Classic Scramble - Pinnacle Ridge

The journey to Pinnacle Ridge is a slog. Broken trail, crumbling scree piles, and grand views of the eastern fells to put you off your stride. It might not seem the obvious choice on the first day of spring, but this classic grade 3 scramble, Lakeland's finest ridge, was a rather special place to be as inverted clouds swirled around the fells, Hellvellyn concealed in the distance by a white, wispy cloak.

Hands down, Lakeland's best and most exposed ridge scramble, 227 kb
Hands down, Lakeland's best and most exposed ridge scramble
© Jessie Leong

It's hard to believe that Pinnacle Ridge has been a mere few hours out of our ordinary city life

Pinnacle Ridge, St Sunday Crag

Grade: 3 scramble

Start/finish: pay & display car park opposite Patterdale Hotel (NY396159)

Distance: c.8km

Ascent: 700m

Equipment: Confident climbers may solo, but for most parties a rope and a small climbing rack should be carried - if only for the crux corner and the exposed pinnacles above. Helmet highly recommended

Maps: OS Landranger (1:50,000) 90; OS Explorer (1:25,000) OL5; Harvey British Mountain Map (1:40,000) Lake District


Scrambles in the Lake District North by Brian Evans (Cicerone)

The Ridges of England, Wales and Ireland by Dan Bailey (Cicerone)

With the roadworks and city signs of Preston streaming past us, we set off with bleary eyes on an alarmingly early Saturday morning. The fog seems to clear as we arrived at the village of Patterdale, as if the weather is beckoning us on.

Bags packed, gaiters on, we check our map before stowing it away to begin the walk-in. Our mountain adventure involves hiking up through the valley before steeply rising to Blind Cove, contouring round and wiggling up to the scree slope - and that's before we even consider getting the gear out.

The Helvellyn massif from the approach to Pinnacle Ridge, 159 kb
The Helvellyn massif from the approach to Pinnacle Ridge
© Rory Southworth

As we trudge up the approach our steepening trail disappears, hidden under sheep poo, wet grass and rust-coloured bracken, flattened underfoot. The mountains do not care for my wobbly steps, I think, nor my lack of cardio fitness.

'It gets worse from here, there's scree slopes to come next,' says my climbing partner cheerfully. From afar, a dark line of rock can be seen, jutting across the skyline. We clamber up the shifting scree piles to the base of the scramble, denoted by the flattened ground and huge rocky pillars, finally pausing for breath.

Negotiating the jumbled blocks of the lower ridge, 233 kb
Negotiating the jumbled blocks of the lower ridge
© Jessie Leong

Pinnacle Ridge is exciting, bold and brilliant, requiring the full range of mountain skills and equipment. From placing gear and moving roped together in an exposed mountain situation, to the concentration required to identify the right sequences of moves, the mental immersion is totally absorbing. Approaching the tricky chimney that constitutes the crux of the route, I wedge my left boot into a damp, shallow crack and balance my right foot on a nubbin of rock. Silently thanking the foresight of bringing a scrambling rack, I place a nut and thread a sling in the chimney before reaching up to drier holds above. Tricky moves complete, we continue on the crest of the scramble, clambering over the precariously tumbled rhyolitic sculptures.

It's the airiness, the exposure, the feeling of vulnerability that comes with this mountain territory

Mountain exposure in buckets..., 233 kb
Mountain exposure in buckets...
© Jessie Leong

'Are you at The Pinnacle yet?' Rory calls out to me. I spot a prominent spire a few metres in front. Teetering forwards, I lower a sling onto the spike, conscious of the gaping blankness of the walls below me on either side. It's the airiness, the exposure, the feeling of vulnerability that comes with this mountain territory. Clipping the rope in, I brush these feelings aside and locate a good spot to belay and make myself safe, boots dangling off the edge as I bring my partner across the dramatic traverse.

Rory on the classic pinnacle pose!, 213 kb
Rory on the classic pinnacle pose!
© Jessie Leong

We top out on the summit of St Sunday Crag and decide against extending our journey over Cofa Pike to Fairfield, heading back instead along the spine of the mountain directly into Patterdale with the afternoon light setting the iconic Lakeland valley aglow.

With the toothy fangs of rock behind us and Ullswater visible in the distance, it's hard to believe that completing Pinnacle Ridge has been a mere few hours out of our ordinary city life. It's been a much-needed mountain escape to satisfy our weekday longing, the perfect little adventure.

Mentally absorbing scrambling...
© Rory Southworth

...the perfect little adventure
© Rory Southworth

UKH Articles and Gear Reviews by Jessie Leong

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