Saturday, 22 October 2016

Blencathra via Sharp Edge

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Route: Thelkeld, Gategill, Doddick Farm, Scaley Beck, Scales Farm, Mousthwaite Comb, Scales Beck, Scales Tarn, Sharp Edge, Foule Crag, Atkinson Pike, Blencathra, Hall's Fell Ridge, Gategill, Threlkeld

Date: 22/10/2016
From: Threlkeld

Parking: Threlkeld
Start Point: Threlkeld
Region: Northern Fells

Route length: 5.8 miles (9.3 km)
Time taken : 02:43
Average speed: 2.1 mph
Ascent: 819m
Descent: 826m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Blencathra (868m)

Additional summits: Atkinson Pike (Foule Crag) (845m)

Sharp Edge is one of the quintessential Lakeland outings, often held in the same regard as Striding Edge and (to some extent) Crib Goch - though it is much shorter than it's illustrious Welsh counterpart. Having decided a number of years ago to save Blencathra for last during my Wainwright quest, meant that Sharp Edge has since remained unclimbed. However, with the Wainwrights now done and dusted, it's time to start really exploring the Lake District, starting with this classic scramble.

This walk, though short, packs a lot into a short space. First, there's Sharp Edge, the narrow arĂȘte that either invokes a sense of delight or, possibly, terror depending on your outlook. Following immediately is a modest scramble up Foule Crag to reach Atkinson Pike. Then there's Blencathra and it's tremendous views before a descent of Hall's Fell Ridge, a superb ridge that takes you right back to the valley below. All in all, a grand day (or afternoon) out.
Cloudy skies over Clough Head
Exploiting the last weekend before the clocks change and we lose and hour of daylight, I didn't arrive in Threlkeld until early afternoon after a leisurely jaunt up from Leeds. Starting in Threlkeld, I proceeded to head northeast along the edge of the Access Land below Blencathra until I reached Scales Farm at the foot of Scales Fell, having successfully negotiated a tricky rock outcrop at Doddick Gill.
Hall's Fell and Blencathra
Spectacular autumn colours on show
Gateway to the fells
Gate Gill and the summit of Blencathra
The Access Land boundary looking towards Great Mell Fell
Doddick Gill
Scaley Beck
Here, the path climbs across the contours before turning to face the slope head one, climbing steeply up the side of Mousthwaite Comb, a curious barrier to the River Glenderamackin, sending it on its circuitous course around Souther Fell. The route follows the well-established path up the Glenderamackin valley to reach Scales Beck below Brunt Knott where it climbs once again up to Scales Tarn. From here, things start to get a little more exciting.
Great Mell Fell
Mousthwaite Comb
Comb Beck flows out of Mousthwaite Comb
The River Glenderamackin - Sharp Edge looms on the horizon
The Glenderamackin at White Horse Bent
Sharp Edge
For a while, Sharp Edge has been looming up ahead, the very obvious light grey ridge seen in profile, often with a number of walkers, silhouetted against the skyline. It can be accessed by the very obvious path that branches right up the hillside but it is worth stopping for a moment at Scales Tarn to savour the impressive mountain scenery.
Bannerdale Crags
Sharp Edge
Scales Tarn and Tarn Crags
The initial climb along the path is easy enough until it reaches the first series of rock outcrops where the scrambling begins. Here, it is straightforward with many lines and no cause for difficulty. This short section will take you to the start of Sharp Edge, the vertiginous ridge ahead and it is here you can decide whether to take on the challenge or return to Scales Tarn to find another route. If you decide to carry on, here's what you can expect to find.
The path up to Sharp Edge
Sharp Edge
Foule Crag and Sharp Edge

Scales Tarn
The first scramble on Sharp Edge
Climbing up to the crest
Sharp Edge sweeps up ahead of you, an extremely narrow ridge with steep drops on either side. If you can stomach the exposure, clambering along its crest is not too difficult and most sections can be done without using your hands.
Sharp Edge
Making my way along the ridge
Looking back along Shar pEdge
Approaching the Bad Step
Around half way, you will reach a small notch on the ridge with a short, jutting rock poking out at the top. This is widely known as the Bad Step, as the rock has been expertly polished by thousands of backsides. In the dry, you may not even notice it and continue on regardless, but when it is wet, the underlying slate can become lethally slippery with a number of casualties ending up the 'usual gully' as the Mountain Rescue put it.
Sharp Edge

The Bad Step
With the Bad Step negotiated, Sharp Edge starts to climb before ending at the base of Foule Crag. Short but sweet, it's a great introduction to exposed ridges and a real shame that it doesn't last longer. Scrambling up Foule Crag is entertaining in itself, the noticeable gully to the right being the most obvious route of ascent. Views back along Sharp Edge are understandably excellent.
The scramble up Foule Crag
Sharp Edge
Looking down Sharp Edge
Eventually, you will reach the top of Foule Crag where a path will lead you up the final climb to Blencathra's summit. I briefly detoured to Atkinson Pike (the true summit of Foule Crag) and went off in search of the White Cross.
Atkinson Pike
Located in the depression between Atkinson Pike and Blencathra, the White Cross is a large crucifix made entirely from pale rocks and boulders. Its origin is uncertain, but an extension to its current size is attributed to a Harold Robinson of Threlkeld who frequently visited the fell after World War 2.
The white cross
Blencathra's summit is easily reached using the wide path that skirts the edge of Tarn Crags. Instead of a traditional trig pillar, there is instead, a small circular ring to denote the summit.
The path up to the summit
Nice light over St. John's in the Vale
Knowe Crags
The OS ring on Blencathra's summit
The descent begins immediately down the sweeping Hall's Fell Ridge, a superb way up or down Blencathra with more sustained hands on rock action than Sharp Edge. Some aspects of Hall's Fell Ridge can be compared to Striding Edge on Helvellyn, though any tricky bits can easily be avoided. It's no wonder that Wainwright suggested it was one of the best ways up any of the Lakeland fells.
Looking down Hall's Fell Ridge
Hall's Fell Ridge
Looking back up towards Blencathra's summit 
Crags of Doddick Fell
I was treated to some spectacular light as I made my descent, with shafts of sun lighting up the north western fells - a pretty typical autumnal moment. Autumn is a great time to be in the Lake District as the green leaves give way to vibrant orange and brown hues. There's also a good chance you'll not experience the summer crowds during this time of the year, always a bonus.
Great and Little Mell Fells
The full spectacle of Hall's Fell Ridge
Light rays over Keswick and Derwentwater
Catbells with Robinson behind
In all, a great afternoon out on a superb fell. Sharp Edge is an excellent scramble the absolutely has to be done. It's just a shame the excitement is short lived. That said, descending Hall's Fell Ridge keeps excitement levels high throughout. This walk is a short, sharp blast of entertainment - pun intended.