Monday, 8 September 2014

Scafell Pike & Great End

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Route: Seathwaite, Taylorgill Force, Patterson's Fold, Styhead Tarn, Styhead, Spout Head, Corridor Route, Lingmell Col, Scafell Pike, Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Long Pike, Great End, Esk Hause, Ruddy Gill, Grains, Stockley Bridge, Seathwaite 

Date: 08/09/2014
From: Seathwaite

Parking: Seathwaite Farm
Start Point: Seathwaite Farm
Region: Southern Fells

Route length: 10.8 miles (17.4 km)
Time taken: 05:54
Average speed: 1.83 mph
Ascent: 1,182m
Descent: 1,199m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Scafell Pike (977m), Great End (910m)

Additional summits: Broad Crag (934m), Ill Crag (935m)

Other points of interest: Taylorgill Force, Styhead Tarn, Piers Gill, Ruddy Gill

I think the thought of climbing England's highest mountain always generates a unique excitement, the notion that there is no higher place to visit within the entire country and for one brief moment, you will be stood higher than anybody else in the country. Despite its draw to visitors, Scafell Pike is a proper mountain, with crags and rocks and relative danger just around every corner. It would certainly be a stark contrast to our walk the previous, a bog-hop along the central ridge.

The Corridor Route to Scafell Pike is a real favourite of mine and I was keen to share it with some others who had yet to experience it so we decided that that would be our preferred route having left the car on the long lane leading into Seathwaite.
Base Brown looking splendid in the morning
The blunt end of Seathwaite Fell
Instead of heading up the well worn path along Grains Gill, we opted to the slightly quieter route alongside Styhead Gill, keeping to right (while looking upstream) to pass Taylorgill Force. For the most part, this path is easy to follow and climbs very steadily until you reach an entertaining scramble, lifting you high into the mountainside below Base Brown. After the brief excitement, it levels out again and continues its lazy ascent to Styhead Tarn.
The path leading up to Taylorgill Force
Taylorgill Force
A look down the all-too-brief scramble
The path continues on...
Styhead Gill
Emerging at the head of the valley
The looming mass of Great End over Styhead Tarn
Styhead Tarn is a very popular spot, the meeting point of paths arriving from Borrowdale, Wasdale and, to some extent, Eskdale. It brings tourists to a handy spot for a sit down, surrounded by fine mountain scenery before they make their onward tr
avels, usually towards the high fells of Great Gable or, like us, Scafell Pike. It's also the location of the famous Mountain Rescue stretcher box, an iconic location and meeting point for many. It was here that we had a quick break and surveyed the Corridor Route ahead of us.
The slopes of Great Gable
The Corridor Route across the slopes of the Scafells
Climbers on The Napes
Wasdale Head
Skew Gill
The beginning of the route is hidden behind a knoll, which needs to be climbed before the junction appears, a cairn marks this point. We strode on, crossing the impressive opening of Skew Gill, a route up to Great End for those with a head for heights. We noticed a few people taking the wrong route upon exiting Skew Gill, the path climbs steeply to the left rather than following the contours. After this, it becomes much clearer, allowing you to follow it with ease while keeping an eye on the unfolding views of Wasdale Head, Great Gable and the looming Lingmell.
Wasdale Head and Great Gable
The serrated Great Napes
Looking back down the Corridor Route
Piers Gill below Lingmell
The path can be seen crossing the mountainside
Another awkward gill crossing is required a the halfway stage, a brief scramble required to get down to it. The path crosses the gill without drama before continuing one, still climbing.

