Wandering Aengus Treks
Mountain Information : Scafell Pike
Location: Lake District National Park, Cumbria, England
Height: 3210 feet or 977 metres  

Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England. The peaks of the Lake District are known as 'fells' from the viking word 'fjell' for mountain. There are in fact several Sca Fells in Cumbria. Sca comes from the Viking 'skali' for shelter and it was natural enough that the mountains which provided shelter from the prevailing weather to the farmsteads in the valley would often be named thus. What is now known as Scafell Pike, the highest point in England, is actually one of three summits lying above 3000 feet in a range once referred to simply as the 'Pikes of Scafell'. The Scafell in question here - the owner of 'the Pikes' - is the neighbouring massive and imposing mountain to the south west, which is connected to Scafell Pike by a narrow rock arete known as Mickledore. Although this fell is from many aspects even more impressive than England's highest, particularly when its imposing northern cliffs are seen, it is some 50 feet lower than Scafell Pike, and it is the summit of the latter that draws the fell walker from every corner of the district.

Scafell Pike seen from Bowfell above Langdale.
The cliffs of Scafell (no pike) are on the left with Mickledore between

 

The Scafell group is usually described as the hub of a wheel, the wheel being the Lake District and the various mountain ranges and valleys the spokes radiating from this central point. While this is useful as a rough sketch it does not quite give an accurate picture. For one thing it does not take account of the eastern valleys such as Ulswater and the eastern ranges of Helvellyn and High Street. For another, most of the Scafell group is itself more of a spoke than a hub being the dividing range between the valleys of Wasdale and Eskdale. No matter, the image of hub and spoke, mountain and radiating lake-filled valleys, first coined by no lesser Lake District champion than William Wordsworth, is an enduring one and serves to give a handle to a complex geography.

As a result of this hub and spoke arrangement there are several different routes to the summit of Scafell Pike from four different valleys, each with its own unique character and scenery. The main routes are all described below or you can go directly to the individual descriptions using the menu on the left.

 

Routes from Wasdale
   

Wasdale is a relatively remote Lakeland Valley being situated between the western ranges and the coast, whereas all major trunk roads are in the east on the other side of the mountains.

Despite its difficulty of access Wasdale is still a very popular choice to start the ascent of Scafell Pike, not least because it offers the shortest routes to the summit. For this reason and despite the long drive from the M6 to get here, it is also the obvious choice for those undertaking the 24 hour challenge.

There are two possible routes into Wasdale from the M6 - from junction 40 along the A66 via Keswick to reach the A595 coast road, or from junction 36 along the A590 and then the A595. The latter route has many tedious bends, is generally much slower, and is not to be recommended.

Wasdale locator map

Route 1. Via Brown Tongue. 2½ miles. 2,993 feet of ascent. Grade I (MAP.1).
This is the shortest and easiest way to the summit of Scafell, much used by charity challengers and peak baggers. It is also probably the least interesting way to the top of England's highest peak, but it does have the appeal of a well made path of stone steps as a sure-fire (if unattractive) guide to the summit. Be warned however that the summit area and to a lesser extent the depression at Hollow Stones is still a place which disorientates the unwary in mist, and no-one should attempt to climb Scafell without the necessary navigational skills and equipment to get unlost if this happens.

The track starts at the National Trust car park just beyond the head of the Wastwater along the lane to Brackenclose. Just beyond the car park a sign points you in the right direction and you head up Lingmell Gill beside its tumbling water (the prettiest part of the entire route). You begin to emerge from the confines of the ravine at a stile where the path from Wasdale head comes in from the left. A little way beyond here it is necessary to cross the stream on stepping stones which can be precarious after rain. On the other side of the stream, the yellow brick road heads steeply and relentlessly upwards below a parallel grassy ridge (the Brown Tongue).

At around 1770ft. you come to a junction. The right fork heads towards the imposing cliffs of Scafell (route 2). The Brown Tongue route takes the left fork and after negotiating the tumble of glacial debris known as 'Hollow Stones', continues at an easier gradient to reach the col between Scafell Pike and Lingmell. For those with energy to spare it is well worth turning aside to make an ascent of Lingmell, but if you chose this route in the first place you probably won't. From the col, the trail is less well groomed but quite distinct and populated with many cairns as it climbs steeply once more up the final 600 feet to the summit.

