Kirkstone pass is the highest major road (A592) in the Lake District. It reaches a height of 1,489 feet (454 m) and affords great views of the surrounding lakes. There are three different routes to the top of Kirkstone Pass, each offering there own challenges. The hardest is ‘The Struggle’ which takes the shortest route from Ambleside to Kirkstone Pass. It is the shortest in distance but the steepest and requires over 400 metres of climbing. The other two ways, on the main road (A592) are less steep, but make good long challenging climbs.
Ambleside to Kirkstone pass via ‘The Struggle’
- Net height Gain 396 metres from Ambleside.
- Max gradient 24%
- Distance 4.8 km
- Avg Grade 8.2%
- Max Gradient: 20%
- Total Elev Gain 403m (including descent)
- 100 Climbs #83
From Ambleside, the road soon becomes very steep around swooping corners. The road surface here is very smooth (it was recently replaced), but it doesn’t make it an easy ride. For a considerable distance, the gradient is between 18%-20%. It’s a real lung breaker.
Yesterday there was a huge surge in interest for Kirkstone Pass ‘The Struggle’ It was a great joy to see the professional peleton really struggle up the Struggle. In Belgium you may get many 20% climbs, but at 4km long, this really split apart the peleton.
Bradley Wiggins was captured ‘walking’ up the last part of the Struggle, perhaps a slightly mischievous nod to Froome’s running up Mont Ventoux in this years Tour, but Wiggins seemed to be giving the spectators a lot of joy!
When watching cycle races on tv, my mother always asks so where’s Bradley? I always say these days ‘he’ll be at the back having a laugh’ – It’s hard to explain how you can win the Tour de France, win an Olympic gold in world record time, but still be at the back of the peleton in the Tour of Britain.
Strava – The Struggle
After the steep section, there is a long steady climb with an average of 8-10%. After 3km, the road levels out and there is a bit of descent.
This gives you a little chance for recovery but the second leg is really tough because it finishes with the steepest section right at the end. There are two wicked hairpins at 20% before you finally reach the Kirkstone Inn at the top of the climb. This second leg of the climb is hard because you will inevitably be tired after the first section. The road surface also deteriorates near the top.
It took me 12 minutes from the bottom of Ambleside to the top. I was racing up the first half, recovered a little in the middle section, but then struggled on the last part. it is like doing two really hard hill climbs one after the other.
Coming down makes a tough descent, make sure you’re brakes are in good condition.
Ullswater to Kirkstone Pass (North to South)
From Hartsop, there is a net height gain of 267 metres The last 2 miles are the hardest averaging 9%.
Kirkstone pass From Hartsop
- Distance 3.3 miles
- Avg Grade – 6%
- Max Grade – 18%
- Elevation gain – 979 ft / 298 metres
From Ullswater to Kirkstone is a great climb. As you leave Ullswater, you pass through the village of Patterdale. Here the gradient is very shallow; it is a very steady start to the climb. After passing the small lake of Brotherswater the climb proper begins. The gradient ramps up, and you will soon be getting out of the saddle to get over the steepest sections. At it’s steepest it reaches up to 18% gradient, it’s a really tough climb. It can get quite busy with motor traffic in summer, and you will undoubtedly smell clutch.
If you descend Kirkstone to Ullswater be prepared to get stuck behind motor cars. They can only descend the sharp hairpins quite slowly.
A really scenic climb, the maximum gradient on this climb is 16%, there are several hairpins and places for recovery. It is tough but easier than from Ambleside.
Windermere to Kirkstone Pass
- Distance 10.0km
- Avg Grade 3.6%
- Elev Difference 353m
- Total: Elev Gain 399m
From Windermere to Kirkstone pass is the longest and shallowest climb.
You can begin this climb right from the foot of Windermere Lake. If you do the full climb, it makes it a Category 2. The gradient is shallow until you get out of Windermere. It is only when you go through a roundabout and on to the A592 that the climb begins proper.
The climb follows the valley and often averages around 3% on the lower slopes. It is a long unremitting hill climb, punctuated by a few false flats and sections of downhill. If you have a headwind then this is a really tough climb. But, the gradient means you can afford to take your own pace and spin a low gear. It is also a nice road surface on the main A592
From Troutbeck, the climb becomes progressively steeper. From Troutbeck to the top it is 5 km; the last 5km averages 5%. The hardest section is near the top, where the nice easy gradient gives way to a couple of km of 12-13%.
It makes a nice descent. It is fast without too many sharp corners. You are also less likely to get caught behind motor cars.
I have ridden Kirkstone Pass more than any other climbs in the Lake District. It is quite accessible. If you are feeling particularly keen, The Struggle is a really great climb to tackle. But, it is pretty hard due to the gradient and length. The Fred Whitton Challenge starts off with the Kirkstone Pass, but with common sense tackles, the longer and shallow ascent from the South.
The ascent from Ullswater is another great climb. I did most of this climb in the saddle, it only gets very steep for a short section towards the top.
Always bear in mind, the weather is likely to be wetter and colder at the top.
12 thoughts on “Kirkstone Pass”
The Fred actually goes up Holbeck Lane which is a left as you come out of Ambleside (heading towards Windermere). It joins the A592 at Troutbeck for the last 3 miles. This starts quite steeply at the bottom and is a fourth way!
Something to go back and try Tejvan!
Thanks Alex, I’ll have to try that approach
Thank you for these Hill Climb posts, Tejvan.
I was in Windermere for a family do last weekend and planned my ride using your posts. I had a beautiful day out on Saturday; sunshine, not much wind. I went over Wrynose and Hardknott Passes (east to west and then back) and finished on The Struggle. I wouldn’t have even know The Struggle existed if it hadn’t been for this post.
Thanks for that.
I climb at about half the speed you do, but I’m guessing we have a similar level of satisfaction when we get to the top. A common thread tied by the roads we share. I like that.
Cheers, That’s quite a lot of the epic Lake District climbs.
I’m on a family holiday and was cycling through Ambleside and I saw the struggle and thought “I’ll give it a go” very tough work for someone used to Lincolnshire flat lanes trying kirkstone from Windermere tonight
Tejvan, you’ve missed out another route that misses out much of the fighting with tourist traffic:
From Ings (Great pub!) there’s a road that heads off north from the main A591 into the lakes, heading straight for Troutbeck. Mislet Brow. Again, it makes for a shallower climb and its a bit up & down. However, the surface is particularly draggy, even by Lake District standards.
its the ‘Standard’ route for cyclists from the Kendal end heading over Kirkstone (or back) as part of a loop through Shap, as it misses the most horrendous bit of road in the lakes for cyclists – Windermere station to Ambleside.
I like this route and it offers great views across the top of Lake Windermere.
I would also say that the toughest section of Kirkstone Pass from the south is earlier in the climb, after the Queens Head Hotel. At least in my experience, I find the whole thing easier once the landscape opens up.
“It took me 12 minutes from the bottom of Ambleside to the top.”….(The Struggle section of your post)
Well, according to your Strava clip, that’s a minute faster than Rohan Dennis. Impressive stuff, you must be in fine form!……
It took me 29 mins but got to the top without stopping, well pleased 😀
The Struggle; I remember it like it was yesterday; 501 frame, down tube shifters, 12 speed, 42*24 panniers and tent. Brakes not really up to the job on the other side. It was like a wall at the start, then steady, cursed the downhill bit, go down you only have to go up again, then a few steep hairpins with the top in sight. Didn’t stop though, then on to Hartside, Alston etc.
Took me 90 mins, but loved every one of them, an amazing ride for a 60 year old bloke who just enjoys the great outdoors.