Cam Spout cragged

Gorse at the bottom of Lingmell Gill by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe traditional start to my Wasdale season is not the highest mountain in England but the best. The weather was dry and bright when I got to Wasdale but there was a considerable amount of mist on the higher fell tops. I called in to say hello to Guy in the Barn Door Shop at Wasdale Head but parked the car at Brackenclose.

Out of the car park you turn left and follow the path alongside Lingmell Gill through the gorse which is in full bloom and then through trees as the path rises fairly easily at first. Once you get past the trees the crags of Scafell come into view if there is no mist but usually the mist comes into view. You go through a kissing gate and the level path that takes you to Lingmell Gill is the last easy section for a while.

The Brown Tongue route by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerUse the rocks in the stream bed to ford Lingmell Gill, in dry weather it is easy to get across and keep your feet dry. Once across the gill there is a constructed path that is one of the hardest slogs in the Lake District, at least an hour before you get to the fork in the path. At the fork it is left for Lingmell col and the Three Peaks route to Scafell Pike, take the right branch for Scafell which is where I am going today.

I was hoping the mist might have cleared by now but it seems to be thickening as I cross the plateau of Hollow Stones and then start to climb again. There is no mistaking the big boulder, it is room high and the path goes between it and a smaller boulder that clearly used to be part of the larger one. Follow the path upwards in the direction of Mickledore, now you are in the shadow of Scafell's crags, or at least the mist covering the crags.

Lords Rake by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerYou climb the rough path until you get to the next small group of significantly sized boulders. This is my usual resting place before climbing the steep scree up to the start of Lords Rake, there are visible pathways going up the scree which is much more stable than the path leading up to Mickledore Ridge. You can't see Lords Rake from the path, it only comes into view when you get to the top of the scree which is much less difficult to climb than you would expect.

Once at the top of the scree you could turn left along the Rake's Progress, a climber's traverse that passes along the front of the climbing crags, you may have to step over climbers too, and then on to Mickledore ridge. So before you look right, look at the rock face almost directly ahead, there is a cross neatly carved into the bare rock to commemorate a fall that killed four climbers a hundred years ago.

Lords Rake by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerLords Rake on your right rises up through a steep sided corridor of rock, it is intimidating always and in mist in looks additionally daunting. You will have passed a notice part way up the scree and there is another one is here warning about a dangerous fallen boulder, it all adds to the ambience.

Almost immediately as I started to climb up the rake I noticed that it was very different to last time I was here. I remember struggling and sliding over loose stones around boulders but the whole width and length of the rake has been filled with much newer larger rocky material and the boulders have either been dislodged or covered over. In many ways the climb is easier over the newer rocks but care is needed because they are not completely stable. There are two walkers in front of me so I let them get quite a long way ahead in case they dislodge anything.

Lords Rake by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThere used to be a large awkward slab of a boulder to climb onto but it too has either gone or been covered by the new material. The other walkers had stopped close to the fallen boulder at the top of the first part of the rake. As I got to within ten feet of them I looked up and heard the word below just as the melon sized rock hit my forearm. In a rather bizarre moment the rock bounced of my arm and I caught it in my hands.

If it had been larger or if it had hit me on the head it would have hurt more than it did. I think that while the rake is in this state it would be sensible to wear a helmet, whether or not other walkers are around.

The other side of the fallen boulder on Lords Rake by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerWhen I got to where the fallen boulder is propped against the rock wall I was shocked to see how much of the rock has fallen away. The lighter coloured section of the newly exposed wall is about ten feet high and ten feet wide and a few feet thickness of rock has fallen away. The squeeze onto the west wall traverse is now much more open and you can see Scafell Pinnacle from the base of the boulder.

When I was getting under the boulder itself it was obvious that more pieces have broken off it, it will fall to pieces where it is and the main danger is in the erosion of much larger quantities of rock from the wall that it is leaning against. Whilst I was around the boulder the mist cleared enough for me to take photographs of the scene.

The third rise of Lords Rake by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI walked along to the end of Lords Rake, the remaining two descents and ascents are as steep as the first section but there is nothing like the amount of erosion. Lords Rake seems to be a fault line between the main body of the mountain and the outer retaining wall, the third rise seen from the second col shows this very clearly.

Having reached the end of the rake, I retraced my steps, slides and stumbles back to the boulder, gingerly went under it again and carefully walked across steep loose material to the West Wall Traverse. The traverse is easy enough but the ground falls away very steeply on the left and the climbers on the Pinnacle are close enough to hold a conversation with. I suspect the climbers may have more important things on their minds than chatting to pedestrians.