The summit of Scafell is quite broad and very rocky. The summit furniture includes the old O.S. 'trig' column and a massive cairn which actually looks more like a ruined castle than a cairn. As to be expected from England's highest mountain, the view is extensive in all directions encompassing the several ranges of the Lake District and out to the Furness peninsula. You can also see several of the big lakes though not necessarily all from the same spot. Its a glorious place to be on a clear day and the view definitely rewards the effort.

 

Map 1. From Wasdale Looking East

Route map

Key to Map

A = Scafell Pike
B = Scafell
C = Lingmell
D = Great Gable
E = Wasdale Head
F = Styhead Pass
H = Hollow Stones

1 = Route via Brown Tongue
2 = Route via Mickledore

Route 2. Via Mickledore. 2½ miles. 2,960 feet of ascent. Grade I (MAP.1).
For the more discerning trekker starting their climb from Wasdale, this route which takes the right fork below 'Hollow Stones' (see first part of the route 1 description) will richly reward all those who turn aside from the paved way. It does require some scrambling on loose rock and though this is relatively easy, don't go this way unless you are sure of your capabilities.

From the junction with route 1 the path passes through the outer edge of the 'Hollow Stones' depression and climbs to a boulder-strewn amphitheatre below the towering buttresses of Scafell on the right and the more broken cliffs of Scafell Pike on the left. Between these two mountains a narrow rocky arete known as 'Mickledore' bridges a short gap. From the amphitheatre the route climbs one of the scree-filled gullies which drop steeply down from the crest of Mickledore. Which gully to choose is up to you, though I tend to favour the left hand side. Mickledore is a true watershed between the valleys of Wasdale and Eskdale and it is a tremendous place to arrive at. Its not razor sharp so once you reach the crest in a flurry of upward scrambling, there is no danger of overshooting and falling into Eskdale, but you do get the feeling here of being among real mountains of great stature. From Mickledore a path sometimes vague and sometimes non existent, wends its way across the boulders, stones and scree for the final 500ft. of ascent to the summit.

 

Scafell from Wasdale

Looking up Lingmell Gill to Scafell Pike with Scafell on the right, seen from Wastwater. The normal route via Brown Tongue heads up to the col on the far left. The Mickledore route enters the amphitheatre just to the right of centre and up onto the skyline ridge between Scafell and Scafell Pike


Route 3. Via Piers Gill. 3½ miles. 2,995 feet of ascent. Grade II (MAP.1A).
This is a superb and much less used route to Scafell Pike from Wasdale which follows the steep course of Piers Gill as it curls around the north side of Lingmell on its way to Wastwater. The north side of Lingmell is a total surprise after first acquaintance with its round grassy south side. On this side imposing crags drop from the summit right into the deep cut of Piers Gill. This is a place of awe.

This route starts from the Wasdale Head car park which is another ¾ mile further along the road from the Brackenclose car park used for Brown Tongue. Take the track which leads past the tiny church and towards Burnthwaite Farm. Beyond the farm follow Lingmell Beck (not to be confused with Lingmell Gill) to a footbridge across the tributary Gable Beck. A quarter of a mile beyond here and approximately one mile from the start, there is a path junction. The main trail trends left up across the stony slopes of Great Gable towards Sty Head Pass whereas our route continues beside the beck. This is a charming section passing waterfalls and pools, to a confluence of streams where the waters of Piers Gill and Spouthead Gill join forces to become the Lingmell Beck.

The path zig zags upwards for approximately 250 yards to a cairn where a less distinct grassy track peels off to the right beside the wide stony stream bed. After 200 feet of ascent the path crosses the Greta Gill and the deep cutting of Piers Gill Ravine begins. The path is a little vague in places but easy enough to follow in clear weather. There is a short scrambling section to negotiate some broken crags, and the path then follows the edge of the ravine below the towering crags of Lingmell to a junction with the Corridor Route (route 4) which heads up to Lingmell Col. From the col the final section of route 1 is followed to the summit of Scafell Pike.

 

Great Gable

The lane from Wasdale Head to Burnthwaite Farm. Sty Head Pass is the obvious col on the right with Great Gable on the left. The trail up to the pass is clearly seen.

 

Map 1A. From above Great Gable

Map Scafell

 

Key to Map

A = Scafell Pike
B = Scafell
C = Lingmell
E = Wasdale Head
G = Esk Hause

1 = Route via Brown Tongue
2 = Route via Mickledore
3 = Route via Piers Gill

Routes from Borrowdale
 

The routes to Scafell Pike from the north starting in the valley of Borrowdale are of a completely different character to those originating in Wasdale. Here you are very much in the mountain heart without the backdrop of coast and sea. The landscape on these routes is made up of the immediate tall crags and mountain ranges, bejewelled with glistening tarns, and the more distant pasture land neatly divided by dry-stone walls, dense wood copses, and the expanse of Derwentwater. The summit is more distant from Borrowdale than it is from Wasdale so all the routes in this section are longer by a mile or two than the previous routes described from Wasdale.

