The direct ascent up the south western slope from Wasdale Head is backbreakingly steep and the subject of an amusing drawing by Wainwright. Usual ascents are by one of the aforementioned passes; alternatively one may climb Kirk Fell as part of the Mosedale Horseshoe, a walk on the fells surrounding Mosedale, a side-valley of Wasdale.
The main watershed runs broadly westwards from Great Gable, dividing the headwaters of Ennerdale and Wasdale. The main fells in this section are Kirk Fell, Pillar, Scoat Fell, Haycock and Caw Fell, followed by the lower Lank Rigg group.
Kirk Fell sits squarely at the head of Wasdale, rising between the main headstreams of Mosedale and Lingmell Becks. From this direction it appears as a truncated cone, steep sided with a wide level top. The flanks above Wasdale are unremittingly steep, of grass and scree with little to break the monotony. The only stream on these slopes is Ill Gill, falling from the depression between the summit and the east top.
To the west, between Kirk Fell and Pillar, is Black Sail Pass. This is a pedestrian route from Wasdale to Ennerdale, and from there onward via Scarth Gap to Buttermere. A well graded path now used exclusively for leisure, it was once a thoroughfare for trade between the valleys. The summit of the pass at is crossed by the Ennerdale Fence, a boundary marking the watershed around the head of the valley. Although some sections of the 'fence' are actually stone walls, that running over the top of Kirk Fell is only a remnant, marked by occasional posts.
The Ennerdale face of Kirk Fell has more features to offer, but due to the remoteness of the dalehead is much less familiar. A wall of rock rims the summit plateau, Boat How Crags to the east and Kirkfell Crags to the west. Between the two is the hollow of Baysoar Slack, the birthplace of Sail Beck. Below the crags the gradient is not quite as severe as on the Wasdale side, slopes running down to the bank of the River Liza. Kirk Fell does not have such a prominent position in Ennerdale, Great Gable standing at the head of the valley.
To the east of Kirk Fell is Beck Head (2,020 ft), the col connecting to Great Gable. A small rocky spur, Rib End, runs down from the summit plateau to the tarns at the depression. Although prominently named on Ordnance Survey maps, Beckhead Tarn is a small shallow pool with a bed of peat and submerged flags. A second smaller pool forms after heavy rain.
The summit plateau of Kirk Fell assumes a 'figure of eight' shape in plan, the narrow waist squeezed between Illgill Head and Baysoar Slack. The highest ground is to the west, while a subsidiary top occupies the other section. Kirk Fell east top has sufficient prominence (34 m, 112 ft) to qualify as a Hewitt in its own right. Between the summits is Kirkfell Tarn, actually two small tarns. The deeper pool is an oval, while the other has an indented outline, reminiscent of Sprinkling Tarn on Seathwaite Fell in miniature.
Great Gable fills the eastern view, Gable Crag and the Napes seen in fascinating profile. Across Wasdale rise the Scafells, while the High Stile and Grasmoor ranges are well seen in the other direction. There are also more distant glimpses of the Skiddaw and Helvellyn ranges.