Blencathree

Knott Haloo seen from Threlkeld by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe forecast is good, the sky is blue and not a cloud to be seen as I drive north, I have promised myself a day on Blencathra, for once I should see it at its magnificent best. When I got to the car park at Threlkeld it was nearly full, October is usually an easy time of year to find a parking place. I had just parked when another car parked at the side of me and the driver got out and tapped on my window, it was my walking friend Lorraine who was meeting other members of 40sWalkersNorth.

Did I want to walk with them or spend a sunny day on Blencathra, well it was nice to meet them but they are doing the wrong walk today. From the car park the rocky knob of Knott Haloo is almost all you can see of Blencathra and I have never been there. There is one path towards Blencathra through the woods and across the stream until you get to a a gate in the wall. Turn right for lots of routes to Blencathra, turn left for Blease Fell and go straight ahead for Gategill Fell, up the reasonably easy looking slope towards Knott Haloo.

Looking back to Threlkeld from ascent of Gategill Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerReasonably easy turns out to be quite steep, following a faint path by the side of the wall it is no longer possible to see Knott Haloo and quite steep becomes very steep. The wall turns right to follow the contours, the faint path goes up to the sky line and a lot further beyond I think. You are on grass at first, not my favourite way of climbing a hill, it is at least as steep as Kirk Fell without the benefit of footsteps in the grass. The sunny day is beginning to disappear, the Helvellyn range has been covered in mist all morning and there is mist above.

The fell is at least a forty five degree slope, grass turns to dead heather but there is still an identifiable stone ridden path upwards, the stones being easier than plain grass. Then you come to live heather, the way is less obvious and there are no stones and forty five might become fifty. Knott Haloo becomes visible again and you cross an obvious path following the contours of the hill, I have been ignoring the pain of my calf muscles for quite a while. The path through the heather has disappeared, this is what Wainwright described as collar work, then I saw what looked like a path over to the right.

The view downwards from the ascent of Gategill Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe path is actually the beginings of a scree run that is visible from Threlkeld, the surface is stony and slippery but is a welcome change from the ankle grabbing heather. The rocky knob of Knott Haloo reveals itself as quite a substantial rock outcrop but the mist threatens to prevent it from revealing itself. On a clear day I would have scrambled up the rock, I followed the faint path around the back of the outcrop but couldn't resist scrambling up the last few feet.

At this point I began to doubt that Wainwright ever got here, there is a fine airy ridge but it couldn't be mistaken for Striding Edge, not even a miniature one. There are glimpses of Gategill Fell through the mist and it looks like a very steep scramble over bare rock. The steep climb is a real scramble over vegetation eroding to scree and exposed rock, this place is obviously not visited very often. The final ascent to the summit is obscured by mist and I followed the easy steep route over grass instead of the nice little scramble that became obvious at the summit.

Ridge from Knott Haloo to Gategill Fell summit by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerFrom the summit of Gategill Fell turn right and put your trust in the undulating path until you reach the summit of Blencathra at the highest point of Halls Fell, it is windy and cold. Carry on past the summit until the path begins to deteriorate and descend, there are gaps in the mist showing the rocky ridge below. This is the descent to Sharp Edge, it is steep, rocky and not easy getting down the gully and across the slabs especially the final five points of contact scramble down to the notch.

On the way down the most awkward obstacle comes first, an awkward clamber down slabby rock to the notch, a three feet wide gap in the rocky ridge at the top of the usual gully. The usual gully is so called by the Mountain Rescue team because that is where walkers usually fall down. The notch is usually safe enough to walk across but first timers, including myself on my first couple of times, frequently shuffle across on their fifth point of contact. Then you reach the scariest part of Sharp Edge, you have to climb up onto a slab of rock that slopes down towards a very long and hard way down.

