Climbing England’s highest mountain can be done a number of ways, but for me, the best is the Scafell Pike Corridor Route. It may have a gradual ascent, spread over four miles, but ascending Scafell Pike from Seathwaite comes with adventure, and dangers not to be taken lightly!
At 978m (3209ft), Scafell Pike is the highest peak in England. It’s part of three summits that were once collectively called the Pikes of Scawfell.
Located in the Southern Fells of the English Lake District, with Wasdale, Eskdale and Borrowdale radiating out from the range, the Pike is accessible from any of these valleys. Most adventurers would say that the best route is from Wasdale, but that’s another story. The Corridor Route offers adventure, but it also allows me, as a Mountain Leader, to talk local history, geology, biology and get to know my companions (and myself).
The mountain has something for most who like the outdoors. A day might start a lovely wander through a valley, passing over a bridge and a river with lunch at a tarn but scrambling and climbing is also on today’s agenda.
Scafell Pike from Seathwaite
Organising a couple of ‘Hike to the Pike’ events, I took a group, including a couple who had never ascended a mountain, up from Seathwaite for a birthday celebration. We celebrated Ness’ birthday on the summit with a cake and a bottle of bubbly. It was -7c on the top and blowing a gale.
On the other trip, I guided Mel and her son Nate along the Corridor Route, and on that day, after I lifted Nate above my head, this 9-year-old was the highest man in England.
We followed the same route both times because I think it the best for not too experienced hikers to have a little adventure along the way.
The Scafell Pike Corridor Route
The Corridor Route from Seathwaite takes you on a four-mile hike to Scafell Pike. It’s not just a nicer route to England’s highest mountain, crossing Stockley Bridge and passing Styhead Tarn; it’s adventurous as well, with scrambles, fording rivers and climbing the summit cairn. The best of the Scafell Pike routes in my opinion.
Setting off, after parking up near Seathwaite Farm (they have a car park for a few quid, but there’s parking along the road), we passed through the farm and by the side of the River Derwent, deep into the valley.
When you cross Stockley Bridge, the path meanders up the hill to the right of Seathwaite Fell, sticking out like a tongue in the middle of the valley. Grains Gill to the other side leads up to Esk Hause.
With the Styhead Gill on your right, until you cross it over a footbridge, the route is obvious until you reach Styhead Tarn and the famous Mountain Rescue Stretcher Box; this is where the navigation comes in.
The top of England from Styhead
You can see Scafell Pike at this point, straight ahead of you, Ling Mell, and Great Gable to the right; with Wasdale in between.
To your left is the path up to Esk Hause, and following the panoramic round clockwise, there’s Great End, black and craggy.
Great End leads along to Broad Crag and then Scafell Pike. On a clear day, you’ll make out the shelter cairn on the summit and a hundred hikers taking selfies.
Styhead Tarn by the way is my favourite Scafell Pike camping site, plenty of water, shelter from the wind and halfway there.
Off the Pike and down to a col, you then see Ling Mell over the head of Wasdale, with the steep ascent to Great Gable on your right.
From the Stretcher Box, we head off the main Esk Hause path towards the jagged side of Great End. The rocky track then hangs right, along the bottom of the range, ascending slowly. The section behind the Stretcher Box can be very boggy, stick to the path in Summer and especially Winter under the snow.
There’s a small climb at Skew Gill coming off Great End which gives good practice for what’s coming up later. You can lose the path here and have a steep bank to hike, so stick to the track.
After a kilometre, we take the best ever photo of Great Gable across the very top of Wasdale. Stand Crag is the best vantage point, even though there is plenty of ascending to do.
Although Scafell Pike was gifted to the National Trust in 1919, in perpetual memory of the men of the Lake District who fell for God and King during the Great War, Great Gable is the fell that is most climbed on the 11th of November. Memorial Day brings hundreds of hikers to Great Gable’s summit to the well-known War Memorial commemorating the members of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club.
The beck coming off Lambfoot Dub (on the Ordnance Survey map) has, over thousands of years, gradually created a deep gorge. We follow the smooth worn rock to a downward climb, technically a scramble. Fall and you could end up in the gorge as a recovery. Take it easy and make sure you have three points of contact all the time; we don’t just say this for fun. We clamber down, turning sometimes to face the rock. It’s not a big climb, but it can be scary for the inexperienced.