Deep Gill by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe West Wall Traverse takes you to Deep Gill, going down is impossibly steep, upwards is another steep corridor enclosed by steep pinnacles of rock rather than a simple wall. It is a pity that it is so misty here, this is a wonderful rocky place especially when you are alone, you feel very insignificant.

The climb at first is over large colourful boulders but as the gully narrows and becomes damp there is slippery rock to scramble over, the handholds are generally good but the rock can come away in your hands. Then at the top of the gill is an awkward left turn, the walls are very loose and eroded but with care you safely climb out onto a high plateau.

Foxes Tarn seen from Scafell summit by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerLords Rake is quite busy and noisy and the conversations between climbers on the Pinnacle make it seem like there are people everywhere but just here in the mist it is noticeably quiet. From here I know where the summit is, once across a small rise you will find a couple of small shelters and some cairns, carry on upwards over rocks to reach the summit of Scafell.

My plan was then to follow the ridge southwards over Slight Side and drop down to Eskdale and walk back up the valley to Cam Spout to start my second ascent of Scafell. However, I was standing at a cairn looking back at Scafell, down to Eskdale and across to Slight Side now that I was out of the mist when I met a walker who had climbed up from Cam Spout. The ridge he had climbed looked straightforward enough but I was worried that it might be too quick and I would end up having a too short a walk.

View from Scafell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerHowever the thought of a new path was too good to ignore and I abandoned the plan and set off down a green ridge. There was quite a steep gradient but it was easy enough on grass through boulders, the ridge was narrow with the ground dropping away steeply either side. On either side were the craggy steep sides of Scafell and across the other side of Eskdale were Bowfell and Crinkle Crags. I could see that the ridge continued down to a buttress but below which I couldn't see, there must be a path to follow mustn't there?

When I got to the buttress it was a small peak with a wall running across the top and it looked as though there was a steep way down to the left. I started to go down and quickly became uncomfortable with the steepness and softness of the ground and it looked like I was going down into a steep sided gorge. I climbed back up to the wall and crossed over it to try and find a way down, there seemed to be a way down on the right connecting grassy ledges between outcrops of rock, there was a very long and sudden way down to the valley on the right.

The ridge down from Scafell to Cam Spout Crag by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerGetting from ledge to ledge was becoming more awkward, long leg stretches whilst hanging onto a rock, it was very steep and a very long way down. I eventually decided that there was no way down this way, Sampson's Stones were immediately below but a long way down as the crow falls. I always try to make sure I don't go up or down anywhere I can't get back but there were one or two awkward moments on the scramble over steep grass back up to the wall.

I thought I would quickly try another way down, I can see a green ledge below, no more that fifty feet down and I thought I would give it a go before climbing back up to Scafell. The descent was even steeper, five points of contact and a couple of awkward movements, hanging on to the heather and dwarf juniper, they in turn scratching my legs and arms as I slid over them. Eventually I got down to the grassy ledge and I'm sure there were signs of flattened grass in a line going downwards.

The climb back to the top of Cam Spout Crag by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerBy this time I realised I was nowhere near Cam Spout waterfall but I was in fact on Cam Spout Crag, I had followed the ridge when I should have turned towards the waterfall somewhere higher up. I tried to find a way down the steep grass and bilberry but it became obvious that there was no way down, I have got to go all the way back up.

The steep grass was awkward enough to get up, the only handholds being handfuls of grass. I got back to the first grassy ledge and looked up and couldn't believe I had climbed down what I now had to climb up. The climb was a bit rockier and it was easier than hanging onto the vegetation but very steep and I was very aware of the exposure. It is amazing just how easy it is to pull yourself up with your fingertips when you need to. I was cursing myself for not turning back earlier but actually I was having a lot of fun, some of the movements hanging on to the junipers were slightly exhilarating but I got there.

View of Great Gable by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerBack at the wall I decided I had had enough fun for one day and I was now going to retrace my steps for my second ascent of Scafell. Climbing up the green ridge was slower than coming down and the midges were able to catch up to me now, I was prepared with Avon So Soft and I smelt lovely as well as keeping the midges away. The climb back to the summit of Scafell wasn't too bad, I must be getting fitter, the second ascent felt like much more effort last year.

From the summit of Scafell you drop down to the two shelters and turn left for the quickest way down from three thousand feet. This is not an easy way down, your knees will be pushed to their limit on the endless steep grass. Don't be tempted by any diversions from the path, just because you can see Wasdale Head there is a temptation to follow a path turning right, but it is painfully eroded as well as steep. Follow the line of the path to a cairn and follow a dry stream bed down over grass, a long way down over grass, even with my good knees I am always glad to get to ground level.

By now the weather was wonderful, sunny and warm in Wasdale, pity I had to go home now.

Andy Wallace 15th May 2004

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