The Mosedale Horseshoe

8th August 2022

It's been a good four years since I last walked the Mosedale Horseshoe and over six years since I last set foot on Pillar's High Level Traverse, the latter being the main reason why I'm here today.

The Mosedale Horseshoe for me holds a place in the top five of Horseshoe walks in Lakeland mainly due to its epic views into both the Wasdale and Ennerdale valleys not forgetting to mention its main attraction, Pillar and Pillar Rock. If you're feeling extra adventurous both Kirk Fell and Yewbarrow can be included into the walk but it's not a given. Shortening the route such as I have today will also complete the Horseshoe.

I'm on holiday this week and I couldn't have asked for a better five days as the country comes to grips with its second heat wave of the Summer which is great but not the best conditions for spending the best part of six hours exposed to the heat and sunshine but I was fortunate enough to have a saving grace when it clouded over which at the time looked like 'the second coming' but at least it helped to cool me down.

Wainwright Guide Book Seven
The Western Fells
High Level Traverse The walking is rough, but not steep; the track is loose and stony, but safe. The rock-scenery is magnificent.

Ascent: 3,753 Feet - 1,144 Metres
Wainwrights: 3, Pillar - Scoat Fell - Red Pike (Wasdale)
Visiting: 2, Looking Stead - Black Crag
Weather: Hot, Sunny & Humid AM Clouding Over Towards Midday With Hot Sunshine Returning Late Afternoon. Highs of 24°C Lows of 18°C
Parking: Car Park, Wasdale Head
Area: Western
Miles: 8
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 6 Hours 10 Minutes
Route: Wasdale Head - Mosedale - Gatherstone Beck - Gatherstone Head - Top of Black Sail Pass - Looking Stead - High Level Traverse - Robinson's Cairn - Hind Cove - Pillar Cove - Shamrock Traverse - Pillar - Wind Gap - Black Crag - Red Pike (Wasdale) Dore Head - Dorehead Screes - Mosedale - Mosedale Beck - Wasdale Head

Parking Details and Map
Nearest Post Code: CA20 1EX
Grid Reference: NY 186 708
Notes: Probably one of the more popular car parks in Lakeland due to its proximity to Scafell Pike meaning that the car park at Wasdale Head is very popular all year around and is large enough to accommodate around forty cars and mini buses. Despite its popularity you may only struggle to park here during mid Summer or late into the afternoon.


Map and Photo Gallery


It's a beautiful morning in Wasdale.
The view was too hard to ignore so I pulled over and took it all in, here looking towards Yewbarrow, Kirk Fell, Great Gable and Lingmell.

Black Crag, Wind Gap and Pillar from Wasdale Head 08:45am 18°C
It's the school holidays and I expected Wasdale Head to be busier than how I found it, even the campsite only had a round three pitched tents but who am I to complain, this is great. I'd parked easily and with a hot day forecast for the first time ever since I started fell walking, I apply sun cream. Please do not go by my 'I won't get burnt rules' I tan easily and it doesn't normally bother me I just didn't want it to become an issue today while I'm on the hill.

Todays forecast was for any lingering cloud to clear leaving a 90% chance of cloud free fells by mid morning so I adjust my pack accordingly leaving just the essentials but the 3 litres of hydration I was carrying still made it heavy as hell. When fell walking on such a hot day it pays to pre-plan where your water sources are, not just for converting into drinking water but to cool down and if I'm honest other than Gatherstone Beck just a couple of miles into the walk getting the chance to cool down was scarce.

A few more cars started to arrive but there were plenty of places left to park. On the other side of the car park two guys check their climbing equipment and I wondered where they were heading, it's either Great Gable or Pillar, one of the two. After making sure my hands were clear of sun cream I locked the car and walked over to the wall to take in the view towards Great Gable.

Great Gable from Wasdale Head.
It was only the baa'ing of sheep that broke the valleys silence this morning.

