Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Short Walk in the Western Fells

Only the seasoned Wainwright bagger and local residents of West Cumbria will ever have heard of the hill called Grike but for everyone else it's the westernmost of the Wainwrights or Lake District
western lakes
The early part of the walk looking to Blake Fell
Fells, and stands next to Crag Fell whose far side rises splendidly above Ennerdale Water. In the mist and rain this area is bleak and lonely indeed but when the sun shines it reveals a side of the Lake District most tourists never see. Lonely it certainly is but that is part of its appeal.

Leaving the minor road that links Gosforth and Ennerdale Bridge I followed the track that leads into the hills from just south of Kinniside Stone Circle. The ancient monument itself is well worth a visit before setting out and if you're not walking is a worthwhile destination in itself. The track led over open fields before reaching patchy coniferous forest beyond a gate and climbing at an
easy gradient to meet another track coming up from woodland below. Crossing this trail, the open fellside was gained close to a low col and I took the left hand of two tracks in a roughly easterly direction over open grassland. After a short distance - perhaps a kilometre or so - I left the trail and crossed a stile to climb the sheep cropped turf to the left up to the large cairn on the summit of Grike.

At 488m this is no great height but its position as the westernmost of the Wainwrights affords a wide view over the West Cumbrian Plain and the Irish Sea as well as ahead where the grassland rises steadily towards the more rugged terrain of Pillar, Scoat Fell and Haycock on the horizon. Leaving the cairn I headed on down into the dip between here and Crag Fell which is slightly higher at 523m. The low ground is boggy and it's maybe better to
western lake district fells
Pillar Scoat Fell and Haycock from the summit of Grike
return to the track which lies just beyond the communications mast right of the dip but I didn't and got slightly wet.

The top of Crag Fell is impressive for a lesser fell and commands an eye catching panorama of the head of Ennerdale above a steep drop to Ennerdale Water. It is well worth journeying the short distance beyond the cairn to the next minor summit where the view is even better and brought to mind the walk along the top of the Screes from Whin Rigg to Illgill Head above nearby Wastwater.

These lower hills often provide an experience in excess of their stature and these two remote and
Ennerdale Water
The wild head of Ennerdale from Crag Fell
seldom visited summits are no exception though today the weather contributed to the experience with blue skies and far off views forming a backdrop to the empty miles of Lakeland's western rim. What had started as a mere peak bagging exercise to achieve two more ticks towards finishing the Wainwrights became a fine walk in itself.To return I merely headed south from Crag Fell to join the original track further up and follow it back to where I had started for a total outing of just under 9km or 6 miles.

Friday, 4 September 2015

The High Level Route to Pillar - a Venture into Mountaineering

Pillar has always been one of my favorite mountains of the Lake District but for some reason I had never walked the so called High Level Route until a week or so ago which was a shame as it turned out to be one of the best walks in the area. The trail leaves Black Sail Pass; the col that links Wasdale Head with Ennerdale, and initially follows the usual route to Pillar along the first part of the ridge. After Looking Stead which is worth a visit in itself as a viewpoint, a cairn is seen a short way up the path to Pillar. Here a path leads off to the right and follows an exciting route across the rugged mountainsides overlooking the wild upper reaches of Ennerdale and leading to the summit above the great bastion of Pillar Rock.

