Scales Fell, Sharp Edge, Blencathra and Hall's Fell Ridge

Statistics and Files
Start: Scales Distance: 4.8 miles (7.7 km) Climbing: 770 metres
Grid Ref: NY 34018 26751 Time: 4 hours Rating: Technical
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Blencathra
Statistics
Start: Scales Distance: 4.8 miles (7.7 km)
Climbing: 770 metres Grid Ref: NY 34018 26751
Time: 4 hours Rating: Technical
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

Summary: I first crossed Sharp Edge during my stag weekend in 2003 and ever since that first exciting crossing of the Lake District's ridge with the most fearsome reputation I had resolved to return. It took fourteen years to do so but in the Spring of 2017 I did so. On the first occasion, after bagging Blencathra I had taken an easy descent via Knowe Crags on the west side of the mountain. This time I chose to descend by Blencathra's other revered edge, that of Hall's Fell Ridge. The route I had designed resulted in one of my most thrilling days out in the Lake District. Here follows my story of that wonderful day.


The Walk: Not the walk I would normally choose to do while nursing a rotator cuff tear injury but I had been waiting to tackle Sharp Edge again for so long. After a long winter of waiting the perfect early Spring day had arrived. It was the first week in April, one week before my 61st birthday and I set off as early as possible to get over to the Lakes from Harrogate. I had a small delay, waiting for the car hire company to prepare my car which resulted in my not setting off from North Yorkshire until a little after 9.00am. I arrived at Scales a little over two hours later. I was walking by 11.30am.

Crossing Scales FellCrossing Scales Fell
Foule Crag, Sharp Edge and Brunt KnottFoule Crag, Sharp Edge and Brunt Knott

The day was already warming up nicely with sunshine dominating over cloud in the sky. I soon had a sweat on, there is no leisurely lead in to this walk. It is a challenging climb from the start. Straight up so to speak. Not more than 10 minutes into the climb I caught up with a family group of five, grandparents, parents and a young lads in his early teens. Grandpa told me they were ascending Blencathra by the Scales Fell route. "No heroics for us on the edge" he said before adding "Good luck to you though". I thanked him for that. While they followed the Scales Fell path to Blencathra summit I cut off to the right, keeping a line parallel to the River Glenderamackin and close to the 500 metre contour, about fifty metres higher than the river. If you have ever tried to walk along a sloping bank while keeping to keep the same height you will know how hard it is to avoid dropping down the low side. I struggled to stay high, zigzagging up and down rather than keeping an even line. The effort was worth it though, providing me with an early look at my Foule Crag and Sharp Edge challenge which I was leading myself up to. I also got a good look at Brunt Knott which I have never appreciated before, missing out on its shapely form from the approach path below. Brunt Knott is an impressive knoll hill.

Approaching Sharp Edge from Scales TarnApproaching Sharp Edge from Scales Tarn
Nearing Sharp EdgeNearing Sharp Edge

When almost adjacent with Brunt Knoll I dropped down to the Glenderamackin valley approach path. Little effort needed there, other than maintaining balance to safely reach the path. Then followed a steep climb up the stepped path around Brunt Knoll, a climb which included stepping across the flowing waters emanating from Scales Tarn and on its way into Glenderamackin River. After the huff and puff of the short but tasking 90 metre climb I reached the east shoreline of Scales Tarn, altitude 600 metres. While resting near the tarn I watched a couple heading up the path leading to Sharp Edge. I followed them up, keeping to about 200 metres behind them.

View to Foule Crag from Sharp EdgeView to Foule Crag from Sharp Edge
Foule CragFoule Crag

Soon I was up at the true beginning of Sharp Edge. It held no trepidation for me. I recalled that first time being much easier than I had imagined and in recent times I had ambled over the top of Crib Goch with ease. My fear of sharp ridge lines, which I had held for my early mountain climbing years were now a thing of the past. The only thing which worried me was how my right shoulder would cope. The rotator cuff tear would not allow me to stress it; I knew I would have to take the Sharp Edge and Foule Crag passage with care. And so I began the crossing of Sharp Edge. The first part was simple, sticking to the sheltered path on the north side which runs about 10 minutes below the high point. Here I met a couple with a young girl of about 10 years old coming back from the edge. I guessed they had come for a look and decided against it, especially with such a young one in the group. After passing them I followed the path up and onto the edge. I took things steady, hopping across the sharp outcrops of the high edge while keeping my right shoulder from undue stress. I spotted the couple who I had seen ahead of me were now on the climb of Foule Crag.

Sharp EdgeSharp Edge
Scrambling up Foule CragScrambling up Foule Crag

Wainwright said "Sharp Edge is a rising crest of naked rock, of sensational and spectacular appearance, a breaking wave carved in stone. The sight of it at close quarters is sufficient to make a beholder about to tackle it forget all other worries, even a raging toothache. The crest itself is sharp enough for shaving (the former name was Razor Edge) and can be traversed only à cheval at some risk of damage to tender parts." He adds "The climb up the side of Foule Crag from the end of the Edge is unpleasant". Not for me, it was a thrill of a scramble though the one armed haul up method I had to employ was a tad annoying.

View over Sharp Edge to Bannerdale CragsView over Sharp Edge to Bannerdale Crags
Climbing to BlencathraClimbing to Blencathra

During the climb cum scramble of Foule Crag I had moments to stop and look back across the glorious spectacle of Sharp Edge up close. It is something else, a marvellous sight to behold. I imagined that first time I crossed it, that great day of my stag weekend. I imagined my good and much missed pal Deke, stood on the smooth top slab of Sharp Edge while juggling with three small rocks he had found on the edge. That moment was magical, never forgettable. Thanks for the memory my friend. Soon later I finished my scramble up the rock face of Foule Crag which ended by following a path bearing off to the left of the crag and leading up to level ground near to Atkinson Pike.