Borrowdale is much more accessible than Wasdale. To reach the valley from the M6, leave the motorway at junction 40 and travel on the fast A66 to Keswick. Follow signs to Borrowdale travelling down the lake shore of Derwentwater, and beyond Rosthwaite look out for the turning to Seathwaite, the start of most routes up Scafell Pike.

Borrowdale locator map

Route 4. Via Sty Head Pass and the Corridor Route. 4 miles. 3,020 feet of ascent. Grade I (MAP.2).
The easiest of the Borrowdale routes, the ascent via Sty Head Pass is continuously interesting throughout. It starts like all of these routes, at the farm Seathwaite. Go through the farm (where there is a tea room during the summer) and follow the stony lane beside the River Derwent, crossing it via the picturesque stone arched Stockley Bridge. Passing through a gate in the wall above the bridge the path divides. Left is route 5 which follows Grains Gill. This route continues straight up the hill on a clear path broadly parallel to Styhead Gill. Above the waterfalls of Taylorgill Force the gradient eases and you come to a narrow plank bridge. Beyond here is the spectacularly located Sty Head Tarn below the slopes of Great Gable. Scafell Pike can now be seen still a long way off on the left though the eye is drawn more to the imposing crags on the north face of the lesser fell of Lingmell.

The next section from Sty Head Pass is known as the Corridor Route. This is quite an appropriate name since the trail follows a series of grassy shelves providing a relatively easy and safe route through otherwise steep and rocky mountainside. To reach the start of the Corridor route go up to the stretcher box just below the pass and follow the track heading left which links to Esk Hause via Sprinkling Tarn. Watch out for the cairn after approximately 350 yards which marks the point at which you turn right off the Esk Hause path. Here you make a short descent to Skew Gill before continuing the ascent (heading generally south). There is a short scrambling section over the top of Stand Crag and down to cross the Greta Gill but otherwise the trail is easy enough to follow. After crossing Piers Gill with striking views down into the chasm (at which point you are joined by the path coming up from Wasdale - route 3), the route climbs up onto Lingmell col below the final scree slopes of Scafell Pike (see route 1).

Snowdon above Glaslyn

Looking back to Sty Head Tarn from the Corridor Route. Route 4 comes up through the cleft beyond the tarn from the wooded valley of Borrowdale below. Borrowdale leads to Derwentwater, the tip of which can be seen in the distance, and the mountain in the far distance is Skiddaw.

 

Route 5. Grains Gill and Esk Hause. 4 miles. 3,123 feet of ascent. Grade I (MAP.2).
Even better than the route via Sty Head, this path provides a variety of scenery with something new and breathtaking to admire at every turn. The final objective does not come into view until the very last but there is plenty else to keep you occupied on the long climb. Best combined with a descent via the corridor route (Route 4).

The path starts as for Route 4 as far as Stockley Bridge. Here you turn left along the wall and follow Grains Gill on a recently built path. There are exciting views down into the ravine as behind you the view over Borrowdale and Derwentwater becomes ever more expansive. Ahead looms the impressive cliffs of Great End, split by the clefts of Central and South East Gullies. Where the path crosses Ruddy Gill (so named because of the iron rich soil) there is a divergence of ways. The trail to the right heads via Sprinkling Tarn to a connection with the Sty Head path. Continue straight ahead to a second trail junction and this time take the right fork up to the saddle of Esk Hause.

Turn right (west) at Esk Hause where there are views down into Langdale and Eskdale. The path climbs the shoulder of Ill Crag which involves 10 minutes of boulder hopping following a line of cairns and at last Scafell Pike's summit comes into view though there is still plenty of work to do. Descend to Ill Crag col and climb a shoulder of the next peak in the range, Broad Crag. There is another boulder field to cross here and another descent to Broad Crag col. Now you can get to grips with Scafell Pike itself, starting with an easy scramble which them eases to a stony slope up to the giant summit cairn.

The route along the ridge above Grains Gill (Route 6) which traverses the summits of Glaramara and Allen Crags gives excellent views both near and far. Across the valley is the magnificent Great Gable with the Wasdale - Ennerdale watershed behind.

