Church Mosedale and Steeple

The early morning stillness of Wastwater by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe weather looks good enough to walk a full Mosedale Round, it's a long walk so I made an even earlier than usual start and parked the car near Overbeck Bridge at the foot of Yewbarrow where I hoped to finish. I walked along the road to Lingmell House at Wasdale Head to meet Chris who was joining me for the walk. She had been looking at the ascent of Kirk Fell and would probably have accepted the offer of an alternative route but these things have to be done sometimes.

You walk through the car park of the Wasdale Head Inn to where Mosedale Beck passes behind the buildings and turn right. You pass the cottages of Row Head on a rough track going through two gates; after the second one the track narrows to a path that shortly afterwards follows the wall around to the left. Instead of bearing left we went straight ahead through another gate that gives access to Kirk Fell and its direct ascent. There is an eroded section to step up before you get on to the grassy ascent where you can see all the way up to the skyline.

The direct ascent of Kirk Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThese days there are some foot steps trodden into the grass that make the walking a little easier but it is still steep and it's best not to look up to see how far you have to go - better to look down and see how far you have come. When you reach the skyline you were aiming for it is replaced by another one and it becomes clear that you have still got a lot of work to do. It is just as steep and the new skyline is just as far away and just when your legs are ready for something easier the grass becomes scree. There is a line of lighter coloured stones that might be mistaken for a path but you should only go that way if you like to slide two and a half steps down for every three up as you scramble on all fours.

A much better but less obvious route is to walk up the larger stones that are irregularly shaped but generally wedged together so that most of them are quite stable. Taking care to make sure that every rock you step on is secure it is more like climbing steps, steep steps providing some strenuous exercise. You should aim for the group of rocks that you can see sticking up on the skyline, almost directly ahead, to help keep you away from the worst of the slippery stones. I am always fascinated by the steepness and ruggedness of this hill admiring the view is always a good reason for a rest.

View of Dore Head screes from the ascent of Kirk Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerOnce you get to the outcrop of rocks you can walk up easier but still steep ground around them and soon afterwards you get to the top of the long steepness. There is a grassy ledge here that is one of my favourite places, a lawn with a view if ever there was one. The way ahead is not as steep and the obvious stony path is good enough to walk on without any difficulty. There are a couple of large cairns before you reach almost level ground, now you can see where the summit is ahead and you can also see my favourite view of Great Gable. Kirk Fell has a broad summit plateau, you have a walk over quite flat ground before making a short climb to the rocky summit.

There is then quite a long walk on gently sloping but rough bouldery ground, follow the fence posts in the direction of Pillar and even if you can't see Pillar the fence posts are a reliable guide. Keep following the line of the fence posts even when they turn to the right, the cairn at the fence corner could easily mislead you so ignore it. Suddenly the ground falls away but it is the right way down, you generally follow the line of fence posts although the obvious route downwards keeps to a more sensible line than the more adventurously positioned posts.

The steepness of Kirk Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe first rock step might come as a bit of a shock but if you use all points of contact there are reachable footholds even for short legs. It is an interesting descent with an exhilarating view of Black Sail Pass below; once you get to the pass it and look back up it doesn't seem as though there is a practical route down from Kirk Fell. The path upwards towards Pillar on the other side of the pass is obvious and as it levels out there is a faint path bearing right for the purists wishing to visit the the grassy summit of Looking Stead. It is worth that little bit of effort for the view of Ennerdale and for once, a well-lit view of the normally dark side of Pillar. Following more fence posts you make the short descent from Looking Stead and rejoin the main path towards Pillar.

Pillar is a large hill by Lake District standards and further away from a start point than most and there are no quick or easy ways to get back down again. A short distance after you start to climb the path begins to get more rugged and you reach a cairn that could just be a viewpoint looking down to Ennerdale. This viewpoint cairn also marks the start of an unlikely looking path going off to the right, it is the start of the High Level Route. At first you have to descend rough ground and cross a small stony gully and make a short climb up equally rough, steep ground.

View of Scafell from the summit of Kirk Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe narrow path soon levels off, it hugs the steep slope over boulders and some wet places but it follows the contours and in dry conditions is not difficult. Ennerdale lies far below as you walk along the path clinging to the steep slope, there are views of fine rock scenery above and close to you as you pass by an interesting cliff face. You make a slight descent and then re-ascend over more bouldery ground to Robinson's Cairn, an excellent viewpoint for the impressive Pillar Rock and the intriguing Shamrock Traverse.

I can't share the views because this was the point my camera batteries ran out and what I forgot today was my little pack of spares. The easy path stops here as you now go up into the rock; after crossing boulders there is a scree ascent where the bigger stones have been worn away to leave a steep, gravel-like path. This path takes you to the start of the Shamrock Traverse, an easy sloping path to walk in dry weather but you shouldn't forget the steep drop you could see from Robinson's Cairn.

