Wednesday 2 May 2018

Causey Pike

Even before I first climbed it several years ago Causey Pike was one of my favourite Lake District fells, its distinctive profile a familiar sight from walks in the area and one that always prompted me to get the camera out.

Causey Pike from the Newlands Valley a couple of years ago.
We'd originally planned to walk the high ground hidden away behind Skiddaw and Blencathra last weekend but as we crossed Aughertree Fell on the way to our start point we could see that those rolling hills were hidden in low cloud.

It showed no signs of shifting and we began to question whether wandering around in limited visibility was the best use of our time - especially given how long the journey there and back is from Derbyshire. Driving from our hotel in Cockermouth we'd noted that the north-western fells were cloud-free so, after some discussion, we settled on heading back there instead  - a welcome return to Causey Pike for me and an entirely new experience for Rich.

Ghyll scramblers making for Stonycroft Gill.
We parked up on some open ground by the side of the lane below Barrow. Given the way we'd wasted a hour or so faffing about that morning, we were probably lucky to get a spot.

Several cars and a couple of minibuses belonging to adventure companies were already parked there and a group of people were putting on helmets and other gear. We found out later that they were on a ghyll scrambling expedition, one of several taking place that day it seemed. They were still milling around by the vans as we set off up the path below Barrow but unsurprisingly they soon overtook us as we plodded along.

Occasionally there were gorse bushes alongside the trail and when we leaned in to smell the brilliant yellow blossom the heady, coconut-like aromas were absolutely beautiful. It pays to lean cautiously, though - the end of your nose is extremely sensitive to sharp spines I discovered.

When we arrived at the stream, we left the main path to follow a narrow trod down to the water and crossed over via some conveniently located rocks. We could see the summit of Causey Pike above us now and the memories of climbing it on a hot, humid and completely still morning a few years ago suddenly came back to me.

We headed up from the gill to join another path that curves upwards from below Rowling End to Sleet Hause. There's a steeper option that heads directly up via Ellas Crag to Rowling End from here that I haven't yet explored. If I do the Coledale Round again I might try that, as I prefer a short and steep climb that gains height more quickly.

Crossing Stonycroft Gill, Causey Pike in the background.
Beginning the climb upwards - the path below Barrow on the right would be our return route.

Thankfully there was a pleasant breeze this morning so the gradual ascent we were on was nowhere near as strength-sapping as on my previous visit. We still stopped several times for a breather and to take in the views that were opening out behind us - Skiddaw, Blencathra, Keswick and eventually the northern end of Derwent Water. Disappointingly, it was a little hazy as we gazed east but we'd get clearer views as we descended later that day.

Keswick and Derwent Water in the valley below.
Skiddaw and Blencathra.

There were increasingly fine views to be had up the valley too, where Grisedale Pike was now coming into sight. On our left, Causey Pike's knobble never seemed to get any closer no matter how much huffing and puffing uphill we did - or at least, not unless I zoomed in on it.

Grisedale Pike and Stile End.
Stile End.
Causey Pike's knobbly summit.

Eventually we had some respite from the steady climb and reached Sleet Hause, the saddle between Rowling End and Causey Pike. We had new perspectives on our surroundings now - the Newlands Valley and the handsome peaks that stand over its lush farmland to the south. Seat How, Whinlatter Forest and Bassenthwaite Lake to the north.

The Newlands Valley - High Spy, Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson.
Hindscarth and Robinson.
Stile End and Barrow - Whinlatter Forest, Bassenthwaite Lake and Skiddaw in the background.

To the east, the fells were stacked in layers - behind Rowling End stood Skelgill Bank and Catbells, beyond that Bleaberry Fell and High Seat, and on the horizon beyond them stretched Clough Head and the Dodds. To the west, directly ahead of us, though, the view was simply of the climb ahead.

If you arrive at Sleet Hause all winded, hot and bothered, the vision of that steep slope waiting in front of you might seem disheartening but in fact it's a cracking walk - and minor scramble - to get to the top. As you can see from the picture above, the bedrock is frequently exposed here and that can provide natural steps that make the ascent a quick and a fun one.

Unless you're terrified of steep drops, it's worth peering over the edge to the south to take in the handsome spur formed by Aikin Knott and Rigg Screes. These form part of a ridge that runs roughly parallel with the walk we were doing across Causey Pike and Scar Crags. It declines south west over Knott Rigg to Newlands Hause, the high pass that provides access to Buttermere.

Aikin Knott and Rigg Screes.
The final scramble to the summit.