The Mosedale Valley with Red Pike (left) Black Crag (centre) Wind Gap and Pillar (right)
I passed the campsite then Riston's Bar and joined the footpath alongside Mosedale Beck which rose gently into the Mosedale Valley, by which time my forehead was already starting to sweat 'gonna be a tough one' I thought. Up ahead I spot two walkers who seem to be taking it slow and steady, probably the best plan of action I thought but on the flip side, I wanted to gain height as quickly as possibly before the temperature started to rise.

Red Pike (Wasdale) Wind Gap and Black Crag seen over Mosedale Valley.
I can't look at the wall that runs up the eastern flank of Red Pike without being reminded of the day when I followed it all the way to the summit.

Yewbarrow's Stirrup Crag, Dore Head and Dorehead Screes from Gatherstone Beck.
My descent route today will be via Dorehead Screes seen in the centre of the photo, if your thinking crikey that looks steep you'd be right but there's a zigzagged path to follow to the left of the scree (when descending) which takes most of the steepness out.

The top of Black Sail Pass from Gatherstone Head.
I somehow managed to over take the couple I'd seen earlier and felt like I was coping fine while hitting the fell hard, that was until I reached the incline for Gatherstone Head where the humidity forced me to knock it down a gear. Todays only true water source was crossed at Gatherstone Beck where I dipped my Buff into water then ran my wrist under the water to help cool my blood flow down.

Once I'd cooled down I wrapped my Buff around my head which is something I'd never had to do before but it was just so humid and hot I didn't care if I looked like a plonker, at least this plonker was cooling down.

Red Pike (Wasdale) and Pillar as I climb towards Black Sail Pass.
Hmmm,,, the cloud is meant to be clearing not returning. I shall have to keep my eye on that.

Green Gable, Kirk Fell and Kirkfell Crags from the top of Black Sail Pass.
Once I'd reached the top of Gatherstone Head I noticed a chap ascending towards the top of Black Sail Pass. I could see the chap's pace was slow and he was stopping a lot 'nothing bad in that' it's like an oven out here. I finally caught the chap up at the top of the pass and as we regained our breath he asked me had I been up Kirk Fell via Kirkfell Crags before.

I explained that I had and that he'd enjoy the little scrambles 'better going up than down' I added. The guy seemed a little nervous and just needed a little reassurance as to where the path was which I pointed out and soon we were joined by the couple I'd overtaken earlier. We had a good natter and the couple told me they too were heading onto Pillar 'might see you up top' I said before bidding them to 'enjoy their walks'

Pillar and Looking Stead from the unnamed Tarn on top of Black Sail Pass.
I left the couple and the solo walker then climbed towards one of my favourite tarns in Lakeland, so famous it has no name. The delights of being here were somehow over shadowed by a mass of cloud that was about to engulf Kirk Fell, Red Pike and Pillar. Flipping eck I thought what happened to the 'all fells clear forecast'

Looking back on Brandreth, Green Gable, Windy Gap, Great Gable and Kirk Fell.
Half an hour ago I was sweating my pants off and now I've now got goose bumps on my arms. You couldn't make it up.

Seat, High Crag, High Stile, Red Pike (Buttermere) (below cloud) from the start of Pillar's High Level Traverse.
This route certainly demanded a good forecast and I couldn't but help feel a tad deflated as I made my way onto Looking Stead while feeling the pinch of the sudden windchill. The temperature felt like it had plummetted into single fingers and wasn't so much of a cooling off period than a sudden freeze. Thoughts now were whizzing around my head while watching what the cloud was doing. Do I go ahead with the High Level Traverse and risk getting caught in cloud thus taking out all the enjoyment or make a standard ascent on the summit?

I waited a while longer until I started to shiver, I couldn't flipping believe it. Was it time to add an extra layer, quite possible. After a few more minutes of cloud watching I noticed that the cloud was just confined to the summits and didn't appear to dropping so I left Looking Stead and made the short ascent towards the cairn marking the start of the High Level Traverse.

The start of the High Level Traverse.
It's just like it says on the tin.