View down to Black Sail Pass on the descent from Kirk Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe only awkward parts of the Shamrock Traverse are sloping slabs that can be wet but are easy to bypass in dry weather - except for the one at the very top. I have seen people clinging onto the rock face as they nervously cross the wet slab, I always jump across the corner nearest the edge, I have to be sure of my footing when I land. Then you have to clamber up a large sloping slab and beyond that you start to climb up rough rocky ground, after the initial section you have a good excuse to rest and admire Pillar Rock ahead of you across a deep stony gully.

I'm sure if Pillar Rock was two feet off the ground I would not have trouble climbing it but the exposure of a long steep drop to Ennerdale makes it out of bounds for me. The climb upwards from here has become very eroded but steepness is the only real problem. For the final climb to the summit there is a rock gully you can climb, it needs a couple of big step-ups and you have to feel for some handholds, alternatively you can traverse over to the right and clamber over boulders in a much wider gully up to the summit plateau.

Follow the fence posts down from Kirk Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerPillar has a big flat rounded top with a group of cairns, shelter and triangulation column at the summit; I would be ungrateful if I complained about the haziness of the view. A line of cairns leads in the direction of Red Pike but the cairns finish as the ground steepens and you can take one of many routes to descend the steep rocky ridge to Wind Gap. The climb upwards on the other side of the gap becomes rougher and stonier as you get higher and you are walking over boulders by the time you get to the summit of Black Sail, one of the better designed subsidiary summits.

Once you get past the rugged summit you will find easy walking on a broad grassy ridge; you have to deliberately keep going straight ahead otherwise you will miss Scoat Fell if you follow the more obvious path as it bends round to the left. As you get near the top of the ascent, the hill is named Little Scoat Fell on the map, you have to walk over the biggest and best boulders of the day before getting to the summit wall. I usually find the gap in the end of the wall so that I am on the right hand side of it as it runs all the along the summit ridge, the summit cairn is actually built on top of the wall.

The start of the High Level Route by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerWhile we were there in the fine conditions it seemed a good idea to go and visit Steeple not much more that ten minutes away. The summit of Steeple is another of my favourite little places, there is a mini arete you can cross to get to it and a short scramble upto its tidy little summit. It is surrounded by steep-sided slopes of shattered rock and it has a splendid view of Ennerdale Water. The quick return to Scoat Fell allows you to walk the mini arete if you missed it on the way over.

Once you get back to the wall on Scoat Fell you need to find a place to step through it and get to the other side. You then make a beeline for Red Pike - you will have to take a compass bearing first if you can't see it. The gradient downwards is easy and most of the time you can walk on grass but some boulder hopping will probably be required in places. Once you get to the col you will find a path going towards Red Pike but it will take an easy line away from the edge. You should keep as close to the edge as possible on a less obvious path for the views of Red Pike's steep and spectacular descent to Mosedale.

On Pillar's High Level Route by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe summit ridge of Red Pike is as easy to walk as the easy path away from the edge but when you re-join the obvious path don't follow it downhill as it turns left or you'll miss this summit too. You need to carry on and make the short climb to the big cairn on the rocky summit of Red Pike, and while you are there carry on following your line of ascent across the bouldery plateau to visit a cairn built in the shape of a chair. You can retrace your steps back to the summit cairn to rejoin the path or just turn left and walk over bouldery ground to pick up the path a little lower down.

You lose a lot of height on the descent to Dore Head, it is straightforward but lengthy enough to be tiring and demoralising near the end of the day but with still a fair way to go. While resting at Dore Head we saw a group of walkers who had kept up with us since Pillar; they decided to descend the Dore Head screes, they will probably survive but it will hurt. The start of our climb of Yewbarrow is a steep eroded path, everything now is harder work after a long walk. Then we got to the rocky bit of Stirrup Crag, an interesting scramble but Chris's legs didn't have the strength left to make some of the bigger steps you need - there will be bruises on her knees and shins where they were brought into use.

View of Pillar Rock from Robinsons Cairn by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe walk along the broad summit ridge of Yewbarrow is easy enough but the final trial of the day is the steep loose descent of the eroded slope down from Bell Rib. You should cross the head of a stony gully when you reach the wall that stops you falling over Dropping Crag for the less uncomfortable way down. Eventually the gradient eases and the erosion is not as severe and you walk to the wall and cross it by a substantial ladder stile. The final descent on grass takes you easily back to the car parked thoughtfully at Overbeck Bridge.

Andy Wallace 6th May 2006

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