This route ventures into mountaineering territory though if the path is kept to it remains easy throughout.and is undoubtedly the finest way to Pillar. I wouldn't do it in the snow without the right gear as there are a few places where it wouldn't be good to slip but the path is easy to follow most of the way This is very much a walk on Lakeland's wild side with the unpopulated Ennerdale being below throughout and despite it being a great route I had it to myself today.. The track along Ennerdale makes a great bike ride (MTB) and there's a link at the end of the post to that and also on the route to Black Sail itself.
bridge in the lake district
This is a beautiful bridge (behind the pub at Wasdale Head) but don't cross it as its the wrong way - carry straight on and bear left over a stile into Mosedale for the way to Black Sail.
Walking in the Lake District - Ennerdale
Looking down to Ennerdale from the first part of the High Level Route - the River Liza and the track to the Black Sail Youth Hostel can clearly be seen. That track is great on a mountain bike.
walking in the lake district
The way is usually clear and always easy - as long as you don't leave the path...
great gable from the high level route
Looking back along the trail from some way before Robinson's Cairn - the path can clearly be seen with Looking Stead (left) and Great Gable in the distance
walking in the lakes - ennerdale from pillar
From Robinson's Cairn there's a wonderful view of the wild upper reaches of Ennerdale with Great Gable at its head
pillar rock and the shamrock traverse
Ahead from Robinson's Cairn with the 200m high bulk of Pillar Rock barring the way. The route goes up the low rock ridge in the foreground and across the ledge top left - the Shamrock Traverse.
The start of the Shamrock Traverse - it looks daunting from below but the way is wide and not too exposed though You would need to gear up if it was icy.
pillar rock from the high level route
Above the Shamrock Traverse there are great views back over the top of the Rock to the High Stile Range
pillar rock from above
Looking back down to the Rock and Ennerdale 2000 feet below from near the summit - High stile and Grasmoor beyond
The summit of Pillar 2928ft is level ground in contrast to the route we've just followed; Great Gable, Great End Scafell Pike and Scafell beyond.
The way down to Wasdale (or Ennerdale) is by the usual route to Pillar. Here's a link to the bike trail through Ennerdale and the first part of the Four Valleys Walk describes the way to Black Sail Pass from Wasdale.

Pete Buckley Sept 2015
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Friday, 24 April 2015

The Lake District Four Valleys Walk

Circular walk from Wasdale Head
The approximate route taken without diversions
The topography of the western Lake District is so aligned that four of the seven main valleys converge on the relatively small area between Great Gable and Honister Pass. The advantage of this to the hiker is that these four valleys can be linked by a circular walk through some of the finest scenery in the National Park that is no more than a longish day's outing in the fells.

This route which I've called here the Four Valleys Walk leaves Wasdale Head to cross Black Sail into Ennerdale before skirting the very upper reaches of the Buttermere valley and returning over Brandreth and Green Gable to Styhead Tarn in Borrowdale. From here the return is over Styhead Pass to Wasdale and the start point. My deviation to the fell called Base Brown - the only Wainwright in the region I had not climbed - added 2 miles and considerable ascent but a better diversion would be Great Gable if you haven't been up there before. Without deviations it's a walk of 15k or about nine and a half miles and an ascent of 3700ft. Great Gable adds 500 feet of ascent and perhaps half a mile (you can return from the summit directly to Styhead) while my version was eleven and a half miles and 4200 feet of ascent which fully justified the pint in the Head afterwards.

If some of the photos look as though they were taken on different days it's because they were - my camera died and I was forced to dig out old pictures along the route and no - I did not spend the whole day in the Wasdale Head Hotel!
mosedale and pillar
Pillar and Mosedale in early morning light

There was something satisfying about being up at 6AM in a Wasdale Head that I seemed to have completely to myself. A short breakfast and I headed up past the pub and along the bank of the stream - the route here goes left in front of the shop, past the bar entrance at the side and right along the river bank - until I left the valley track and turned left into Mosedale with Pillar at its head and the seemingly unbroken wall of Yewbarrow and Red Pike on the left. For a while at least I was alone as the early light painted the fells in rich reds and golds that revealed every fold of the hills.

The path soon steepened as the climb to Black Sail was reached and hard work replaced serenity. After crossing the stream I climbed steeply to gain the upper valley before the gradient relented. The line of sunlight moved steadily lower until it reached me as I gained Black Sail Pass. Here I left the Wasdale Valley and entered the wilds of Ennerdale; the upper reaches of which are only accessible to the walker and the mountain biker as no road extends up here.

