle route from its beginning at Sty Head.  Whilst very rocky in places it's not a difficult climb as it winds it's way up under Great End, Round How and Broad Crag to  the junction at Lingmell Col.

There's a fair bit of discussion to be had about a "bad" or "dangerous" step on the corridor route, but to be honest there's nothing particularly bad or dangerous to the route, the section shown above is the only place where you need to pay careful attention (though it's actually a step down over a rocky section - the photo above is taken looking back at the obstacle) to your footing and and positioning - with the arrows showing the best route.  As ever, if you've planned properly, are well prepared, and keep a sensible head about you then there should be no surprises.

The Gables

Reaching Lingmell Col affords some superb views over to the Gables and Base Brown, with Derwent water barely visible in the distance to the north.  It's important to pay attention to the paths at this point as it's easy to continue straight on and dive down towards Wasdale. Looking up to your left you can see the borders of the boulder field that makes up the summit of Scafell Pike, along with the path snaking up through it.

This is where the corridor becomes hard going so don't say you weren't warned - unless you used Lingmell Col as an opportunity for a refreshment break.  Heading up through the boulder field is stiff going, very steep and whilst reasonably stable, very rough underfoot.  If, like us, you're plagued by low cloud then it's imperative to keep your eye on the cairns dotted every few metres along the path. We had, at best, 6 metres of visibility so they were much needed as loosing the path would be all too easy in lesser conditions.

You'll know when you've reached the top, however, as it's teeming with people. Even with lousy weather on a Monday afternoon there were a few dozen people hunkered down behind rocks and cairns to get out of the wind. Popularity factor I suppose, highest point in England at 978 metres, so for many people it's a real achievement (or just plain euphoria in my case, I get a real buzz from fell walking) - even though it's within 50 miles of somewhere in the region of 30% of the UK population.

Broad Crag

To make a round trip of it, we dropped down the east path off the summit in the direction of Broad Crag.  By the time we'd reached the pass we'd dropped below the cloud level and had the benefit of a few minutes visibility before ascending into the gloom again.  The path skirts round the back of Broad Crag, in better visibility I'd have been tempted to head straight over the top but didn't want to risk getting lost in the cloud and going off the wrong edge.  Following the cairns around to the right loops the path in the direction of Ill Crag, before straightening off towards an enormous cairn below Great End.

Having a bit of a personal obsession with Great End, we headed up to Long Pike and the 910 metre summit of the final peak of the Scafells. Not quite 80 metres below Scafell Pike, and suddenly the cloud to the northwest lifted, presenting views over Lingmell, Great Gable, and Kirk Fell along with a better appreciation for the top of Great End.  I still find it a beautiful fell.

Sprinkling Tarn

Unfortunately routes off Great End are few and far between so back through the cloud to Calf Cove and the path in the direction Allen Crags.  At this point we headed down towards Sprinkling Tarn, but it wouldn't be a huge amount of effort, and would be just as enjoyable, to continue up onto the crag, passing by High House Tarn, before summiting Glaramara.  From there it's either a descent along the side of Hind Gill or continuing all the way down to Seatoller before walking back along the road to Seathwaite (a longer route but does go by the way of a pub!).

Just before Sprinkling tarn the path branches off to the right to run down the side of Ruddy Gill, by far the prettier of the two trails up to Sty Head from Seathwaite. As before the gill had swelled with the rain of the night before, almost making it a case of wading across but not quite - besides Telfaller needs to get himself some decent boots that don't leak before we do some serious water crossings!

Descending rather steeply along the top of the gorge the path winds its way down the valley towards Stockley bridge where it meets with the Taylorgill Force path we set off upon about 5.5 hours ago. This time we'd reached the bridge without seeing a drop of rain (and done the route in nothing more than a tee shirt and trousers).

To this day we're still uncertain if Terry thought there was a pub at Seathwaite farm or that extra-hot vindaloo from the night before had finally caught up with him, but at this point he set off like the clappers for the car, leaving the pair of us scratching our heads in awe and wonder (awe considering most accidents happen in the last mile or so of walking, and wonder-ing where he was off to...), and to plod back at our own pace.

All in the route was just shy of 6 hours and 9.4 miles.  Not bad considering the kit we were carrying or some lengthy breaks. Next time we'll approach Scafell Pike from the other side, a shorter, steeper route, but with some fun scrambly bits.


The Map



OS Maps: Landranger 89 | Explorer OL6 OL4

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