Start point: Dunmail Raise (middle of dual carriageway)
Dunmail Raise to Steel Fell
Overview Tradition dictates there is no choice but the direct line is slightly shorter.
Classic From the stile, follow footholds to the top of the ridge and then turn south for the summit. The trod has well-established footholds.
Direct Heading direct involves crossing two channels of serious scree. If they can be navigated then it is possible to pass through Ash Crags, albeit on rough ground. The upward and steep traverse is not easy. Not recommended, especially in darkness.
Making the choice Digging deep after a stop is likely to be easier if following in footholds. It is also likely to be quicker. But if interest (and a shallower gradient) distracts then the direct line may be worth considering and avoids a depressing shallow climb once the top of the ridge is reached and you remember it is more ascent to the summit.
Anti-clockwise reflections The classic line will be best in dry weather when the footholds give good grip. In the wet, alternative lines may be of greater interest.
Steel Fell to Calf Crag
Overview There is no choice and little to be saved.
Classic Follow the path, more or less.
Calf Crag to High Raise or Sergeant Man, to other and then to Thunacarr Knott
Overview The original Bob Graham dilemma and only example of a genuine choice on the order of two summits. The numbers are indifferent.
High Raise first From Calf Crag, approach the crossroads and turn up Birks Gill. Trudge up the grass gully, turning towards High Raise summit as the gradient decreases. From High Raise, dead reckon to Sergeant Man (taking a good bearing given the SM summit cannot be seen from the HR trig). From there, contour around to what you take to be the true Thunacar summit.
Sergeant Man first From Calf Crag, there are two sub-options. The first is the path (of sorts) that follows the old fence posts (originally marking the boundary of Cumberland and Westmorland). From the top of the beck, pick a line to the summit, plotting a way around Coledale Head but not mistaking it for Sergeant Man. The second is to stay closer to Mere Beck, crossing it west of the fence line and taking a straight line to Sergeant. The risk of a mistaken Codale ascent is then greatly reduced. From Sergeant's summit, head straight to High Raise (staying left of small tarns) and then good running awaits on the path to Thunacar.
Making the choice The beauty of the choice is that the numbers are the same. While Bob Graham went to High Raise first, most modern day contenders head to Sergeant Man (for what it’s worth, this is also the author’s [strong] preference).
Anti-clockwise reflections Both routes are equally valid but empirically there is a preference for summiting High Raise first. This makes use of the good trail from Thunacar and Mere Beck poses no difficulty in descent (grassy options available on the left of the beck). The counter-argument is the good descent from High Raise to Calf Crag.
Thunacarr Knott to Pike O' Stickle
(via Harrison Stickle)
Overview There are no choices; knowing the good ground is more important than cutting corners.
Classic From Thunacarr Knott to Harrison Stickle is a simple matter. Beyond, it is well worth spending time to find the best line for the initial drop of Harrison and the final scramble of Pike O’Stickle (make use the ramp across its north-eastern flank and then scramble to the top).
Pike O' Stickle to Rossett Pike
Overview A direct course would lose significant height over awkward terrain. So some rounding of Langdale Combe is required – the question is how much.
Black Crags The traditional route. Drop down from Pike O’ Stickle, initially on the path but heading near-due west as it turns towards north (staying to the left of the small tarns). Stay just north of Mart Crag on what will inevitably be boggy ground. Aficionados of the Langdale fell race will know a line. Crossing Stake Pass, follow the path between Mansey Pike (on the right) and Black Crags (on the left), then follow the edge and traverse the various false summits to Rossett Pike – there are different ways to go about this.
Around the Combe As above, but stay on the path that skirts Langdale Combe and stay to the right of Martcrag Moor’s small tarns. This is initially good ground, but approaching Rossett Pike from behind is rougher than one might think.
Making the choice Midway through the round, different contenders will want different things. Half a mile or 150 feet of ascent – which would you prefer to save? That is the choice. Empirically, the majority tend to prefer the shorter way and the vast majority of swift rounds do so too (it’s worth noting that no serious fell-runners go around the Combe on the Langdale race). There are also more features to catch if visibility is poor and navigation is much easier in the dark. But there is no shame in going the long way round for those desiring an opportunity for a relatively flat jog.
Anti-clockwise reflections The Black Crags descent will be no problem but some may prefer to not “preview a Mungrisdale” on the ascent to Pike O’Stickle.
Rossett Pike to Bowfell
Overview This is only a credible choice for clockwise rounds. The shelf route is close to direct.
Bowfell shelves Often known as Billy Bland’s rake, this is best not described: it needs to be seen. Take note of parallel shelves from Rossett’s vantage and have faith. There are a small number of small cairns.
Ore Gap The (highly) cautious way round: follow the path.
Making the choice For clockwise rounds, there is no credible case for Ore Gap.
Anti-clockwise reflections The vast majority will take the selves in reverse; the remainder who prefer not to scramble down (perhaps in poor weather) will take much longer to transition.
Bowfell to Scafell Pike
(via Esk Pike, Great End, Ill Crag and Broad Crag)
Overview Follow the ridge but know the lines. Being a ridge, there is little to be gained from corner-cutting.