Lakeland fells at dawn
Walking up Mosedale from Wasdale Head at dawn
After pausing to admire the sublime scenery of the pass - if you head a short way north west along the ridge to Looking Stead the views are even better - I followed the path down in warm sunlight to the wooden footbridge that crosses the River Liza in the valley floor. The valley here is still a thousand feet above sea level so its a short descent and a nice one in almost any weather. This area is one of my favorite in the Lakes and always reminds me more of the remote Scottish highlands than the relatively busy Lake District but the hordes don't come here - they would have to walk too far from their cars! After the bridge which is a short distance up the path from the Youth Hostel I headed right towards Great Gable at the head of Ennerdale. For this walk it's essential to follow one of the paths up to the left before a prominent ridge is reached that rises ahead to Green Gable. The path to the right of this is the route to Great Gable but that's another walk.
from black sail looking towards honister
Black Sail Pass is the route into Ennerdale from Wasdale

Presently I joined a good path that climbed steeply in a shady gully to gain the edge of the plateau above. The route isn't obvious from nearer the Youth Hostel but it becomes clear as the aforementioned ridge is approached. From up here on the high ground connecting Haystacks with Brandreth and Grey Knotts a new vista opened up of the Buttermere valley with Grasmoor beyond and following the path roughly eastwards past a fence took me into the heathery upper reaches of that valley towards Fleetwith Pike and Honister. That is where this path heads to but only as far as where it met the Honister to Great Gable path.

My first actual summit of the morning  - and it was still early - was Brandreth which I reached after 3000 feet of ascent and sat down to enjoy the views down to Buttermere and Crummock Water on one side and my final valley of Borrowdale on the other. From here it was just a case of following the wide easy ridge towards Green Gable though I deviated to Base Brown which was the one
Ennerdale and high crag
The beautiful upper part of Ennerdale is 6 miles from the road
"Wainwright" of the area I had not climbed. It was a a nice place for lunch but further than it looked and meant I had ascended precisely 4000 feet by the time I'd reached Green Gable. The path up on the left side of the ridge led on to Great Gable but I had no need to go up again - it's a steep and stony climb but not hard and well worth doing if you haven't been up before though there are easier ways up Great Gable than trekking through four Lakeland valleys!

My way led finally down to the left which again was very rough and stony at first but soon met a path constructed of stone steps that made the going easier down to Styhead Tarn about a thousand feet lower in the Upper part of the fourth valley - Borrowdale. In places the river must run a little way underground as it can be heard out of sight below the stones - frustrating if you had run out of water on a warm day. The path
path to ennerdale youth hostel
The path crosses the River Liza just above the Youth Hostel
here to the left goes to Seathwaite while my route led a little way up to Styhead Pass and on down back to Wasdale Head which comes into sight just after the pass indicating that it is all downhill from here. Once in the valley, the path passes the Church of St Olaf which is reputedly England's smallest before emerging at the Green just past the small campsite. From here the pub is not far...

High stile and the Buttermere Valley
High Stile and Grasmoor frame the Buttermere Valley
Pete Buckley April 2015
Ennerdale from green gable
Pillar and Ennerdale from the summit of Green Gable

Styhead tarn and Great End
Styhead Tarn in the upper reaches of Borrowdale with Great End beyond

wasdale head lakeland
Back into Wasdale Head from Styhead Pass after coming full circle

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Hiking in the Lake District - Across England's Highest Peak

Slightly out of breath from the steep climb we stopped by the stream that cascaded down from Great Gable and decided to fill our water bottles with the cold refreshing water.   Since we had crossed the wooden footbridge down below, the level valley path from Wasdale Head past the tiny church of st Olaf and the sheepfolds of Burnthwaite had become a relentless stony climb. It's one I've done many times though but this was different because I was taking my eldest son Josh up England's highest peak Scafell Pike after a camp in the valley and it brought to mind the many times I had followed my own father up these same trails.

Our objective appeared from the mists across the valley in the early morning light as we watched; sporting a few remnants of winter snow above the wild and craggy confines of Sty Head. It was good to have the place to ourselves and we set off again towards the top of the pass which was not far now.

from the path to styhead
Our first view of Scafell Pike from the path to Styhead Pass

Sty Head is as much a crossroads in the hills as a pass with the path we were on linking Wasdale and Borrowdale, while a good path heads right (roughly south east) towards Langdale. Up to the left is the path to Great Gable from where steep and rough trails lead down towards Ennerdale,

styhead tarn and green gable
Styhead Tarn occupies an idyllic place in the hills just below the pass of the same name. The fell beyond is Green Gable

sprinkling tarn on seathwaite fell
Sprinkling Tarn at 2000 ft on the route has the dubious honour of being the rainiest place in England

We followed the right hand path past the idyllic Sty Head Tarn and up below the dark crags of Great End to Sprinkling Tarn at almost 2000 feet. This lonely stretch of water has the dubious honour of being the wettest place in England and though it wasn't raining at the moment the early sun appeared to be having second thoughts. After the tarn where the path forks, the right one is taken for Scafell Pike; the other being the route to Langdale. This section is particularly easy being on constructed trails up moderate gradients heading firstly in a southerly direction to Esk Hause and then curving more to the West around Great End to a high col that offers views back down to Sty Head and a sense that one is getting somewhere.

