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Wast Water Fells / 3 days / 24miles (39km)

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Date: 18 Oct 2007
Start / Finish: Nether Wasdale, by St. Michaels Church.
Maps: Explorer OL6: English Lakes South West.

Day 1Middle Fell to Yewbarrow North Top9.3 miles / 4770 feet (15km / 1450m)
Day 2Yewbarrow & Lingmell4.5 miles / 2590 feet (7.2km / 790m)
Day 3The Scafells & Illgill Head9.5 miles / 3160 feet (15.3km / 960m)

Another fine circuit of the fells around Wast Water, this time including Yewbarrow and the Scafells. The weather on the second day was unexpectedly miserable with clag and drizzle in the afternoon and I took a different route than planned, pitching early in the hope of better things the next day, and it was a good decision: the next morning was one of those superb times to savour forever.

Day 1 - Middle Fell to Yewbarrow North Top

Walking up the valley to Greendale it was soon clear that things would be a lot warmer than expected, and on the ascent of Middle Fell there was hardly a breath of wind but quite a few midges to keep me moving. Fortunately a light breeze developed at the top and the views were superb.

The Scafells from Middle Fell
The Scafells from Middle Fell (18 Oct 2007__11:26:43)

Descending around Greendale Tarn and across the damp col, the steep climb to Seatallan doesn't get any easier but the angle soon relents at the broad whaleback top and the trig point is a welcome sight.

Yewbarrow from Seatallan
Yewbarrow from Seatallan (18 Oct 2007__12:17:54)
Red Pike from Seatallan
Red Pike from Seatallan (18 Oct 2007__12:34:00)

I descended the NE ridge and followed a discernible path across Pots of Ashness towards Haycock, a little trodden area which has always been deserted on our visits and today was no exception. The path peters out approaching Gowder Crag but reappears on the R side to climb easily up the SE slopes to the stony top, where extensive views opened out to the north on the ridge to Scoat Fell. Red Pike is a grand viewpoint for the Mosedale fells.

Ennerdale from Scoat Fell
Ennerdale from Scoat Fell (18 Oct 2007__14:27:21)
Pillar from Red Pike
Pillar from Red Pike (18 Oct 2007__15:09:32)
Black Sail Pass from Red Pike
Black Sail Pass from Red Pike (18 Oct 2007__15:30:31)

After the descent to Dore Head it was already a tiring day, but there was still the steep ascent of Stirrup Crag looming ahead. Fortunately this is such an enjoyable clamber up the rock that the ascent is hardly noticed and all too soon the spine of Yewbarrow is reached, with the N top a short way along. A little further I made my pitch and later the low evening light cast a gorgeous glow on the Scafells.

Despite the very light wind, the new mesh panels I had incorporated into the Akto worked well and ventilation was just like the Voyager, a vast improvement.

Burnmoor Tarn from the pitch on Yewbarrow
Burnmoor Tarn from the pitch on Yewbarrow (18 Oct 2007__17:08:02)
Evening light on the Scafells from the pitch on Yewbarrow
Evening light on the Scafells from the pitch on Yewbarrow (18 Oct 2007__17:51:17)

Day 2 - Yewbarrow & Lingmell

The morning dawned dull and cloudy but most tops were clear as I set off along the broad ridge for the main top of Yewbarrow, but even as I approached the cairn the views were getting murkier, and the excellent prospect of Wast Water from the end cairn was muted in grey tones. At the bottom of the steep rocky section beyond the Great Door is the infamous horrible eroded scree chute, most of which I could bypass on one side to reach the ladder stile on the final grassy slope. Near the bottom I took the footpath L that cuts off the corner and emerges on the road to Brackenclose.

The original plan was to ascend via the Piers Gill path, but the weather seemed to be getting worse and I had no wish to tackle that route in these conditions: better to leave that for a good day. I decided to walk past the NT campsite and ascend directly to Lingmell, one of those merciless steep grassy climbs that seems to take ages, and by the time I stopped for a snack at the point where the angle eases the weather had indeed turned dank and grey. At the summit on the brink of the precipitous crags there was some compensation in the brooding atmospheric views down onto Piers Gill with veils of mist swirling about.

Mist veils over Piers Gill from Lingmell
Mist veils over Piers Gill from Lingmell (19 Oct 2007__11:57:23)

Decision time: whether to continue the climb and pitch higher up, or pitch now and hope for better conditions tomorrow. After pottering around Lingmell crags for a while I decided to pitch early at this level, I would then have the option of omitting the Scafells if the weather was really bad at dawn. I found a good pitch below the summit and the decision paid off when it started raining later in the afternoon, although the sky started to clear after dark.

Day 3 - The Scafells & Illgill Head

Early this morning there was a clear starry sky and I started packing up well before dawn, setting off just as it was light enough to see clearly. This is a fantastic time to begin a walk, and I made rapid progress up the cairned path to arrive at the roof of England just after sunrise with a lovely orange glow over the peaks, a rare experience particularly in complete solitude. Approaching Mickledore the early glow highlighted Broad Stand in sharp relief, one of the most notorious accident black spots.

Sunrise from Scafell Pike
Sunrise from Scafell Pike (20 Oct 2007__08:04:13)
Early light on Broad Stand & Sca Fell
Early light on Broad Stand & Sca Fell (20 Oct 2007__08:13:50)

An eroded path of slithery scree leads down to Foxes Tarn gully, which provides a very enjoyable ascent with the small stream coming down the rocks, and is over all too quickly as the tiny tarn comes into view. By contrast a steep and very eroded path climbs up to the ridge with just a few small sections of pitched paving for respite, but the ascent was short and the cross of stones at the foot of Symonds Knott was soon reached. This separate Nuttall summit is hardly ever mentioned but a quick clamber up the rocks gains the top.

Symonds Knott
Symonds Knott (20 Oct 2007__09:23:39)

A brief walk S is the main summit of Sca Fell: having the summit areas of the two highest peaks in England to myself on such a great morning is a superb memory that will never fade. The next section was always going to be potentially the hardest: the crossing to Illgill Head while minimising height loss. I wanted to investigate the Long Gill area and the steep descent of 2300' is initially over boulder fields. Walking a short way S I spotted a cairned path slanting down in roughly the right direction, which I followed until it disappeared at a large boulder. It did get me down the roughest upper section of boulders, and from here I descended towards Long Gill mainly on grass with scattered thin ribbons of smaller rocks.

The R side of Long Gill is rather boggy at times but not too bad, and this turned out to be a most attractive spot with little waterfalls and cascades lower down, a little known wild pocket of the Lake District. There was a good view of Burnmoor Tarn, actually blue for once, surrounded by the autumnal hues of the bracken.

Long Gill waterfalls with Sca Fell above
Long Gill waterfalls with Sca Fell above (20 Oct 2007__11:19:42)
Burnmoor Tarn
Burnmoor Tarn (20 Oct 2007__11:26:42)

From the foot of the lowest cascades I took the squelchy path to the tarn and turned R on the good valley track towards Wasdale Head. From near spot-height 287m (183052) I noticed a thin path climbing directly up the steep eastern flanks of Illgill Head, and this led unerringly to the first cairn at the northern end of the ridge. The views from this fine long ridge are excellent, both to the nearby peaks and down the screes to Wast Water. At the southern end a wet bridleway descends Irton Fell to pass through a wood to Cinderdale Bridge.

View from Illgill Head
View from Illgill Head (20 Oct 2007__12:43:14)