Are you thinking about hiking Blencathra peak, otherwise known as Saddleback, via Sharp Edge in the Lake District National Park? Delivering exceptional views of the surrounding landscape and an exhilarating accent to the summit, here’s my experience hiking Blencathra via Sharp Edge as an amateur hiker and total newbie to knife edges.
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This past weekend, I danced with death. (At least, that’s what it felt like in my experience.)
As an amateur hiker, I traversed my first ever knife edge.
For those who don’t know what a knife edge is, it’s a jagged part of the mountain that juts up from the earth, resembling a sort of sharp knife. On either side of the “knife” edge are sheer drops one can only wish to never fall down, as it would likely result in mere death.
In Wikipedia terms, a knife edge is also called an arête. Arête is actually French for edge or ridge, and is a narrow ridge of rock that separates two valleys, which is often sharpened by freezing-thawing weather and continuous erosion.
Blencanthra’s Sharp Edge, in particular, was aptly described by hiker and author Alfred Wainwright, “The crest itself is sharp enough for shaving (the former name was razor edge).”
And as someone who has now successfully crossed this terrifying, yet exhilarating knife edge, I can wholeheartedly say “razor edge” is a better name for the Sharp Edge of Blencathra.
Anyways, here’s my recap and guide to hiking Blencathra via Sharp Edge in the Lake District on a circular route from The White Horse pub. (As both a knife edge newbie and amateur hiker.)
HIKING BLENCATHRA VIA SHARP EDGE IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
In the sections below, I cover quick stats about the Blencathra circular route we took (including hiking time, elevation gain, and distance), a visual map of our circular route, my personal recap of what it was like to cross Sharp Edge as a newbie, and my favorite hiking gear.
Quick Route Stats
- Height in Feet: 2,848 feet
- Height in Metres: 868 meters
- Route Type: Loop / Circular Route
- Hiking Time from The White Horse: around 5.5 hours (with frequent breaks)
- Elevation Gain: ~2,011 feet (613 meters)
- Total Hiking Distance: 8.3 miles (13.3 km)
Map of Circular Route — The White Horse to Blencathra via Sharp Edge and Blease Fell
This is a VERY rough drawing of the Blencathra circular route we did. You can see we went up towards Blencathra summit, then down towards the lake, up Sharp Edge, and then ascended to Blencathra peak.
Going down we followed the ridge to Blease Fell, cut down towards Threlkeld, and followed a walking path hugging the mountainside back to The White Horse and our car.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to embed Dan’s Strava map recording into this blog post. But if you’d like to take a peek at that, click here.
My Blencathra Day Hike Recap
The idea to hike Blencathra via Sharp Edge was actually all mine. Incredulously, I figured it would be easier than it looked (and what previous route reviewers said)… oh, how wrong I was!
Our day of hiking started out like any other. All the essentials — like water bottles and water bladders, hats, gloves, shoes, etc. — were all packed in our backpacks the night before.
At 6 am sharp our alarms go off in synchronicity, demanding our attention and forcing the two of us to open our eyes and get ready for the big day.
Despite only getting around 6 hours of sleep, I optimistically pop out of bed, shrug on my hiking gear, and nearly skip down the stairs to get the coffee going.
This was my first big hike in around 6 or so months and I’m damn near buzzing with excitement!
After another 20 minutes or so of shuffling around, we finally hop in the car, set the navigation towards the town of Threlkeld, and are on our way to hike in the Lake District.
Two hours of driving later, we pull into a spot on the side of the A66 near The White Horse and start the 8 mile circular trek to Blencathra via Sharp Edge.
Right out of the gate, the sudden sharp incline challenges my out-of-shape body and after just a few minutes, my breathing becomes heavier and heavier until I sound like a heaving cow!
However, step after step, I keep going and keep pushing myself until it becomes easier (with frequent breaks, of course).
As we continue to climb and gain elevation, the views continue to get better and better. This early in the morning, a crisp blanket of white frost covers the deep green fields and fog lingers in the valleys.
As the sun creeps over the hills, beams of light begin to filter through, shooing away the shivering chill in the air and melting the frost to reveal the vibrant green color of lush grass.
Need some more hiking inspiration for the Lake District NP? Check out this blog on finding unbelievable views while hiking Loughrigg Fell Walk!
After about 2 hours of hiking (and many frequent breaks so I can catch my breath), we round the top of a hill and gaze down Scales Tarn, a glistening lake centered in a small valley between two crags.
It’s mirror-like surface reflected the Sharp Edge, intensifying it’s intimidating look and further amplifying my anxiety about crossing this mean-looking ridge.
Nonetheless, we slowly climb our way down to Scales Tarn and begin the quick ascent to Sharp Edge.
