Distance 10.2km | Ascent 840m | Scramble rating Grade 3 | Go there when the wind is low and the rock is dry.
Many a boot has trod its way through Grisedale on the way to its wearer’s first ever Lake District scramble. On the north-western slopes of the valley, a well-worn path climbs towards the Hole-in-the-Wall landmark above Birkhouse Moor and the start of the most famous ridge walk in Lakeland: Helvellyn’s amiable Striding Edge. But over on the other side of Grisedale, hidden among the rock and scree below St Sunday Crag’s summit, is a scramble of a far different character.
Pinnacle Ridge is slabby, blocky, knife-sharp on occasion and a far less welcoming route than its neighbour, which is why many would-be Pinnacle Ridgers choose to tackle it on the end of a rope with a suitable guide leading the way. Certainly, a rope is a useful tool to carry; truth be told, the scrambling borders on rock climbing in a few spots. But don’t let this put you off, because Pinnacle Ridge is slightly more accommodating than it might at first seem. Escape paths provide an easier option past the most difficult obstacles, allowing the scrambler to pick and choose which sections they scramble and which they walk around.
But it is a corking ridge – a nano-sized slice of the Alps in the Lake District – and one that deserves to be climbed in full at some point. Whether that’s with a guide, or you have the wherewithal to tackle it yourself, here’s how it goes…
Park in Patterdale and walk into Grisedale. From the western corner of Elmhow Plantation, follow the zigzagging path up towards Blind Cove, then fork off right across the hillside on a rising traverse towards the crags. Cross two small scree shoots, then after a larger one head up the side of it to the start of the ridge. Look for a rowan tree about 45m up to the right and a gun-shaped block on the ridge as identifying landmarks.
A small cairn marks the start of the scramble. Begin up some spikey rock, moving onto more blocky terrain as you get higher. Follow the line that suits you best, aiming for the gun-shaped formation.
Start up the slab below the gun, moving around to the right to avoid its awkward, smooth upper section. Beyond, broken ground heads towards a large pinnacle, but the route itself passes to the left to meet a short, steep wall.
This is the crux, and a rope may be appreciated here. Climb the wall in the corner, using good holds in the crack and on the left wall. A chockstone in the crack on the right provides a good option for a sling if protection is required.
Above the wall, head left slightly and continue onto steeper ground towards the pinnacles above. A stepped-slab on the left provides the easiest route onto the finale of the ridge.
Carefully pick your way along the crest of the ridge, again using a rope and slings for protection if needed. The final obstacle – and the key photo opportunity of the scramble – is a large, slab-backed pinnacle. Pull over the top (a sling can be used over the point of the pinnacle to protect a belay) and, facing into the rock, use the right edge as a handhold as you allow your feet to find the many good toe-holds (which are best towards the left) to descend the slab to safer ground.
From this notch on the ridge, some fun and easier scrambling carries you up onto the back of St Sunday Crag, the summit of which is a short distance away to the right. From there, descend the northern nose of the fell towards Patterdale, plugging back in to your outward route below Thornhow End.
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