Great Gable, Kirkfell, Pillar, Scoat Fell, Steeple and Red Pike

Outline of Route
Wasdale Head - Sty Head - Great Gable - Kirk Fell - Pillar - Scoat Fell - Steeple - Scoat Fell - Red Pike - Dore Head - Wasdale Head (Grid ref. NY 187085)
Total Distance 11.0 miles, Total Ascent 5300 feet, Equivalent Distance 21.6 miles

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Escape Routes

  1. Descend from Beck Head on a well estaplished path back to Wasdale Head.
  2. Descend from the top of Black Sail Pass to Wasdale Head

Details of Route
There is plenty of (free) parking space in a large triangular area at Wasdale Head. Follow the direction of the "Sty Head" signpost towards Burnthwaite, which is best passed to the left - the signs at the farm indicate a path either side. There are several routes up Gable from Wasdale Head but in view of the strenuous nature of the rest of the walk I chose the simplest. On reaching the top of the pass at Sty Head (photo) - and before reaching the tarn - turn left to face Great Gable. Take the path that leads straight up the the breast of the fell - it's sometimes called the Breast route - which is now largely paved and with the start marked by two cairns, as if by gateposts (photo from above Sprinkling Tarn) and (from Allen Crags in winter). Avoid the path going diagonally off to the left: it leads to the south traverse, a.k.a. the Climbers' traverse, an interesting route, but not the one scheduled. Follow the very well trodden path to the summit. There is so much to explore and view from up here that you should expect to spend some time over it, but the most abiding memory will be of the view down Wasdale to Wastwater (photo).

One recent visit here, in hill fog, I well remember having to use a compass - I always take one but very rarely need to use it - to find the path down to Beck Head. It starts off from the summit cairn a few degrees west of north then bears northwest. On the 1:25000 OS map it is shown as a tiny dotted black line bearing the legend "Path". I've not tried their route shown in dashed green but it does not fill me with enthusiasm, much of it being across scree. Follow the well cairned path down the northwest ridge to Beck Head and its little tarns. The path westwards, up Rib End onto the summit plateau of Kirk Fell, is straightforward (photo). Kirk Fell has two widely spaced summits, the southwestern being the highest, with a couple of tarns in between. In hill fog stay with the fence posts which pass near the lower summit and lead to the true summit. There is another path leading between the tarns which can be boggy in wet weather. This is the least visited of the peaks on this route and one can contemplate the best of the view, Great Gable (photo) and the Scafells, in relative peace and quiet.

Continue to follow the fence posts from the summit: they now take a line almost to the north. There is a very steep descent as the path approaches Black Sail, which requires a bit of scrambling. Any first impressions that this is impossible for the walker are soon dispelled once the descent is started. The path up the ridge to Pillar is well trodden and easy to follow. Visit the crest of Looking Stead (panorama) for views of Ennerdale and, of more importance, a preliminary view of the next part of the route. By now you will have climbed 3,700 feet and may opt for the easier route up the ridge to Pillar's summit, but for those not prepared to miss one of the best walks in Lakeland, the High Level route beckons.

The first time I tackled this route our navigator got us lost. The route is far clearer nowadays though on a recent visit I met a couple retracing their steps. They had noticed someone following a path down into Ennerdale and, being unsure whether to follow him, had decided to return to the ridge route. I mention this because the path can be made out carved across the fellside to Robinson's Cairn, visible on the fell's profile, from the viewpoint of Looking Stead. This should provide sufficient a mental picture to avoid uncertainty about the route once on it. It starts about 300 yards from Looking Stead where a path dives off the ridge to the right and is marked by a largish cairn (photo). The path undulates as it traverses the side of the fell maintaining much the same level overall until Robinson's Cairn, which can be seen from much of the route (photo), is reached (photo looking back). From here the path descends slightly before turning left and upwards to the start of the Shamrock Traverse which turns up sharply to the right. This rising rocky shelf can be seen from Robinson's cairn, firstly perhaps with incredulity, but is not as bad as it first appears (photo). It is fairly narrow, slopes slightly downwards away from the cliff face (detail photos). A couple of flat rock slabs, usually with running water trickling over them are the most awkward parts; but it is a secure path and requires none of the heroics of Sharp Edge or Jack's Rake. At the top of the traverse, just past a Mountain Rescue box - which I missed on my most recent visit - and with the top of Pillar Rock ahead, the path turns sharply left and continues up the rocky ridge (photo of Pillar Rock) to the summit. This is an exhilarating route to the top of Pillar - fine rock scenery - that provides too much of interest for aching limbs to intrude in one's thoughts. The couple I mentioned above, who, after we'd spoken briefly, changed their minds again and followed, caught me up on the top full of gratitude. They were lucky: I might have been as lost as they were.

Follow the cairned path southwest from the summit down another steep rocky descent into the appropriately named Wind Gap, and continue up the other side, above Black Crag which is down on your right, to Scoat Fell. Head to the north of this summit plateau and find the clear path along a little ridge to Steeple (photo). Here the views to the north and west are uninterrupted and superb. It gives one the feeling, as do the summits of Catstye Cam and Kidsty Pike, of being on top of the world.

Retrace your steps to Scoat Fell bypassing the summit and continuing southeast to Red Pike. Keep near the edge of the escarpment to the true summit - you'll miss the rugged northeast face of Red Pike if you take the path that by-passes the summit to the right. Further down the escarpment, after rejoining the main path, is a subsidiary summit cairn, and a little bit further on, to the right of the path is "The Chair", a veritable throne constructed out of rock - I couldn't find this either on my recent visit. Follow the path down from here to the col of Dore Head and the screes to the left.

Those who, like myself, can remember the Dore Head screes from thirty years ago cannot help but be saddened at the sight of this now worn-away route down to Wasdale Head (photo). It used to be the fastest and easiest way that I knew to descend 1000 feet without killing oneself. Now great care must be taken down this slippery and treacherous slope. It seem that people have gradually descended further and further to the right and this is where I found it the least difficult. A fine white dust rises as the scree carries you down the slope and you soon develop the appearance, if not the demeanour, of one who's been mixing cement all day. From the bottom it is a casual stroll along Mosedale to the bridge at the back of the Wasdale Head Hotel. The steep descents on this route make it more time consuming than one might imagine - it took me an hour longer than I expected. Despite the disappointment of the Dore Head screes this is one of the very best walks described in these pages. I cannot recommend it too strongly.

Rev. 02 September 2014

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