DIARY: Scafell Pike–take three..

With Robbie Simpson, last year’s years Snowdon winner and this year’s third man home, having explained that his training had been somewhat impaired by his stay in Ireland recently as there were “no mountains” to train on (he didn’t swing by Kerry, we assume), Aoife and I fittingly started our journey on “real” mountains.

What constitutes a real mountain anyway? Well, we went with Alfred Wainwright’s assertion that the difference depends on appearance and not altitude with grass predominating on hills and rocks on mountains. Whilst this bodes poorly for reclassification of our own Wicklow Mountains, it means that the day’s first destination – Scafell Pike, the Roof of England, can be called a mountain in every sense of the word.

Twice this Bob Graham peak had eluded me: In 2009 (injury) and 2010 (navigational error) so by taking up residence in Wasdale we had almost assured a perfect ascent. The sparkling sunshine would surely do the rest.

Tourist Path

We chose to ignore Wainwright and head the simplest route up to Scafell Pike (977m)  via Brown Close. Apparently this is not as dramatic as veering more right straight on to the Mickledore Ridge and ascending from the West but I wanted to resume our journey from the East were it had last been derailed so I could follow my expected clockwise direction for my future BG attempt.

While perhaps less spectacular, this route is perfect for hill runners; a tricky rocky path for sure, but easy to follow and with manageable ascent grades almost the entire way. Any creeping boredom could be averted with a quick glance on Great Gable (899m) which probably never looks better than on a perfect day such as this. We’ll be heading there tomorrow.

Scafell Pike

As we neared the flattish summit made up of uncountable rocks you quickly realise you’re in the presence of England’s highest mountain as even the early hour, and our reasonably good pace (ensuring we pass out most hiking groups we meet), did not result in a lonely summit. You can see the crowds from miles away.

Perhaps because of this we didn’t linger long. Main thing, we had taken the summit in this third excursion and had a perfect day to find the trail off to Mickledore. To allow Aoife some rest for her legs after Snowdon and myself to ease into the week ahead of the Lakeland 50 Miler, we had scheduled just one more peak today: Scafell (964m) standing majestic over Wasdale just across the narrow ridge of Mickledore. It’s here that Richard Askwith was frustrated by the dangerous Broadstand climb (the direct route to the summit).

Like he, I don’t like the idea of climbing a rock-face that kills about five people per year, so my plan was instead to scree-surf downwards for about 200m and use the detour over Foxes Tarn. This time, we did not end up in god-forsaken bogland because I mistook the ridge, but found the route perfectly the first time. I can see why BG have qualms about this detour, however, getting down the scree sucks away precious time and the climb up through the gully is virtually that – a climb on hands and knees requiring concentration, something that may be in short supply after fifteen hours on the go.

Scafell

Rocks, rocks and endless rocks is what our Inov-8s had to content with. Thankfully the little light 190s offer great control if you watch your feet. Twice I almost kicked large pebbles onto my feet only for them to only glace me.

Overall, it had been easy going, though, at this pace, but we still relaxed at Scafell summit. It’s an impressive peak in it’s own right and a good bit of work to get off Scafell Pike and back onto it. If anyone thinks they are basically “two for one”, think again. The direct descent into Wasdale would be rough on the quads running and there’s plenty more scree-surfing before you can relax a bit more on steep grassy slopes. Afterwards, at the Wasdale Inn, a sampled the local Yewbarrow Dark, an amazing dark ale, which I felt was an appropriate warm-up for our attempt on the mountain of the same name tomorrow.

The stats

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3:42:54 for 12.2km and 1167m climb. Technically, the route would rate as significantly more technical than any Irish mountain race. Only Croagh Patrick has similar terrain, but not for the same length of time. A good day’s power hiking which hopefully sets us up for tomorrow’s monster day with the following menu: Yewbarrow, Red Pike, Scoat Fell, Steeple, Pillar, Kirk Fell and Great Gable (Green Gable if we’re feeling frisky). Then it’ll be time to say farewell to Wasdale and head back to the more central Lakeland.

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