DIARY: Days in the Lakes Part 2

Before turning to "what Kenny said" when we met him, time to reminisce more about our recces in the Lakes for the Bob Graham...

Day 2, Part 1 – The Corridor Route to Scafell

I was quite proud at the route I had designed for taking in several of the highest peaks of the Bob Graham, prime amongst them, naturally, the Roof of England, Scafell Pike (pronounced “Scawfell”) towering at 977m above all else in the land.

We’d follow scenic bridlepath from Seathwaite farm in Borrowdale to Esk Hause, a highland pass, more or less the mid-point for BG runners who have left Esk Pike in the East on route to the first of the peaks in the Scafell massiff, the impressive Great End (907m). I’d learn a few days later from reading one of Wainwright’s books that this is in fact an oft-frequented route known as the “Corridor Route” whereas Esk Hause links together paths leading to most of the Southern Fells.

From Great End, we’d take the three “Scafell Pikes” – Ill Crag, Broad Crag and Scafell Pike (originally believed to have been subsidiary peaks of Scafell, now known to be only the second highest of the four peaks in the area). From Scafell we’d drop down into Wasdale and have a look at the Wastwater (England’s deepest lake) before heading up Kirk Fell (802m) from Wasdale Head and then returning via Great Gable and Green Gable. We had two options, either take in Brandreth, drop into Honister and jog down the road to the car from there or return to Seathwaite directly following the bridle path from Green Gable.

In the real Round, you’d have to exit Wasdale in a western direction over Yewbarrow (628m) but I knew this would take more time and daylight than we had available even at the good power-hiking pace we set off at. Despite my legs still being hammered, I was moving well and Aoife felt even stronger as we climbed the 750m ascent through the valley. I can’t recommend this section enough, the rocky bridle-path never gets boring and there are so many impressive fells, rivers and tarns to admire as you walk, and that’s before even mentioning the view back into Seathwaite.

The big moment arrives as you skirt under Seathwaite Fell (602m), however, and suddenly Great End reveals its north face. This is like starring at a big rocky grin, the almost 500m wide crag looking vertical (which, in reality, it’s not, yet following routes down the gills cutting through it, is considered quite dangerous).

We read off the path network correctly on Harvey’s map and arrived at the five-way junction of Esk Hause. We had come from the northern path, the north-eastern leading to Allen Crags (784m), the south-eastern to Esk Pike (where a BG attempt would arrive from), the southern into the marshlands of Great Moss. Our path was the western: straight for Scafell Pike.

Instead of following a bearing over the boulderscape to Great End, we opted to follow the bridle-path and catch the smaller path leading northwards to Great End and use it out-and-back before continuing to Scafell. In the thick cloud that engulfed the entire massif, we didn’t manage to identify this right turn and instead decided to press onwards not to lose too much time.

Having failed to do my homework properly and perhaps suffering from “Scafell summit fever”, we made no attempt to divert the 300 yards from the path to get the summit of Ill Crag (perhaps safe choice in the cloud) but did manage to make our way over Broad Crag (934m). Wainwright calls it the “roughest summit in the Lakeland” and I can see why!

The volcanic eruption that created these fells left a wild plateau of rocks and boulders which few (if any) can cross over elegantly. Somehow in the confusion, we reached the conclusion that this was Scafell Pike and once a descent revealed a ridge followed by a steep rock-face, I gladly exclaimed “it’s Mickledore and the Broadstand”, in the mist it appeared exactly how I had seen it on the pictures. Of course, this was just my mind seeing selecting what I wanted to see.

Day 2, Part 2 – The wrong ridge…

“We need to find a path on our left to drop to Foxes Tarn before taking the summit,” I told Aoife and we found something resembling a path. “Croagh Patrick eat your heart out”, said Aoife as we scrambled the best we had learned.

Yet, somehow, things didn’t feel right in the literal sense of the word: The right turn I expected never came, and instead of taking the sensible action (establishing correct position and heading back up), I spotted something on our right that only a madman could interpret as a path.

Going up seemed out of the question, the struggle to scramble down had been too hard and the enormous rock faces starred threateningly from all directions. We climbed up ever steepening slope for a good while until we eventually reached a plateau, or a narrow top in fact, and it clearly became apparent we weren’t were we wanted to be. Using the height readings of the Garmin and a survey of the peaks we could see through the cloud, we could only be on Pen (762m), one of the peaks of Scafell Pike’s southern crags. Finding a safe way off was now of the essence. The way down would not do, but the map suggested no crags in a westerly direction and by reading the slope and doing a bit of zig-zagging we arduously made it down into Great Moss, a vast marshland cut up by rivers. From here, it would have been possible to get back up via Cam Spout, but we never correctly identified the path needed (it all looked very threatening from down below) and only later when I purchased Wainwright's books could I start to gather an idea of what we could do. Take not, these books are well worth getting!

It's a pity our decision-making was not better as a way to Scafell Pike had would have been doable from Pen. On the day, all the crags looked like traps, however, and we did not even venture the thought.

Having been out a long time and having established that the grassy marshy path we were on seemed to lead all the way to Esk Hause, we took the safe option, and started the long climb out straight for home. My heart bled to leave both Scafell Pike and Wasdale behind, but it was the right choice. So close, yet so far. Once again the roof of England had eluded me.

It felt like a long climb back up to Esk Hause, a more than 3k and 300m climb on a a narrow rocky path next to the Tongue river. Moping around Great Moss like muppets, hadn’t helped our spirits either, but our sense of adventure was about to return.

Day 2, Part 3 – Great End to the End

“Let’s go to Great End”, Aoife suggested as we rested for a moment back at Esk Hause were the clouds had now receded enough to allow us some fabulous views of the nearby fells. She was right, of course, having lost most of our main objectives, finding the path up and getting at least that summit before going down would be a great consolation.

This time, we spotted a pair of huge cairns and took a diagonal line from them to hit what could, at a stretch, go for a path. Eventually, it turned into rockier scrambling but the going was flat and we found the north-western peak of Great End (907m). Everything here seemed steeper than in reality and vertigo had me feeling big drops were only metres away, so we didn’t explore the top too much but headed straight back to Esk Hause.

Now we “just” had to plot a course home. Never liking repetition, we decided to go over Allen Crags and the splendidly named “Glaramara” (a celtic hint to that) a 783m peak. We didn’t know it at the time, but the Borrowdale race (on this Saturday past) takes in both of these peaks, so in the end they made up somewhat for the loss of our other objectives.

Allen Crags was a nice rocky beast and the climb made itself felt at the late stage in the day. The crossing to Glamara offered more fabulous views but had more boggy terrain than we’d found anywhere else so far. We managed to skirt the top alright and spotted the cairns leading us down, unfortunately, they led us home over Thorneythwaite Fell, another big detour, as we missed the left turn straight down into Seathwaite. Misfortune or not, the mostly grassy descent was quite pleasurable even tired as we were, whereas following the valley-trail back to Seathwaite had us impatiently waiting resting in the car, the idyllic nature of the vale now lost on us.

But all journeys end, and so did ours, a good nine hours after we set out, we drove quietly back to Ashness knowing that we had an easier day ahead of us Wednesday so we could be rested for our race at the Ambleside Sports Fair.

(...I was comforted when Aoife suggested we stay in Wasdale next time, which should allow plenty of time to come to grips with this part of the BG...)