Slight Side summit

The summit of Slight Side

Date completed: 3rd July 2010

Weather conditions:  Breezy and, until about 12.30, overcast and quite cold. Above 2500 feet we were in the mist. It cleared after that but remained breezy.

Fells climbedLingmell (2649 feet above sea level, no. 66), Scafell (3162’, no. 67), Slight Side (2499’, no. 68).

Distance:  11 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 4200 feet approx.

Great Gable in the mist

Looking up to Great Gable from the Valley Route to Sty Head

Start and end points:  Started at Wasdale Head. This is not reachable by public transport which is why this was the second day of a two-day hike. following walk 20a.

Finished at Dalegarth railway station from where I could catch the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway; four trains (changing at Ravenglass, Barrow and Preston) and five hours later I was back in Hebden Bridge.

Pub at end:  I literally ran past two pubs in Eskdale, the Woolpack and the Brook House, as I strove to catch the 14:50 departure from Dalegarth; then I had only 10 minutes to sample the Ratty Arms at Ravenglass Station (named for the nickname of the R&ER, ‘Little Ratty’), so it’s unfair to really review it. Technically then the pub at the end today was my local, the Railway in Hebden Bridge. And a good pub it is too.

Route card: Click on the link to download a route card (.doc format), showing summary information, a map, the elevation profile and waypoints with grid references. Route card for walk 20b: Scafell

Route: The well-used path to Sty Head leaves Wasdale Head by the isolated little B&B near the car park. Clearly seen ahead is the ‘Terrace Route’ which rises across the slopes of Great Gable, but you don’t want this; instead, follow the ‘Valley Route’ which sticks to the banks of Lingmell Beck. It is then not easy to say where your route should depart this path and head off to the right, but Piers Gill is starting to become visible ahead and it is easy enough to find a route that sticks close to the left bank of the ravine, as you look at it. (Do not follow up the right-hand bank as you look at it; there is no way through.) This is not a difficult ascent except at one point where some fairly easy scrambling up a low crag is required.

Broad Crag from Lingmell col

Broad Crag from Lingmell col; last view I had of anything for about half an hour

At Lingmell col, don’t follow everyone else unless you want to climb Scafell Pike. Lingmell is back round behind you. I went up to the summit and returned to the same spot and then had to take a rather artificial route around the western face of Scafell Pike, following the path above Hollow Stones which is clear on the map, but much less obvious on the bouldery ground. Still, Scafell Crag is there in front to give directions (in mist, follow the cairns as best you can). Mickledore – the cleft between Scafell and Scafell Pike – is up to the left, but to reach this tiny, narrow platform is  a tough climb up difficult, eroded scree. However, you will be happy to hear that worse is to come. (Also, note that if you do want to try Lord’s Rake, you need to tend to the right here, instead of the left.)

The ascent of Scafell from Mickledore appears a tough proposition whichever route is chosen. I saw some brave or idiotic souls climbing Broad Stand, but presumably they knew what they were doing. I knew that was out of bounds, but as said below, Lord’s Rake looked way out of my comfort zone too, so I ended up struggling down a difficult slope to the gully at NY213065 then up to Foxes Tarn. Ascents to the left or right of the bath-sized tarn look possible: I went right, and the summit is then on the left.

In clear weather the route to Slight Side is obvious: in mist I guess it will be a matter of sticking close to the escarpment on the left. Remember that Slight Side is the second subsidiary summit visible ahead, the first being Long Green, a shoulder of Scafell rather than a fell in its own right.

Having scampered around on the rocks of Slight Side’s summit the next problem (as if you haven’t suffered enough today already) is to get off.  I don’t know whether an easier route is possible by going back down to the saddle to the north and then round, but the climb down off the front is difficult.  Once down to more level ground, the path ahead is very sketchy and it is better to navigate by looking ahead: the obvious valley on the left is Cowcove Beck, but you are actually heading for the less obvious Catcove Beck; Cat Crag in the middle-distance divides the two and you should head for the right of it.

The path then becomes clearer, but is also, in its lower stretches, half-choked by bracken. Nevertheless it does eventually bring you down to the car park near Wha House Farm and from there it’s a matter of walking along the Eskdale road until you reach the pub, sorry, railway station.

Broad Stand, Scafell

Broad Stand, Scafell. The guys in the red jackets may, or may not, still be alive.