 

Route 6. Via Glaramara and Allen Crags to Esk Hause. 4½ miles. 3,920 feet of ascent. Grade II (Map 2.)
This superb alternative route to Esk Hause follows the ridge above Grains Gill to its left and crosses the summits of Glaramara (2560ft.) and Allen Crags (2572ft.). The views over Borrowdale and across to Great Gable are simply stunning and more than enough compensation for the extra toil. It can be combined with a descent via Route 5 or even better via Route 4 for a great mountain day. Allow at least 8 hours for this walk.

Glaramara can be gained by a steep and sometimes vague path beside Hind Gill which is accessed from Seathwaite Farm turning off the path to Stockley Bridge at the obvious feature of the Gill. This means that a round trip using Grains Gill or Sty Head as the descent can be done from a vehicle parked at the farm. However, the best route starts midway between Rosthwaite and Seatoller (grid reference: 250137) along the Thorneythwaite Farm road.

A little way along the farm road a stile on the left leads through a plantation to climb beside Comb Gill. At this point the summit of Glaramara is hidden and Comb Head is the prominent summit. The best route now follows the Gill to this summit before continuing along the ridge to Glaramara. An alternative easier path by-passes Comb Head trending rightwards away from the Gill and over Thorneythwaite Fell to cross Hind Gill and meet the path coming up from Seathwaite.

From the summit of Glaramara a delightful walk along a broad undulating ridge studded with mountain tarns, leads in 1¾ miles to the summit of Allen Crags. From the rocky summit a short descent of no more than five minutes duration leads to Esk Hause and from here Route 5 can be followed over Ill Crag and Broad crag to the summit of Scafell Pike.

 

Map 2. from Borrowdale looking south

Borrowdale route map

Key to Map

A = Scafell Pike
C = Lingmell
D = Great Gable
F = Styhead Pass
G = Esk Hause
I = Glaramara
J = Allen Crags

4 = Corridor Route
5 = Grains Gill & Esk Hause
6 = Via Glaramara

Routes from Langdale
   

Approaches to Scafell Pike from the Langdale Valley are longer than from Wasdale or Borrowdale but the valley is arguably more accessible than either (depending on the amount of traffic encountered around Ambleside). It is one of the most stunning of the Lake District dales - a text book example of a glaciated Valley - and the very distinctive Langdale Pikes are probably the most recognisable and photographed of Lakeland Mountains.

Getting to Langdale from the M6 is very straightforward from junction 36 following the A591 through Windermere to Ambleside. From Ambleside follow the A593 Coniston road as far as Skelwith Bridge where you turn right into Langdale.

The two routes described below are both very fine walks and when combined using Route 8 for ascent and Route 7 in descent, provide one of the finest outings in the district.

Langdale locator map

Route 7. Via Rossett Gill and Esk Hause. 5½ miles. 3,460 feet of ascent. Grade I (MAP.3)
The path to Rossett starts at the Old Dungeon Gill Hotel, a fine institution whose climber's bar has witnessed many spectacular evenings of music and debauchery, often prior to some equally spectacular new routing on the crags round about. The track follows the wide U-shaped valley of Mickleden to some ancient moraines where the path diverges. The right fork heads up towards Stake Pass while the left crosses the stream and begins to climb beside Rossett Gill. The Gill itself emerges from a deep ravine but a well made path zig zags its way up the left (true right) bank to reach a pass below the protuberance of Rossett Pike. Below is one of the most perfect of mountain lakes, Angle Tarn. Descend to the tarn and follow the path beyond up to Esk Hause. From this point Route 5 can be followed to the summit of Scafell Pike.

Angle Tarn below Esk Pike

The quintessential mountain lake, Angle Tarn with Rossett Pass behind. The diminutive Rossett Pike is on the left and the rugged slopes on the right are part of esk Pike.

 

Route 8. Via Bowfell and Esk Pike to Esk Hause. 5½ miles. 4,000 feet of ascent. Grade II (MAP.3)
For the really fit or enthusiastic hiker, this alternative via the Summits of Bowfell and Esk Pike is truly excellent. Best kept for a long summers day, you do need to allow 8 to 10 hours for the round trip.

From the Old Dungeon Gill take the paved track that goes to Stool End Farm. Beyond the farm you begin the feature known simply as 'The band'. This is a grassy ridge coming down from the shoulder below Bowfell and it provides a steady and well defined route up. At around the 2500 foot contour, the path divides with one branch trending left and upwards more or less directly to the summit of Bowfell, while the right and more interesting trail heads right. This path is known as the climbers' traverse since it was originally used to access the crags. Though the ground drops steeply away below the path, it is quite safe and relatively easy to follow. On reaching Cambridge Crag (identified by a spring gushing from its base), turn left and begin a wonderful scramble on the 'Great Slab' which provides a way for fell-walkers between the climbers' terrain of Flat Crag and Cambridge Crag. This part of the day is exciting but safe providing sufficient care is taken.You emerge just below the great pile of stones which mark Bowfell's summit even from the valley floor.

