Pillar via the High Level Traverse

Or: Why I Will Never Complete the Birketts 

Black Comb at the head of Mosedale

A gathering of the clans at Chapel Stile Camp Site in Nether Wasdale. On the Saturday, whilst my kids were winning races at the Wasdale Sports (by all accounts a fabulously well organised and welcoming event) some of the adult members of the party took off for a stroll.

Many many moons ago, back when we first started our annual tradition of camping together for the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, the venue always used to be the small field opposite the Wasdale Head. Later we progressed to backpacking into the hills around Wasdale, camping at Styhead, or by Scoat Tarn or at the head of Ennerdale. At some point we started to go elsewhere, but things have come full circle and we now seem to have decided that Wasdale is once again the venue of choice, although we’ve moved down the valley to Chapel Stile enticed by it’s play area, and woodland, and football pitch, and small comforts like a washing-up area, and showers, sinks and toilets. We must have gone soft in our dotage. Anyway, the point is that over the years we’ve criss-crossed these hills together and almost every corner seems to have some story attached. But, I don’t think I’ve ever ventured up to the very end of Mosedale and up into Black Comb. It looks pretty crag-girt, but it also looks like there may be a way to get out onto the right-hand skyline. I’ve duly stored that idea away for another visit, because on this occasion we were heading for Black Sail Pass.

Yewbarrow and Dorehead Screes 

I can remember ‘running’ the Dorehead Screes in the mid-eighties, probably with almost the same group of people I was walking with today. Small wonder that three of us have had knee-surgery. On a similar steep scree slope today we’d be all caution, trekking poles and moaning and groaning.

A brew stop by Gatherstone Beck 

Where the Black Sail path crossed Gatherstone Beck we stopped for an early brew/lunch stop. My stove caused some hilarity. Apparently size does matter. But if my stove is overweight and a bit on the bulky side (like me, yes), it still boils water and nothing beats a fresh cuppa with a fine view.

Don’t be fooled by the blue skies and the short trousers. It was perishing. Goose pimples were much in evidence. In the afternoon we even had a few flakes of snow.


We were entertained on our steady climb to the pass by numerous wheatears and also by several parascenders.

Black Sail Pass 

Black Sail Pass

High Stile, High Crag, Grasmoor behind 

High Stile and High Crag. Grasmoor behind.

Green Gable, Great Gable, Kirk Fell 

Green Gable, Great Gable and Kirk Fell.

Having climbed Pillar last May, I really ought to have turned right at the pass and bagged Kirk Fell. But I’m a half-hearted bagger. With no new ticks this year, after my ankle injury, I spurned that chance, and joined the others, heading for the high level traverse to Robinson’s Cairn. It’s a long while since I’ve been this way. The first section of the path is badly eroded, but after that it’s OK so long as you don’t follow friends with mountain goat tendencies.

Robinson's Cairn 

Robinson’s Cairn presented a perfect spot for a second brew/lunch stop. Unusually, it would prove to be the last, since we never managed to find another spot sufficiently sheltered from the biting wind.

Pillar Rock

From Robinson’s Cairn we watched climbers on Pillar Rock and also a party of walkers seemingly having a bit of an epic in Pillar Cove. They’d eschewed the path and were climbing the scree slope below the crags on the left-hand side of the picture above, before traversing left on a ramp which led out onto the ridge. (Later, when we saw their route from above, it looked OK; so maybe all the shouting was out of enjoyment rather than panic?)

The standard route follows the prominent ledge across the crag in the centre of the picture, emerging on the ridge directly left of Pillar Rock. (Having recently posted about Poucher I should draw a thick white line across the photo I suppose.) It’s not as exposed as it looks, although there is one spot which might be a bit off-putting in the wet.

Pillar Rock

So – this is Pillar Rock. It’s a Birkett. It’s one of the reasons why I will never finish ticking them all off. Like a Birkett equivalent to the Inn Pinn. (One of the reasons why I will never finish the Munros). Along with my lack of commitment to the cause. It’s a Nuttall too, so there’s another list stymied before I’ve even begun!

On the traverse path, approaching Pisgah.

GM scrambled onto Pisgah, the first of the rocky lumps here, and from my point of view, even that looked much too exciting.

Pillar Rock: Pisgah and High Man. Red Pike and High Stile behind. Galloway Hills top left corner.

The ascent from here to the summit of Pillar is very steep. Stops to take photos were a must. It was a very clear day and the hills of Galloway, which you can perhaps just about make out here on the left, looked close enough to reach out and touch.

Pillar Rock from above.

From the broad flatish summit of Pillar we could also see the Isle of Man quite clearly. You can almost see it in the photo below. If you squint. The Adopted Yorkshire Man, long before he became the Adopted Yorkshire Man, once tried to dismiss the Isle of man as clouds, claiming, “If they were hills they’d be 25,000 feet high.” Funnily enough, we never tire of mentioning the Death Zone on Snaefell, even when he isn’t with us.

Incidentally, shouldn’t Snaefell be a Nuttall? I’ve always wanted to go to the Isle of Man. I don’t suppose they have a coastal path to promote and need a blogger to help them at all…..? (A man can dream)

Looking out to the Irish Sea. Isle of Man on the horizon.

I once arrived on the summit of Pillar very early in the morning, having come via Yewbarrow, Red Pike, Scoat Fell and Steeple. (A cuckoo in the tree above my tent had been very insistent that I didn’t want to sleep, despite the fact that it was four in the morning and I had eventually admitted defeat.)

As I arrived from the east, with almost perfect symmetry, another lone walker approached the cairn form the west. It was GM. It happened so long ago, I had begun to wonder whether I’d imagined it, but I mentioned it and he remembers it too.

I had grandiose plans that day to complete a Wasdale Round and might have too, but turned tail in a thunderstorm at Esk Hause. I’d need about a week to attempt a Wasdale Round now. Must get out more often….

Pillar via the High Level Traverse

11 thoughts on “Pillar via the High Level Traverse

  1. Ha! I I laughed at your 4am cuckoo comment. I had one of those outside my tent at Applecross on Sunday morning! Annoying thing. 😉

    Interesting report and photos of an area I don’t know.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I saw your Beinn Bhan report, and am very jealous. The only time I’ve been there we took quite an adventurous (for me!) route up one of the steep, tiered sandstone ridges. Marvellous.
      It’s so long since I saw a cuckoo that I’d be quite pleased to be woken at 4, if the cuckoo was sitting close by and willing to pose for photos.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      It was a good one wasn’t it. I was going to whinge about the steep bit on the descent route, but I ran out of steam after all the other wittering.
      ‘Magnificent octopus’ – is it a long one then?

  2. Seem to have got a bit behind on looking at your blog for some reason – apologies!

    Looked like a grand day. Can’t wait to get out again on some proper walks myself – never mind the odd backpack.

    And by the way, things like the In Pin are definitely a reason why I would never complete the Munros either…

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I’m way behind with my blog too!
      I sympathise with you and your enforced lay-off, very frustrating I know.

  3. Amazing coincidence: I posted about a 4am cuckoo outside our tent on our latest trip last week.
    A very rewarding day there. You could complete the Hewitts, Pillar Rock doesn’t qualify for that list.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Is this Mr Hewitt of Angry Corrie fame? Didn’t he write the Marlyn’s book too? I don’t really mind about not finishing lists, in fact the quixotic nature of embarking on a pointless and mammoth quest which you know is doomed to failure probably appeals to the Tommy Opposite side of my nature.
      Since Sheila also had a 4am cuckoo are we to assume that cuckoos don’t like campers. Or blogging backpackers at least?

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