Route Guide - Elbow & Matterhorn Ridges - Peak District, England

Comprised of limestone rock, exposed ridge lines and nestled at the foot of the grandiose Winnats Pass, no wonder these 'quaint' alpine style pitches vie for the title of best scramble in the Peak's.


Impressive and imposing in appearance, Elbow & Matterhorn ridges aren't your typical fair in this part of the Peak District. Petrifying ridges are bread and butter in Snowdonia and the Lakes but their absence is noticeable throughout most of the Dark Peak. That said, these aren't your typical ridges either, they are very short and the inevitable downwards glance doesn't strike fear into the heart in the same way as Crib Goch or Bristly Ridge. Nonetheless, they are incredibly good fun and the usual care should be taken regardless of the perceived ease.



Approach

Parking is available at Speedwell Cavern pay and display or on the main road from Castleton before the turn-off for Winnats Pass. Both ridges are located on the north side of the pass and can be seen clearly on the approach from Castleton.

Cross the cattle grid into the pass and approx. 30m on your right you will come to the first buttress and the start of Elbow Ridge, a further 40m beyond, sees the start of the Matterhorn climb.

Having reached the foot of either climb it will be abundantly clear why the British Mountaineering Council recommends accents are made midweek, early or late in day, and with small parties. Loose rock is prevalent through the whole top section of both climbs and with the very real possibility of dislodging rocks or other material onto unsuspecting people or vehicles below, common sense needs to be applied for everyone's safety.


Elbow Ridge

With an official rock-climbing grade of diff, climbers regularly comment it is very easy for this grade. From a scrambling perspective there are limited technical moves required but if the wind is up then it's certainly worth it's Grade 3 rating.

The first slabby buttress straight off the path is certainly the hardest portion of the scramble, particularly the knife edge arete at its peak. Once this has been safely navigated, continue over the impressive horizontal ridge. This section does have reasonable exposure even in light wind and crawling or a full on à cheval may be required.



Follow the continuation of the ridge onto another buttress and a nice easy scramble all the way to the top. Although a relatively simple scramble in the upper section, there are portions of loose rock and small pockets of mud/grass which aren't secure, so checking hand and foot placement is crucial, particularly if others are following below.



Once at the top either descend the slopes east, back to the start point or traverse west, to the foot of Matterhorn Ridge. There is a lot of loose material and poor underfoot conditions on the section between the two ridges so weather/time of day dependant, this may not be advisable.



This ridge does lack good placement positions for protection and most climbers appear to tackle it solo without these measures. Use of a confidence rope can be advantageous in high winds and head protection to negate the loose material rolling downhill from the upper section. Limestone is certainly slippery when wet but also when it's dry so may be best to avoid during or after inclement weather.

I've seen people tackle this climb in anything from hob-nailed boots to trainers, I used an approach shoe as a minimum but it's down to personal preference.


Matterhorn Ridge

Officially graded as Vdiff but like Elbow most climbers find it to be very easy for the grade. Not as impressive as its neighbour but certainly more sustained and scrambly!


Similar to Elbow Ridge, Matterhorn is a series of very steep buttresses connected by another ridge. It does feel slightly more exposed in places and when the wind is blowing down the pass you know about it! Although easier technically, the climbing is consistent and rewardingly steep in parts. Good holds are prevalent from top to bottom and they need to be, as the feeling of exposure can be quite acute in sections, particularly if the weather has turned.



As with Elbow Ridge there is limited opportunity to place protection and loose rock is slightly worse here so head protection should be considered. This climb does feel like there is more 'greenery' underfoot so appropriate footwear with a reasonable level of grip is a must.



Once you hit the top of the climb, follow the obvious sheep track east back to the car park. One item of note would be that this path gets surprisingly muddy and slippery very quickly. I ended up on my behind not once but twice on the way back down after my last climb. Approach shoes are awesome on rock, terrible on mud!


Making A Day Of It

There are plenty of extensions to max out your time in the Castleton area - from the head of either ridge take the westward path to the top of Winnats Pass and then turn north to ascend Mam Tor from the South-East. From here the options are vast but you can't beat the classic ridge walk over Back Tor to Lose Hill and further on again across to Win Hill if you can spare the time. Presuming Lose Hill is the final destination then double back to Hollins Cross and descend the diagonal path into the valley below.