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Sca fell, which was once thought to be England’s highest fell, is actually the second-highest in the country. The confusion was due to the misperception caused by the fact that Sca Fell’s features, from a distance, appeared bulkier, heftier, more intimidating than those of Scafell Pike to the north. Sca Fell, however, because of its appearance and height (964 metres/3,162 feet), is, without a doubt, one of the Lake District’s most impressive mountain ranges.
The term Sca Fell, at one time, signified the entire massif of fells and crags in the network of which the scafell mountains dominate, but the name now refers solely to this particular fell, connected to its brother, Scafell Pike, to the north by Mickldore col, a ridge that was at one time traversed but has since be proven too dangerous for anyone but rock climbers. Still, because of its prominence in general here, the ‘scafell’ reference certainly does extend beyond Sca Fell.
Topographically, Sca fell is interesting in that it consists of two flanks, either distinct than the other, thus providing the fell with “two different faces”. The northern end of Sca Fell, which connects with Mickledore and faces Eskdale, features steep and rocky bulges, notched in places, which send the clear message that this area is not at all to be attempted under any circumstances unless one is a professional rock climber. Not much, if any, vegetation grows here. The other end, broader and smoother, bears plush green vegetation which, from a distance, appears like a wide blanket cast over top. The northern-most ridge extends south to Slight Side Fell which, although appended to Sca Fell, is recognized as an independent formation all its own. Like its brother, Scarfell Pike, Sca Fell contains igneous rock (i.e. solidified magna), lending evidence as to the extreme age of the mountain, which likely underwent frost and earthquake action in its recent and even distant past. This fact might account for why Sca Fell’s flanks oppose each other in character—harsh and intimidating on one side and smooth and stunning on the other.
The main summit of Sca Fell features a large cairn of piled stones near the northern end where rocks are prominent. The great ‘saddle’ is set off by an extensive stone ‘cross’ that marks Symond’s Knott at the extreme top of the northern bulge. Depending on where one is standing, excellent panoramic vistas are accessible. One can take in the Western Fells, Bowfell and the Coniston Fells on one side, whereas the rest of the ‘Scarfell’ group, including Slight Side, Esk Crag, Scarfell Pike, Broad Crag, and Ill Crag, can be seen at certain vantage points along the other. Great End might be difficult to see if one were standing atop of Symond’s Knott at the north end of the fell. Sca Fell is exciting for this reason—that one can experience something totally different at different locations on the fell. Exploration here, then, is not a quick and easy accomplishment. This is typical all over the Lake District.
Ascent upon Sca Fell can be dangerous or gentle, depending on the particular direction of one’s approach. Broad Stand, from the north, was once deemed acceptable, but because of the steepness of the fell’s northern face and somewhat obstructed Mickledore col, those planning on venturing up this mountain are advised to not take this route. The same goes for the Classic Ascent, along the Lord’s Rake path from Wast Water, which has proven unstable since the rock slide in 2001. The ‘Boot in Eskdale’ start along the River Esk and Foxes Tarn is longer time-wise, but it is far more pleasant, as is the Terrace route from Wha House, which assumes an approach from the far more friendly southern end of Sca Fell via Slight Side.