Bouldery back to Scafell

I've started my Wasdale season a week earlier than usual but I couldn't wait anylonger to visit Scafell, although I managed to wait an extra ten minutes while I went to say hello to Guy in the Barn Door shop at Wasdale Head.

The Big Boulder by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI left the car in the National Trust car park at Brackenclose and took the Three Peaks route along the side of Lingmell Gill. The path crosses Lingmell Gill and the long plod up the Brown Tongue path begins, there are views of calm Wastwater behind and angry looking clouds ahead.

The walk on the steep reconstructed path seems endless although it takes just over an hour to get to the point where the path splits. Take the left fork for the easier ascent of Scafell Pike, go right for the Mickledore ascent of the Pike and for Scafell which is where I am going today. Up to now I had been in tee shirt only because I got very warm on the climb upwards, but the cold breeze coming down from Scafell can't be ignored so I had to put on jacket and gloves. The gradient is easier now through the amphitheatre of Hollow Stones with its large audience of boulders, there is a steeper, rockier section up to the unmistakable big boulder.

At the bottom of Lords Rake looking up by Andy Wallace Andy Fellwalker After passing the boulder there is a large fan of scree on the right hand side, carry on along the path to the top end of the scree to a collection of boulders big enough to seat three or four people. This is my usual resting place before climbing the scree, a place to contemplate past struggles, especially the horrible scree slope climb to Mickledore ridge.

There is an obvious path up the scree, one of the easier scree climbs, there are some slightly slippery sections but it really isn't too difficult, pity that the mist is beginning to interfere with the views. Pause for breath at the bottom of Lord's Rake, I know it is safe but there is a slight apprehension before starting to climb the steep slope. There is no exposure at all but it is a strenuous climb over loose stones and boulders. Contrary to Wainwright's advice the best route is to keep to the left and away from most of the slippery stones.

Lords Rake fallen boulder by Andy Wallace Andy Fellwalker The fallen boulder at the top of the first section looks down on you and you can't help thinking about that one in a million chance that it will choose today to fall down. When I got to the boulder it was obvious that things had changed since my last visit seven months ago. The boulder isn't solid rock and there are many cracks and fractures in it, much of the base of it has fallen away and a large piece has fallen from it. The gap underneath is much larger now and getting through it seems to be the best way past. Close to it you can see the cracks and it seems that it will probably fall to pieces where it stands rather than fall down the rake in one piece.

View through the boulder window by Andy Wallace Andy Fellwalker So much for the boulder, Lord's Rake has only just begun, the rest of it is two descents and two ascents until reaching the open fellside. These ascents and descents aren't as intimidating as the first section but they are steep and they are more exposed being high above Hollow Stones and consequently the views are superb.

After such excitement the last thing I want is to plod up to the summit, a far better way is to go back to the boulder and ten yards further down is the start of the West Wall Traverse. The views would have been superb had it not started raining heavily. The Traverse is a grassy, bouldery path that leads to Deep Gill where precipitous rock soars upwards on either side. You feel as though you could almost touch the rocks on the other side of the gill but I wouldn't try it myself.

The third rise to the exit of Lords Rake Andy Wallace Andy Fellwalker Deep Gill below is impossible. Deep Gill above is a rocky scramble, large colourful boulders with some slippery stones in between but not too difficult, with a final climb up a small chimney like gully before emerging at the flat grassy saddle.

What Wainwright calls the saddle is actually a high grassy plateau between Scafell summit and the subsidiary summit of Symonds Knott. As usual it is completely misty and as usual I don't need the map, just keep going south until I find the stones laid out in the shape of a cross. The path to the summit is very well marked by cairns from here, walk uphill and you can't miss it although I still can't tell which of the cairns is the summit.

Misty and raining heavily now, as usual for the walk over to Slight Side. Navigation isn't a problem though, the steep drop on the left hand side all of the way means that keeping parallel to it will keep you safe. A cairned path eventually leads off the ridge and after a short climb you get to the twin rocky outcrops at the summit of Slight Side, today isn't the day to enjoy exploring them.

The West Wall Traverse by Andy Wallace Andy Fellwalker I'm getting better at finding the path downwards from Slight Side, only had to cross greasy boulders once to get to the path. Once you leave the eroded path behind you are on a grassy slope, the slippery stones hidden by the grass make it much more dangerous than Lord's Rake. I followed the path until reaching a large boulder with a cairn on top of it, this is the place to head back towards Eskdale. It had stopped raining by this time and the mist had cleared so there were no problems with navigation. Traversing the contours of Slight Side and aiming for the col on the horizon, there seems to be a faint path that takes you past the crags and gives you the easiest route through the wet boulders and scree.

Deep Gill's coloured boulders by Andy Wallace Andy Fellwalker The col is actually the head of a small valley, its streams heading towards the River Esk and with an excellent view all of the way up Eskdale. Heading over grass in the direction of Scafell Pike and when Sampson's Stones come into view make a beeline for them. At a small stream just before reaching the Stones a path materialises, passing over the small hillock around which Sampson arranged his Stones and then onwards up the valley.

The waterfall of Cam Spout is tall, slim and elegant you are free to make your own comparisons. By the side of the waterfall is a steep rocky scramble, not too difficult and good fun with a close up view of the waterfall and one of its picturesque pools. After the scramble is another bit of a slog, especially seeing as it was my second climb of Scafell on the day.

Sampsons Stones in Eskdale by Andy Wallace Andy Fellwalker Now the rain has really settled in and the visibility is poor, too wet to ignore so I was forced to put my waterproof pants on. Whilst I was stopped I met three young guys in shorts and trainers who asked if I knew where I was and was I going to Scafell. They had come down from Mickledore and missed the turn up to Foxes Tarn, I had some trouble finding it myself but after a slight over shoot I was glad to find it, for their sakes as much as for mine.

The climb up Foxes Tarn gully is much more bouldery that anything else I had climbed today, made a bit more difficult with it being so wet, but still one of my favourite routes. The tarn doesn't seem to be any bigger for all of the rain, the path upwards isn't any less steep and the scree still keeps trying to obliterate it. I am glad to reach the saddle again, my legs have done a lot of climbing for this time of year.

Downhill all the way! Not quite, find the stones laid out in a cross and head up towards the summit, a couple of inadequate shelters sit at the bottom of the final climb to Scafell summit and the Green How path starts from there. Head in the direction of Wastwater and at first there is quite a steep, slippery, eroded path that you have to trust when the visibility is as bad as this. The path becomes less obvious as you descend and just before the large flat area of Green How a small cairn sits where the path splits into two. Don't follow the path to the left, the one going half right is the path to Wasdale, below the cloud base now should mean that I will find the correct path.

Tall and elegant Cam Spout by Andy Wallace Andy Fellwalker The path is faint but follow it and keep in the same direction if it disappears. Don't be tempted to turn right as you pass the head of a large gully, don't be tempted to turn right on an obvious looking path, both of these will only cause more pain than is necessary. Eventually you come across a shallow groove, probably a former stream but now dry, and the path follows the groove downwards. There now follows a steep, steep descent down grass that is very hard on tired legs and feet, the only consolation is that it gets you down quickly. You wouldn't want to climb Scafell by this route, believe me. After what seems like a long time you do eventually reach the track leading back to the car park at Brackenclose.

Well, my Wasdale season has started, summer must be nearly here, it certainly feels like it with all of this rain.

Andy Wallace 27th April 2003

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