20110924_Scafell Pike Circular Walk from Seathwaite … Diary 1 of 2 … The Ascent
When : 24th September 2011
Who : Me and my sister Janet
Where : Wettest and Highest Places in England, Lake District, Cumbria, England
Distance : Full walk approx 14.9 km (9.2 miles)
Heights climbed : Full Walk approx 992m (3255 ft) and about the same down.
Car Parking : Limited parking at side of road at Seathwaite, Upper Borrowdale.
Summary : The main walk of three circular walks in the superb English Lake District, Starting and finishing at Seathwaite in Borrowdale.
- Ascent (This diary entry) taking in Grains Gill, Stockley Bridge, Ruddy Gill, a skirt around Great End, Boulder fields to Broad Crag summit, Final rise to Scafell Pike.
- Descent (Next diary entry) From Scafell Pike, via drop towards Lingmell Col, The Corridor Route, Styhead Tarn, Styhead Gill, Taylor Gill Force and return via Stockley Bridge back to Seathwaite.
If you click on a pic’ it should launch as a larger image on my flickr photostream. Sorry there aren’t so many with this diary – If you read on, all will become apparent.
I’ve found this diary entry extremely difficult to compose, not that the route description is really any more difficult than any other walks I’ve written up … No, I think it’s been more of an emotional block: Somehow this walk just seemed so much more personal in terms of my semi knackered knees and because a surgeon had just told me just a couple of days before to just “Stop Walking” to preserve what cartilage I’ve got left. So, this felt like it might be the last big walk up a mountain I might ever have a go at. Therefore, because the walk was to be to the highest place in England and the fact I’d never been up there before, sort of added a poignancy I’d not normally associate with a walk. With this background, I hope the following description lives up to my billing.
Well, this was the main event of the long weekend, and we’d readied virtually everything the evening before (including packed lunches tucked away in the fridge) to get an early start, all we needed was to make up flasks with hot drinks and sit down to the excellent hostel breakfast.
The reason for the early start was three-fold really.
- The weather wasn’t forecast to be very good all day, so we figured it would be better to have the maximum amount of time available whilst out on the fells, especially as neither of us had walked the route before.
- As neither of us had been to England’s highest peak before, we wanted to give maximum time to appreciate the mountain’s charms, on the off-chance the weather decided to be kind to us after all.
- And, probably the main reason, we’d been told the parking at Seathwaite is limited and very popular, and we didn’t want to arrive there, only to find ourselves having to drive back to Seatoller (over a mile away at the head of Borrowdale) or even worse, all the way back to the hostel (at Longthwaite) about two miles away – This would have added another 4 miles to the walk which we felt we didn’t want to do.
Everything started off exactly to plan, including the weather unfortunately, which was living up to the forecast (persistent rain and very low, claustrophobic cloud). We drove the couple of miles up the valley, turning left at Seatoller en-route, to take the minor road up to the “dead-end” at Seathwaite, which is little more than a large farm. After finding a parking space with relative ease (on the narrow verge, at an angle to the dry stone wall, pulling in as close as possible so the back end didn’t protrude too far), we donned full waterproofs before setting off towards the farm buildings … the reputation of this being the wettest place in England was eminently believable as beyond the stone buildings very little of the fells were visible – even at this low elevation.
It didn’t take long to realise photo opportunities were going to be limited, and despite having a good degree of weather-resistance on my camera body, I decided to hide it away in the bowels of my rucksack and so protect it from the rain. Janet on the other hand kept hers in a belt pouch with it’s own water-proof elasticated jacket. It’s not often I start a walk completely kitted out in waterproofs including hood up over my head and over-trousers on my legs, but it was absolutely essential today – URGHH !
After passing through the farm, the path away from Seathwaite is easy, on a wide track, which as we traveled south narrowed somewhat but still comfortable enough to fit two people walking side-by-side. The path runs parallel to Grains Gill tumbling over it’s rocky river bed just a few feet to the right, but after about 3/4 mile the path takes a right turn to cross the stream by means of the charming Stockley Bridge. This small single arched, attractive stone bridge spans the stream where it drops over some large rocks in a series of small cascades, narrowing into a single channel as it passes under the bridge. This is a very pretty spot when the sun shines – But it wasn’t at its most photogenic when we crossed over due the weather – So, I didn’t bother extracting my camera from its protective ruck-sack cocoon.