After Greta Gill, a choice can be made, either to bear left and attack Scafell Pike by scrambling up to col between it and Broad Crag (a route I've done previously), or by continuing on to Piers Gill and popping up at Lingmell Col. We chose the second option, keen to see what Piers Gill contained. A search for Piers Gill on the internet confirmed what I already knew, it's a place to really keep an eye out for.
Some handy directions for travellers heading down
Greta Gill
The notorious Piers Gill
Piers Gill is a huge ravine, carving a route from Lingmell Col all the way (eventually) the Wast Water. It's definitely not the place to get stranded in unless you really are equipped and experienced. As I mentioned a moment ago, an internet search for Piers Gill reveals the top result being a page from Wasdale MRT - it's one of their problem areas. On a fine day like today, crossing the gill is as easy as any other however, in poor weather, it is easy to mistake the entrance as a route down from Lingmell Col to Wasdale, which it is not. There is no phone coverage in the gill and it's often too late before people realise their error. The mistake is generally made by people descending but that can't rule out erroneously wandering in while climbing as well.
An irresistible mountain panorama
We spent a moment peering down the ravine, trying to make a mental note of where the path crosses the top in case we find ourselves in the exact situation I've just described. After Piers Gill, the path climbs on, joining the motorway leading up from Wasdale, just above Lingmell Col. I wouldn't blame you in thinking you were nearly at the top, but Scafell Pike is a big mountain, there's still a 250m climb ahead of you, this time much steeper and rockier than anything experienced to this point.
The busy path approaching from Wasdale
Onwards and upwards
The slabs
We plodded on, quietly covering the final climb until, finally, the large platform marking the summit comes into view and the steepness abates. We'd reached the top of the country.
The summit in sight
Scafell Pike's summit is a bit disappointing, it's busy and the views are generally blocked out by the broad slopes either side. Take a trip to the edge of this plateau and, only then, are you truly rewarded for your efforts. A stony hop across the shattered rocks to the south-west reveals the imposing crags of Scafell and the notorious Broad Stand while heading to the south-eastern top presents a fine panorama of Eskdale and the high Broad Crag and Ill Crag to the north. It's a scene befitting Scafell Pike's lofty status.
Scafell Pike's trig pillar
A quiet day today
Proof we made it
The impressive Scafell
Hazy Eskdale from the south top
Ill Crag beckons
We did as most people do upon reaching Scafell Pike, stopped for lunch and a moment to see how many fells we could name across the scene in front of us. Turns out most of them, such is my growing familiarity with this small area of the country. From here we'd be treated to a crossing of the highest ground in the country, visiting a couple of only a handful of points that stand above the magical 3,000ft mark. The first of these would be Broad Crag.
Broad Crag and Ill Crag
Broad Crag across the col
A deep col separates Scafell Pike from Broad Crag, a bit dispiriting considering the efforts undertaken to reach Scafell Pike. Still, it would be even more dispiriting approaching from the other direction, the summit stands so close yet apparently so very far away. Clouds were beginning swirl in by this point, shielding the best of the views which was a shame. We reached Broad Crag, staked our claim to it and pressed on, over the strewn boulders to the col between Broad Crag and Ill Crag.
Broad Crag Col
The summit of Broad Crag with Scafell Pike behind
After the shortest of climbs, an almost level path leads to the summit of Ill Crag, a small pinnacle perched high above Eskdale. There was the vaguest of hints at to vast and expansive views but they were cut off in their prime by the advancing cloud base. Satisfied we'd reached the peaks over 3,000ft (Ill Crag is the 4th highest peak in England, depending on your outlook in life) we returned to the main path as it crosses the ridge to Great End.
The obvious path to Ill Crag
Pen hiding beneath the clouds
A look back to Broad Crag
Ill Crag
Ill Crag's summit
We were treated to an exhilarating flypast by a US F-15, arcing out the clouds right in front of us and swiftly making its way down Eskdale. After an hour or so of cloudiness, the weather began to lift again, prompting us to make the decision to climb Great End, seeing as we were in the vicinity. A short 50m climb will take you off the path onto the summit plateau.
Our flypast
The clouds begin to swirl around
Other than craggy approaches and a lofty height, Great End does not share the summit characteristics of Scafell Pike or Ill Crag. Gone are the tumbled rocks and broken boulders, replaced with a luxuriant, flat turf, good enough to get a decent nights sleep on, as we speculated. Two summits are evident, the highest (I believe), being the one to the east, overlooking Borrowdale. It's a magnificent viewpoint, separated from the second summit by the immense tear of Central Gully. The western top looks down into Wasdale.
Esk Pike
The less dramatic side of Great End
Great End's summit cairn
Clouds dance around the peaks
Another low flypast
We returned from the summit and made our way to Esk Hause, the highest of Lakeland's passes. From here we'd be making a slow descent all the way back to Seathwaite following the route of Grains Gill. Prior to this though, we passed along to top of the infant Ruddy Gill, an impressive ravine worthy of further investigation. In addition, the real character of Great End comes into view, the immense 600ft rock face of its north-eastern face. I believe that Wainwright was correct in saying it is this type of landscape that brings people back time and again.
Rossett Pass, Esk Pike & Bowfell
Seathwaite Fell
Central Gully
Allen Crags from Esk Hause
The cross shelter below Esk Hause
Ruddy Gill remains a delight, far down into the valley which it falls. We were swiftly leaving the high mountains and rocks, replacing it with farmland and grass. We were walking on one of the more popular routes in the Lakes, the Grains Gill route to Scafell Pike and a fairly pleasant route it as as well. It's certainly one of the less taxing descents I've ever made, even it it does seem to last for a long time.
The infant Ruddy Gill
The shattered face of Great End
Grains Gill
The view into Seathwaite
Eventually we reached Stockley Bridge, the famous decision point for people choosing either Grains Gill or Styhead Gill for their ascent. Looking back, I known which I would choose every time (as I pointed out near the start). Beyond Stockley Bridge, the pitched path gives way to a stony track as it leads to Seathwaite Farm and back to the diligently waiting car.
The path continues on
Stockley Bridge
Stockley Bridge