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View of Kirk Fell from Down in the Dale Bridge

It was a fine morning as I drove up the motorway but as I got closer to Wasdale the roads were wet; I had obviously just missed the rain. I haven't had much time for route planning recently so I had decided to just make the most of my last visit to Wasdale this year. By the time I parked my car on The Green at Wasdale Head the clouds were clearing fast; I walked back down the road and there was an excellent view of Kirk Fell and Great Gable from Down in the Dale bridge.

It takes half an hour to walk from Wasdale Head to the small car park at Overbeck Bridge but I would rather do it at the start of the day than at the end of a walk. At the far end of the car park there is path through bracken that runs by the side of Over Beck for a short while before climbing up towards the very obvious Yewbarrow. This first part of the path is becoming increasingly eroded and gets a bit muddy in places until you get past the bracken; then the ground is good, it is like a big sloping field and you follow a fence uphill. There would be no doubt about the route even without the fence; the rising green ridge heads directly towards the obvious rocky point of Bell Rib.

The ascent of Yewbarrow

As you quickly gain height on the steep slope you are given a good view all round; the Scafell group especially is well seen when the visibility is so good and the view stays with you for the full length of Yewbarrow. Just before you reach the first outcrop of rock, the ground gets a bit rougher and bracken starts to reassert itself; the sensible route is to cross the wall at a substantial ladder-stile but one day I will try continuing up the interesting looking crest of the ridge to see how far I can get. Having crossed over the wall you follow a level path through bracken; the paths forks at some stage but I missed seeing where it branched off, if you wanted to avoid climbing Yewbarrow you need to lake the left hand path.

The ascent of Yewbarrow

I didn't want to avoid Yewbarrow and by keeping to the right I started to go uphill anyway, heading towards the unmistakeable Dropping Crag. Before you reach the crag itself the path turns right and makes a little bit of a zigzag up to a very eroded path where you turn left up steep, rugged ground by the side of a scree-filled gully. At the top of the gully you have the option of crossing to where a small wall is built on the grass top of Dropping Crag and finding your way upwards through steep vegetation. I prefer the more direct scramble up a rocky gully; you have to find a route that avoids slippery rock, there isn't a great deal of exposure but it would still hurt if you lost your footing and fell on to the rocks.

Surprise view from Yewbarrow

At the top of the scramble there is a cairn at which point a small path follows the contours for a short way before an eroded ascent towards Great Door. On the right is a smaller gully that you can scramble up, it isn't that steep but the footholds are not good and if you grab hold of a rock it usually comes away in your hand. Having climbed the gully it is obvious why there is a path through the heather running parallel to the gully; it is much easier on the fingernails. The path rejoins the gully near the top of it and there is an escape route on the right that avoids the awkward exit from the gully.

It is worth making that final awkward step because this is Wainwright's Surprise View; if you step up onto the small grassy ledge, no more than a foot wide, you can suddenly see down to Wastwater through a gap in the crags. On the right is a rocky scramble up onto the very end of Bell Rib; one day I will climb up to it but not when the rocks are greasy, the exposure is very great. As it is you have an awkward step up to the left to walk over an airy, grassy ridge before descending carefully down about eight feet of usually greasy rock. This place is Great Door, the notch in the skyline that you can see from the valley; now you have the best views of the day.

You have a bit more easy climbing to do, mainly on grass but there are a couple of rocks to step up, before you reach the cairn at the southern end of Yewbarrow; the summit is surprisingly still quite a long way along the ridge. It was a very pleasant walk on the broad, flat ridge in the warm sunshine; I did need my pertex wind-proof jacket on, the breeze was a bit too cool for wearing just a tee shirt. All the time I was anticipating the rugged descent of Stirrup Crag knowing that its north facing rocks would be more slippery than usual.

When you get to the cairn at the northern end of Yewbarrow the ground falls away steeply and suddenly; if you didn't know there was a way down you could easily be persuaded that there wasn't one. Most of it is straightforward enough but there are three rock steps that are easier to climb than descend; on the way up you can use your knees, on the way down you have to stretch your legs and hold tight. The trick is to see the sideways movements you have to make rather than go straight down and to keep hold of course. The final section of the path is an eroded and stony obstacle course but it shouldn't cause you any problems and you soon reach the grassy plateau of Door Head.