A false sense of security is given to all unfamiliar with the mountain by this easy section; Scafell Pike is still around a mile away across some of the roughest ground in the Lake District. Up to the left (roughly south west) from the col soon leads to the boulder fields; the marker cairns offer a way that avoids the worst of the boulder hopping but even though I have been here many times Istill had to look carefully for the route. The dip down to Little Narrowcove and the final steep ascent to the Pike was almost welcome after the rocks and soon we stood on the highest ground in England, 3210 feet or 978m above sea level.

climbing scafell pike
Josh had almost made it - this is on the rough section with the summit beyond

summit of scafell pike with great gable
At 3210ft or 978m Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England. The peak visible on the right is Great Gable(2949ft/899m) with Pillar and Kirk Fell on the left
For the route down we followed the well marked path north-westwards towards Lingmell Col which is good for the Corridor Route back to Styhead or the so called "Brown Tongue" route which is the shortest way to Wasdale Head from the summit and a long stony descent followed, passing the turn off on the right for the Corridor. The path then curved around and down to the left onto easier grassy terrain as we had opted for Brown Tongue which algthough a little tedious in ascent offers a quick way down and meant we would have traversed the peak and come down the other side. Once on the constructed pathway which consists of many hundreds of stone steps the way is obvious - the only choices being at the bottom of the steep slope after crossing the river where the main path carries on (to the National Trust campsite) and a path heads off across the slope to the right. This goes to the Green and Wasdale Head Hotel and was our way back to the car.

Styhead Tarn from Scafell Pike
From just below the summit we looked back down to Styhead Tarn that we passed earlier. Great End is on the right
on the path to scafell pike
Looking back up to Mickledore the ridge that separates Scafell and Scafell Pike from the region known as Hollow Stones on the route down

A welcome sight at the end of the walk though the photo was actually taken from the Green as we set off
The route as we walked it is a circular one of 12.5km or about eight miles and just over 3000ft (914m) of ascent and descent that effectively makes a traverse or crossing of Scafell Pike. The terrain is excessively rough and stony for most of the way and will seem further than 8 miles but it's worth the effort on a day with a view and is within the capabilities of most reasonably fit people. Wasdale Head has a couple of campites and B&b's as well as the hotel which is a welcome sight after the walk. Allow a good 5-6 hrs with stops.

Pete Buckley April 2014

Monday, 31 March 2014

Walking in the Lake District - Grasmere, Easedale and Tarn Crag

The secluded valley of Easedale just a stone's throw from bustling Grasmere is a popular destination for tourists who walk up into the hills from the village to Easedale Tarn; yet until very recently it was the only valley of any size in the Lake District that I'd never visited.

So taking advantage of a weather window - well it had stopped raining - I set out from Grasmere's Butharlyp How Youth Hostel to go take a look at Easedale Tarn and ascend Tarn Crag which is an interesting looking sub-2000 Wainwright that rises directly above it.

Path from Grasmere to Easedale Tarn
Leaving Gramere the path heads through the lower part of Easedale with Tarn crag seen ahead

The path from Grasmere lies firstly along a lane conveniently named Easedale Road that heads past the Youth hostel and on towards the base of Helm Crag (aka the Lion and the Lamb). The path is signed off to the left through a gate and over the beck after perhaps half a mile where the route to Helm Crag carries straight on. Just a short way through some woods and the view ahead is of the Central Fells at the head of Easedale.

At a stone bridge on the right there is the choice of crossing the beck though I kept straight on - both trails lead to Easedale Tarn and fording the river is easy at the outflow of the tarn.