The path then rises away from the bridge to reach and then pass through a wall via a large gate and then immediately splits into two directions. The most obvious route heads straight ahead up the fell-side – but that wasn’t the one we needed. No, we needed to turn left to pick up the path directly to the side of the wall, at first on an easy gradient, but soon steepening under the craggy eastern slopes of Seathwaite Fell. Across the other side of the rugged valley the fells rise up over Hind Side to Glaramara, not that we could see much of the mountain though because of the low cloud base. The path lead us over numerous rills and gills streaming down the fells and at times the path itself was more akin to a stream than a path. At one point we re-crossed the main gill (although at this point its name is now Ruddy Gill) and the going steepens considerably to rise up the head of the valley.
I wouldn’t like to speak for Janet, but my legs soon felt a little heavy, the exertions of the walk over Robinson and Hindscarth the day before lingering in the muscles. We were now merging into the cloud base where the visibility soon worsened, the breeze picked up and the temperature dropped quite considerably. Despite wearing waterproofs we were slowly becoming saturated – I don’t know if I was completely dripping wet by now, but I’m sure I was well on the way. The top of Ruddy Gill is in a ravine, which I remember from many years ago is quite stunning, but today I hardly noticed it as we slogged onwards, two very fit looking gent’s passing us on their way up the same path.
From the limited distance we could see ahead of us, it was now obvious that my map reading and compass skills were going to be properly tested (I don’t own a GPS system, and my mobile phone is, ermm, shall we say slightly dated and doesn’t have global positioning and the like, so it was down to doing it the old fashioned way – I don’t know if it showed but it felt quite daunting, probably because it was some time since I’d HAD to use these skills as opposed to playing with bearings during good weather. There’s no comparison really!
The path had now brought us to an area now a little more level, and I was looking out for a major path crossing left to right ahead of us (designated a bridleway on my OS map). This is a major mountain route between Langdale (to the east) and Wasdale Head (to the west) and should have been quite easy to find. In the end, it did appear and I was quite happy to have something to get my bearings on. Straight ahead is the massive blunt craggy lump of Great End, which had we had any visibility at-all would have risen up like a huge wall in front of us – As it happened we had to imagine what it might look like, as it was just swallowed up in the cloud and mists.
The two guys who’d passed us earlier on the rise past Ruddy Gill, turned right heading over towards Sprinkling Tarn and they soon disappeared from sight. Our route was in the opposite direction, to make a big loop around to the east of Great End and we turned left to rise up on a relatively gentle gradient. I knew I had to pick up a path branching off on the right (a faint dotted line on the map) and as it happened we found it without any difficulty although I was constantly checking map/compass/ground to keep my confidence in the route we were on – Not easy when my varifocal glasses and map case were covered in rain. Focusing on the map was becoming quite difficult in the wet and the gloom. This little section was not due to last long before meeting with various other routes, all crossing at a spot called Esk Hause. Getting the right path here was important! …. I really didn’t want to end up on Esk Pike or dropping down into Eskdale. Our route was to turn a quite sharp right, westwards, rising into Calf Cove. As it happened, there were a series of cairns that helped with the route finding.
Visibility was really quite poor now, easily down to less than a hundred yards and this difficulty was compounded by a boulder field making walking in its own right awkward. I think the sentiments “what on earth are we doing this for” and “we must be stark raving bonkers” were certainly thought and probably said out loud at least a couple of times. It really was a bit of a slog, especially with no views to distract from the climb. Although not the most salubrious of spots, we found a hollow in amongst the rocks to take a mini-lunch-stop. We could hear the muted, deadened, sounds of a party of fellow nut-cases (I mean walking enthusiasts) coming up behind us long before we could see them; the distinctive and familiar chinking of the rocks under foot first and then their voices marking their direction before they loomed out of the hill fog …. My camera got a brief airing as I felt their shadowy figures coming out of the mists could be quite evocative. As I’d got it in hand I snapped a couple of my sister at the same time (not easy in wet gloves!), wiped it down with a damp handkerchief and then buried it away in my sack again.
Janet’s camera was now pretty damp, its over jacket had been pretty ineffective and the belt zip-up pouch was more akin to a water trap, with a small puddle filling up in the bottom – Ermmmm, water + electronics + cold = not a good formula, but her camera seemed OK as she too, took a few snaps. It didn’t take long for us to start to feel the chill of the conditions, so we packed flasks and food away and set off again in the footsteps of the people who’d just passed us, although they’d soon disappeared from sight, so we were now all on our own again.
