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All you need to know about walking up Scafell Pike in the Lake District.
In the south-west corner of the central Lake District lies a high range of fells that includes six of the ten highest mountains in England, at the top of which is Scafell Pike. It is the summit of a large rocky plateau that stretches from Great End in the north to Sca Fell in the south, and whose craggy sides mean that any ascent is surrounded by towering rock. Though the naming of Scafell Pike and Sca Fell can be confusing, it is easy to remember which is the highest as pike simply means ‘peak’.
The quickest ascent is from Wasdale, the remote and deep valley on the western side, home to Wastwater, England’s deepest lake. This is the route most commonly done on the National Three Peaks Challenge, and heads relentlessly up the steep gully separating Scafell Pike from Lingmell, before the final clamber over the summit boulders. Though the walk is relatively short, it provides an impressive view of the western buttresses of both Scafell Pike and Scafell, and gives the mountain its most precipitous aspect.
If Wasdale is your starting point, and there can hardly be a more impressive start, another option is to climb up via Mickedore, the slippery gully that separates Sca Fell and Scafell Pike and which leads to a path which approaches the summit from the south. Or of course you can ascend Sca Fell, England’s second highest mountain, before tacking Scafell Pike. They are close together, but the route between them involves some steep descent and takes longer than it seems from the map.
From the north, the Scafell Range has a large number of possible paths. As a whole, Scafell Pike feels half way between Ben Nevis and Snowdon; it has the bulky shape and rocky summit of Ben Nevis with the variety of route choices offered by Snowdon. It is possible to climb Scafell Pike from both Borrowdale and Langdale, two of the greatest Lake District valleys, which are easier to get to but which provide a much longer day out than a climb from Wasdale.
One of the more popular of these longer routes starts at Seathwaite in Borrowdale, the wettest inhabited place in England. An excellent circular walk can be had by making your way up to Styhead Tarn and then climbing Scafell Pike via the corridor route, where a walker really experiences the mass of broken craggy ground that makes up the slopes of the Scafell range.
Here you also pass by Piers Gill, a fantastic scar cut under the slopes of Lingmell, where the water cascades down into Wasdale. The descent over the boulder fields to Esk Hause and then down Grains Gill is a memorable route and the best way to experience the summit area.
The boulders themselves are thought to have been formed by intense freeze-thaw action during the last ice age, as the plateau was above the ice cap and so open to the harshest extremes of temperature.
The summit view is of course outstanding, with a more dramatic foreground even than Helvellyn. The western fells of Pillar and Great Gable present the wildest mountain scenery in England, and the deep valley of Eskdale, also a possible route up, falls away to the south with no sign of human life.
Though the mountain is well walked, it has a tendency of gathering cloud as it sits close to the sea in the south west, where the prevailing weather comes from. Take a look at the map for Scafell Pike and its sister peaks and you’ll see the mass of rocky crags, paths sneaking up between them using every opportunity to gain a little height.
Though this makes for a dramatic and atmospheric mountain, it also means good navigation is paramount. As such, it is advisable to head there on an organised walk with a guide, so you can get the most out of your day. The boulder-field in bad weather is no place to be without knowing in which direction to turn.
Large Outdoors runs a regular schedule of guided day walks to the summit of Scafell Pike along with a number of residential weekends. You can view all of our upcoming Scafell Pike dates here…
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