Start point: Pedestrian crossing on the A66
Threlkeld to Clough Head
Overview The classic approach is close to straight but gradients can be alleviated through use of White Pike’s ridge.
Classic Follow the road to the house passing itself off as the hamlet of Newsham. Heading into the bog, the easiest way is to cross into the next field and hug the fence until the Old Coach Road is reached. From there, turn upwards almost immediately and find the footholds. These broadly head toward and between two dry gullies. This is best surveyed in advance from Threlkeld, where the pair of gullies can clearly be seen. Different people favour going up or next to different gullies – the most direct is the second (western) and if you like steep ground you will do well on time. All lead to the ridge and then the summit.
Threlkeld Knotts. From the Old Coach Road (or earlier) plot a path for heading around the back of Threlkeld Knotts. It works in either direction. The most direct option is to head south, past the sheep fold on quad bike tracks, passing underneath Red Screes to pick up the path to the summit shown on the map. Longer in distance, but kinder in gradient.
White Pike As above until the Coach Road is reached. Slant right after the gate, initially keeping roughly parallel to the road as height is gained. Look for trods that swing round to the White Pike ridge and then beyond to Clough Head ‘s summit.
Making the choice Unless energy must be conversed at all costs, it is usually best to take the direct way up at this early stage in the round.
Anti-clockwise reflections Similar arguments apply. But the direct trod is unlikely to be kind to legs at this stage in a round, and so the Threlkeld Knotts alternative is worth considering (especially if Red Screes is utilised in descent initially).
Clough Head to Great Dodd
Overview Clough Head is the start of the Helvellyn ridge. Ergo follow the ridge? In most cases, yes. The options neatly encapsulate the minimums (ascent and distance, respectively).
Classic Follow the ridge, cutting the Calfhow corner to avoid unnecessary ascent.
Direct Take a bearing and follow it from peak to peak. The advantage of the route is its short distance, so avoid deviation. It is not much "fun".
Making the choice This is a textbook trade-off between distance and ascent. The terrain is similar (soft running down and medium gradient up) and so does not feature in the choice. But empirically, the balance lies with the ridgeline: the author has found no example of a contender taking the direct line on a round.
Anti-clockwise reflections With tired legs approaching a stiff Clough Head descent, most will go the long way round.
Great Dodd to Dollywaggon Pike
(via Watson's Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, White Side, Helvellyn Lower Man, Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike)
Overview There is no choice in the matter.
Classic See above. And yet navigational challenges can arise when cloud or sun is down. Pay particular attention to knowing: (1) when to break off for Watson’s Dodd; (2) knowing the true top of Nethermost; and (3) not mistaking High Crag for Dollywaggon summit.
Dollywaggon Pike to Fairfield
Overview A balanced choice, both in theory and in practice. The Cofa route is closest to a direct attack.
Fence posts Head straight towards Seat Sandal from the old gate, following the old fence posts. Before reaching Grisedale Tarn, go anti-clockwise on the circumnavigating path, contouring round to Grisedale Hause. From there it’s the tourist route, although it is worth noting that some of the rocky path can be avoided by taking grassy lines on the side of the old wall (right in ascent; left in descent).
(It is of course also possible to take the tourist’s descent of Dollywaggon, take a clockwise circumnavigation of Grisedale Tarn and then swing onto the Fairfield tourist path).
Cofa Pike The first thing to say is that the "Cofa" option is a broad umbrella of options, some of which do not involve Cofa at all. But all begin by using the tourist path down Dollywaggon, cutting the corners as desired.
From the outflow of Grisedale Tarn, sub-options abound. Depending on the contender's appetite for gradient and scrambling, it is possible to: (1) take the tourist path to Deepdale Hause, then to Fairfield via Cofa along the ridge; (2) follow trods and streams to Cofa Pike; (3) head direct to Fairfield (doable but involves hands and unsuited to a nochturnal attack); or (4) begin with (3) but gradually wheel around to hit the tourist path up Fairfield to continue to the ascent.
Making the choice The trade-off is between terrain and distance. On the one hand, a tussocky descent and no-nonsense, unforgiving ascent. On the other, a mainstream descent and an off-track climb. For the purists, travelling the "Cofa" options obviate the need to cover the same ground twice. For those seeking small psychological boosts, the opportunity to deposit packs at Grisedale Hause should not be missed.
Anti-clockwise reflections The more extreme of the Cofa options are unlikely to be kind in descent. So it is a toss up between the paths of the Fairfield tourist route or those to Deepdale Hause.
Fairfield to Seat Sandal
Overview Down and up, there is no choice and nothing to be saved.
Classic Straight down to the Hause (looking either to the left or right for usable grass and scree), then up the path with slight scrambles to the summit.
Seat Sandal to Dunmail Raise
Overview There is only one (sensible) way down; a direct descent to Dunmail leads to rocks and ferns rather than end-of-leg respite. (A direct western descent is also technically possible [and described in the Fellranger series] but it is very tricky ground.)
Classic From the summit, head (mostly) west until a trod appears, then follow it. Make sure not to head too far north as Raise Beck is no good place for a swift descent (but see anti-clockwise notes). In good light, look for the Steel Fell ascent line to help judge the appropriate north-easterly bearing.
Raise Beck Head directly north from the summit until the beck path is reached. Take it to Dunmail. Not a credible option for a clockwise round.
Direct Technically, it may be possible to take a direct line down to the road (on a bearing from the summit to the lay-by to the south of the dual carriageway section). But I have not been able to find anything that could be described as a way. If it could be made to work, I suppose it brings the southern shoulder of Steel Fell into play for the beginning of leg 3.
Making the choice For a clockwise around, the classic route is a no-brainer. Raise Beck will be much slower.
Anti-clockwise reflections The path up Raise Beck is no friend in descent, but some may prefer a stepped path over a trod and a steady gradient over a varying one. Make sure to turn south at the appropriate point (around the 500m contour).
leg TWO summary
In numerical terms, there is no substantive choice. The big decision of the leg is how to get from Dollywaggon Pike to Fairfield.