19th March 2014How to climb a classic: Scafell Pike

Spring seems to be on the way in the Western Lake District, the snow is thinning on the fell tops, the Snowdrops are thickening in the dales and the weather is getting warmer. As summer approaches so does the season when thousands of people set out to "bag" the highest peak in England: Scafell Pike.

Scafell Pike, the Western Lake District

The magnificent Scafell Pike viewed from Wastwater - photo by Brian Sherwen

Last week I enlisted Giles to go out and climb to the roof of England and give his perspective on the best ways to the top. So without further ado I’ll pass you over to him...

Although I am lucky enough to have climbed Scafell Pike quite a few times now, using a variety of routes, I have to admit I have rarely been blessed with clear enough weather to get a view from the top.

However, with good weather predicted on Friday afternoon Sophie gave me my marching orders to get up there and make sure I grabbed a few pictures of some good views while I was about it.

Scafell Pike, the Western Lake District

Scafell Pike (978m) has not always been considered England's highest mountain. For a long time Scafell Pike (pronounced Scawfell) was considered to be only a subsidiary top of Sca Fell (964m), which was actually believed to be bigger. Looking at it from below it is easy to see how the confusion came about. Scafell Pike is the highest point in a massif of peaks that vary in size depending on your perspective. The fact it is surrounded by so many other hefty fells means the route to the top is never boring and it can be incorporated into a whole raft of longer hikes through the Lake District.

Now, before I go on, let me make a few things clear. Although thousands of people may go up Scafell Pike every year this doesn’t mean it is easy. For all those who make it up and down without any problems there are always a few people who get caught out by the weather, the physical difficulty involved, or a lack of navigational skills. If you are going to set your sights on the summit of Scafell Pike then you need to have enough food and drink to sustain you, adequate footwear and clothing, a map and compass (and the ability to use them) and a torch in case you end up coming down in the dark. If you don’t possess all these things you are risking at best a scary and slightly miserable experience or at worst death.

Scafell Pike could be thought of as the hub of a wheel of which the Western Lake District’s most picturesque valleys form the spokes. There are routes leading to its summit beginning in Eskdale, Borrowdale and Wasdale.

Wasdale is where the so-called “tourist route” to the top begins, striking out adjacent to Lingmell Gill, up to the col known as Mickledore and then across to the summit itself. From Wasdale it is also possible to pick up the Corridor Route, which is in my opinion the best way up the fell. The Corridor Route is a beautifully elevated path that skirts the head of Wasdale and is often a little less busy than some of the more obvious (and shorter) routes. You can also link up with the Corridor Route by starting from Borrowdale and following Styhead Gill towards Wasdale.

However, on Friday I chose to approach the mountain from Eskdale, probably my favourite Lake District valley. Eskdale is a beautiful landscape of craggy outcrops and peaks, which at its eastern end, leads to Hardknott Pass and the delightful Upper Eskdale. Upper Eskdale is a secluded valley in which the Esk River meanders beneath towering crags. I had never taken this particular route before and everything I had read about the beauty of the place was proved true.

Scafell Pike, the Western Lake District

However, although the landscape may have been enchanting, the slog up to Mickledore was anything but. This is a deceptively steep, energy-sapping path, where the only tactic is to put your head down, get on with it and think about something other than your aching calf muscles.

Because Scafell Pike is such a popular destination its paths are well served with cairns showing the right way to go and once I did make it to Mickledore it was just a case of following the cairns up the stony path to the summit.

My wait to see the view from the top (and the sweat on the way up) had all been worth it I am glad to say. The whole of The Lakes and its valleys were mapped out below me, as well views across to The Pennines, north across the Solway into Scotland and south towards Blackpool. For the first time I was able to get some decent photos and indisputable proof that I have climbed the highest point in England (pictures of me sitting in the fog eating a sandwich aren’t really that convincing).

Let’s hope the good weather continues so I can try out a few more routes this year.

Scafell Pike, the Western Lake District

Find out more...

Wasdale Mountain Rescue guide to 'The Easiest Way Up Scafell Pike':


On our brochures page you can download a guide 'How to Stay Safe and Enjoy the Fells':



And here are some great places to stay or have a much anticipated post-walk meal (and pint!)…

The Woolpack Inn, Hardknott Pass in Eskdale - http://www.woolpack.co.uk/

The Santon Bridge Inn, Wasdale - http://www.santonbridgeinn.com/

Whitehaven - the perfect day out
Millom & Black Combe

Brian Sherwen Photography

Many images on this website have been supplied to us by Brian Sherwen.