Meeting Your Mountain Heroes: Sharp Edge

Meeting Your Mountain Heroes: Sharp Edge

Blencathra is a lovely thing. Standing proudly in the North of the Lake District, it’s the first mountain to greet visitors approaching from the east and the last to bid them farewell.

It tells you much about the mood of the mountains that day: clear skies above Blencathra, you are in for a treat; angry looking clouds on the summit, prepare to get wet.

It’s a proper mountain, as popular with those seeking an introduction to hill-walking as it is for seasoned mountaineers.

It keeps watch over the small village of Threlkeld and acts as a shield from the more remote and less frequented parts of northern Lakeland.

But Blencathra has a darker side. One you wouldn’t want to mess with. Hidden from view from cars passing on the A66, the mountain has a rebellious side. One you wouldn’t want creeping up on you down a dark alley.

Sharp Edge is what makes Blencathra badass.

Its name is one of the most descriptive in the District. A razor-sharp ridge of rock which climbs steeply from Scales Tarn to the summit ridge. It looks menacing and it’s dangerous, catching out the unwary and striking fear into the hearts of many who attempt it without adequate preparation.

I remember seeing a photograph of it as a youngster and feeling it would be more at home in Mordor than in this quaint part of the English countryside. It makes Striding Edge look like a pussy cat.

But catch it in a good mood and this hoodlum of the hills is tameable. In the right conditions, walkers can scale this lofty ridge and enjoy one of the finest mountain walks in England. It’s easily accessible from roadside parking on the A66 and you can always back off and find another route to the summit if you don’t like the look of it up close.

Make no mistake, you need to respect Sharp Edge. It’s had the decency to allow mere mortals to clamber on its flank but this is no place for trainers and jeans. In all but the finest weather, the rock is slippery and there’s at least one awkward bit (fittingly called ‘the Bad Step’) where a fall would be costly. After negotiating the Bad Step, it’s easy to become complacent but relax your focus on the final scramble up Foule Crag at your peril – many walkers have become crag fast here by veering too far off to the left.

I’ve not actually tackled Sharp Edge. The weather has never been on my side and I show it the respect it deserves. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing. It’s still there on my bucket list and as each year passes, the more intrigue it holds.

I was lucky enough to view it at close quarters several years ago in its most forbidding get up: on a windy ascent of Blencathra via Doddick Fell. A fine alternative, the relentless climb begins almost immediately after crossing Scaley Beck. Making a beeline for the first rocky outcrop, I joined the ridge and climbed upwards. The temperature was dropping and the wind cut through my fleece like a knife. The noise was deafening. At one point, the gusts were so strong I had to flatten myself to the ground and creep tentatively towards shelter. It was like wading through custard: the school-dinners variety with thick skin on it.

On reaching the crest of Doddick Fell I was afforded my first glimpse of Sharp Edge. The razor-thin edge was shrouded in mist, which swirled around the rocks with Scales Tarn bubbling in the  cauldron below. This frightening scene drew me towards it like a Siren. There is nothing like the sight of something so imposing to lift the spirits.

The weather gods were not on my side but the summit of Blencathra drew me in. The strength of the wind was incredible; easily the strongest I have experienced on a mountain. There was no respite to be had; like being in a washing machine. Not a day to be on Sharp Edge.

On descending Scales Fell, I broke free of the mountain’s relentless grip and enjoyed looking back over my shoulder at the ominous outline of Sharp Edge. It’ll have to wait for a sunny day, when I’m sure it won’t be half as frightening as it looked on that blustery October morning.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve not been back. Part of me wants the memory of that day to stick. With a name, reputation and appearance this iconic, I don’t want to remember it as anything other than a truly menacing prospect and a true mountain hero.

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