Looking back along the start of the High Level Traverse with Kirk Fell in the distance.
The traverse stretches across Green Cove then Hind Cove until Robinson's Cairn is reached. The path through Green Cove demonstrates why you wouldn't want to be making the traverse in low cloud due to sections of it being quite exposed.

Looking Stead and Green Cove as I cross into Hind Cove.
With the unmistakable Ennerdale Valley below rising towards the Gables and Kirk Fell.

Robinson's Cairn comes into view seen here from Hind Cove.
I left the shelf like path of Green Cove behind for the less exposed path of Hind Cove where Robinson's Cairn comes into view,

Pillar Cove, Pillar and Pillar Rock from Robinson's Cairn.
Robinson's Cairn was reached where I was able to take stock and make some adjustments. Although I thought about adding an extra layer back on Looking Stead I hadn't and by the looks of things it's starting to brighten up.

Pillar and Pillar Rock from Pillar Cove.
The path passes through the centre of Pillar Cove towards the top of the rock Buttress in the centre of the photo. From there a zigzaged path ascends towards the Shamrock Traverse before the steep haul onto the summit.

There's still plenty of work to do before I can even think about lunch!

The High Stile Ridge from Pillar Cove.
Incorporating Great Borne, Starling Dodd, Red Pike (Buttermere) High Stile and High Crag (out of shot towards the right)

Heading up the zigzags.
Towards the start of the Shamrock Traverse.

Looking down on the Shamrock Traverse.
Although the Shamrock Traverse isn't as steep as it appears in this photo there are two nasty rock slabs which are (during the time I've visited) always covered in slime.

The first slab is easy to get around but the second had a good 80% coverage meaning the only way around is to drop off the path and carefully negotiate your way around.

The path now traverses above Pisgah (left) Jordan Gap (centre) and Pillar Rock (right)
I couldn't help but be reminded of the last time I was here when accompanied by our climbing guide Aled, Rod and I climbed Pillar Rock via the Slab and Notch route as part of Rod's final Birkett.

That's the Slab seen in the centre of the photo with the Notch directly above,

Looking down on Pisgah (foreground) and Pillar Rock (behind)
The path traverses towards the top of Climbers Gully before steering left for the summit of Pillar which is where I'm heading next. It's a steep pull but the views back are fantastic.

Pillar summit.
I followed the steep path onto Pillar's summit and started to make my way over to the shelter where I found a couple seeking shelter from a brisk wind. They'd sat down on the outside of the shelter and that meant I had the shelter to myself so I found a rock to sit on and tucked into half my lunch.

'bit cooler up here' I said to the couple who replied "it is, but it's a welcome relief" I agreed. No sooner had I tucked into lunch I too was feeling the pinch so I slid a fleece on and continued with my lunch. No sign of the couple I'd seen at Gatherstone Head earlier though, I couldn't work out if I was ahead or behind them.

Wind Gap, Black Crag, Scoat Fell and Steeple.
It looks like it's trying to brighten up now and with it, a little warmth has returned so off came the fleece.

Yewbarrow, Dore Head and Red Pike (Wasdale) from Wind Gap.
I say this quite light heartedly but how can the forecasters predict completely clear fells to what I've had today? I think their radar thingymebob has broke. I'm sticking with the old stone at the end of a piece of string from now on.

Windcap Cove, Ennerdale Water, the Ennerdale Valley and Steeple from Wind Gap.
I met a very nice chap along here who was walking the Mosedale Horseshoe which included Kirk Fell and Yewbarrow "I'm following a guide book Walking the Wainwrights in 36 Walks" he went onto explain.

"Thats some walk you're doing today are you going to include Steeple as well I asked?" the guy replied "No" because it wasn't in the guidebook. I went on to explain that I'd completed the Wainwrights in 30 walks in 2016 but from the look on the guys face I don't think he believed me. Anyway I gave the guy some tips on ascending Stirrup Crag for his ascent on Yewbarrow before wishing the chap to enjoy the rest of his walk.

Steeple from the top of Mirk Cove.
I let the guy get a lead on me and followed him to the summit of Black Crag where he was stopped by a walker walking the opposite direction and that was the last I'd see of him.