Classic While the way will be clear at all stages, knowing the lines will allow for the best ground to be found. This particularly applies to the initial descent from Bowfell (to Ore Gap) and everything in relation to Great End.
A few relevant 'shorts':
From Bowfell, there is an important off-path line which needs to be known - drop down from the summit and deadreckon to Ore Gap
Towards the end of the Esk Pike descent, there are some grass(ier) lines
At Great End, there is a micro-choice relating to how quickly to branch off the path and onto boulders. At its most extreme, one can hold off until due south of Great End summit to maximise grass
From Ill Crag, some better ground may be found by an indirect route to Broad Crag, back onto the Borrowdale path to Scafell Pike. Similarly, for Broad Crag, there is some marginally less tricky rocky ground to be found by departing from the path at the right point
Scafell Pike to Scafell
Overview A layman might naively assume that getting from England’s highest peak to its namesake and closest relation is a minor matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the Bob Graham choice with the widest spectrum of options. In the words of Wainwright, “medals have been won for lesser deeds”.
Preliminaries All routes require navigating from the summit of Scafell Pike to the col of Mickledore. While there are some short grassy avenues, the way is, in the main, different arrangements of the same type of boulder. Broadcrag tarn – the highest in the Lakes – is sometimes cited as a useful reference point.
Broad Stand This is surely the quickest way but it requires all parties involved to be competent with rock and advance planning. A competent climber may feel able to solo but the rock is slippy and greasy in bad weather. Most will also require the surety of a rope (for the initial phase, at least). Even with a top rope, preparations can add at least five minutes so one cannot be too blasé. Note: on midsummer nights with a full moon there may be a queue.
Lord's Rake The first step is to arrive at the entrance to the rake. To do so, head towards Broad Stand and turn right along the bottom edge of the mass of stone. For those who know, there is a grassy shelf available (parallel to the Rake’s Progress and the Walkers’ Path, as described in Wainwright’s Southern Fells). The climb up the rake itself is well-documented elsewhere, and there is a sub-choice between the full Rake and the West Wall Traverse.
Foxes Tarn The insurance route; the Doddick of the Scafell massif. But it requires the greatest expenditure of distance and ascent. Drop down to join the path to Cam Spout. At the appropriate point, head up a gully on the right formed of particularly dispiriting scree.
Climber's Traverse A scrambling alternative to Foxes Tarn. At the base of Broad Stand, head left and descend scree. But scramble into and onto the – now partly grassy – mass of rock as soon as safe. From that point, pick a line diagonally upwards. The greater the scramble, the greater the height gained above Foxes Tarn when you eventually emerge. One for a recon as some seemingly-productive trods lead to sheer rock faces used by climbers. And unlikely to be swifter than the full Foxes Tarn route in the wet.
Making the choice Lord’s Rake and the Climber’s Traverse have the dual advantage of a more direct way and the opportunity to rest legs with greater emphasis on arms. If variety of effort helps pass the miles, this is no small advantage. Empirically, there is no significant time difference between the routes but the fastest rounds tend to take Broad Stand or Lord’s Rake.
Anti-clockwise reflections A Broad Stand abseil is the swiftest option to the initiated. But it is not easy: it is a blind approach, it is weather dependent and a large party of supporters can add significant time if the contender has to wait for all to descend. Of the remaining routes, there is significant support for Foxes Tarn given the difficulties of downward scrambling on the Climber’s Traverse and Lord’s Rake. In limited winter circumstances, a snow-filled Lord’s Rake descent will be the easiest option.
Scafell to Wasdale
Overview Steep scree or rolling grass? The Rakehead route is close to direct.
Rakehead gullies Begin down the obvious route from the summit for around 400m of Fairfield-esque descent. The way down should naturally take you towards the edge of the ridge. There are two gullies, one either side of the “Rakehead Crag” label on the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey Map. The eastern is the top of a scree run and marked by a kink in the cliff. The best descenders will navigate this at great speed, leading to steep grassy slopes (bum-sliding has been known) to Lingmell Gill and then Brackenclose. The western is a rocky gully and unsuited to a swift way down.
Green How As above, but ignore the (evidently not tempting) screes to continue down the steady grass descent. To minimise distance, stay north of Hollow Gill and Groove Gill. Continue until the old coffin route and then north to Brackenclose.
Making the choice For mortals, Lord’s Rake is not a credible option except in perfect winter conditions when filled with neve snow. That leaves a choice between steep scree or rolling grass. A competent descender will choose speed and scree any day of the week, but the slopes of Green How may be more pleasant and kinder to tired legs of a certain breed. And the scree portion of the scree route is only around 250 feet of descent – it’s then steep grass which may not to everyone’s taste.
Anti-clockwise reflections A new entrant appears in reverse: Lord’s Rake via Brown Tongue. No credible contender would choose to descend it at the end of leg 3 [add caveat on snow and descent], but for the start of the leg it is a perfectly viable choice (and the shortest route in distance terms). For those wanting a steadier start to the leg, Green How beckons. The scree-filled and rock-filled Rakehead gullies (see above) are best avoided in ascent.
leg THREE summary
There is over a mile to be found in the choices around Langdale Combe and getting to and from Scafell.