Red Pike & Pillar – Lake District 2020

Thank you for sticking with me for ten miles, till the end.

Ten miles. Sixteen kilometres. That’s from Grey’s Monument to the sea, along the winding River Tyne. It was along the shore of Wast Water, like the smooth surface of a piece of onyx. It was wading across the silent and boundless grass and marsh, scrambling up the merciless fells until the breathtaking views unfold on all sides. My heart leapt at the closeness of the sky, the crispness of the air and the hazy emerald fells rolling on and on. Then feathery mist descended on us, carrying a whisper from Scafell Pike uttered just a few minutes ago. Shafts of sunlight and shadow of clouds danced around us, chasing across the mountain tops and the valleys down below. 

We sat snuggly in the North Shelter on top of Pillar, eyes touching every curve up and down Ennerdale, absent-mindedly munching a banana each – Jonathan had carried them all the way to the top, in my orange rucksack that made him looked a bit like a Ninja Turtle from behind. I was a bit cold, but immensely happy. If I were a cat, I would have purred, yawned and stretched. If I opened my arms, they would unfold into wings and I would be taken into the air, dissolving in the sapphire and emerald. The usual worries, the ones that hum constantly at the back of my mind when I’m down at zero altitudes, went quiet. I would have liked to stay like that, in our airy shelter, in the light and the air, with my comfortable companions, for a bit longer. As long as possible. We didn’t say much. The wind kept stealing our words and casting them towards Buttermere. There, Jonathan, I found an acceptable excuse for your exasperating hearing problem.

It was sad to go. But we had to go. We took a group photo with the trig point then we left.

One day we might time travel back to that time and space, looking from a distance. The temperature, the wind speed and the luminosity will match up. And you’ll see us there.

 

That’s the poetic bit done. Jonathan, who is going to be mentioned a few times, joined us for the walk this year. One of the many bonuses of having a friend along was that I finally got some photos of both me and Andy in one frame without doing silly selfies. (Another one is, I was not the one who got left behind all the time anymore. Jonathan somehow patiently walked behind me most of the way while Andy shot off like a hyperactive rabbit.) So thanks very much, Jonathan!

Now for the usual photos and the route map. This ridge walk is one of Wainwright’s best half dozen ridge walks. The original walk includes Yewbarrow, Red Pike and Pillar, coming down along Black Sail Pass. It was almost exactly what we did, except we skipped the ridge and summit of Yewbarrow (blue arrow B). I feared I wouldn’t have managed Red Pike and Pillar before midnight if I went up Yewbarrow as well. I think that was the right decision. However, if I were to do it again, I might choose blue arrow A to skirt around Yewbarrow instead. It looked more interesting, with a footbridge across a marvellous waterfall, and an easier gradient. 

Here’s the whole route. Numbers correspond to the photos below:

According to our tradition, we leave the car park at 12 midday sharp. If you didn’t know this, we can never seem to ‘hit the path’ before midday for various reasons. It’s like a spell that we can’t break. We’ll try again next time.

Walk south along the road toward the point where Overbeck tumbles into Wast Water, at the foot of Yewbarrow.

Going up Yewbarrow in one straight march. This is pretty typical for our walks too. The terrains usually start our walks with a short and steep climb, making you breathless within 20 minutes of the walk (i.e., 12.20…) and feeling completely useless and a bit nervous about the rest of the day.

But the advantage of a steep climb is that you gain height really quickly. (But that doesn’t make it less shameful the fact that we have our first snack break in less than an hour after leaving the car park…)

Another thing we tend to do a lot at the beginning of the walks: losing our path and retracing our steps. Paraphrasing Simon Armitage, the green dash line aka our path on the OS map is as plain as daylight only because we draw over it in dayglow yellow. Among the broken stones and bracken that might as well be a quarry, the path wears invisibility cloak. Paraphrasing Andy, we are not lost, we know exactly where we’re going, just a question of how to get there. Note: follow the blue arrow B for the rock climbing route up Yewbarrow.

This stretch skirts around the bottom of Yewbarrow and the view was a bit dull. Saved by the small group of tourists on the opposite side of the valley racing us, it’s just miles of grass and sky. For a bit, we have three young sheep leading the way.

The blue arrow A indicates the alternative path. If you want a taste of the glorious view of the real Lake District but only has the strength to walk on zero gradient and clear path, path A might be for you. You’ll see what you’ll get at Dore Head (photos 6B & 6C)… we have lunch at 2pm on a pair of boulders, a few minutes short of Dore Head. Should have had our lunch at Dore Head instead!

