Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England and is situated to the west of the English Lake District which, as a National Park, occupies most of the county of Cumbria. Formerly a combination of parts of the old counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, it is also my home. I grew up amongst these mountains not far from Wasdale and you’d be hard pressed to name any I haven’t summited except in the far North East.
The English Lake District is a popular area for outdoor recreation including hiking, climbing, kayaking, sailing and many more. But it is also the home and birthplace of many other people and things including:
• The poets Wordsworth, Coleridge and Ruskin
• English rock climbing with the first ascent of Napes Needle by Walter Parry Hasket-Smith in 1866 marking the beginning of rock climbing
• Rheged, the national mountaineering exhibition at Penrith
• Sir Chris Bonnington
• Doug Scott
• The first nuclear power station in the UK at Sellafield
• Kendal Mint Cake, the instant energy boost as used on many Everest expeditions
• Alfred Wainwright, the late great creator of the seven guidebooks to the region
So as you wander amongst these peaks, feel the history and presence of those who have gone before you. Take your time to look around you beyond the summits, see the industrial archaelogy, the wildlife, the people.
• To Borrowdale: Take the M6 to Junction 40 at Penrith. Now take the A66 heading west. From here it’s 17 miles to Keswick before you follow signs for Borrowdale in the town itself.
• To Wasdale: Take the M6 to Junction 36, South Lakes, then follow the A590 and the A5092 then the A595 around the west coast of Cumbria towards Holmrook. Here take the minor road to Santon Bridge and Wasdale.
• To Eskdale: Same route as for Wasdale, taking an earlier turn inland after Waberthwaite at Muncaster Bridge following signs for Eskdale.
When To Climb
The mountain can be climbed in any season depending on your skills and equipment. Obviously when there is snow and ice on the ground, ice axe and crampons will be required, and you will need to be confident in your winter skills.
Camping would not be necessary across any of these routes though many consider an overnight wild-camp as part of the overall experience especially in the Sty Head area close to the tarn which is a good water supply. There is a National Trust campsite at Wasdale head: wasdale camp site which can be phoned in season on 019467 26220. There is also a more basic site (a field) next to the Wasdale Inn, also at Wasdale Head.
Mountain Conditions & Weather
: This hike can be completed at any time of the year. It’s on the extreme western edge of the Lake District The main “condition” to cope with is the weather, and if you think that British weather is generally unpredictable then the unpredictable scale isn’t big enough to accommodate the Lake District. As a “visitor” the first thing you need to understand it that there are at least three mini zones of weather within the area. First, to the extreme west is the Irish Sea and the coastal zone leading up towards the western and central fells. Second, the central fells from Borrowdale to the eastern side of Helvellyn, and lastly the far east beyond the Helvellyn range. Each of these can also be divided into north and south, but it’s the west-east line that seems to have the greatest variation in weather. So, it can be sunny in the west, raining in the centre, and merely cloudy in the east. I’m sure that true meteorologists will be having a fit at my divisions and generalisations, but I think you are getting the picture. The upshot of this is that the weather can change very rapidly, mostly from the west except under the winter conditions when we frequently have fronts from the Arctic descending on us. Always check the forecast before you set off:
Lakes weatherline tel: 01768 775757 and
Links: Weather Website
Try to learn something about cloud formations, especially how to spot lenticular formations and what they might mean for the rest of the day. Scafell Pike is very close to the west coast of Cumbria and is therefore subject to very rapid weather changes indeed and will get rain coming from the Irish Sea before any other part of the region. This makes this area very susceptible to constant visibility change across a day which can be very disorienting.
