Sunday, 19 July 2015

Blencathra via Scales Tarn Walk

I was due a wet day in the mountains. To the annoyance of others, I am normally extremely lucky with the weather. The last few times I have booked a Monday off work I have been gifted perfect conditions. I watched the weather forecast at least a dozen times last week hoping it would change. A two thousand mile long weather front over the Atlantic, mimicking the Pacific's El Nino effect, was lining up to hit Britain. Its first target was Northern England and North Wales. Every forecast showed rain covering the nearby national parks of Snowdonia, the Lake District and the Peak District. I invited along Maria's young cousin Anthony who has just finished his exams. Anthony already had plans for Monday afternoon so our time scale was reduced to setting off early Monday morning and returning early afternoon. This was Anthony's first proper mountain so I wanted it to be something impressive. He is also a fit young man, so I wanted it to be challenging. I wanted something challenging for myself too as I'm feeling fit again after returning to regular football and cycling almost five hundred miles in the last two months commuting to work. The only saving grace with the weather was that the direction of the approaching weather meant western hills would take the brunt and there may be a chance of higher cloud base and less rain on the more sheltered eastern hills. With that in mind I decided the Eastern Fells or North Eastern Fells would be ideal. One mountain that is both impressive and accessible is Blencathra. It lies on the edge of the A66 trunk road just ten minutes after leaving the M6 motorway. It is a fascinating mountain with stunning views and has a variety of ascent and descant routes for all abilities and weather conditions. Blencathra it was then and the route would be decided in the morning and depend on the weather.

Anthony ascending the crags above Mousthwaite Comb.

I picked up Anthony at 6am and the weather wasn't too bad. It didn't start raining until we reached the border of Lancashire and Cumbria. As we passed the Howgills though it was absolutely bucketing it down and I was doubting my plan of finding shelter on the North Eastern Fells. We kept laughing at the rain thinking what absolute nutters we must be to be heading to the hills on a day like today. I was impressed by Anthony's positive attitude, he wasn't at all phased by the prospect of walking up a mountain in the rain. Fortunately the rain slowed down and stopped for a while as we descended Shap. When we reached the layby on the A66 it was reduced to drizzle. The cloud base was very low at around just four hundred metres. I really wanted to do Hall's Fell Ridge to give Anthony a taste for ridge walking but also wanted to show Anthony the picturesque Scales Tarn. Given the weather I decided that via Scales Tarn would be the best ascent route. Sharp Edge is probably pushing it for a newbie and to be honest I'm not even comfortable doing it myself on a wet day like today. If the weather improves we could descend Hall's Fell Ridge and if it doesn't we would descend the simpler Scales Fell path.

Anthony on the path along the Glenderamackin Valley.

At Scales we headed west along the pavement of the A66 for a few hundred metres to reach the footpath through the farm. The path was flanked by stunning fox gloves as tall as ourselves. We spotted a few white Rabbit bottoms bouncing away from us in the farm fields. We headed through the gate onto the open land above the farm and turn right ascending the path through thick bracken. Anthony had shorts on so I told him to check for ticks afterwards as they love hanging off bracken waiting to attach themselves to passers by. As we ascended the crags above Mousthwaite Comb it became apparent how humid it was. I have to admit I had forgotten how tricky and narrow this route over the Mousthwaite Comb crags can be when its wet. The drops on your right are quite leg wobbling. The path leveled out as we reached the col between Scales Fell and South Fell. We turned left and headed west along the easy route up the upper Glenderamackin Valley. Anthony has just bought a decent mountain bike and the path on the other side of the valley to Mungrisdale caught his eye as a possible descent route. The views didn't last too long unfortunately as the cloud came in as we were making our way towards Scales Beck and the rain got heavier.

Looking back down the Glenderamackin Valley.

Anthony approaching Scales Beck.

We crossed the Scales Beck and ascended perfectly laid path. Anthony commented on how well laid the path. I therefore felt obliged to bore him by explaining how the paths are laid by volunteers and showing him some of the visible drainage techniques used. I was disappointed when we reached Scales Tarn as I had hoped to impress Anthony with the stunning glacial hollow back by the huge Tarn Crags and flanked by the incredible Sharp Edge ridge. Instead we could literally only see about a dozen feet in front of ourselves. I bored him again by explaining to him what it would normally look like and what he was missing. I was impressed when he gave me the correct response of "we'll have to come back and do it on a good day then".

Anthony at an eerie looking Scales Tarn.

From Scales Tarn we made our way up the loose path from Scales Tarn to the summit. This path is calf burning in places as you are often walking on your tip toes due to the steep gradient. I think if Anthony hadn't been there I may have stopped for a lot more breaks, his youthful fitness was showing me up and I felt obliged to kept up so kept going. I continued to annoy Anthony telling him how amazing the views would have been had it been clear. After a stiff climb in rain and wind we reached the summit plateau where we turned left and made our way to the summit. The summit is easy to find by heading towards the highest ground and looking out for the ordnance survey trigonometrical station ring on the floor.

Anthony at the summit of Blencthra, Lake District.

Myself at the summit of Blencathra, Lake District.

The weather wasn't great on the exposed summit. Neither of us wanted to hang around with no views and having rain blasted into our face by the wind. We took a quick photo of each other then decided to get off the summit. We descended the same path to find the top of the Scales Fell path which we passed on our way to the summit. We found the top of the Scales Fell path and descended the easy going zig zags. As we made our way back down to the col between Scales Fell and Souther Fell we came out of the clouds and the views opened up again towards Souther Fell and the upper Glenderamackin Valley.

Anthony descending Blencathra via Scales Fell.

Souther Fell from Scales Fell, Lake District.
At the col we turned right and made our way back down the narrow path over the Mousthwaite Comb crags. Anthony slipped at one point whilst making his way over a tricky section. He was amused by my worried reaction. He has no idea how much I feared my own death had I returned home to explain that he had slipped off down a steep crag. We returned to Scales via the path through the bracken and arrived at the car like drowned rats.

Anthony above Mousthwaite Comb, Lake District.
We managed to get all the way to the summit and back to the car in an impressive two hours and fifty minutes. We didn't see a single other person in that time as it was Monday morning and no one else was daft enough to walk up a mountain in that weather. I will definitely invite Anthony again as he is certainly fit enough and he enjoyed it despite the awful weather which would have put most people off hill walking for life. We visited Keswick on the way home to get fudge for those back home and enjoyed a well deserved breakfast bap and pot of tea from the Wild Strawberry Coffee Shop. There was an incident in the public toilets at Keswick which involved me trying to dry every part of my body the twisted hand dryer nozzle could reach, but the less said about that the better.

Anthony looking towards Clough Head, Lake District.

Route Map...

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