From the summit of Bowfell you now head more or less due north. It is too stony here for any path to emerge but a line of cairns marks the way. The route turns toward the west and you descend to Ore Gap where the path now becomes clear and ascends 340 feet to the splintered rocks of Esk Pike's tiny summit. Having taken in the fine view from this little top, it is a few minutes work to drop down to esk hause where Route 5 can be followed to the top of Scafell Pike.

The Band below Bowfell

A shaft of sunlight illuminates the 'Band' - your stairway to heaven - or at any rate Bowfell which is silhouetted behind. The ridge to the right leads to Esk Pike while to the left is Crinkle Crags. The depression immediately to the left of Bowfell is 'Three Tarns' and can be used to provide an easier route to Bowfell's summit than either the direct route or the Climbers' Traverse described.

 

 

Map 3. Routes from Langdale

Map of Scafell from Langdale

Key to Map

A = Scafell Pike
B = Scafell
G = Esk Hause
J = Allen Crags
I = Glaramara
K = Bowfell
L = Esk Pike

7 = Via Rossett Gill
8 = Via Bowfell and Esk Pike

 

Routes from Eskdale
   

From a geographical perspective, Eskdale is the valley most closely associated with Scafell Pike. This is not really the case from the point of view of the fell-walker due mainly to the relative inaccessibility of Eskdale combined with a lengthy round trip from the nearest convenient starting point in the valley. However, the reward for those who come to England's highest point from this side is a rare solitude maintained right up until the final few hundred feet.

Though also a somewhat remote western valley like Wasdale, Eskdale can be reached more directly than Wasdale by crossing two high passes, Wrynose and Hardknott, the latter having the accolade of the steepest road in England. Be warned that this is not a quick way, the road being both steep as mentioned, and in many places wide enough only for one car. The alternative is to take the same road around the coast as for Wasdale.

To access the road across the passes, follow the route from junction 36 on the M6 to Langdale as far as Skelwith Bridge. The road to Wrynose is signed to the right, a mile further along the A593 Coniston Road.


Route 9. Via Cam Spout . 6 miles. 3,290 feet of ascent. Grade II (MAP.4)
The route starts approximately three quarters of a mile beyond the Woolpack Inn. Follow a farm road towards Taw House. Just before the farm a gate gives access to the path which follows the wall up to a bridge over the waterfalls of Cowcove Beck. The path climbs in a series of zig zags and then contours around High Scarth Crag with the River Esk below on your right. After approximately 2 miles from the bridge you reach a collection of large boulders known locally as 'Sampson's Stones' (because only he could have brought them here). Beyond the boulders is the water funnel of Cam Spout and the crags of the same name.

Eskdale and Scafell Pike

Looking up the eskdale Valley. Scafell Pike is the peak in shadow on the left, partially obscured by Scafell. The right hand skyline drops down to Broad Crag Col. From here the peaks moving right are Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Esk Pike (with the broad saddle of esk Hause between) and finally the unmistakable pyramid of Bowfell.

 

The scenery becomes increasingly craggy and impressive now as you climb beside the waterfalls above Cam Spout on a good path. The East Buttress of scafell looms over you as the angle steepens and the path disappears in a cascade of stones coming down from the ridge of Mickledore. Though steep the final few hundred feet up to the ridge is easier than from the Wasdale side (see Route 2) and on gaining the crest you will probably meet the first people you have seen all day. From this point follow route 2 to the summit, still a further 500 feet of ascent away.

Descent can be by the same route or perhaps better is to leave the summit in the opposite direction from the one you arrived and head down to Broad Crag Col. From here take the path heading right and down to the Esk via Little Narrowcove. The river is then followed down on a good path to reach Sampson's Stones where you rejoin the ascent route.

Map 4. From Eskdale

Eskdale map.

Key to Map

A = Scafell Pike
B = Scafell
G = Esk Hause
M = Mickledore
N = Little Narrowcove
CS = Cam Spout

9 = Route via Cam Spout

 

 

Wandering Aengus Treks. +44 (0)16974 78443 : 1-888-811-4256 (Toll Free from the US & Canada)