Continuing along the ridge I passed another walker who was sat down on the path and my thoughts turned to "Oh I'll just walk around you" but there was no need for me to be sarcastic after I passed the chap with a "hi" the sound of his voice just said it all and after a bit of a pause while looking down into the Mosedale valley he nodded "aye"

Looking back along the high level ridge towards Black Crag and Pillar.
Time for the short but rocky ascent on Scoat Fell now.

Scoat Fell summit.
I breached the top of the rocky crags then followed the wall towards the summit and in doing so I passed a grandfather with his young grandson which was great to see.

Descending Scoat Fell for Red Pike (Wasdale)
It's still a tad cloudy but heating up and definitely improving.

Looking down on Low Red Pike from Red Pike (Wasdale) summit.
In the centre of the photo you can just about make out a section of the wall that I followed last year. What a fantastic but very steep ascent!

Black Crag, Wind Gap and Pillar from Red Pike (Wasdale) summit.
Yes I've ascended Red Pike direct from the Mosedale valley but it always seems to be one of those summits you pass en route whether it's at the start or end of the Mosedale Horseshoe. Personally I think Red Pike deserves to be focused on as a focal summit maybe for a future Winter walk.

Looking beyond the southern tip of Red Pike towards Dore Head and Yewbarrow.
I really like the way the fell seems to corkscrew into Dore Head and Yewbarrow. What an amazing view.

Stirrup Crag and Wasdale Head seen beyond Dore Head.
The cloud is clearing nicely now revealing Great Gable, Great End, Broad Crag, Lingmell Scafell Pike and Sca Fell.

Yewbarrow from Dore Head.
Within the time it had taken me to descend Red Pike the afternoon was really turning into a scorcher with a hot afternoon sun overhead and clearing skies by the minute.

Yewbarrow from Dore Head.
Here's another favourite pool of mine found on Dore Head.

Views over Wasdale Head towards Great Gable, Great End, Broad Crag, Lingmell Scafell Pike and Sca Fell.
It was time to take on the descent of Dorehead Screes which given the choice doesn't have to be descent by the scree directly as there is a narrow path over to the left which descends a good 3/4 of the descent.

Magical views.
Over Mosedale and into the Wasdale Valley.

Looking back up Dorehead Screes.
It was only this last section shown in the photo which I descended after the grass path over on the left faded out. The scree was descended by zigzagging my way down switching sides when the scree reached the tops of my boots.

It's certainly a good way to bed your boots in.

Lingmell and the Scafells.
The scree somehow magically fades into the plush grassy undergrowth and all you're left with is chalky white boots which Mosedale Beck will soon take care of.

The Mosedale Valley.
After the scree the path it continues to descend through bracken before Mosedale Beck is reached where I hopped over a broken fence to its shoreline. Taking my empty bottle I let it fill half way and despite still having enough hydration in my bladder pack took a swill from the bottle which left an irony aftertaste. Next I cupped my hands letting the water run over my wrist for a few seconds and washed the cool water over my face and hair. It was blissful and I repeated it a few times until my head no longer felt like it was over heating.

After a fantasic day I knew the walk would come to a stop soon so I pulled back on the reigns and slowed to a trot, it was too nice to just turn my back on Mosedale and Pillar where only hours earlier I'd been forced to add a layer. In the afternoon sunshine I strode back to Wasdale Head making sure nothing was missed.

Beyond Kirk Fell the summit of Great Gable appeared but just its summit set against the bluest of skies. Kirk Fell is flanked by waist high heather which showed off its steep profile just a treat. Turning right though the gate I spotted Fogmire Beck over the wall and beyond that, a network of green fields all boxed in by works of art stone walling that no doubt Joss Naylor played some part in building. Ritson's Bar came next and through gaps in the trees I could see folk sat on benches and a dog paddling in Mosedale Beck. Out of half a dozen benches only two were occupied and I passed through unnoticed back into the sunshine of Wasdale Head and a sea of glimmering windscreens.


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