Aoife and I had warmed up for more Bob Graham recces by doing the two Scafells from Wasdale. Once you have been up those fells and then visited the other range, you’ll start to appreciate one essential truth about the Lake District: If you like rocks, the Lakes are the gift that just keeps giving. It is really hard to overstate the amount of rocks you have to scramble up and down here.
As the Bob Graham map states “STRAIGHT UP. There is no easy way out of Wasdale!” This meant that the “Big Day” of walking we had planned for Tuesday would begin with an incredibly steep ascent of Yewbarrow (a fascinating mountain which looks like a boat turned upside down) before we could do a huge ridge circuit on to Red Pike, Scoat Fell, Steeple, Pillar, Kirk Fell and Great Gable. Whenever you plan these routes out and look at the contour lines, the heights of the peaks and the distances in between, you are in a way wasting your imagination.
Nothing you read on a map allows you to do justice to the scale of the Bob Graham Challenge. Simply completing this traverse with Aoife the day after having done the Scafells (the two peaks you’d do previous to these eight peaks), can easily leave you sitting down depressed at the enormity of the task.
As always, we used our trusty Wainwright books to get started but clues to the best ascent of Yewbarrow were hard to come by. A direct ascent was suggested rather than the longer walk down to the “official path”, a very steep rocky ridge ascent in it’s own way. It looked like there was no way, but I made it harder on us.
We found what looked like the semblance of a trail uphill which quickly ended when we found ourselves trapped behind a rock wall. Climbing this would prove great practice for the ultra later in the week. After this we battled through waves of scree-field and ferns. While we wanted to avoid the crags, somehow they drew us in as the only real target. This could have proved quite dangerous as we were crawling up severely moving rocks on a horrendous incline. I believed that I saw a gap between the crags and, luckily, I was proven right. This was pure fortune as I had accidentally led us through a gully known by Wainwright as “The Great Door”. Around it only steep crags rose blocking all access to the summit.
As the risk of rockslide was great in the gully, I let Aoife crawl up ahead and she took the below picture as our travails ended on the soft grass.
Yewbarrow stands as a curiosity this way: It’s flanks are harder to take than a fortress but the summit ridge is friendly and inviting. I must have a talk with Simon Fairmaner about a better ascent route, as you can see from the below graphic you would struggle to find a steeper way anywhere:
Spirits were low at this point and it is an understatement to say Aoife was displeased with me. Indeed, it had been a pointless waste of an hour to scale this one mile of grass and rocks. Luckily we came off the summit well following the shortcut that leads you around the desperate drops on Stirrup Crag (the most natural descent route) which is not a great choice for those who don’t like bum-sliding off steep rock-faces. We didn’t but the advice was sound and we landed on the grassy plateau below Red Pike. Just one peak had been conquered, yet so much time wasted, we decided to push on and see how we would go as the route allowed for plenty of “early exits” to Wasdale should we tire or otherwise feel the need to retire from the hills…
Part 2: Red Pike and beyond…