The path from Foule Crag to BlencathraThe path from Foule Crag to Blencathra
Approaching Blencathra summitApproaching Blencathra summit

The hard yet thrilling crossing of Sharp Edge and equally hard exciting scramble of Foule Crag was now done. Time for a short hands on knees to catch the breath before the leisurely walk across the tops of Blencathra via Atkinson Pike to the true summit. While only 23 metres from the highest point I had a short descending walk to an unnamed small tarn to negotiate before climbing 40 metres from tarn to top of the mountain. As I took the walk over the high plateau of Blencathra I noticed assemblies of people at the top. Not just the two I had followed across Sharp Edge but more like thirty souls. There appeared to be a party on the mountain.

Lunchtime on BlencathraLunchtime on Blencathra
Scales Fell, Doddick Fell and Hall's FellScales Fell, Doddick Fell and Hall's Fell

The first warm day of Spring had brought quite a few mountain enthusiasts onto Blencathra. And why not, it was the prefect setting for a late lunch. At just before 2.00pm I had made it up the mountain in around 150 minutes. Not bad for a sexagenarian. The walkers I had seen as I had neared the summit were mostly sat in small groups, away from the summit point and sheltered from the mountain top breeze while enjoying refreshments and views in equal measure. I joined them, presuming I had earned it and reasoning I needed it as fuel before attempting the descent via Hall's Fell Ridge. From here on my pleasure on Blencathra mountain would be entirely new. While looking down to Scales Fell, Doddick Fell and Hall's Fell, collectively known as the fingers of Blencathra, I looked forward to the exploring the one on the right.

Descending steeply to Hall's FellDescending steeply to Hall's Fell
Hall's Fell RidgeHall's Fell Ridge

I packed up my tuck and set off on the walk down from Blencathra. The initial descent was steep and so I took it slow and carefully, not allowing myself to slip and end on my backside. Descents like this are tough on the knees and on the feet, much more so than any ascent, but necessary to avoid a) embarrassment and b) jolts, twists or sprains. I have suffered both a and b in the past by making undue haste on a steep descent. It is a sharp initial drop of around 100 metres on Hallsfell Top before reaching the ridge proper. When I had reached the ridge line, with precipitous drops eking out on both sides the descent became more technical. And less steep. I was pleased with that.

Climbing Hall's Fell RidgeClimbing Hall's Fell Ridge
The sublime curve of Hall's Fell RidgeThe sublime curve of Hall's Fell Ridge

Hall's Fell Ridge is an impressive sight from above. By climbing up the ridge one might not look back for long enough to appreciate its beauty but by looking down at what I was coming to I could see it for all its glory, a sublime ridge with an extraordinarily beautiful curve. On one of the narrowest sections of the ridge I met up with a couple making their way up. "Enjoying it" I asked. "Of course" the gentleman replied. The lady smiled, surely in agreement though she was a little puffed to say so.

Wainwright said of Hall's Fell Ridge "The last half mile of the ridge, from 2000' is entirely delightful. This section, known as the Narrow Edge, with good reason, is a succession of low crags, with steps and gateways and towers of rock". I concur with Wainwright's view, I had met the couple on one of the towers who I had to wait for as they cleared it before I could do the same. Back to Wainwright and his assessment of Hall's Fell Ridge. He concludes "Care is needed in places but there are no difficulties. Scramblers will enjoy following the crest throughout". And though I was descending via Hall's Fell Ridge I am obliged to share the great man's consideration of ascending Blencathra by this route. He says "For active walkers and scramblers, this route is positively the finest way to any mountain top in the district. It is direct, exhilarating, has glorious views, and (especially satisfying) scores a bulls-eye by leading unerringly to the summit-cairn."

Jagged edgesJagged edges
View to Great Mell Fell and Little Mell FellView to Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell

On the lower parts of Hall's Fell Ridge the going got much easier and without the need for hands helping the feet. I could relax from the efforts of the scrambling descent and look out to the views presented before me. Now I could see the twin rounded peaks of Great Mell Fell and Little Mell Fell, collectively two of Lakeland's lesser impressive peaks and appearing to be cast out from the bigger bullish crowd. It seems they are in the wrong place. In the plain lands of the east they would be much appreciated. Lauded even. Turning my eyes from left to right, next in view and across the Glenderamackin plain was Clough Head, the south most outlier of the Dodds. I recalled the last time I was on Clough Head in the company of a group of paragliders, each one filling the sky with bright colour. Turning my head still I came upon the view to Keswick, Derwent Water and the Newland Fells. It was hazy over there on this warm April day.

ThrelkeldThrelkeld
The path back to ScalesThe path back to Scales

I left Hall's Fell Ridge behind me and descended to the footpath leading to Gategill. Just before the hamlet I turned left and walked on a true eastwards course back to Scales. My day on Blencathra was done, just a decent walk back on the south fringe of the mountain left. Not without its fun either, especially the shuffle down to Scaley Beck, one across and over a huge slab of rock which needs to be done on ones bottom. When the rock is dry that is. It can be awkward when wet. With that last hurdle overcome and after a short climb over the east bank of the beck it was a straightforward short walk back to Scales. My wonderful walk was done and all the thrills I had wished for had been fulfilled. That much overdue and eagerly anticipated return to Sharp Edge was finally satisfied.

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