Winter scramble – Blencathra via Sharp Edge

I step aside to let a man and his dog pass me. A pair of skis stick out of his backpack and he takes stiff steps with his skiing boots on the slushy path.
“Was there enough snow for skiing?” I ask. I am going up, he is coming down.
“Oh, good. There’s tons of snow up there.”

Snowfall. It doesn’t happen very often in the English Lake District anymore, but when it happens, it is time to go out. And head uphill. The cold spell at the beginning of December arrives perfectly for the weekend. As usual, the snow doesn’t stay on the ground, but the hills are shining.

Alex and I head to the hills after a slow cup of coffee. We park on the roadside near Scales and start up the path where we meet the skier. The parking area is busy: a gorgeous day like this is appreciated by all sorts of people wanting some fresh air.
Soon the path finds solid ground, and we can see the snowy hill and rocky ridge waiting for us.

Sharp Edge

We are going to scramble up to Blencathra via Sharp Edge. When the ridge comes to view, you are supposed to take the obvious lower path which leads directly to the bottom of the ridge, where still and dark Scales Tarn lies. But we make our own loops and walk extra miles to get there. It doesn’t need to be serious. We run down the snowy hillside and try to balance on the hard crust snow without sinking.

Sharp Edge is not as busy as the gentler path over Doddick Fell and Scales Fell, which will be our way down. Yet, quite a few colourful figures move steadily up the ridge. Some are leaving behind spiky footprints, others heavy winter boot stamps. Is it time for crampons already, or are we going to be fine without? The path is icy in some places, but most of it is exposed rock, so it is not ideal either way. Maybe spikes are a good idea, at least on the icy shelf where the drop to each side is rather dangerous.

Sharp Edge is one of the accident blackspots in the Lake District. It is a Grade 1 scramble in the summer but more challenging in winter conditions. The Winter grade is I/II. Every year the local Mountain Rescue team responds to incidents linked to the ridge. Sometimes they are fatal.

Since the recording of the incidents started in the 1940s, there have been over 100 incidents and 11 fatalities (information from 2018). The most recent reported accident is from this October when a walker fell from the ridge. These are not very nice facts, but important ones when planning walks and winter days.

Sunshine and snow

The scruffy ridge climbs up steadily, but the steep part of the route is no longer on a narrow path. A little bit of scrambling, and we are on the top.

The snow on the top is eye-watering bright in the sunlight. I detect some skiing tracks crossing over the hills, and further away a snowboarder is meandering down the hill. He must have walked up to the snowy slopes with his board. If only all the winter days were like this in the Lakes!

Quick Facts

  • Route: Blencathra via Sharp Edge from Scales
  • Grade: Grade 1 scramble, winter climbing I/II
  • Hight: highest point 868m
  • Distance: approximately 8km
  • where: the English Lake District, UK

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