Although the previous day had been a total washout, brighter skies were on the cards for our final full day in the Lakes – so we made the most out of it by climbing another peak, Yewbarrow. Spoiler: we totally underestimated this 628m peak. This mountain was essentially A Bad Idea – but it didn’t stop us giving it a go (and a decent run for its money, even if we were rather unconventional walkers/ hikers/ climbers).
Having (uncharacteristically) slept like logs for nigh on twelve hours*, it was slightly disappointing to wake up to that all-too-familiar pitter-patter of raindrops on the tent. Showered and breakfasted, we followed the road along the northern edge of Wast Water towards Yewbarrow, dodging the persistent drizzle by taking the forest footpath by the lakeshore the moment we could. As we waded through the ferns, my very soggy waterproof began to dry out in the breeze. Since Yewbarrow’s peak was still smothered in cloud, we took the opportunity to munch a Mars Bar (my hiking snack of preference) whilst waiting for the clouds to clear.
A little while later, the skies cleared and the shorter summits (less than 750m) were cloud-free. We wasted no time in making our way through the National Trust’s carpark at Overbeck Bridge and up onto the path leading towards Dropping Crag. The path’s steep incline led us past Over Beck – which was rushing speedily towards Wast Water to deposit the previous nights’ rainfall – over a stile and along a series of yew trees. Ascending via Yewbarrow’s southern slope, we had fantastic views of Wast Water – which got better and better the further up we went.
Following the path to a tee, we were a little befuddled when it stopped abruptly – leaving us gawping up at a rather steep bouldering mission. We were convinced the map had sent us the wrong way, but it hadn’t. After scouting out a variety of possible routes up the rocks, we eventually picked one and set about clambering up, taking it in turns to direct each other to the next ledge to put a foot or a hand. This photo doesn’t really capture the effort we had to exert to get up – up close, these rocks were a stretch for my rather short legs!
Luckily, after the near-vertical initial scramble, the route up became a little more forgiving as we edged closer to Great Door.
Peering down, we could see the route we’d followed so far with its sandy path wiggling along the crest of Yewbarrow and up to the stony scramble. From some 550m high (and still quite some distance from the summit) we caught our breath whilst admiring the view.
A little further on, we sheltered between the rocks at Great Door for our picnic overlooking the eastern edge of Wast Water. In the distance, we could see Bleamoor Tarn – which we’d passed a few days ago, when walking across Eskdale Moor to Wasdale.
As we continued along the path, the sun broke out from behind the clouds bathing Yewbarrow in some much-needed summer sunshine. The Lake District as a whole is beautiful, but this particular area is other-worldly, indescribably picturesque.
Approaching the first of the cairns, we had a birds’ eye view of Wasdale Head and our campsite nestled amongst the trees. Beyond, Scafell Pike lurked in the clouds. Just once, the clouds parted and we could see the summit.
A few cairns later and we’d reached the eastern tip of Yewbarrow – and another scramble down (photo is looking back at the descent), though this was nowhere near as lethal as the scree slope that was to come.
Consulting the map resulted in two options. The first (rather unappealing) option was to walk all the way back round the base of Yewbarrow and then back along the road to our campsite – a good 5 or 6km. The second option was a small dotted footpath which would take us down Dorehead Screes and along to Wasdale Head via Mosedale Beck – a rather more appealing 2km. Despite our encounter with The Screes of Wast Water two days prior, we opted for yet more screes. Even the sheep were avoiding it for the most part, and that tells you all you need to know.
At the top, we were faces of optimism – utterly delighted that there was a shorter route down that the creators of the map clearly thought was feasible. Those faces quickly turned to faces of sheer terror, when ten metres or so down we had no choice but to keep going – to go back up the disintegrating scree slope would simply have been too risky. Even as we shimmied down the path on our derrières, there was barely anything to hold on to – the cliff edges broke off if we held them, the scree was loose and a whole wedge of soil complete with grass gave way underneath me at one point! Fortunately, further down the ground became stable – and grassy! We edged our way carefully across the scree and onto the grass, relieved to have found a way to sidestep some of the scree.
The sad thing was, we were barely halfway down – though the scree towards the bottom looked slightly more palatable.
When we eventually reached the bottom, I couldn’t have been happier – or felt wearier. Somehow, photos can never quite capture the whole experience – and this scree slope is no exception. Photos will never capture the tough gradient, the indents from the rock on my palms and the instability of the ground – those things have to be experienced, to be believed.
With weary legs, we made our way along the boggy footpath through the ferns towards Wasdale Head – and, more importantly, The Wasdale Head Inn. Whilst the hardy Herdwick sheep can make lighter work of these slopes, we had a memorable (if fear-inducing) afternoon and are sure to be back for more in the future.
*Disclaimer: we fell asleep around 8.30pm the previous night, opting not to follow 1D’s mantra to ‘Live While We’re Young’.
- If you’re not prepared to go down a 300m scree slope, don’t “try before you buy” and attempt the first 3m. On slopes like this one, there’s no going back once you’ve started.
- Don’t underestimate the Lake District’s shorter peaks – height can be deceptive and maps misleading (but necessary nevertheless – OS Explorer OL6). Research your routes as much as possible beforehand, ask locals and trust your gut – only you know your limits.