Blencathra’s ‘other’ ridge
|For anyone who visits the Lake District from the North East over England’s spine the Pennines via the A66 will most likely face the mass wall of mountain with the distinctive ‘Saddleback’ shape. Blencathra is one the most accessible of mountains, at least if your hail from over our way. I can recall (before I ever walked on any fell) the times I passed by this range so close to the motor way. It runs so close you have to crane your
neck to see the top from the car. It’s imposing and to me back then looked far from accessible. In fact I don’t believe I had a notion that anyone would walk on it. I mean how could you, more over, why would you want to? But I think even then as someone who had no comprehension of the pleasure it gives to take a path up to the top of a mountain, I still wondered what it would be like to stand on it. The weather concerned me. It always looked grim and unwelcoming as if it was saying, ‘you can have a go, but you need to know what you are getting into.’ I’m not an experienced climber, mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination but I look at these peaks now and just want to be at the top, now with more of a sense of curiosity. I wonder what you can see from that one?
Those early musings must have had some sort of impact on me. This will be my fourth visit to Blencathra having always ascended from Scales. One failed attempt at Sharp edge with my wife’s uncle Ray trying to ignore the fact I had a viral infection that had me stopping after every 10 steps, you can imagine what peering over the Edge felt like. I don’t really do heights as it is. Ray swore blind we needed ropes to scramble the last hands on section onto Atkinson Pike. He talked me out of it, we retreated back to Scales Tarn and ascended via the common route to Hall’s Top.
I wanted to make this walk a little different. One where we could get our hands on a mountain and figured the way up should be a scramble via the other ridge on the face of Blencathra. Hall’s Fell ridge is a prominent rib that has some excellent options for anyone looking for taster for scrambling.
Today was blighted only by the absence of friends and family. The week had mowed down some of our sturdy companions. Abs, with a chest infection and Emily with a cold. Nicole also worse for ware, threw a sicky. Lesley of course stay home with Emily which was a shame as I was looking forward to helping Lesley get her own back at Blencathra after I once misguided her first attempt on any fell, throwing her in the deep end. We bailed about two-thirds of the way up and didn’t speak for bit afterwards. But after her stirling effort on Haystacks and Fleetwith I figured she was better conditioned now for a crack at Big Blen. But after all the hype she missed out.
Anth, was super enthusiastic as ever and he’s clearly excited about the prospect of SMASHing higher peaks. They appeal to him, because Scafell Pike looms in August on the diary. Blencathra will wet his proverbial big peak whistle I think.
For Jack, it’s just another day out with his dad and whoever else might like a look out. It’ll be a chance for him to SMASH his personal altitude record. I think his highest prior to today was the Old Man of Coniston, 803 meters which he SMASHed when he was 5 years old. At nearly 10 he can’t remember much of it now. He prefers not to.
From Thelkeld we start out through the village to Gategill and pick up the footpath taking us directly onto Hall’s Fell Ridge. In no time at all the gloves were on. Can you believe it started to snow? I wanted to say it’s was sleet because it can’t snow in May surely? But it was snow. No chance of it settling on the ground, that wasn’t any concern but what was would be the state of things to come at height. Looking skyward we could see white clouds of snow moving in from Keswick and another one just below Knowe Crag to the left of the ridge. I wouldn’t describe it as threatening; but more bizarre. The temperature was just 9° when we left the car and the sky was breaking up and the lambs seemed joyful enough in the fields and generally it was still pleasant weather.
I decided to take the sting out of the first 150 meters by taking a faint track diagonally across the fell and then cut back onto the main path. The height gained quickly offering views west of Derwent Water and to the South-east, Great Mell Fell. We spread some yards between us making our own way onto the ridge stopping to watch the reaction of sheep to Jacks wooly hat. Sheep often loose sight of their little ones too and need to get by anyone in the way.
Once on the ridge, the grassy fell gave way to a loose slate chipped path flanked with bare rock crags. We aimed at the false summits on the ridge and marked them out for a sit down. I figured halfway would be a good time to take a break. The experience so far was already so different from any other ascents on the S.M.A.S.H calendar. From this standpoint the shape of the peak is more pinnacle than the approach from Scales. Alfred Wainwright gave more pages to Blencathra than any other Lakeland peak in his guide books. I think he makes reference to seven ascents of Blencathra giving considerable praise to the Hall’s Fell route.