Looking back to the way we came. You can just about catch a glimpse of Wast Water.

Suddenly the dull marshland ends with a sudden drop and I realise what thrilling ‘lofty mountain grandeur’ we have just been presented with. The view to Mosedale opens up. You walk on the (mostly) flat path for an hour and here’s your reward! Looking at the north end of Yewbarrow, I’m very glad we didn’t have to come down that on bottoms.

Standing at Dore Head with a satisfying (apprehensive?) view of today’s route in panorama. I’m quite curious what Jonathan thinks, seeing the height and the distance. I don’t ask, just in case he says, no way. But as always, Jonathan just looks his vexing composed self and gives a subtle nod. Next up: Red Pike!

Sun comes out and suddenly beats on the grassy path with blinding brightness. It was too late for suncream, and I was too breathless to dig out sunglasses or a hat. We stopped briefly a couple of times to let fell runners pass. (I don’t like them as a category because of their unbelievably light and graceful movement at all altitudes…) Looking across Mosedale, there’s our path down.

After the tough walk up, this broad slope is the most welcome sight. Seeing Wind Gap: ‘why haven’t they built a bridge?’

Looking back, you can see Dore Head where we stood earlier and the formidable Yewbarrow under our feet. It seems so small and far away. It never ceases to amaze me how far a pair of legs can carry me. And what a glorious view of Scafell Pike and Co.! We’ve seen them from Crinkle Crags. Now from Red Pike. One day, one day. (Preferably before I need to get stuff injected into my knees like Jonathan’s grandma…)

March on toward Red Pike and look back:

We passed Red Pike in a bit of a blur (about 4pm) and I wasn’t certain where the actual summit was. Skirting around Little Scoat Fell towards Pillar. Can see Steeple on our left sloping into Ennerdale (not in the photo).

Ennerdale! Remember my first ever Lake District walk with Andy. Remember the extreme descent down Loft Beck in the snowdrifts, foot, hand, bottom, one step at a time. Remember the empty, unmanned but open Black Sail Hut youth hostel and the chocolate brownies in a small tin saying, ‘enjoy, forget about Lent (it was just before Easter)!’ And remember the broad walk through the Ennerdale forest so pleasant after the dangerous descent and was very happy to be alive.

Now Andy just yawns all the way.


At Wind Gap, looking toward Pillar. (Look at those outrageous fell runners!) The bit with a big red star is a stretch of an epic rock climbing. It takes us only about ten minutes. But plenty enough epic for me.

On the summit of Pillar at 5.10pm. Standing a few steps north of the North Shelter as Wainwright suggested and taking in the view of Ennerdale and the High Stile ridge. Buttermere is tucked just on the other side of the ridge. We saw the High Stile ridge about two weeks ago from the opposite side, on the Hindsgarth-Dale Head ridge. Hello old friends! The High Stile ridge is one of Wainwright’s best half dozen ridge walks as well. Have to do it one day too! Standing at that spot, we are also able to see the top of Pillar Rock. Again we have to get to Ennerdale and the High Stile ridge to see the massive Pillar Rock from the north side of Pillar. 

We eat some bananas in that shelter as you read earlier on. I know it just looks like a pile of stones but it was a very decent wind shelter. Won’t do much if it rains obviously.

Thanks Jonathan for capturing the cinematic atmosphere.

(The photo above right is called: the Secret Life of Jonathan Mitty, shooting a two-year-old Herdwick on a Lake fell.)

Way down. Towards Kirk Fell first and join the Black Sail Pass. The clouds press down. There is not a soul in sight, human, sheep or bird. In my tired mind, there could either be a Castle in the Sky glittering or dementors swooping down the next second. It’s eerily quiet.

At a beautiful little tarn, I look back again and take one last photo of Pillar.

After that I’m too tired for photos. The sun is covered in clouds completely by this point and there is no golden sunset for us. It gets dim quickly and the towering mountains look a bit grim from the winding path. Going down stones and grass, as good as the path is, is tedious. The motion landing step after step sends shots of pain to my knees and shakes my jaws (I know it sounds ridiculous). All the streams down to Mosedale are inconsiderately overflowing their stepping stones. It’s proper dark by the time we get back to the car park (about 9pm). 

The walk took a whopping nine hours. Jonathan has probably completed something he didn’t sign up for. But oh well, well done to you! And I hope the walking-in-the-Lakes bug has bitten you and you’re now addicted as I am. (Andy’s immune.) Where shall we go next?

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