He-man commentary stuff: Today stood as a real contrast to the day before. Whereas that had been bright and sunny, if windy, today was dull and cool until lunchtime. The summits were in mist above 2,500 feet. Yesterday was a straightforward hike, with no rocks to handle, no really steep slopes and no difficulty. Today had at least four or five tough sections and plonked me in the middle of the most fearsome rock scenery that the Lakes have to offer the average walker. Yesterday I sprang along like a young faun but today was tough.

Whether it made a difference that I’d done 12+ miles yesterday I don’t know; at least staying in Wasdale Head got me out on the fells early. I left the pub/hotel at 8.30 am and until I reached the summit of Lingmell two hours later I didn’t see another person. From there to the summit of Scafell was as difficult as anything I’ve done so far, including Pillar and Rosthwaite Fell last month. Getting round to Mickledore was hard enough; it probably would have been easier just to go over the top of Scafell Pike but I’m resolved in my commitment to leave that until last, so today was as near as I’ll get to the summit of England for another two years at least. However the terrace route I took to avoid the Pike wasn’t easy, and the final climb up to Mickledore was tough, up a badly eroded slope of scree – but worse was to come.

Lord's Rake, Scafell

The nearest I got, or ever intend to get, to Lord’s Rake on Scafell Crag

The clouds were just about starting to clear as I reached Mickledore and found Broad Stand through the mist (see the picture above), but I couldn’t really see Scafell Crag above: which was probably just as well. I looked again at page 4 of Wainwright’s chapter on Scafell where he describes the Lord’s Rake route up the crag as quite practical for the ordinary walker, but to get to it required a horrible descent of a hundred feet or so down sliding scree that felt like it was all about to accompany me all the way back to Wasdale Head; having survived that I then found myself looking up at what appeared to me to be a mostly vertical chimney filled with the same stuff.

Had I seen other people engaged on the ascent I might have given it a go but stood there, at the bottom, and imagining myself reaching the top of the visible section (that being less than halfway up the whole thing) and simply sliding down to the bottom again, doubtless not without injury…. no way. I want to climb 330 fells unscathed and not be put in fear of my life. Call me a wuss if you like, I was calling myself one, but there were other ways to get up. [From a message posted on Facebook later it sounds like ascent of Lord’s Rake is not recommended at the moment, due to a rockfall near the top of this first section: which you can just see on this photograph.]

Not that the route I took was altogether easy or pleasant either. The descent down from Mickledore was not really any better than the other side, and the wet, steep gully up to Foxes Tarn was made memorable for me and the other walkers by the half-rotted body of a sheep that probably fell off the East Buttress of Scafell a few weeks ago. One didn’t exactly have to climb over it, but it’s impossible to ignore.  Yuk.  By the way, Foxes Tarn, at the top of the gully, is surely one of the world’s smallest named bodies of water: my bath is bigger. Anyway, at least 90 minutes after leaving Lingmell and by now, well behind schedule, I finally made it to the top of Scafell, and an altitude I will not re-attain on these walks until the final day.

The descent from Scafell became hard on the knees but I distracted myself for twenty minutes or so with the summit of Slight Side, a delightful pair of rocky platforms that one can safely scramble around, and for the first time since Piers Gill there was some shelter from the constant south-west wind. But Slight Side then blew its positive review by being a real pain to descend, and having already had a hard day I’m really just wanting to go home at this point.

Coach on Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway

…. and the miniature steam railway took him home.

I finally got down to the road at Wha House at 14:27pm, and the train I wanted to catch is leaving from Dalegarth station, 1½ miles away, at 14:50. If I hadn’t got that train I wouldn’t have got home until 10pm, if I caught it I’m home by 8. I did some calculations in my head and realised that I wouldn’t make it unless I ran. I experimentally jogged for a minute, and despite my aching knees, my backpack and the fact that the sun had come out and it was quite warm, I felt I could do it – and make the train with 5 minutes to spare.

I should therefore have no worries about my physical capacity for these walks but today had been mentally difficult. In fact there was a point towards the end where I was starting to wonder whether all this was worth it. But once I did finally sit down, rest, put good tunes on the iPod and let four punctual and comfortable trains (steam to Ravenglass and diesel to Barrow, Preston and Hebden Bridge) take me home I got my spirits back. After all, I climbed the second-highest mountain in England today. No one said it should be easy.

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