As we get closer and closer, I finally get a better look at the aggressive knife-edged ridge… it’s frightening to say the least. My stomach clenches into a tight ball of anxiety, sweat drenches my hands, and high-strung nerves turn my legs to jelly.
Moments later, we’re at the base of Sharp Edge. It’s time to climb.
I think to myself for what must be the hundredth time, “Can I really do this? F*ck, I don’t think I can do this. WTF AM I THINKING?”
In spite of doubting myself, I continue onwards.
As I slowly walk along a path hugging the edge, I come to dead stop. The only thing in front of me is a rock wall; the only thing to the side of me is a sharp drop to what would inevitably be my death.
Dan has already begun to scramble up towards the top of the rock wall. As I watch him expertly find what to me looks like invisible footholds and handholds, I hesitate and nearly fall apart with despair.
“There’s no way I can do this,” I think to myself.
Moments later, Dan looks down at me to see how far I’ve got… (hint: I’ve gotten nowhere).
Nearly in tears, I cautiously yell up to him, “Dan, I don’t think I can do this. I can’t do this. We have to turn back.” Regretfully, he understands, nods with resignation, and begins to clamber back down.
However, as I watch him try to get back down to where I am, I realize that’s a whole other challenge in itself. With a burst of courage, I tell him to stop and continue going upwards.
I’ll figure it out. I’ll f*cking figure it out.
Scrambling to the top part of the knife edge, I stop to catch my breath, reign in my nerves, and look at my surroundings.
Hey, ever thought about visiting Wales, aka the most underrated country in the UK? Check out this post on my top 10 places to visit in Wales!
The world falls away to my left and right. Sharp Edge slices through the open mountain air in front of me. Scales Tarn lake is what seems like miles below me in the valley.
This wild experience is exhilarating and gag-worthy all at the same time.
But we have to keep moving.
I clutch onto the rock beside me to get a meager sense of safety and simply focus on taking one step at a time, making a determined effort not to look down.
To others watching, I’m sure I look hysterical, as I literally crawl on all fours to cross some parts of the Sharp Edge. But hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to get to the finish line, eh?
What seems like eons later, we finally make it across the exposed bit of Sharp Edge and come to the rock wall where scrambling and scaling is the only way up.
Again, I follow Dan’s every movement; where his foot goes, my foot goes, where his hand goes, my hand goes.
All thoughts come to a halt as I’m completely immersed in the present moment of trying not to misstep or slip and fall backwards.
Slowly but surely, level ground comes into view and I literally crawl my way across the last bit of squishy, mossy grass to safety.
I think to myself as relief surges throughout my entire body…
“Holy f*ck. I made it. I f*cking made it!”
Take that, Sharp Edge!
Love hikes? (I’m assuming so if you’re reading this!) If yes, don’t forget to check out this post on hiking Moel Morfydd in North Wales!
Next up — Blencathra Peak, Blease Fell, and descending back down towards Threlkeld and to the car. After the terrifying Sharp Edge bit of the hike, it’s a pretty easy trek and smooth sailing from here on out.
(Albeit I did fall once or twice because my legs were definitely jelly-like after that hard bit! Whoops.)
Favorite Hiking Gear
Here’s exactly what I wore when hiking Blencathra via Sharp Edge and Blease Fell in the winter. Additionally, I’ve included a few other hiking essentials I always like to keep on hand.
(For full context, we did this hike in November on a really, really good day with excellent weather.)
Sophie’s Hiking Gear:
- Outer Layer: Columbia Arcadia II Waterproof Jacket
- Middle Layer: Zip-Up Fleece Hoodie
- Base Layer: Cuddl Duds Long Sleeve Crew Neck Top
- Bottoms Outer Layer: Regatta Pentre Hiking Pants
- Bottoms Base Layer: prAna Transform Legging
- Headgear: Outdoor Multifunctional Headband (Buff)
- Footwear: Salomon Hiking Boots
- Water Bottle: GRAYL Filtering Water Bottle
- Camera: Sony Mirrorless A7
All in all, I would highly recommend hiking Blencathra via Sharp Edge to someone who wants a more challenging and exhilarating hike.
That said, it’s definitely hard. Overall, I’d say this hike is mainly for those who have experience and a good level of skill traversing this type of terrain.
Unfortunately for me, I am NOT at this skill level and seriously struggled. I definitely did not do enough research to prepare me for the Blencathra via Sharp Edge hike.
However, I still made it through! And with only a few bruises and scrapes to show for it.
Are you thinking of hiking Blencathra via Sharp Edge? Or are looking for some great hikes in the Lake District? Share your thoughts and plans in the comments below!
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JoDecember 2, 2020 1:50 pm
This is definitely going on the hiking list!
We’ve been in the Lake District for a while now and whilst we’ve been on many hikes I don’t think we’ve summitted a single peak! This looks suitably dramatic for our first serious hike! Reminds me a bit of Angels Landing in Zion NP.