BLENCATHRA via SHARP EDGE
Blencathra is the first big mountain you came to as you enter the Northern Lakes from the East. It sits brooding on the right hand side of the A66 with its huge ridges falling down to the main dual carriageway. These are the ridges that give the mountain its distinctive shape and alternative name – Saddlebacks. I prefer Blencathra, an evocative name of times gone by. Behind this huge rump, hidden away from the eyes of the thousands of motorists chugging by, is what Bill Birkett describes as ‘the most demanding ridge in Lakeland’. Sharp Edge, Its scythe like appearance looming menacingly over Scales Tarn. Sharp Edge is the only way to do Blencathra; otherwise it’s a straight up and down hike with little or no enjoyment to be had.
I started the walk at The White Horse Inn at the bottom of Scales fell. The path starts just behind the pub. The planned route is a circuitous one ending back at the pub for a fully deserved pint. More of which later. The beauty of this walk is you gain height quickly up Scales Fell with Mousethwaite Comb falling away spectacularly to your right hand side. The A66 quickly diminishes into a thin ribbon in the distance. The only downside at this stage is being averse to the odd gallon of lager, means I’m sweating like a wrong ‘un after 20 minutes, so one layer has to go. Apart from Sharp Edge, this is the hardest part of the day as you climb monotonously onwards and upwards. Thankfully, the path eventually levels out and you have a nice walk on the flat through a long valley with the fells high above you. Time here to catch your breath and enjoy the solitude.
Sharp Edge now comes into view, looking ridiculously uncompromising. At Scales Tarn, Its time for a rest. Rucksack off, and time to refuel. It’s also time to take stock. Sharp Edge is a tough ridge to get over and in poor conditions it shouldn’t even be considered without crampons and an Ice Axe. I know many lads who’ve got this far and said ‘No way, Jose’. There is an alternative path that leads off to the left of the Tarn, which takes you straight to the summit. Anyone with vertigo or doesn’t feel right about it, its best to take this alternative. Sharp Edge isn’t as long as Helvellyns Striding Edge but its much more difficult. Particularly in wet conditions such as this day. As I was halfway across, with the sun blazing away in the distance, sleet started falling. It’s that type of place. There was a group in front of me of around a dozen people; this meant I could take my time about it. There was an old woman amongst them. I was amazed and full of respect for her. I know nothing of her of course. For all I know she’s done K2, but I got the impression they were novices being herded along by 2 or 3 blokes in the group who seemed to know their stuff.
There’s one particularly hazardous slab of smooth rock on the ridge that needs extreme care to cross. One slip and the still waters of Scales Tarn are waiting hungrily below. I’ve got 2 pairs of boots for walking. A lovely old pair of Berghaus Explorers, which suffice for most stuff in Britain. Today, though I’d plumbed for a sturdy pair of ‘Scarpa’ boots. It’s like having a pair of diving boots on but I have total faith in them in wet and slippery conditions such as these.
At the end of the ridge is a short but steep pitch of jagged rock. I ignore any technique and use any part of myself that moves to push, pull, squirm and wend my way ever upward. Two hands, two elbows, two knees, two feet and when needed, my arse. It’s not pretty but it achieves my goal. At the top on Atkinson Pike you can look back down, take a bow and say ‘Christ, I must be mad’.
It’s just a short pull to the summit from here, which in keeping with the day was shrouded in cloud. This started to lift as I wended my way back down the hillside giving clear views westwards towards Derwent Water, south to the Helvellyn range and Eastwards towards north Yorkshire and the Pennines.
The day was only partially spoiled by The White Horse being shut as hordes of thirsty walkers pulled and prodded at the front door to no avail. If anyone knows if this is a permanent thing let me know so that I can come down a different way next time. The half a bottle of water I had left was small consolation..BAH!