Climbing Scafell Pike

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I grew up in Cape Town and would often hike up mountains with my father. They towered within minutes of my house and Skeleton Gorge up Table mountain was my favourite. This trail has an elevation gain of 900 metres. Living in the South East of the UK, I miss the mountains and have decided to climb all three of the UK’S highest peaks. Last year, I climbed Snowdon (Wales) for my birthday. This year, it was Scafell Pike. I had to leave it a little later this month due to a friend’s bereavement. But this then allowed that friend, Kim, to join me on my hike up England’s tallest mountain. This is also the friend who walked the Portuguese Camino with me last year.

Scafell Pike is 978 metres high and is found in Cumbria, a beautifully sweeping and continuous landscape of lanes, sheep and rain. We drove from the south, warm and cosy in my car and arrived in Cumbria in a pelting downpour. Thankfully, by the time we drove the six hours to the Lakehead Parking area in Eskdale, it had stopped. Parking cost £7 for the day but would have been free if I had a National Trust membership. We were advised to stick to the Corridor route up and down as it is a lot more visible and the route is more clearly marked. The top of the mountain was mist-shrouded and conditions unpredictable. We were warned by the woman selling maps in a little hut on the far end of the parking area that the summit was sketchy and advised to return if we felt unsafe.

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Thus forewarned, we used the disgusting porto-loos and set out following some men through a gate. Thankfully, we checked the Ordinance Survey map on my phone. We were already going the wrong way.

‘That’s a great beginning.’ We laughed and retraced our steps.

The beginning of the trail follows the route of a stream which boiled over the rocks with a noisy force. We needed to cross it at the point that two smaller streams converged. This was really tricky and greatly exciting. We walked up the streams a ways to try find a better crossing place. We then tottered over rocks that gushed freezing mountain water and launched ourselves onto the other muddy bank. Our feet and socks now squelching, we walked up the trail and stepped up stones and pebbles.

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I was very impressed by the trail maintenance which is excellent. There is one point where they are fixing damage to the path, but signs explain that it is work in progress and to proceed with caution. Stones have been laid to aid hikers, enable run offs and prevent erosion. It seems much wider than the trail up Snowdon and the number of people didn’t prevent my upward momentum. Also, unlike, Snowdon, there is no scrambling up boulders.

What there is, at the top, are lots of lose stones that twisted my ankles and trapped my shoe. After putting on a few extra layers, I discovered that my shoe was caught in a crack and I had to sit, take off my shoe and ease it out of the gap. Now I had a soaked derrière but at least my shoe was safe and untorn.

It was a difficult climb, but not impossible. We had entered the clouds at the top and knew it wasn’t far. We couldn’t see the end of the trail, which made the distance seem much further and impossible than it was. Kim was taking another break. She told me that she was in a lot of pain and asked me to go on ahead of her. I wasn’t sure if she was going to make it. But one thing I have learnt on the Camino is that Kim is a very determined person. By hell or high water she’ll make it. At times, the mountain seemed to be both and yet, simultaneously, it was rapturously exhilarating. The elements fought us and we leapt up stones despite the battering it gave us.

I went on ahead, surrounded by lots of people all making their way to the summit, and I followed the cairns placed along the route. The top is just stones that move and rattle under your feet. There is no clear path and the mist and wind were intense. But the piles of stones were close enough to each other to be discernible enough for navigation. As I walked up, a group of boys kept pace and, one at a time, they would collapse onto the stones in front of me, breaking my momentum each time.

Coming past me was a woman and, on a lead, her Cocker Spaniel. This dog was quite young and she had no control over it. It had chased a sheep and its lamb down the mountain past us and had been nipping at the lamb’s neck. People had shouted at the dog and children had wailed and, finally, it had left the lamb alone and ran back up the mountain. The lamb was now running away from its mother and the whole herd were running across the hills trying to escape the unknown danger. We were all very angry. I stared daggers at the woman who looked down embarrassed and pulled the her dog’s lead, telling it to ‘stop pulling’ as though that was how you make a dog obey you. It was a very long walk of shame going down that mountain.

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I finally arrived at the top, touched the high point cairn which looks like a small tower, and looked at the round shelter behind it. I couldn’t take too many photos as it was freezing and a complete white-out. There were no spectacular views. The wind was a gale force and was driving stinging ice into my eyes. I was soaked and cold. I started to stumble down the rocks, worries about Kim. I didn’t know how she was going to get to the top. She had looked so distressed when I left her. The wind kept blowing me over onto my hands and knees and onto the clicking rocks. I was very tired and very cold. I had only stumbled a few steps down, when out if the mist came Kim. She had only been a mere few minutes behind me. I walked back to the summit with her and managed to take a photo of us there before we turned back and shuffled down the mountain.

While walking around an outcrop, I saw a man who had tried to create his own shortcut down the mountain. He lost his footing on this steep grassy outcrop and slid down to the path. In trying to arrest his descent, the soles of his boots had partially been ripped off and he had to walk down the rest of the mountain with clown-flapping shoes.

Legs wobbling, we got across the river and walked down to the parking area. I cannot exaggerate how terrible the toilets are. The baguettes in our bags were soggy but much needed. It had been too cold to eat our lunch at the top and we guzzled what we could at the bottom before setting off in search of our hotel rooms at the Stanley hotel near Seascale.

We quickly found the hotel by following road signs and using my gps once a signal was located. The owners were very welcoming and hospitable. They gave us our keys and told us the kitchen closed at 8.30pm and I went up to my room and had the most incredible bath. There wasn’t a shower to rinse my hair, so I made do. Interestingly, there are carpets in the bathroom and I thought that quaintly old school.

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The owners were at the bar and introduced us to the locals. We had planned on only having one glass of wine and then head to bed early. But then we got chatting to the husband and wife team that owned the hotel. They said that they are selling the hotel so that they can retire. The husband was making us potent cocktails and showing us the jazz songs he likes on YouTube. Meanwhile, I played pool with some of the locals. I was terrible! I’m sure I was once a lot better than that. But I was also very tipsy. Finally, I wished everyone goodnight and went to my room. I realised it was midnight. So much for an early night.

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After breakfast, we paid up and went to spend some time on Seascale beach. It is beautiful! The beach is sandy and stretches for miles. Finally, we drove home to Hertfordshire via Lake Windermere. Why does going home always feels longer than heading towards your adventure?

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