Pen by Thor’s Buttress to Scafell Pike

Great Gable from Scafell Pike
Great Gable (Napes crags facing us), Kirk Fell left, Ennerdale behind, looking towards Grasmoor

April 2013 and I was on my own while Joy went to China for two weeks. Time for mountain adventures. The chosen location was Eskdale, the Woolpack Inn specifically. The planned outing was to walk along Eskdale to the east side of the Scafell range and ascend the three star grade 3 scramble of Pen by Thor’s Buttress, then see what happens¬†after that.

South down Eskdale
Looking south down Eskdale

The scenery is magnificent right from the start but the weather wasn’t so magnificent. Despite being well into spring it started out cold, windy and with heavy snow and hail showers but the forecast was supposed to be good so I persevered.

At the junction of the Esk with Lingcove Beck there are several ways to go. I chose to start the scrambling on the fairly vegetated rocks between the two water courses, marked as either Throstle Garth or Scar Lathing on the map. Whatever the hill is called it was good to get my scrambling muscles warmed up. Then over the aptly named Great Moss. You’re now in amongst the best and most spectacular scenery in the whole the Lake District, with Scafell, Scafell Pike, Ill Crag, Great End, Bowfell, and Crinkle Crags visible and a really wild and remote feel. The route I was following didn’t have another soul on it, though that would change later on when I reached the summit of England’s highest mountain.

Eskdale falls

Looking towards the Scafell range from the waterfalls in upper Eskdale

The start of the proper scrambling is on the right hand end of the classic climbing crag of Esk Buttress and aims for the very attractive pointed summit of Pen, which isn’t even named on the OS map. The route is easy to find to start with but finding the best line wasn’t always obvious. At one point I needed a very delicate traverse to get back onto easier ground. The scrambling was good and the rock was nice.

Esk Buttress
Esk Buttress right hand end, Thor’s cave is the black gash at the right.

After the first section it eased into rocky walking to reach the base of the summit rocks. From below this looks like just a few metres worth but turns out to be another fifty metres of very nice scrambling, easier than the first section. The summit isn’t really an independent top, just a protrusion on the side of the east flank of Scafell Pike, but it’s a wonderful viewpoint and I was totally alone among very grand and wild rock scenery.

Eskdale view from Thor's Cave route
The view south down Eskdale from the Thor’s Cave scramble on Esk Buttress to Pen
Towards Pen Summit
Above the first hard pitches of Thor’s cave, rocky walking leads to further scrambling on Pen summit

The onwards route to the summit of the Pike was most attractive, steep rocky walking for the most part. I started to find dustings of snow and build-ups of hoar frost sculpted by the wind. The weather had improved by now and it was largely bright and sunny, though still very cold.

Toward Scafell Pike
More rocky walking and scrambling from Pen summit to Scafell Pike

Reaching the summit I also reached the crowds. At least fifty people there. As Scafell Pike summit is very wide, it accomodates them well and you don’t feel overly crowded. The view is quite spectacular. You see the sea both to the south and to the north-west, and all round to Skiddaw and Derwentwater, Ennerdale, down Eskdale, over to Langdale, Wetherlam, Coniston, and many others.

Towards Derwentwater
From Scafell Pike summit, Styhead tarn below, looking down Borrowdale to Derwentwater, Skiddaw is in the distance leftwards

The return was down to Mickledore to start, with an incredible close-up view of Scafell crag, one of the Lake District’s most classic climbing crags. There had been significant snowfalls in the winter of 2012/2013 and even at the end of April Lord’s Rake was still fully banked out with hard snow.

Lord's Rake
Lord’s Rake on Scafell Crag fully banked out with snow

While there (this was my first time on the Scafell range) I checked out Broad Stand, the infamous step that can take the adventurous from Mickledore to Scafell. Looks very good but definitely for another time as it was both wet and icy.

So, the descent was to be down the beck towards the falls of Cam Spout and back to Great Moss. Cam Spout is a wonderful set of falls down a rocky staircase, with some simple scrambling to one side and great views out over Eskdale.

Clouds, Upper Eskdale
Cloud formations in the afternoon above upper Eskdale

The return was largely back the same way but this time much warmer and sunnier and I could linger a little, looking at the turquoise rock pools of the River Esk.