Route Information & GPS Waypoints
There are four major routes up Scafell Pike:
• Wasdale-Brown Tongue/Hollow Stones
• Wasdale-The Corridor Route
• Borrowdale-Esk Hause
• Eskdale-Great Moss
Some of these could be “mixed” such as starting at Borrowdale and joining the Corridor Route at Sty Head, or going up one route and down another. Just click on your chosen route on the left for detailed descriptions. For an interactive map of the summit which can be “extended” in any direction click multimap
Depending on your startpoint your accommodation choices will vary. Here’s some contact information to help for each possible startpoint:
• Youth Hostel Association: YHA Website
Wasdale: YHA 0870 770 6082, : Wasdale Head Inn
• Borrowdale: YHA 0870 770 5706
• Eskdale: YHA 0870 770 5824, The Boot Inn
Lake District Geology
I can only scratch the surface here (a pun!) so I hope all you professional geologists, including my wife who worked for the geological survey in Kathmandu, can be tolerant of my amateurish attempt. The shaping of the mountains in this region and the origins of it’s rocks represent separate and dramatically different periods of time. The hills, lakes and valleys are mainly the result of glacial events of which the most significant took place during the Devensian period between 25,000 and 10,000 years ago. The bedrocks record a much longer and more exotic series of events in earth’s history extending back more than four hundred million years.
During the last half million years glaciation has affected the lakes area in the form of repeatedly advancing and retreating ice sheets, culminating in the present inter-glacial stage during which human civilisation has developed. At it’s most extensive ice covered the Lakes in a way similar to the present day Greenland ice-cap. The ice from Scotland which filled the Irish Sea basin, covered virtually the whole of the area and occasionally exposed scattered peaks or rocky mounds projecting from the ice.
As the ice melted sea levels were raised to flood the valleys of the Solway and West Cumbrian coast. Most of the characteristic glacial erosion features, including corries and lakes in U-shaped over-deepened valleys, originated during the last glacial stage. The ice sheets deposited huge quantities of rock debris as moraines, several of which dam lakes, and a blanket of boulder clay which obscures bedrock over much of the lowland areas.
During and after the ice melt some 10,000 years ago, water run-off became the main agent of erosion and rivers cut deep V-shaped valleys into moraines, unconsolidated boulder clay and softer bedrock, notably Skiddaw slate. River debris was washed down into the lakes to create deltas like the one separating Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite on which Keswick stands. The end of glaciation was also marked by widespread landsliding which is now stabilised.
Overall then, the mountaineer in Lakeland views a landscape shaped mainly by the events which took place as the ice shrank to valley glaciers and then to isolated corries before finally melting away, leaving the streams and rivers which became the main agents shaping the modern landscape.
At this point I will end, leaving a gap for someone to fill by writing up information on the regions bedrock. This is your chance to describe the Borrowdale Volcanics, Skiddaw Slate and Silurian Slates.
Some Local History
Although there are three “bases” from which to approach Scafell it is the Wasdale one which I know the most about so here are a few things to whet your appetite for more!
• The Wasdale Head Inn, world famous as the birthplace of climbing. Not just an Inn for brewing it’s own beer, superb mountain food, gourmet food and accommodation, but a range of technical services for mountaineers, climbers, hikers. It’s an atmospheric place full of historical old photos on the walls and “interesting” locals, if you can understand their Cumbrian accents and dialect. : Website
• Will Ritson, the 19th Century owner of the Bridge Inn at Santon Bridge who became known as “The World’s Biggest Liar” which has now become an annual contest! Website
• Joss Naylor, the legendary fell runner still lives here on his farm. Difficult to describe fell running, you just run ............ up lots of mountains, as many as you can and as fast as you can. Joss did more and did them faster than anyone in the 1960’s
• Wastwater is the deepest lake in England
• The Herdwick Sheep is the true breed of Lakeland sheep, unique to our fells and probably the hardiest of all breeds and you will see many of them in the Wasdale area.. It’s sturdy appearance, a tough individual personality and hard wearing wool enable it to cope with severe winter fell conditions. They have been known to survive a winter by eating their own wool! Although they are not recognised as a meat breed not many people know that it was served at the wedding and coronation of our Queen Elizabeth II. The hard wearing nature of it’s fleece make it more suitable for carpets rather than garments.
Moses Trod is a path or track you will see on the side of Great Gable skirting around to Honister. What is it, who was Moses? Well, he was a quarryman and a smuggler of whisky over this trail, possibly from the old port of Whitehaven. I'll leave you to find the rest!