Descending Foule Crag by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe flat, sloping slab is shiny and smooth but should be safe enough to walk across but I always feel safer holding on to the vertical slab rising at right angles to the sloping slab. Then you are on to Sharp Edge itself, the challenge is to keep to the crest, the first knife edged section definitely requires five points of contact. Then there is an exhilarating airy ridge to walk across before you get to a more complicated section to scramble down, getting easier until you reach the end of the rocky ridge.

Every time I cross Sharp Edge, including today, I hear someone say how much they would not want to be there when the rocks are wet. As I sat at the bottom of the ridge looking forward to climbing back up again it started to drizzle and maybe I was more apprehensive about Sharp Edge than I usually am. I could have used the path below the crest but, well it wouldn't be right, so I climbed up along the crest. It had stopped raining and wasn't too bad but the rock was definitely slippery and I kept repeating to myself keep hold, easier said than done on the walk-over section.

Sharp Edge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThen I got to the sloping slab section, there were many people on the way up but I was the first to reach the wet slabs. I was very careful to make sure I was holding on to the vertical rock properly before moving my feet across the slab, it was nerve wracking but too late to turn back. Then before you drop down to the notch is a rock seat that you wouldn't normally sit on but there isn't enough to hold on to by the normal way down. In a very inelegant manoeuvre I lowered myself to the notch while hanging on to the rock seat, another walker helpfully let me get across first.

It was with some relief that I got past the other walker but my preferred sideways route was too wet to atttempt so I decided to climb upwards where at least I could keep hold. I looked back to see the other walker attempt to shuffle across the notch when he cried out and slipped down the usual gully. I couldn't turn back, I had to carry on upwards and it was with some relief that I heard the other walker talking to someone else. Once I had got to a place where I felt safe enough to turn around I descended over steep muddy grass to where I was able to ask the other walker if he was alright.

On Sharp Edge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerHe had slid about twenty five feet down a steep rock gully but in the sitting position he managed to avoid banging his head and stopped himself without too much damage. After a short time he was able to make his way down to the path below the edge, there were several walkers above who were reluctant to cross the slab. There was a group of three who crossed the slab without too much trouble but the rest are understandably cautious.

After clambering back up the grass and mud you get to the climb back up Foule Crag, the rock gully is safer than scrambling directly up the rock. By the time I got the the top of the climb the mist had closed in again for another anonymous walk along the ridge of Blencathra and a second visit to its misty summit. The descent down Halls Fell ridge is no less daunting than Sharp Edge, the rock is steep and damp and it is a long way downwards. It is questionable whether my slightly off the crest route was any safer or easier than following the ridge downwards.

On Sharp Edge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerAnyway the fifth point of contact was getting plenty of exercise today and as the gradient eased the mist disappeared by the time I got to the bottom of the ridge. The mountain is clear of mist now, it surely isn't expecting me to climb it again, maybe this time I'll get a view from the summit. Climbing up Halls Fell the rock seems dry so I climbed up the crest of the ridge, the higher I got the mistier it got until I got to the summit again, not lucky this third time.

The plan was to descend by Doddick Fell and I found the start of the path alright and there seemed to be a good new path going down. I was busy following the path and I recognised the steep drop from the ridge of Doddick Fell but after a while I saw what didn't look like Halls Fell on my right. I had managed to miss the path to Doddick Fell and was on my way down Scales Fell, oh well I'm not going back up again.

On Sharp Edge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerIt's an easy walk down Scales Fell but it is a long way around the base of Blencathra, I pass walkers I saw coming down Halls Fell when I was on my way up. At Scaley Beck there is a little scramble either side over rocks, climbing up the far side there is a little path around a rock outcrop but I had to climb up the rock. It was a good job I remembered to keep hold as my foot slipped on the normally reliable rock.

A final easy walk back to Threlkeld just in time to see Lorraine and her group arrive back at the end of their walk.

Andy Wallace 9th October 2004

© 2003 - 2017 By Andy Wallace. Reproduction of this work in whole or in part, including images, and reproduction in electronic media, without documented permission from the author is prohibited.

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