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How to choose the best route up a Lake District Mountain

Many of the best-known Lake District mountains have a ‘tourist track’ from car park to summit, but although it may be the most direct, this is rarely the best way up. With a little planning and mapwork, it is usually possible to choose a route that is more elegant, dramatic, scenic and entertaining.

It’s all down to glaciology. The last ice age ended 10,000 years ago, leaving behind it a landscape shaped by ice. On the cold North and East sides of the highest Lake District hills the ice lasted longest and so had more time to shatter and scour the rock, often scooping out mountain corries (high armchair-shaped valleys) in which beautiful mountain tarns now sit.

The typical anatomy of a mountain sculpted in this way offers fantastic horse-shoe routes up and around the ‘arms’ of the armchair – ridges that provide a gradual, extended ascent and descent, and from which you can get the best views of the corrie cliffs that commonly bristle above the tarn.

Of course, where this effect has been most extreme, it is possible to be faced with a knife-edge ridge which is strictly for the technically competent and well-equipped. Great examples are Striding Edge (see photo) and Swirral Edges on Helvellyn, and Sharp Edge on Blencathra.

But if you are thinking of bagging peaks such as Scafell Pike, The Old Man of Coniston, Fairfield, or Skiddaw, it is easy enough (with a little research) to find these wonderful non-technical alternative routes that give so much more than just bagging the summit.

Always take great care on the hills – research your route and the weather forecast, make sure your navigation is up to scratch and that you are properly equipped. Or join us for a guided hike to visit these amazing lofty places via these most rewarding, classic routes.


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