The motorist hurtling westwards on the A66 approaching Keswick in the northern Lake District will be aware of a vast mountain rising to the right of the road where, between Scales and Threlkeld, a series of ridges soar skywards to meet a main ridge over 2000 feet above . This is Blencathra, one of Lakeland's most impressive fells and it is a popular ascent.
Despite the mountain's imposing presence, all of these south facing ridges are negotiable by the walker as are ascents from either end of the main ridge. Here is a brief outline of a few of the routes to the summit.
From Threlkeld a path leads through fields and patches of woodland to pass above and behind the kennels of the Blencathra Foxhounds before beginning the relentlessly steep ascent of Hallsfell and the ridge that leads directly to the summit. This is the route known as Narrow Edge. If the name conjures images of a vertigo inducing climb fear not – it's an interesting and exciting route up the mountain but the fun sections of scrambling can be avoided if desired and are not difficult anyway. The last part is steep but again not difficult and leads directly to the summit cairn. Probably the best route to the top of Blencathra.
Sharp Edge is another popular way up and this time the fearsome name is – at least partly – justified. From Scales at the mountain's eastern end a path climbs towards Scales Fell before heading across the slopes above the wild valley of the Glenderamackin River to the North. This path then branches up to the left to reach the beautiful setting of Scales Tarn. Sharp Edge is the ridge rising to the right of the tarn up towards the craggy eminence of Foule Crag which from here appears to be the summit of the fall.
A path climbs up towards this ridge and the route gets more exciting the further you progress. It becomes narrow and exposed for a short section with one awkward move but in calm dry conditions is safe enough. It is easier to stay on the crest of the ridge as the sides can be slippery especially after rain which is frequent here! In windy or icy conditions this route is not recommended. Once the arete has been negotiated a steep rocky scramble takes you up to Foule Crag from where it is an easy walk over to the summit – in all a fine route and probably harder than Helvellyn's Striding Edge but much shorter.
As mentioned earlier; any of the ridges above the A66 can be used to ascend Blencathra though Narrow Edge is probably the best and from Scales a path carries on up Scales Fell to lead directly to the summit up above and to the left of Scales Tarn – a bad weather alternative to Sharp Edge from there. Likewise at the far end of the mountain a constructed path climbs from the Blencathra Center above Threlkeld to ascend Blease Fell to Knowe Crags. This route in my own opinion is better as a descent after traversing the fall but both of these are easy – all weather – walks.
Another walk I like is the route from Mungrisdale. This is longer at over 9 miles or 15km return but is varied and interesting with the advantage that the climb is more gradual and sees to avoid the inevitable uphill slogs of the others.
From Mungrisdale village follow the path along the Glenderamackin – keep following the river and do not branch off.After a little over two miles the valley turns north west and you are below the Sharp Edge path on the far side of the valley. Follow the path up to the end with some good views of Foule Crag and Sharp Edge ahead and passing beneath these you reach a col. Turn left and follow the path to the top of Foule Crag and on to the summit. The climb to Foule Crag is steep but is a walk not a scramble.
This route heads through some wild remote country and you will see far fewer people especially in the Glenderamackin Valley. Whiche route you do, pick a clear day for Blencathra's location along with its 868m or 2848ft altitude make for some of the best views in Lakeland.