Nearing the summit of Scaffel Pike
Nearing the summit of Scafell Pike

Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England at 978m (3210 feet). It is also set in one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in Britain, with Wastwater, England's deepest lake, string out below it to the west, and the stunning views from the summit over the neighbouring Lakeland peaks.

Several popular footpaths lead to the top of the mountain, but the easiest and most popular is the route from Wasdale Head, at the eastern end of Wastwater. This is the route used by participants in the Three Peaks Challenge; tackling Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis, and Mount Snowdon, the highest mountains in England, Scotland, and Wales respectively.

As the saying goes, 'getting there is half the fun', though that fun can sometimes be a bit nerve-racking on the single lane road that hugs the northern bank of Wastwater.

Wastwater from the Scafell Pike trail
Wastwater from the Scafell Pike trail

There are two National Trust car parks at the east end of the lake. You want the first one, named Lake Head (at grid reference NY182074). Immediately as you come to the head of Wastwater a lane leads off to the right and the car park is visible. There are public loos at the car park, though as the Trust themselves admit, 'sometimes the toilets are not as clean as we'd like them to be'.

Alternatively, you can park at the second car park on the village green in Wasdale Head. This makes the route slightly longer, but only just.

Looking back down the trail to Wastwater
Looking back down the trail to Wastwater

Which Trail?

There are three popular routes to the summit. The most challenging are the Corridor route from Borrowdale, and the Mickledore route. This article traces the more straightforward and direct trail, the Hollowstone route from Brackenclose

I'd hesitate to call any of the routes 'easy', but the Hollowstone variant is the easiest. That doesn't make it a stroll; you do have to do some seriously strenuous walking. The return route is approximately 6 miles long and will take at least 3 hours 30 minutes.

The start of the trail is easy - just follow the signposts from the car park by the public loos, go over a stile, and follow the very obvious path beside Lingmell Gill. The trail is very well defined beside the stream.

After about a mile you'll join a trail coming in from the left from the village green in Wasdale Head.

Above the trail junction go through a kissing gate. A few hundred yards further on you cross the beck and then cross back again. The trail zigzags back and forth over broken ground and becomes less obvious. If you are uncertain just look for the cairns that mark the trail.

The trail swings right, keeping Lingmell col on your left and Pikes Crag to your left. This is one of the trickiest parts of the route as you pass through a boulder field and it can be awkward to spot the cairns.

Wastwater from Lingmell Gill
Wastwater from Lingmell Gill

Read that last sentence again - and this time take it seriously! The first time I followed the route I completely lost the trail among the boulder field and carried on with some trepidation straight up a ridiculously steep ascent and fairly dangerous to the shoulder between Scafell Pike and Sca Fell. If you think you've lost the trail, stop and take the time to look for the cairn markers. You really don't want to follow the absurd route I took to the top!

The trail incline eases (at last) past the boulder field and emerges onto the shoulder between the two peaks. It then takes a sharp left turn before you can see the summit cairn and trig point that marks the top of Scafell Pike ahead.

The first time I climbed Scafell Pike there seemed to be no wind at all, but the second I emerged onto the shoulder between Sca Fell and Scafell Pike the wind hit hard, and cut through my clothing with the cold bite of a knife. Come prepared, even if the day looks clear.

There is a low cluster of stones beside the trig point that acts as a very welcome windbreak, a place where you can relax and enjoy the incredible views out of the wind.

From the summit you can take a short loop north before descending back to Hollow Stones and the main path, or simply return the way you came.

The trig point on Scafell Pike summit
The trig point on Scafell Pike summit

The only one on the mountain

I have to add a humorous note to my description of the walk. I was determined to start early and take advantage of what I hoped would be good weather for photography. I got up at 4am, and drove to the start of the walk at Wasdale Head just as the dawn was beginning to lighten the sky. It was 6am as I set out, revelling in the thought that I was the only person on the mountain.

I was enjoying the sense of solitude as the sun rose and lit the slope about me with the first fingers of dawn. I had reached about halfway up Scafell Pike when I saw another climber ... coming down towards me. We chatted and I found that he had begun at 3am and was determined to finish his descent, hop in his car, and be in Manchester to start work at 10am. I wasn't quite so smug for the rest of the climb.

On a more serious note, the trail can get very crowded later in the day, so unless you're a night owl and can't drag yourself out of bed in the morning I strongly recommend getting an early start.

I can't emphasise strongly enough the importance of a good OS map, proper footwear and clothing. The weather can change in an instant, and even if the day seems clear there's no guarantee it will remain that way, Be prepared and stay safe!

Having said all that, what a glorious walk! The descent is even more enjoyable, not because it's easier (which it is) but because you get to enjoy the stunning views west over Wastwater and beyond. This truly is one of the most beautiful areas of the Lake District and an absolute delight to visit.

The view from the summit
The view from the summit

From the shoulder between Sca Fell and Scafell Pike
From the shoulder between Sca Fell and Scafell Pike

About Scafell Pike Walk from Wasdale Head
Address: Wasdale Head, Cumbria, England, CA20 1EX
Attraction Type: Countryside - Walk
Location: Start from the National Trust pay and display parking area at Wasdale Head (OS: NY187085)
Location map
OS: NY187085
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


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