Blencathra is one of Wainwright’s best half-dozen and our campsite was right at the foot of this beauty, so we decided to have a look.
I learnt lessons from previous Lakeland walks and read Wainwright’s Northern Fells carefully (it’s proved that I still haven’t driven it home!). A total of 36 pages are dedicated to Blencathra! A list of routes for ascents and descents are recommended in the book: Going up steep and exhilarating routes and coming down boring but safe routes. I didn’t know why I ignored the advice, but we did it the opposite way.
We started from Blencathra Centre car park and went up Blease Fell. The car park was about 300m altitude, which felt like cheating, especially when the summit was only 868m.
The climb wasn’t particularly difficult. The view was behind us: the white tipi in our campsite stood like a beacon almost all the way till we reached the top; Derwent Water and Thirlmere unfolded behind the mountains; the summit of Skiddaw hidden in the cloud. Knowe Crags was an exciting sight and from there the climb turned into a leisurely walk.
We inspected Hall’s Fell Ridge on the summit which was Wainwright’s first choice of ascent. “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.”
By the time we reached the top, the glorious view south was enveloped in mist. I haven’t yet been able to compare the actual view from a summit with Wainwright’s drawing even once – too cold, too windy, too cloudy, or a mixture of above (Skiddaw!).
Turning slightly north, we soon overlooked Scales Tarn, “one of the most characteristic mountain tarns in the district”, and Sharp Edge which leads to it. We started to go down “the well-known Sharp Edge, second in fame to Striding Edge on Helvellyn as a test for walkers”, thinking our lunch spot would be reached soon. We were very wrong.
About Sharp Edge, Wainwright says, “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.”
A man who had just climbed up looked at us with an unbelieving face and said, you crazy people. Wainwright agrees with him I think, “Be warned, a fall here can be fatal and this route should not be attempted in wet or icy conditions.” It was a clear, dry and calm day, but it wasn’t any less terrifying.
Touching every rock with our bottom, we landed on firm ground with shaky legs and dizzy heads. We sat next to Scales Tarn for a late lunch, recovering from the hard labour, feeling sore muscles.
Looking back at Sharp Edge one last time:
The path skirting around the foot of the mountain back to the car park was long and boring after the excitement of Sharp Edge. However, there was a rocky cliff at one point just as dangerous, and was totally unexpected. Thinking about it now, I’m just thankful we were climbing up not down at that point. We could have ended up with broken arms rather than scratches and bruises.
We got back to the car park after 6 hours, aching all over.
This was our first time walking with friends. I thoroughly loved it. I couldn’t even remember myself saying “I’m hungry” “I’m thirsty” “I can’t walk any longer”. There were photos. There were jokes and laughter. However, it was unwise of me not to check carefully their experience and skill with mountain walking before risking everybody on Sharp Edge. Thank God that we are all home safe and sound.
Thank you Dan and Becky for such a lovely time. Let’s do it again (when Dan is recovered…)!