As the highest mountain in England Scafell Pike can be summited by as many as 1500 people over a busy summer weekend but away from the crowds following the main trails to the top there are other quieter routes to enjoy including some of the longest scrambles in the Lake District.
Seathwaite is a small hamlet at the head of the Borrowdale valley. It’s name comes from old Norse and translates as ‘clearing in the sedges’. Rather unfortunately it is famous for being the wettest place in England! There is plenty of parking along the lane before the farm but it is worth getting there early, particularly on a weekend as you can find your walk extended by up to a mile the further away you end up parking.
From the farm take the track due south to Stockley Bridge. After crossing the bridge turn left and the first big climb of the day ascends along the side of Grains Ghyll to come up underneath the magnificent north face of Great End, well known for the winter climbs that ascend its gullies when filled with snow and ice. Bear left and then right to head up onto the saddle of Esk Hause. This col is known as the central ‘hub’ of the Lake District from which the various ridges spread out like the spokes of a bicycle wheel with the valleys lying in between. Most folk turn right here to continue up through Calf Cove and straight on the top of the ‘Pike’. Instead of this, carry on over and drop down into Upper Eskdale and upon reaching the bottom of the valley a choice can be made as to which route to follow to regain the summit of Ill Crag.
Cockly Pike Ridge at grade 1 is a fantastic introduction to the delights of scrambling. Interest can easily be maintained by sticking to all the rocky steps along the way, or the steeper sections can be avoided by following grassy ledges around the sides. The first point to aim for is the knoll of Cockly Pike itself, from here the next rock barrier is crossed by following a grass rake to the left and then moving back right on the best rocks. As height is gained the slope becomes more littered with large block and sections of scree. The many slabs and ribs of rock that protrude from this to provide the best scrambling. The final tower provides a fitting finish to this great ridge.
For more of a challenge it is worth heading up and round further to the left to climb the South-East Face of Ill Crag which is given grade 3 for its central slab and steep upper buttress. The scramble starts by picking out the best line up clean slabs of rock to reach the impressive Central Slab. Start in the centre of the slab and climb straight up until it is possible to traverse out left to reach a heathery groove. Cross this and follow the edge of the slab to the top. If using a rope to protect this section of the scramble it is a full pitch of 48m. The rest of the scramble continues by again picking out the best of the rock and including some steeper sections along the way.
If you are feeling fit and there is still plenty of time, it is possible to descend via Little Narrowcove from the top of Ill Crag to pick up the scramble of Thor’s Buttress and Pen for another grade 3 route on to Scafell Pike. This is excellent alpine training given the amount of height gain and time spent on exposed rocky terrain by combining the two routes.
The summit cairn of Scafell Pike is now not too far away across the boulder field of Broad Crag. The best line across this is clearly marked by cairns before the short drop into Broad Crag Col and back out again for the final push to the summit. On a clear day the fine views of the rest of the Lake District fells can be taken in along with Blackpool Tower and the Isle of Man.
To make the round trip back to Seathwaite descend back to Broad Crag Col and continue down to the left to pick up the start of the Corridor Route. This follows a broad shelf above the upper reaches of the Wasdale Valley and below the steep sides of Round How, Broad Crag and Great End. Be careful to ascend the short rock-step part of the way down to keep on track and not be tempted to keep descending into Piers Gill, a notorious black spot for the local mountain rescue teams. Continue round to the left to find the stretcher box and the picturesque Styhead Tarn. Follow the path around the side of the tarn passing underneath Great Gable to start dropping down alongside the waterfall of Taylor Ghyll Force and back round to Stockley Bridge. On a hot day it can be very tempting to take a quick dip in one of the amazingly clear pools that can be found in the stream below this point. The final section of track back to the farm at Seathwaite gives a good opportunity to stretch out and relax after taking in on of the finest mountain days the Lake District has to offer.