From here on the ridge narrows and the stone crevasses signal the way forward. Once on the ridge the temptation for me at least was to stay on it, despite knowing the path is just a few meters below. I invited Jack and Anth to take the hands on alternative. Before long we are all coiling ourselves and springing to the next ledge, flexing and grappling with the mountain and hefting our way upwards. As we moved on we each take our individual view of the ridge seeking out the most interesting lines.
The ridge was busy today with most choosing to make their descent on Hall’s Fell Ridge. A committee of unlikely looking fellas were having a meeting on the ridge and eyeballing the best way down across some slippery slab sections.
After 2 hours and 10 minutes we pop directly onto Hall’s Fell Top, the principle summit point of Blencathra. There’s none of that over the brow and walk 100 yards to the trig, it’s there as soon as you peer over the last of the ridge to find a small sorry-looking cairn and a concrete ring in the ground marking the summit. There were a few walkers on the summit and asked one lone guy if he would take our photo. Jack has now bagged his 25th Wainwright at 868 meters, so well done Jack. He was modest as usual about his latest achievement. I wanted to show Jack and Anth Scales Tarn and Sharp Edge. We turned right dropping down toward Tarn Crags off the path to find a stone to sit on. The view north from here is dominated by the rounded face of Bannerdale Crags with Bowscale Fell to the left. The east has Souther Fell and the A66.
It’s deadly quiet though and we sat to try to hear the conversations of those down below at Scales Tarn beginning their ascent via Sharp Edge, regarded as not fit for walkers. You need a head for heights, which I don’t and besides in this changing weather it’s smooth and sharp edges are best avoided in my opinion. The deep bowl shape holds sound in and makes it easy hear others talking that would otherwise not be heard at such distance.
We picked ourselves up and returned to Halls Fell top to join the South East track to Gategill Top and onto Knowe Crags. We neared the edge to get a giddy view down one of the many gullies to witness snow blowing from below us, carried by the wind tracing the side of Blencathra.
The snow was merely a shower and passed over leaving a white muslin like veiled scene. It was a surreal view like someone had been messing with the contrast setting. From the foreground through to the mountains of Skiddaw, Latrigg, High Rigg, the Newlands and Clough Head had their own shade of grey. You could make out Great Gable and Sca Fell too on the skyline.
With each meter lost in height we gained a clearer view of the path ahead down a zig-zag trail. It’s slow and hard on the knees. But as the path leveled (slightly) we sat down on the long grass as the snow gave way to sunshine we finished our lunch and took out the binoculars. We could spy out some walkers on High Rigg and into the model town of Keswick.
The conversation continued to be dominated between Jack and Anth since Jack heard mention of Derwent prompting him to recount every detail of his time spent at Derwent Hill, the outdoor adventure retreat for school kids. As it’s funded by Sunderland Council, a lot of adults from the north-east can remember their tales of outdoor malarkey with their school-mates. Anth had a chance to immerse himself in nostalgic memories with Jack confirming nothing had changed and everything was just as Anth remembered about thirteen years ago. Every swing, splash and jump was relived in vivid detail. Jack is looking forward to going back in October to learn more crazy songs about a materialistic bird with a yellow bill.
We cut back into the ingress on a buffed track to Blease Gill and right into the wood. Threlkeld is a pretty little village with well-kept houses made from the local quarry. There are more pubs than you can shake a stick at too. The sun was out for good now and the perils of snow far gone.
The Horse and Farriers looks like a good setting for a pot of Earl Grey from Twinnings. It was by Anth’s standards a fine cuppa made all the better by taking it outdoors to chat about the day against a perfect Lakeland back drop. After nearly 6 miles this walk crams in everything you could ask for from a day on the fells. Strenuous walking to bust the quads and calf muscles, a scramble for beginners, massive views to try out your peak spotting skills and the obligatory changing Lakeland weather experience. Which ever way you prefer to scale Blencathra it will please anyone with the slightest appreciation for getting out on the fells.
Clicky here: Vital Statistics for this Walk