Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Blencathra the hard way

Halls Fell Ridge
I'm sure many folks will try and tell me that the only hard way up Blencathra is via Sharp Edge, but I beg to differ.  The Sharp Edge route is actually quite straightforward apart from the short and rather dangerous section across the edge itself; if you want a route that's a challenge from start to finish then Halls Fell Ridge is the route you'll be wanting.

Halls Fell Ridge
Halls Fell Ridge is one of the magnificent buttress-like ridges that make up the south side of Blencathra.  It is challenging, uncompromising and, in some of the higher sections, downright scary.  During the ascent there are no nice gentle flat areas on which to catch your breath, there is only up and you are under no illusion of that fact right from the start.  As you leave Threlkeld and approach the fell you may begin to question your sanity as it looms high above you but, if you take your time and keep a cool head, you'll be rewarded with one of the most enjoyable fell top scrambles in the Lake District.

The lower sections take you along a steep and easy enough to follow stone path, but don't be fooled, this route builds Bolero style and before long the stone path disappears leaving you to pick your own way up and over the rocky outcrops.

Route up Halls Fell Ridge

The route though the rocks

At some points you can make out a polished stone route created by the boots of a thousand hikers before you but be warned, those polished stones are mighty slippy and this is no place to lose your footing.  There are ledges where you can pause, catch your breath and admire the views, though my main complaint about climbing Blencathra is that when I'm on Blencathra I can't see Blencathra and for me it is one of the finest looking fells in the Lake District.  That said, the panoramas are none too shabby.

View from Halls Fell Ridge

As you near the top the summit ridge stretches out ahead of you with its promise of yet more breathtaking panoramas and, more importantly, somewhere to rest and enjoy a well earned break, though to be honest my slightly frayed nerves could have done with something a little stronger than PG Tips.

Blencathra Summit Ridge
It was blowing a bit of a hooley the day we were up there so we hunkered down behind one of the cairns to shelter from the wind and enjoyed fine views of Skiddaw as we munched our lunch.

Views from near our lunch spot
After such a challenging ascent we opted for a long but gentle descent along the top of Atkinson Pike before swinging down and along the valley of the wonderfully named River Glendermaken.  I'm not usually a fan of descents but this one is gentle, picturesque and offers superb views of Sharp Edge calling for much pausing to soak up what was left of the summer sun and finish off the flasks of tea.

Sharp Edge
There are also fine views back along the valley of the long flat summit which show exactly where Blencathra's other name of "Sadleback" came from. (Although the name Blencathra is derived from Cumbric and means "bare hilltop shaped like a chair" which also makes a lot of sense.)

Blencathra or Saddleback

All that now remained was the trek back along the base of the fell to an eagerly awaited pint in the late afternoon sun at The Salutation in Threlkeld. We then eased our aching bones into the car and headed home but were waylayed en route by a rather stunning sunset over Windermere.  Away in the distance a smörgåsbord of fells lined up and the debate in the car home turned to which fell, which route and in what order.  Decisions, decisions...

You're next, and then you, you and you...

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