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Pen by Thor’s Buttress to Scafell Pike

Great Gable from Scafell Pike

Great Gable (Napes crags facing us), Kirk Fell left, Ennerdale behind, looking towards Grasmoor

  1. 15 km, 1000m ascent

  2. Grade 3 scrambling

April 2013 and I was on my own while Joy went to China for two weeks. Time for mountain adventures. The chosen location was Eskdale, the Woolpack Inn specifically. The planned outing was to walk along Eskdale to the east side of the Scafell range and ascend the three star grade 3 scramble of Pen by Thor’s Buttress, then see what happens after that.

South down Eskdale

Looking south down Eskdale

The scenery is magnificent right from the start but the weather wasn’t so magnificent. Despite being well into spring it started out cold, windy and with heavy snow and hail showers but the forecast was supposed to be good so I persevered.

At the junction of the Esk with Lingcove Beck there are several ways to go. I chose to start the scrambling on the fairly vegetated rocks between the two water courses, marked as either Throstle Garth or Scar Lathing on the map. Whatever the hill is called it was good to get my scrambling muscles warmed up. Then over the aptly named Great Moss. You’re now in amongst the best and most spectacular scenery in the whole the Lake District, with Scafell, Scafell Pike, Ill Crag, Great End, Bowfell, and Crinkle Crags visible and a really wild and remote feel. The route I was following didn’t have another soul on it, though that would change later on when I reached the summit of England’s highest mountain.

Eskdale falls

Looking towards the Scafell range from the waterfalls in upper Eskdale

The start of the proper scrambling is on the right hand end of the classic climbing crag of Esk Buttress and aims for the very attractive pointed summit of Pen, which isn’t even named on the OS map. The route is easy to find to start with but finding the best line wasn’t always obvious. At one point I needed a very delicate traverse to get back onto easier ground. The scrambling was good and the rock was nice.

Esk Buttress

Esk Buttress right hand end, Thor’s cave is the black gash at the right.

After the first section it eased into rocky walking to reach the base of the summit rocks. From below this looks like just a few metres worth but turns out to be another fifty metres of very nice scrambling, easier than the first section. The summit isn’t really an independent top, just a protrusion on the side of the east flank of Scafell Pike, but it’s a wonderful viewpoint and I was totally alone among very grand and wild rock scenery.

Eskdale view from Thor's Cave route

The view south down Eskdale from the Thor’s Cave scramble on Esk Buttress to Pen

Towards Pen Summit

Above the first hard pitches of Thor’s cave, rocky walking leads to further scrambling on Pen summit

The onwards route to the summit of the Pike was most attractive, steep rocky walking for the most part. I started to find dustings of snow and build-ups of hoar frost sculpted by the wind. The weather had improved by now and it was largely bright and sunny, though still very cold.

Toward Scafell Pike

More rocky walking and scrambling from Pen summit to Scafell Pike

Reaching the summit I also reached the crowds. At least fifty people there. As Scafell Pike summit is very wide, it accomodates them well and you don’t feel overly crowded. The view is quite spectacular. You see the sea both to the south and to the north-west, and all round to Skiddaw and Derwentwater, Ennerdale, down Eskdale, over to Langdale, Wetherlam, Coniston, and many others.

Towards Derwentwater

From Scafell Pike summit, Styhead tarn below, looking down Borrowdale to Derwentwater, Skiddaw is in the distance leftwards

The return was down to Mickledore to start, with an incredible close-up view of Scafell crag, one of the Lake District’s most classic climbing crags. There had been significant snowfalls in the winter of 2012/2013 and even at the end of April Lord’s Rake was still fully banked out with hard snow.

Lord's Rake

Lord’s Rake on Scafell Crag fully banked out with snow

While there (this was my first time on the Scafell range) I checked out Broad Stand, the infamous step that can take the adventurous from Mickledore to Scafell. Looks very good but definitely for another time as it was both wet and icy.

So, the descent was to be down the beck towards the falls of Cam Spout and back to Great Moss. Cam Spout is a wonderful set of falls down a rocky staircase, with some simple scrambling to one side and great views out over Eskdale.

Clouds, Upper Eskdale

Cloud formations in the afternoon above upper Eskdale

The return was largely back the same way but this time much warmer and sunnier and I could linger a little, looking at the turquoise rock pools of the River Esk.

Here’s a gallery of all the best shots of the day. All taken with the Pentax K20D – this was before I’d bought my Olympus.


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