Monday, 26 July 2010

Blencathra via Sharp Edge

After the work fortnight from hell which found me at the doctors with chest pains it was time to get back to the things that chill me out in life. My new wife wanted us to spend the day out in the hills together for only the second time this year, lets face it she was hardly going to get an argument from me! She has a few things on her mountain to do list including Scafell Pike, Striding Edge, Tryfan and Sharp Edge. Weather forecast wasn't great but said it would be mostly dry. Last minute, in fact literally as we entered Cumbria she decided on Sharp Edge, a walk I have only done once before myself, the last time on an incredible winters day with my walking mate Rob.

Sharp Edge

We made our way up the M6 in good time to get to the start of the walk at the Scales layby on the A66 by midday. I was trying out my new OMM Adventure Light 20 rucksack today for the first time. This is the most incredibly well thought out minimalist lightweight rucksack, ideal for summer walks. Packing it in the morning was easy and recently I've made an effort to stop taking stupid amounts of gear with me when walking in summer. The financially tight side of me wants my gear to work all year round, but in reality you really do need separate gear for summer as its just pointless carrying and wearing heavy or over specified stuff you don't need in summer. The thing I like most about the pack as well as its ridiculous weight of 445g is the sloped bottle holders on either side which are perfectly placed and shaped, meaning I don't risk pulling my back every time I try to put my drink back. So gear ready we set off up the steep bracken path above Scales. After slogging a few hundred metres up hill I suddenly realised after the indecision of where we were going I'd left the map in the car. I set off back down the hill and got to the car and realised I'd not only forgotten to walk with them, I'd actually forgotten to bring them! I wouldn't ever recommend anyone go out onto the fells without a map but in this case as I had done the walk before, knew it well and looked at it several times the night before.

Nicky in the Glendermackin Valley

We made the steep ascent up the bracken path to skirt over the crags above Mousthwaite Comb. We were soon on top of the ridge separating Mousthwaite Comb and the wild Glendermackin Valley in the desolate 'Back o' Skidda' area. We headed off up the Glendermackin Valley looking up all the time at our first glimpse of Sharp Edge, looking brooding half covered in swirling mist and clouds that kept rising and falling over its dinosaur like profile. After passing dozens of other walkers on the path we headed off left up the newly laid path by Scales Beck. This newly laid path was quite a shock as it wasn't there last time I trod this way, a fine example of how to make a permanent and none intrusive path it is too. It'll be there for decades, looks fairly natural and there is no need for anyone to stray either side of it. We reached the huge glacial amphitheatre of Scales Tarn a place which when less people are around is a wonderful lunching spot, today however there were too many people around to really be able to take it all in. I put my poles away and we got ready for the ascent to the start of Sharp Edge. At this point as is always the case here the ridge separates those who are less experienced from the braver as the in experienced take the easier alternative on to Scales Fell from the other side of the tarn.

Nicky on Sharp Edge

We got on the ridge and the fun started. Its a shame there are not more ridges like Crib Goch, Striding Edge and Sharp Edge around. They are the most fun you can have on a mountain in my opinion. Having to concentrate your brain and exercise every part of your body is so invigorating. Knowing full well that any mistake in these situations could realistically be fatal adds extra fear and fun at the same time in a weird way. You feel at one with a mountain when you are exploring it and walking over it, but to be clinging on to it for dear life is one step further! The ridges pointy and crumbly old rocks, Blencathra being made of Europe's oldest rock, were not wet despite the looming clouds and mist. A good thing as we approached the infamous 'Bad Step' a large piece of smooth angled rock that is a regular haunt of the local Mountain Rescue teams. We passed safely over the Bad Step and moved on towards the final part of ridge. The final part of the ridge is a steep but fun climb which eventually tops out on the saddle between Blencathra and Atkinson Pike.