The path makes a steady ascent from the flat valley floor, following the beck which is called Sour Milk Gill,  past an impressive waterfall and on up to Easedale Tarn. The tarn lies in a rugged hollow in the fells that contrasts finely with the pastoral nature of the lower part of the valley.
Easedale tarn above Grasmere
The wild looking surroundings of Easedale Tarn contrasts with the valley below
 This is a worthwhile destination for a short and easy day out but I crossed the outflow  at some stepping stones and journeyed a little way around its right hand side picking up a faint path heading up the steep slopes above the water. The path became clearer higher up and as the gradient eased; emerged on the wide grassy ridge above. I now headed up to the left with the peak of Tarn Crag rising ahead.
Path from Easedale Tarn to Tarn Crag
A faint path leads up the wide grassy ridge towards Tarn Crag whose summit is the obvious peak straight ahead. The route is easier and shorter than it looks in the picture!

Tarn Crag; despite its modest altitude is of an imposing appearance but the easy path heads up between its two peaks - the highest being the pointed one on the right - and doubles back to gain the cairn which is perched on a fine eyrie overlooking Easedale and the Grasmere valley. Here the wind blew harder and the mist had now come in so I ventured back below the crest to eat my lunch on a comfortable rock just below the ridge separating the two summits.

Tarn Crag in the Central Lake District
Looking towards Fairfield and Helvellyn from my lunch place just below the top of Tarn Crag.
In clearer weather the views would impress from here but today everything above about 1800 ft was obscured though Easedale Tarn and the Grasmere valley made a pleasant backdrop to my downhill walk before the rain once more made its return. At least it had the decency to wait until I was back at Grasmere.

Lakeland mountain tarn in the Central Fells
The lonely situation of Easedale Tarn is clear from the walk back down Tarn Crag

views of lakeland tarns
I liked this spot so finished my lunch here - it was a short way around the tarn looking towards the outflow where the paths emerge

The walk in total is 6 miles return (four if you only go as far as the tarn) and reaches a maximum height of 1801 feet. The tarn lies at just under 1000 feet. Grasmere has a profusion of hotels, guest houses and B&B's though I stayed at the youth hostel which is a five minute walk from the village.

Pete Buckley March 2014

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Walking in the Lake District - Buttermere and Haystacks

Despite a modest altitude of 597m or 1962 feet; Haystacks; which rises above Buttermere, is probably one of the most popular ascents in all the Lake District. The fell's popularity is well deserved and stems from its rugged nature and easy access from Buttermere as well as the fact that it was among the favorites of Wainwright; whose guidebooks to the Lakes are still - and probably always will be - without compare. The summit with its little tarns and rugged outcrops was in fact the author's final resting place.

Haystacks seen across Buttermere
Haystacks on the left seen from the Buttermere lakeside path

I wondered then on a recent trip to Buttermere, why I had never climbed Haystacks and so set out to remedy the situation. A lakeside path circuits Buttermere so from the village either shore can be taken with the northern side being my choice today. A short section of road led to Gatesgarth Farm (where you can park for a reasonable £3 at the time of writing) but this would miss out the beautiful shoreline views and Haystacks is not a long walk anyway.

From Gatesgarth a wide track crosses fields and circuits the southern side of the lake but my track branched steeply uphill and off to the left climbing steadily towards Scarth Gap; the pass to neighboring Ennerdale.
Haystacks from the path to Scarth Gap
Looking across the steep slopes of Haystacks from the Scarth Gap path
Climbing high above the head of the Buttermere Valley with the thin grey ribbon of the Honister Road below, the bulk of Fleetwith Pike opposite and the castle-like crags of Haystacks up ahead, I followed the wide path up to Scarth Gap. a short way down the other side is the Black Sail Youth Hostel in a wonderfully wild spot near the head of Ennerdale and over six miles from the road but my way led up to the left - and seemed to coincide with everyone else's.

Grasmoor and Buttermere from Scarth Gap
And looking back downtowards Buttermere from a little further on. Grasmoor in the background
The path from here to Haystacks - despite being busy - is an interesting and occasionally exciting route. The route is never in doubt and winds its way between crags and up little gullies with the occasional easy scramble, to quickly gain the summit plateau. You are up close and personal with some very rough and steep terrain but if the path is stuck to there are no difficulties.