Here’s a gallery of all the best shots of the day. All taken with the Pentax K20D – this was before I’d bought my Olympus.

Roughing it part II

We left our hero on the hill after he’d settled down for a short night, with the alarm set for 4am ready for the sunrise.

I didn’t get much sleep, probably not surprisingly, but woke up about 3:30 and looked about. It was already getting light and there was already some nice colour in the sky. I decided I might as well get up anyway. I’ve noticed before how sunrise on a clear day can come with the most amazing set of colours, especially blues and purples.

The light gradually came, though the sun itself didn’t appear over the tops of the hills until about forty minutes after the “official” sunrise time. I gave it until about six o’clock before I decided the colour had gone.

I did take a few shots on the walk back, one of which was surprisingly good and which appears here.

All in all, despite my ungrateful complaint that the weather was too nice, I was happy with the shots I got and now I’m looking at the weather wondering when I’ll do it again. Not today, the rain is coming down like stair rods.

Nearly all shots taken with the Olympus again except the final one, which was with the Pentax K20D.

Roughing it for my art

I’ve¬†been threatening for a while to spend the night on the hills to get the late sunset and early sunrise and Joy has been sceptical at my lack of action but I finally got round to it on Monday last. I had a spot on Birker Fell in mind from a long-ago memory of a spectacular sunset there lighting up the Scafell range. I also knew there’d be no problem finding overnight parking (which is usually forbidden in most of the managed car parks).

Birker Fell is a wild, desolate and mostly deserted corner of lakeland just south of Eskdale and west of the Duddon valley. It’s mostly low rolling rough boggy pasture. At this time of year there is lots of cotton grass and other wild flowers, though it’s the cotton grass that stands out from a distance.

I arrived about six on possibly the hottest day of the year so far. I was camping in the Lakes just three weeks ago for the Rheged exhibition and the night-time temperatures were well below freezing, ice forming on the inside of the tent. That wouldn’t be a problem this time. Two other things were more immediately worrying. The first was some dramatic and very photogenic thunder clouds sitting over the nearby mountains. I really didn’t fancy an electric-fuelled drenching. The second problem was more subtle but much more insidious. The dreaded midge. In position on a small craggy hilltop I started to realise that it isn’t just Scotland that suffers from this evil. I was seriously worried by the idea of spending eight hours being eaten alive but gradually a breeze picked up and they ran scared.

My hotel room for the night
My hotel room for the night

The warm sunny weather made the bivvying easy but the sunset lacked any real drama. Some lovely colours on the foreground rocks but I would have liked some clouds to catch the fire of the sunset.

Bed at 10:30, still fairly light but I wouldn’t get any more pictures.

Here are the sunset pictures. My next post will be about the sunrise just five hours later. All pictures below taken with the Olympus OMD-EM10

Harris is more than tweed

Do yourself a favour and make a trip to the Isle of Harris. We’ve seen a lot of lovely beaches while we’ve walked the south-west coast path and visited several gorgeous mediterranean shorelines but I’ve never seen anything like the beaches of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

The water is like turquoise crystal, the sand golden white and all so peaceful.

Climbing at the World’s End

The crag at World’s End isn’t literally at the end of the world but feels like it as you apply Xeno’s paradox along the twisty single track road from Llangollen. Exceptionally beautiful at this time of year, with wild garlic, hawthorn and elderflowers everywhere and all the trees now in full leaf. It’s real name is Craig-Y-Forwen but I think gets its more poetic title from the nearby World’s End farm.

The crag is in a particularly lovely spot within this lovely landscape. The easiest access is to the right hand end of the upper tier, which is right up against the path and has an easy walk up/down to/from the top of the routes and plenty of useful trees for belays, but watch out for jagged branch ends sticking out just at eye level.

The weather was hot and sunny and with the clean limestone and wooded hills I could easily have been climbing in Burgundy again.

As this was our first outdoor session for eight or ten months (see how the excuses come so readily already) we just did a top-roping session. The routes were very polished, which made them feel much harder (more excuses) but we were moving well and climbed them without too much trouble.

Routes done were: