A long but rewarding route in the Western Fells
From the top of Scarth Gap Pass all the walkers trooping up from Buttermere turned left and made for the nearby summit of Haystacks. Straight ahead though,lay the craggy walls of Pillar and Kirk Fell broken by the dark gap of Black Sail Pass while below was the remote valley of Ennerdale, its landscape of pines not typical of the Lakes but no less beautiful. In this valley the river Liza meandered in its stony bed amongst the patches of trees and the peak of Great Gable rose high above the valley's upper reaches. It was into this empty wilderness that my path lay.
The way up from Buttermere requires little navigation. I'd ascended from Gatescarth with everyone else, turning sharp left past the copse of trees and climbing steeply up away from Buttermere's still water, now left well behind.
Heading down the far side of the pass I was immediatedly on my own. I think one or two of the Haystacks bound walkers actually looked over as if to say I was going the wrong way, and though Wainwright named Haystacks among his favorite fells I'm sure that with the numbers going there today, he would have followed this path instead.
The way was at first a little boggy until I found the path again following a fence down the slope. My steady descent took me down to the left south of Haystacks and towards the two Gables outlining the head of Ennerdale. The River Liza sparkled in patches of sunlight which moved slowly over the green landscape of trees and heather. It was a scene that recalled more of the Scottish Highlands than the Lake District and there was little sign of human habitation anywhere as I tramped down to join the path following the valley's floor. There is no motor road here, just a track, and a forestry sign informs that the car park at Bowness Knott is fully 6 miles away - further away than my start point in the next valley of Buttermere.
I followed this track towards Great Gable and presently the hut of Black Sail Youth Hostel came into view ahead. I have stayed at many of the Lake District's Youth Hostels - a few years ago mind, not being particularly youthful now - but never this one and as it is in one of the best locations in the region I made a point to stay at some time - if I'm not deemed too old that is! The door was open so I went in to see if they sold cups of tea or glasses of orange or any such thing. There was a mural of what appeared to be a Viking ship called the Black Sail on one wall which I thought was quite good but nobody was about so I had a snack on the bench outside before continuing on my way.
The path now led downhill slightly and briefly alongside the river before crossing it by a wooden footbridge. The trees ended around this point and the upper valley was a wide hollow of rough pasture watched over by Great Gable and Kirk Fell and in it, I appeared the only person for miles. On up the opposite slope and the going was easy on grass until a lone tree was reached clinging to the fellside just below some rocks. Here the path steepened over the rocks and became rough as it climbed out of the Ennerdale Valley once again. I came to a point where the track followed the stream descending from Kirk Fell but the way doesn't cross the river. Instead, the path re appears after a short bouldery section and climbs off up to the right. Here a waterfall in a large gully could be seen behind, a great rocky gash in the side of Kirk Fell. The route soon though began to curve back around to the left as the gradient eased and there in front was the view across to Yewbarrow and Wasdale Head - the top of Black Sail Pass.
Wasdale is surprisingly close to Buttermere as the crow flies and in fact most of the main valley systems of the Lake District with the exception of the eastern ones are within a short(ish) walk of here. Buttermere and Ennerdale are on this walk, Wasdale was just below, while Borrowdale was just over Windy Gap between the Gables. Langdale and Eskdale were a little further but still easily within reach if either were my destination for tonight.
Now though I followed the path to the right or roughly west towards Pillar. Soon after passing a small tarn on the ridge, I left the path to climb the short slope to Looking Stead where I stopped for the first half of lunch. Looking Stead is a superb viewpoint and I could trace my route from Scarth Gap past the youth Hostel and up around to Black Sail and up to where I now sat beside the lonely windswept cairn.
Onwards again and past the turn off for the High Level Route. I'd been in half a mind to follow that route to Robinson's Cairn and gain the summit by the Shamrock Traverse to the side of Pillar Rock but the lateness of the hour meant that that route would be saved for another day. I continued on up the ridge.
This was a good route anyway. The ridge was steep and rocky in places though never difficult and the views over Wasdale to the Scafells expanded the higher I climbed. Now level with High Crag across Ennerdale - not so far to go now. The path then crossed a wide and gently sloping area of sheep cropped turf before a final steep rough ascent led me up past a deep gully dropping away to the forests of Ennerdale far below. Here I passed a couple descending from the top - including them, I'd seen 5 people on this ridge and no-one between Scarth Gap and Black Sail. After a small stony summit, the wide flattish top of Pillar was directly ahead. Here I had the second half of my lunch in the summit shelter which I had to myself, huddled against the cold wind which now blew up here.
The best views are to be had by headind to the edges of Pillar's summit plateau and I wandered to the North a hundred or so metres where the view down to Ennerdale Water was particularly impressive. So was that over the several tops of Haystacks, a landscape scattered with tarns, towards the North and then back along the ridge I'd ascended to the curiously square looking top of Great Gable and around to the stark crags of Scafell and the Pike.
I followed the edge of the cliffs overlooking Pillar Rock and Ennerdale before heading back the way I'd come to Black Sail Pass and on down to the valley. This is a long walk and I was glad I'd not tackled the High Level Route this time as I trudged back past the Youth Hostel in the early evening light. Indeed, the haul back up to Scarth Gap was an effort though thankfully from this side, the climb is neither too steep nor too long. It was a steady ascent taken at a slow pace.
They were still wandering up and down the ridge to Haystacks as I reached the pass and stopped for a short rest. As I began the last stretch down to Buttermere, the evening sun emerged from the clouds to light the fells opposite in a warm golden glow before twilight began to overtake the Buttermere Valley.
Here's the route to Pillar and Haycock from Wasdale
Essentials >>> Up 1110m >>> Down 1110m >>> How Far? 15.4km >>> How High? 892m/2927ft
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