Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Blue Skies Over Yewbarrow

Bell Rib on Yewbarrow
Since I first climbed Yewbarrow in January 2011, I have claimed it to be my favourite mountain.  However, until October 2012 I had not climbed it again.  I have admired it wistfully in the distance as I climbed fells surrounding it and walked and driven passed it on the way to and from Wasdale Head but never ventured near the summit again.  Climbing Yewbarrow in 2011 was perfect in every way – it was a lovely sunny day with blue skies as far as the eye could see, the scramble of the ascent and descent and the long ridge route across the top, combined with making a momentous decision on the summit means it has been unbeatable.  My first ascent is captured in my book “From High Heels to High Hills”.  If I am honest, I suppose I was a little worried that having such a perfect memory of Yewbarrow, I would be disappointed a second time.  Surely it could not be as amazing as I remembered?  

When I arrived in Wasdale one weekend morning in October, my intention was to walk around Wastwater.  I love the scree path and for a low level walk it is quite challenging in places.  It was a beautiful sunny day and as I drove towards the lake with the screes crashing forbiddingly into the water I caught my first sight of Yewbarrow towards the end of the valley bathed in rich autumnal colours.  It had that “come and climb” me look about it and won me over.  Yewbarrow it was to be!

Great Door & the view to Wastwater
The first part of the ascent is straightforward on a grassy incline.  Each step you take you are rewarded by ever better views of Wastwater and the surrounding fells.  In the glorious sunshine that day, the lake twinkled and sparkled but the low autumn sun meant the screes were cast in dark shadows, making them even more forbidding.  Contrasts like that are one of the things I love about the Lake District.

Looking back along the ridge to Wastwater
From the top of the grassy slope, the climb changes completely.  From here, the ascent is on rocks and shattered scree with a few scrambles.  Then you have a choice to make.  A tricky rocky ascent in a gully to the right that takes you to the far end of the ridge or an easier path that brings you up further along it.  There is a story behind my first ascent at this point (I will not spoil the book though) but I decided to take the more tricky route anyway as I remembered the glorious ridge along the top to the summit.  It was a steep scramble to the ridge and a matter of careful planning in places and then there I was – on the main ridge at Great Door with views to the Scafells, Great Gable, Wastwater and the screes.  This is why I love this mountain.  Simply breathtaking and all amongst a sea of blue sky.

The Scafells from the summit
The ridge route over the top of Yewbarrow is about a mile, with the summit being about two-thirds of the way along it.  It is a joyful walk with such views to be had.  From the summit the wonderful views of Red Pike, Haycock, Pillar and Kirk Fell start to open up.  Even though it was October it was really warm and a lunch stop overlooking England’s highest mountain and deepest lake was something special.  The Scafells looked spectacular with white whispy clouds above and dark shadows cast over Mickledore.  A lot has changed in my life since I last sat on the summit of Yewbarrow and I could see exactly why this place had inspired me to chase my dream.

Crab claw on Stirrup Crag
I decided to descend via the Dore Head Screes but only if I could find the path (another story from the book) and to tackle Stirrup Crag.  This is a crag that you can avoid by taking a cut-off to the left but having done it before, I was confident I could manage it.  It is tricky in places, particularly going down rather than up though and at one point I had to stretch as far as my legs could to get to the next ledge, always conscious of the rocks below!  I have tackled Striding Edge, Sharp Edge and Jack’s Rake but this was a reminder never to underestimate any craggy descent.  It was more difficult than I had remembered.  

I got to the bottom unscathed (if a little muddier than at the top) and searched for the path next to the Dore Head screes to descend to the valley.  It begins with just a few indistinct pigeon holes and then turns into a more recognisable path (although it is starting to turn into a bit of a scree itself).  From the path you can see back to Stirrup Crag and an odd rocky outcrop that looks like a crab claw.  I am sure it has a more technical name though!

Great Gable amongst autumn colours & a sea of blue
The path was steep but with close views of Pillar and Kirk Fell and a patchwork of stone walls and fields in the valley to occupy my mind, it was not long before I was strolling along the valley floor in search of the Wasdale Head pub.  The clouds were creating shadows and patterns on the fells and Great Gable stood proudly at the top of the valley still bathed in blue skies.

Scafells over Wastwater
A beer in the warm sunshine by the river was a well-deserved respite and walking back between the foot of Yewbarrow and the shores of Wastwater with the sun making it sparkle was a perfect way to end a perfect walk.  I need not have worried at all about Yewbarrow living up to my memories.  It is simply wonderful and remains my favourite fell.  

More photos from this walk are available on my Facebook page.
Wastwater Screes

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  1. looks wonderful Tanya, i havent walked much around wastwater, only the illgill range so must try this someday :)

    1. Wait for a sunny day to get the most from it... :-)

  2. Shame the blue skies and sunshine have gone for the rest of the week at least,

    1. It is a shame! Had a lovely blue sky and snow on Helvellyn on Monday though so can't complain... :)

  3. So glad tbe walk lived up to your expectations.
    Your love of that fell comes through so strongly.

    Hope the book sales are going well. I have ordered mine on Amazon.

    1. Thanks Chloe
      Yes sales going well. Scary! Hope you enjoy the read... :)

  4. It does look amazing. Pleased that you have a lovely day for it and that it lived up to expectation. Good luck with the book too x

    1. Thanks Tracey! Yes it certainly did live up to expectations... X

  5. Another very enjoyable post, Tanya - thank you.

    One day, perhaps, I'll walk along The Screes although so far I've stuck to walking the ridge above (Illgill Head and Whin Rigg) for the views.

    Yewbarrow is a great little fell, delivering delights beyond its modest size. It's a favourite of mine and the views are unsurpassed IMO. You're certainly right to say Stirrup is trickier to get down than up. That scree shoot below Dore Head offers a quick and easy escape down to the valley if the weather gets gnarly.

    Best wishes

    1. Hi - thanks!
      I just love Yewbarrow and I agree about the views. The scree route is a quick way down although unforgiving on the legs!