Nicky on the final part of Sharp Edge

Once on the summit we strayed off path slightly, running parallel to the usual path and looking for the cross made of white stones that I've seen on photos and Google Maps. We never found it and all we saw was sheep. Looking at Google Maps now, I can see that we were not far from it, but as we had no map wandering off in the mist was kept to a minimum. We reached the summit and the views were, erm well there wasn't any! We took a photo and decided it probably wasn't the best idea to stand or sit around on the windy summit  so we set off down Halls Fell Ridge. I wasn't too sure if Halls Fell Ridge came straight off the summit and had no map but was fortunate to find another mapped walker who let me look and confirm it was off the summit. We headed off down the rocky descent of Hall's Fell Ridge. The ridge was good fun, not as hands on as Sharp Edge obviously but still good fun and usually the views off it are incredible. This way down seemed to take a very long time and after confirming on a map I now know why as it is four times longer than Sharp Edge, which makes sense really as you are going the full drop from mountain summit to the A66 which you are not at all when you come up the other way.

Hairy Caterpillar

We saw a big hairy caterpillar on our way down the final descent off Halls Fell Ridge. As we got towards the easier end of the ridge we were reaching the cloud line and as we came from under the clouds the views were glorious. An endless patchwork of sun lit farmers fields led away from the mountain in all shades possible. To our left and right were two of the other ridges that head off the tougher south side of Blencathra. To our left Doddick Gill looked great with walkers silhouetted on its fine ridge line and to our right the darker Gategill Fell.When we reached the crossing at Gate Gill we headed left along the path which skirts the top of the farmers last wall all the way back to Scales.

Nicky descending Halls Fell Ridge

I was sad to see that the farmer has still kept up the stupidly protective barbed wire covered gate at Doddick Gill, I wouldn't mind so much if he'd used the section above the fields but it is still open moorland. To be honest the path all the way back to Scales needs to be improved as it is a fairly busy route and it has a few dodgy sections. The unavoidable slippery rocks that you have to descend to get down to the crossing at Scaley Beck could be avoidable if the farmer would let the path go a tiny detour round the rocks into his field. Sadly I predict someone will really badly injure themselves there. We luckily managed the slippery rocks though the people after us seemed to struggle, I myself fell on the path just before as the soil path is wearing away on the drop side but you can't actually see it under the bracken. Except for these unfortunate spots it is a nice route back to Scales but to be honest I'd be tempted by the road instead next time which is sad. When we got back towards Scales we stood by the conifers above the farm and watched in amazement as two Swallows flew almost bat like around our heads backwards and forwards. A great day out on a great mountain, just a shame we didn't get to see the magnificent views that can be had from her summit.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...


  1. Ha! Compare that second photo to this: - almost exactly the same spot, just a few months earlier!

    Tell me you find that as exciting as I do. Please.....

  2. Ha Ha that is ace, I was expecting the same conditions, not that! :-)

  3. I have two photos on the summit of Ben Nevis, one with eleven foot of snow and one with no snow, I'll dig it out and send it to you.

  4. Brill photos TB.I climbed Hall's Fell once and found that bit in the gill the hardest.

  5. Fantastic photos of a great ridge to do. Need to do Halls Fell ridge one day as well - it looks exciting. Sharp Edge was a joy to do a long time ago with a friend who hates heights. Still he made it.

  6. Cracking site, keep up the good work,

  7. Great commentary and site, I was going to do Hallsfell ridge at some point last week but ended up doing other things.

  8. A goor scramble with a wee narrow ridge can be found on Grassmoor, Buttermere ;)

    Check it out - you won't be disappointed - moreover the way ahead in places is hidden from view and so adds that little something extra to keep you on the edge, so to speak

  9. Terry that sounds good, I haven't done Grasmoor yet but it always looks like a big rounded bulk from most angles I have seen it from. Which direction is the ridge approach from, is it the ridge on the north side of it coming up from the beck and to the left of Dove Crags on the map?

  10. Great photos and a Mrs Trekking Britain too! Mrs M, bless her cotton socks, has little interest in hillwalking and wild camping & still doesn't fully understand the fascination for me. She tolerates it rather like a mother does when her son comes in all muddy...