Sometimes the winding path bypasses these outcrops but once you reach the knobbly summit there's no avoiding putting hand to rock, at least a little, for that final pull up.

Previously I'd simply clambered up the "front" of the knobble but, knowing Rich doesn't like exposure, today I scouted around a little before heading up. I discovered an enclosed chimney just on the right hand side that I thought might be easier, psychologically at least.

In fact, it proved a harder climb than I anticipated (especially with my short legs!) but we'd arrived just beneath the summit at the same time as a large group of walkers. Some of these were following us up this narrow cleft, so we had no option but to press on.

There was quite a gaggle of people on top once we got there so we didn't really hang around. The large group that we'd inadvertently found ourselves in the middle of settled down for a refreshment break and we set off across Causey Pike's subsidiary humps. The magnificent ridge over Ard Crags stretched out in front of us, drawing the eye to the high fells on the far side of it.

Foreground: Ard Crags and Causey Pike's lumpy summit.
Background: Sail, Crag Hill, Coledale Hause, Sand Hill, Hopegill Head and Grisedale Pike.
Ard Crags with Sail, Crag Hill and Eel Crag behind. For scale, there are
two walkers on the path up to Ard Crags.

As afternoon arrived, so did more cloud, bringing shifting patterns of light and shade across the fells around us.

Grisedale Pike. 
Force Crag with Sand Hill and Hopegill Head above.
Hopegill Head and Hobcarton Crag.

It's just shy of three quarters of a mile from the summit of Causey Pike to the highest point above Scar Crags. The broad ridge is a beautifully airy traverse, similar to Whiteside on the other side of the Coledale Fells, without any exposure to speak of if you follow the path. The ascent is very gradual, not at all taxing, and the views continue to be superb as you make your way along it.

Continuing along the ridge. 
Scar Crags.
To the left of Sand Hill, Whiteside, a fantastic route to Hopegill Head from the Vale of Lorton.
Looking south west, High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike dominate the horizon.

Once you reach the highest point above Scar Crags, Sail comes into full view - along with the controversial re-defined path snaking up its eastern slope. I have to admit I still find this path a bit of an eyesore, although I also understand the need to combat the erosion that was leaving its own unsightly scar on the hillside and the difficulties faced by the volunteers from Fix the Fells at this site.


As well as stubbornly refusing to blend in over time, it's a bugger to walk up too. I didn't mention that to Rich, though, when I floated the idea of carrying on over Sail and Crag Hill before our descent. In the end, it was all academic as I received a blunt and resounding, "No" in answer to the tentative suggestion. To be honest, I wasn't too disappointed: the thought of food and a wander down to the waterside in Keswick was making its way to the forefront of my mind.

The descent on the western side of Scar Crags brings you down to a col, Sail Pass. Four tracks converge here - straight on leads you decidedly-not-straight on up to Sail's summit, a left turn takes you down into the valley of Sail Beck, below Knott Rigg, and the right turn curves back around below the ridge you've just walked. The latter was our return route.

It's a clear path, one that'd be difficult to not find even in bad weather, but it was surprisingly steep in its initial stages and the small, loose stones on it made it a tricky proposition to walk down at times. After almost going flying twice as my boot slid from under me, I resorted to borrowing one of Rich's walking poles for extra stability.

The path down.
Shifting light on Long Comb, below Sail's summit.
Shifting light on Long Comb.

Eventually, the path levelled out somewhat and began a long, sometimes gently undulating course down beneath Outerside, Stile End and Barrow. This was the track that we'd been on at the start of the walk. It was less hazy to the east than when we'd set off a few hours earlier so we were treated to much clearer views as we headed back down the valley.

Blencathra behind Barrow.
Clough Head and Wanthwaite Crags.

Unsurprisingly for such a fine day, Skelgill Bank and Catbells were extremely busy, with a constant line of people making their way up and down. Others, determined to dodge the crowds, took to the air and enjoyed the summit from above instead.

Skelgill Bank and Catbells.
Walkers on Skelgill Bank.
It was even busy in the sky.

Obviously, a person as slim and athletic as I am could easily waste away after burning all those calories walking the fells. There was only one solution and that was an emergency portion of fish and chips and some fizzy pop.

Once back at the car, we drove into Keswick and applied this remedy at The Old Keswickian, where the owner said she recognised us from previous visits - a splendid endorsement of our consistency, I thought. After that we had a saunter around the market and then down to Derwent Water, from where Causey Pike was once again a distinctive profile in the distance.

Date: April 2018

Walk length: 8 km

Total ascent: 798 metres


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