I’ve taken children down (and back up) this scramble and people with no scrambling experience at all. Having a guide, to give you advice that you can use on every day out forever, can make a little climb like this seem easy. If you’re on your own, take your time and be very careful.
The ascent gets a little steeper from now on, and after another kilometre, you reach a fork. Straight ahead leads to the Ling Mell Col (between Ling Mell and Scafell Pike). The uphill left-hand fork takes us up to a scree scramble which will take us to the col between the Pike and Broad Crag; this is our route.
The big push to the top
There’s usually water coming down this gully, even on a hot summers day so I think it best to take some in before the ascent. Once the boulders and scree devour the track, you start the climb.
It’s very steep, and the shingle under your feet gives way all over, but if you stand right, leaning in towards the hill, you can’t fall far.
When you’re at the col, the climb is far from over. However, it’s an easier scramble from here with less scree. A path has been worn in-between the volcanic igneous rocks; these mountains are part of the Borrowdale Volcanics, the result of a group of volcanoes active 450 million years ago. It’s less than a kilometre to England’s highest boulder field, shattered by ice ages and weathering; and the large summit cairn that marks the top.
Scafell summit – A mountain with no name
Scafell Pike had no name until a couple of hundred years ago, known only as the ‘Higher Top’, as Scafell, from many angles, looks taller. Collectively, the group, including Broad Crag and Ill Crag were known as the Pikes of Scawfell. One hundred thousand hikers per year are said to summit the National Trust owned Scafell Pike.
When you take children up Scafell Pike, why not lift them higher than anyone else. I can’t imagine Nate not remembering that he was the highest man in England that day.
Exposed to the Western wind, the temperatures drop to -7c on the summit on this hot May day. It’s essential to prepare for such a drop in temperature from the car. Wearing shorts in the car on the way through Borrowdale or Wasdale may be OK, but exposed legs up here are ill-advised.
Ling Mell Col and descending Scafell Pike
After our celebrations and gazing at the surrounding panorama, we head north west, towards Ling Mell. Scrambling steep again, down to Ling Mell Col, we come to a well-worn path. You might turn left here for a pint in the Wasdale Head Inn. Our route leads us West now, round to Piers Gill. A massive gorge, carrying the watershed north into Wasdale between Ling Mell and Great Gable, Piers Gill is the scene of many tragedies. It’s easily crossed at a ford, and we’re soon back at the fork we broke away at earlier.
Our journey back to Seathwaite from here traces the same as on the ascent, but everything’s transformed. We’re facing the opposite way, and the sun is casting different shadows into the valley.
There are plenty of opportunities to pick up water along this route and run it through a filter. It’s much needed as well. Dehydration will slow you down dramatically on the descent.
Although fatigue is effecting our performance on the way down, as the leader, I need to consider other things as well. One day I have inexperienced city folk; another day, I have a 9-year-old part of the team.
Establishing authority early in the day is critical when leading a group on a mini-expedition. I don’t mean telling them who’s the boss. You need people to trust you so that when you talk about hydration and food, show them the best way to walk on boulders, offer a hand when crossing a ford or extra food when you see they’re struggling; they take it on.
Some people want to be exhausted at the end of their day, while children want an adventure that they’ll smile about dropping off to sleep. Getting it right is part of the art of being a good Mountain Leader.
The three kilometres walk from Styhead Tarn into Seathwaite can be a nice one. The sun is hiding behind the Gables by this time, and everyone else is usually flowing down the valley.
The Scafell Pike Corridor Route offers adventure and magnificent mountain scenery; my friends have experienced climbing and scrambling, learned a little about the geology and volcanoes, lots of local history along the route and spent some time away from their hectic lives. To me, Scafell Pike from Seathwaite offers an amazing all-round adventure. One that I smile about, dropping off to sleep at the end of it.
Give it a go this summer!
Scafell Pike Corridor Route
This was our planned Scafell Pike from Seathwaite route. There was too much adventure going on to have time to go over Great End so we descended to the Ling Mell Col and back on to the Corridor Route. To me, this is the best of the Scafell Pike routes.
Here’s my Scafell Pike OS map, OL6 with a suggested route (we didn’t have time to do Great End).
Come with me down Sharp Edge with mountaineer Alan Hinkes, the only Brit to climb all of the world’s 8000m mountains.
Get more routes than you can shake a stick at, in different areas of the UK as well as loads of hiking tips and stories like mine.