Bell Rib on Yewbarrow

The path almost disappears for a while but if you keep going in the direction of Red Pike you will soon pick it up again as it become more obvious again. The climb to Red Pike isn't steep but is quite strenuous but not tedious; there is a mix of grass and boulders, sometimes a more obvious path and a zigzag route through rocks. After the rocky section the path becomes more obvious and a bit more eroded and goes round to the right of the large rock outcrop at the start of the ridge. Rather than follow the path I headed directly upwards, hopping over boulders or climbing on grass around the larger outcrops; surprisingly I found cairns on this route.

The direct route took me to the The Chair, on a rock platform overlooking Seatallan and Buckbarrow is a cairn made into the shape of a chair complete with arms and backrest. Carry on upwards over bouldery ground with no signs of a path and you will reach a large cairn; built on a rock plateau, I used to think it was the summit but in good visibility you can see that the highest point is further along the ridge. If you follow the path rather than keeping to the edge you will walk across the shoulder of Red Pike, missing not only the summit but also the dramatic views down to Mosedale.

View from the ascent of Red Pike

The Seat and Seatallan

I followed the edge to another cairn before dropping down to the path to get to the col before making the climb up Scoat Fell. There is a cairn at the col and a faint path heads towards Scoat Fell for a short distance but then you are on your own; there is no problem in good visibility but a compass is essential in poor visibility on the featureless slope. You can tell you are getting close to the summit ridge when you reach a boulder field, you can hop from rock to rock for quite a distance without putting a foot on the ground.

In good weather you can see that the summit wall on the horizon although it is difficult to see where the boulders finish and the wall starts; both of them being made of the same rock. When you reach the wall if you look along it you will see where a small cairn has been built on top of it; that is the summit of Scoat Fell and you will find a gap in the wall close to it. Once you get through the wall you can pay a quick visit to Steeple if you have time but I didn't; it was getting cooler too and I wondered if I might get wet before I got back to Wasdale.

Looking back to Red Pike on the ascent of Scoat Fell

I turned right, in the direct of Pillar, before hopping over Scoat Fell's biggest boulders to reach the end of the wall and then start to descend; more boulders at first and then a good grassy walk to Black Crag. It's an easy climb from this direction to the rocky crown of Black Crag, a collect of boulders, cairns and shelters impressive enough for any summit. I had to admit I was feeling cold by then and had to put on my big jacket and a pair of gloves although I was still wearing shorts. To descend from Black Crag it would seem easier at first glance to clamber down the boulders on the right hand side; but really you should carry on along the crest of the ridge where the steep-looking drop is in fact an eroded but obvious path downwards.

The views from Black Crag were good enough for any mountain summit; from Ennerdale Water to Great Gable and lots more. The other thing you can see from Black Crag is just what a big hill Pillar is; it looks a big climb up from Wind Gap. The steep descent leads you to the grassy col of Wind Gap and then you have the rugged, steep ascent of Pillar; the walkers coming down were complaining how tough it was to descend but after five hours already it was a strenuous climb. To be honest I was on my second wind by the time I reached the summit of Pillar and if I had time I would have been happy to continue on the Kirk Fell.

As I reached the summit of Pillar the mist came in and I though the weather might break properly; continuing to Kirk Fell would have made it nearly 7pm by the time I got down which would have been too late and probably too dark. I walked down the ridge towards Black Sail Pass rather than descend to the High Level Route in view of the time and possibility of wet and greasy rocks around the Shamrock Traverse. I walked all the way to Black Sail Pass rather than take the short cut back to Wasdale; I was still half-hoping to climb Kirk Fell but by the time I reached the pass I had convinced myself it was too late.

The walk down to Wasdale from Black Sail Pass is straightforward but it can be hard work after a long day on the hills; I passed several others walkers making slow progress with sore feet and aching legs. Goodbye to Wasdale for this year; it had made a special effort to give me a good send off.

Andy Wallace 30th September 2006

Looking north from Looking Stead

The day's photo gallery is here

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