The path here had turned more to the south as it crosses a sort of saddle between Great End and the tops of Broad Crag and Ill Crag. The line of cairns were still being very helpful but as we entered another boulder field (worse under foot than the earlier one) it felt to me that they were heading too far south heading out onto Ill Crag. A compass bearing disagreed with my feelings when compared to the green line I could make out on the map. We continued on the bearing anyway, but as I re-checked a short distance further on a figure loomed out of the mist above and to the right of us on what looked like a ridge line and then his collie dog (in a yellow bib jacket) appeared making the boulders look very easy as it busied itself as dogs do … I guess four legs are better than two!
The appearance of this gent seemed to correspond to my feeling that we needed to bear more to the right, so we clambered over to where he’d been stood (he’d now disappeared) with the idea of comparing notes as to where we were exactly along our route. Distance covered is somewhat hard to judge in mist and over difficult terrain and I felt a second opinion probably wasn’t a bad idea. It subsequently transpired the gent along with a several other people were members of the local mountain rescue team and they were in the middle of a full blown response to an emergency call-out. It took a few minutes before the gent’ could speak with us and confirmed we were now almost at the summit of Broad Crag …. If we’d stayed on my bearing we’d have been pretty much dead on track. As it now happened we were now a short distance off to the right of route … but as we were there, we took the opportunity to rise to the very top crag of Broad Crag – We can now say we’ve been to the summit of Broad Crag (not that we’d planned it that way!).
Our slow descent over the boulders brought us back to the rescue as they started to walk the rescue-ees off of the mountain. As we moved off again, we chatted to a couple of the rescue team who couldn’t conceal their annoyance at being called out – It turned out the small group of people had been attempting the national 3-peaks 24-hour challenge (Snowdon in Wales, Skafell Pike in England and Ben Nevis in Scotland) and they’d got lost, picked up a bit of an injury and then called for help giving their location as being on Scafell Pike as per a GPS bearing/map reference. You’ll have gathered they weren’t on Skafell Pike at all and it was by describing their surroundings that the rescue team worked out where they were and found them tired and cold but generally in a state fit to walk. I think the main annoyance was three fold … 1) They’d given a GPS bearing incorrectly – I think the words were, if you buy the thing, learn how it works, 2) If you’re fit enough to walk, don’t stay on top of an exposed mountain top, and 3) a little more jokey, they were missing an important rugby match on the TV.
Anyway, enough of that, we all descended over the boulders to a saddle beneath Dropping Crag. The steep valley of Little Narrowcove drops off steeply south-eastwards and to the north-west the similar valley of Piers Gill drops away. It was the path towards Piers Gill that the rescue team set off down and we said our farewells and thanks for their input to our route finding. Our route was now uphill again on the final ascent to Scafell Pike – Our destination was now almost within reach.
Although quite steep there were no real difficulties as we followed a new line of cairns up the rocky barren surface. For the first time in the walk there were a few more walkers about; I wouldn’t say it was heaving with people, but enough to evidence how understandably popular the mountain is – however bad the weather might be! Although still cloudy and damp, the rain wasn’t anywhere near as heavy as earlier in the day and we milled about a little with the other summit baggers. My camera came out again (and as it happens didn’t go back into the sack again for the rest of the day) and a few pictures were taken – I just had to have one or two with me atop the massive summit cairn – quite a construction given where it is! … They all came out a bit grainy and damp and grey and gloomy, but hey, that’s really what it was like, not your classic clear mountain air, deep blue skies with fluffy white clouds giving sharp details for miles and miles and miles … this was Lakeland reality at its most real !
Now, here’s a little twist to our story; One of Janet’s friends, who I also know through the Midland Hill Walkers [walking club] had been up here just over a month before, and knowing we were planning this little jaunt, she’d placed some “treasure” in a small sealed plastic bag and hidden it in a crevice in the summit cairn near to a metal memorial plaque. Jenny had told Jan’ where it was, and it didn’t take much searching before it was found and opened, the note inside quickly becoming wet in the damp, but still readable if we were quick ….. Brought a smile to our faces …. The text read :-
“Hi Jan, If you find your treasure it will be a miracle, so if you are reading this well done. Hope you have enjoyed the hike and are enjoying amazing views and have blue skies above you. Perhaps one day we will stand at the top together! Take care on the way down and I will see you soon. Love Jen xxxx.”
Well yes I guess we did enjoy the walk up [in a kind of masochistic way] and no, we weren’t enjoying amazing views [unless being able see to just past a couple of cairns in the mist is considered a view] and no definitely not, we didn’t have blue skies above us! As for Janet and Jen standing at the top together, only time will tell on that one.
Well, I’m going to stop this diary entry now …. and continue on a new diary to describe the descent …. which will include more pictures, albeit a bit watery around the edges!!!!
…. If you’d like to comment on my diary or any of my pic’s please feel welcome.