The Saddleback: Blencathra

The day after my wonderful evening among the standing stones of Castlerigg, my dad and I began our ascent of Blencathra. Also known as the Saddleback, due to its shape and six separate fell tops, Blencathra is one of the most well known mountains in the Lake District; standing some 2,848ft at its highest point. For years the mountain was only known as the Saddleback until its old Cumbric name was popularised by the famous British  fellwalker, Alfred Wainwright, who also recorded more routes for this mountain than any other.

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The Saddleback in the evening

The day started with blazing sunshine, which also meant it was extremely hot. Despite being late morning the air around us was already shimmering and it only took a few steps before sweat began to stain our brows. The walk began among thick heather and bracken, which only ever seems to intensify the heat. However we soon emerged from that steaming jungle and onto the grassy and wind swept hillside of Blencathra. From that point onward there was an easy path following the stream of Scales Beck, all the way to its elevated source, Scales Tarn.

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After an hour and a half of walking we settled down at Scales Tarn for a quick rest. A few clouds now drifted over our heads but from here we could still see our route up Sharp Edge quite clearly.

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Sharp Edge is an arete and makes for one of the finest ridge walks in England, rivaled prehaps only by Striding Edge on nearby Helvellyn. Wainwright describes the route, stating,

The crest itself is sharp enough for shaving (the former name was razor edge) and can be traversed only à cheval at some risk of damage to tender parts’.

True to Wainwright’s words the route itself is pretty easy with only a few risky moments, though you must have a decent head for heights to follow this route and you mustn’t mind having a few sore fingers at the end of the day.

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The beginning of Sharp Edge
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Looking over the Northern Fells
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Scales Tarn
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Our route

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Its a long way down
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Its hard work if my sweaty face is anything to go by
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One of the more ‘difficult’ sections
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No match for me though

All too soon though we reached the top of Sharp Edge and, looking back, we admired the route we had taken.

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At the top of Sharp Edge
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Looking back down at the path from which we’d come
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Sharp Edge
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The summit

From the top of Sharp Edge it was only a short walk to the summit of Blencathra, well one of them at least, we didn’t mange to reach all six summits; but you always need an excuse to return. When we reached the summit though we were beset upon by a swarm of bugs, attracted to the top by the sheer amount of people. Not content to be bitten to death, we headed over to one of the Saddleback’s less crowded tops, all the while the beauty of the Lake District stretched out below us.

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The Lake District

After lunch and some lazing around we decided to start our descent. Heading first back to the summit, we then started down Hallsfell Ridge. While Hallsfell is not as risky or narrow as Sharp Edge, going down a ridge is always harder than going back up, so we proceeded with extreme caution.

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Hallsfell Ridge
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Our route down

Once we reached the bottom of the ridge though, my dad, clearly addled by the sun, decided for some insane reason that it would be a good idea to leave the path and instead follow a ridiculously steep goat track down the mountain side. Despite my protests he stubbornly insisted we follow it, saying it would be ‘an epic’. So the next hour consisted of a lot of stumbling and grumbling from me as the angle we were heading was a real pain on my legs and I was constantly slipping into piles of steamy bracken. Eventually though the goat track led onto a much more well trodden path and rejoined the main road, leaving the glorious Saddleback behind us.

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Those who follow my photo challenge posts though may remember Blencathra as my forgotten mountain, simply because, during this climb I was under the impression that I’d never climbed Blencathra before. It was only went I returned home and looked back through some photos that I found pictures of me, some 5/6 years earlier, on the summit of Blencathra. To this day I remember barely anything about that climb, prehaps because the climb had been done it almost 100% cloud cover, or maybe because that walk was overshadowed by my more memorable climb of Helvellyn the next day.

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A much younger me on Sharp Edge
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On Blencathra’s summit

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9 Comments

  1. My favourite Lake District mountain – I’ve never had a bad day there yet, and I’ve had quite a few days! I’ve walked it, run it, cycled round it, skied down (part of) it and climbed a few snow and ice routes on it. What’s not to like!

    I think I would like your Dad – nowt wrong with a bit of exploring 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post for a fantastic mountain. Sharp is edge short and sharp, stick to the very crest and it’s as narrow as anything in the UK. I always recall the scramble up Foule Crag to be the hard bit

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It certainly as your pretty much climbing unprotected at the point, but there’s plenty of footholds and I don’t remember it being as bad as it looks. The worse thing for me of these ridges are crowds of people

      Like

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