Summit ridge of Haystacks
The summit of Haystacks consists of a short rocky ridge raised slightly above the plateau. The picture was taken from the cairn though both ends are of roughly equal height.

Haystacks summit cairn with Great Gable
From my lunch stop on the top, Green Gable, Great Gable and Kirk Fell across the top of Ennerdale

Considering the relative height of this peak in relation to its neighbors, the summit views are impressive to say the least. Great Gable and Pillar along with the wild upper reaches of Ennerdale impress the most while High Crag at the end of the High Stile Ridge appears of vast proportions across Scarth Gap. Despite the picnicking families I secured a comfortable rock just below the cairn which was a great spot for lunch.

Ascent 500m/1640ft  >>> Descent 500m/1640ft >>> How far? 10.4km/6.5 miles
Distance is from Buttermere Youth Hostel

Pete Buckley October 2013

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Walking in the Lake District - a Return to Scafell Pike

One Spring day thirty something years ago, two boys set out with their fathers to climb England's highest mountain. Myself, Dad, Cousin Brian and Uncle Gordon headed up the Sty Head track from Wasdale before following the trail passing beside Sprinkling Tarn beneath the gaunt and sombre crags of Great End. All were going well and the intrepid party were confident of success when as happens all too often in the
Lakes; the weather had the last say.

So it was that at our high point of just under 2400 feet by the shelter below Esk Hause, in rapidly deteriorating conditions, the decision was made to abandon the quest and bring to a close my first real experience of fellwalking.

Much more recently on an October morning when cloud hung about the high summits, just two of the original party set off once again from Wasdale to complete the route we had started years earlier. This time I acted as guide having climbed the Pike many times while Brian made the trip in memory of his dad - my Uncle Gordon - who sadly is no longer with us.

Great Gable from Wasdale Head
The weather was still fairly clear as we set off on the Sty Head path from Wasdale below the peak of Great Gable

Styhead Tarn
As we reached the top of the pass Styhead Tarn comes into view. the path down that side goes to Seathwaite in Borrowdale though our route lay up to the right

Between Styhead and Esk Hause
Brian on the path above Styhead Pass as we approached Sprinkling Tarn.This trail goes to Langdale... eventually.  Great Gable is the mountain behind.

Sprinkling Tarn
At almost 2000 feet Sprinkling Tarn is the higher of the two tarns on this route. It has the dubious honor of being the wettest place in England

Scafell Pike path
The upper part of the route to Scafell Pike leads across a rough and  stony landscape between the 3000 foot high subsidiary summits of Ill Crag and Broad Crag

The summit of Scafell Pike
At last the top! Looking out over Morecambe Bay from the highest mountain in England

And so we had climbed the mountain by the route we had set out on the first time around - the easiest way though not the shortest - by Esk Hause. Our return was by the Corridor Route which is a fine path and links Styhead Pass with Lingmell Col below and to the North of the summit.The paths are easy but rough in places and we were surprised at the number of people still going up at this late hour and as it turned out, our  own adventure was not yet over. 

Descending the corridor route just beyond the deep chasm of Piers Ghyll. we became aware of people clearly in some distress. They turned out to be a father and son team who on attempting to descend the slopes down to the Left had got into difficulty. They were able luckily  to rejoin us when they spotted where we were on the right path.

For those who know this route we were just below the short rocky step that you scramble down when climbing from Sty Head and the way was not so obvious in descent where the step has to be climbed. It was marked with a cairn but in the fading light and worsening weather (that's why there's no more photos) the two had missed it. The step could appear daunting from below but there is an easy path ten or fifteen feet above!

Brian led the way and I followed the man and boy - who was a similar age to the two boys at the start of this story - up the rocks to the easy path above where they were back on safe ground. At least our return to Scafell Pike had done some good. This route is a safe corridor through a maze of crags and deep gullies so it is always best to stick to the main path unless you know it really well!

Pete Buckley June 2013

Start and finish at The Green, Wasdale Head  >>> How Far? 14.5km/9 miles >>> Total Ascent? 3200ft/975m >>> Highpoint Scafell Pike 3210ft/978m