Following one of my Adventure Quest Veterans meet-ups in Patterdale (highlight: a shimmy up to the mighty well-hidden Priest Hole cave, below Dove Crag), I invited fellow veteran – and recently qualified Mountain Leader! – Jonny Wallace to stay with Jen and me for a few nights, to enjoy a spot of luxury camping and what turned out to be 50 or 60km of mountain hiking… who could refuse such an offer?!
On day 1 I dragged Jonny up to the highest point in the Howgills on a 12+ km hike, and on day 2 he and I headed off to Ambleside and clocked up just over 18km hiking the Fairfield Horseshoe (clockwise)… before the poor lad was allowed a day off.
The pitiful weather – primary reason for the day off! – nicely coincided with the delivery of some new carpet for our much-loved tin box (a caravan to anybody else!). At this juncture Jonny, who had already demonstrated his excellent map memory, also delighted both Jen and me with his skills at precision carpet laying. What a good egg!
So, as a reward (is pain a reward?) we, including Jen this time, decided to introduce Jonny to some fantastic hiking in the Langdales. We had an unusual route in mind, aiming to visit a fair few peaks, since Jonny lives in Northern Ireland and rarely gets to venture into the Lakeland fells. Jen and I wanted to make sure he visited England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike (978m/3208ft) to add to his new-ML portfolio of summited peaks. She and I had our own hearts set on going up Esk Pike (885m/2903ft), just around the corner from Scafell Pike and one of the few peaks in that area we had yet to climb. Suddenly we were looking at a slightly epic 22km mountain hike… and lo!, a plan was formed 🙂
We parked at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and set off up the Cumbrian Way, aware that the first few (flat!) kilometres were giving us a nice gentle warm-up for what lay ahead. Jonny was happy to be map-bearer and nav-er, and Jen and I were very happy to be led, not unlike sheep – what a refreshing change! I probably had a pipe when we reached the footbridge, which I was recently informed is known as the ‘Flats’ Bridge; it signals either the beginning of the ascent into or the end of the descent from the mountains. Then we all veered left to climb the good steppy path alongside Rossett Gill.
It suddenly occurred to us that we’d be skirting a peak Jen and I had not visited before, and whose summit stood only about 200m off our path: Rossett Pike (651m/2135ft). I’m not really one for heading backwards to move forwards but, in the minority, I agreed. In the end it only amounted to a few dozen extra metres of gentle climbing, and got me wondering how many others probably hike straight past Rossett Pike without giving it a second glance on their way to ‘higher’ tops!
With our first peak now in the bag we headed down to Angle Tarn, before ascending again with views south-west across to Esk Pike and slightly north-east to Tongue Head. Not wanting to risk disappointing Jonny by missing out on Scafell Pike, we resisted taking the short detour to Allen Crags (785m/2575ft) and instead headed for the Esk Hause path junction where we found shelter from the wind and a good spot for lunch!
We didn’t linger over lunch, since none of us wanted to cool down too much and the clag did look to be descending right on cue. Darnit, were we about to lose the chance of a cloud-free summit?! We were on our feet again pretty quickly then, heading towards Scafell Pike with just one little diversion on the way, to visit another worthwhile peak: Ill Crag, fourth highest in England at 935m/3067ft. From up there, the summit of Scafell Pike – full of people, as on most decent-weather days! – could be seen on and off as the clag drifted across, sometimes higher, sometimes lower…
As we all slipped/clambered down from the top of Ill Crag, I wondered whether a clag-free summit might await us today. On our various visits, Jen and I had never yet enjoyed the privilege of uninterrupted clear views from atop England’s highest mountain. On one occasion we did SEE Scafell Pike summit under a clear blue sky, and sat contemplating it from the top of Lingmell, but that was on August bank holiday, and the “usual” route to the top frankly looked as congested as the M6 motorway during rush hour. Hundreds of little person-dots trudging up and down the rocky path on that glorious opportunity of a day… and to be fair, good for them. Such conditions in Wasdale are rare indeed! However, to avoid the crowds, we’d opted that day to try a rather hairy scramble up a steep slope of neighbouring Broad Crag, and continue on to Great End.
Back to our day with Jonny, where we were all enjoying this unusual approach to Scafell Pike summit… though our hopes for clear views were starting to fade. We left Ill Crag behind and pushed onward, aware that the cloud was closing in. I must say that from our current angle of attack, the final scree ascent to Scafell Pike was a little more gruelling than we’d anticipated! I swear it hadn’t looked that steep from Broad Crag last time… just a short hop, surely? Regardless, onward and upward we went, finally reaching the top of Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak. In the clag. Sigh. I think Jonny (scampering slightly ahead) did manage to glimpse something of the glorious view, and I’m glad for him 🙂
Our turn will come!
The cameras came out, as did my pipe, and the moment was recorded for posterity, well for Jonny actually! Scafell Pike summit is never a lonely place, regardless of weather conditions, and as ever, fellow hikers were taking smiley photos before ducking down to cower behind the ‘filled in’ shelter. Whilst the three of us sat there munching (tucking our litter back in our rucksacks, naturally), the clouds parted briefly and revealed something Jen and I had never seen before… “criss-cross” stone shelters on the summit! Good to know for next time! And then, just as quickly, they were gone…
This perhaps should be where the post ends: glory moment accomplished! But no, there’s more to tell… a few more ups and downs.
I bowed out from climbing to the top of Broad Crag, choosing instead to take my time over a pipe whilst Jonny and Jen headed up the slippery rocks – another peak in the bag for Jonny. I’d been up before, and given the choice between a slippery repeat clamber and an uninterrupted and sheltered pipe stuffed with Borkum Riff’s Ruby (formerly Cherry Cavendish) tobacco, my decision was an easy one!
Next we all followed the path back to Esk Hause, where, instead of taking the fork back the way we’d come, we headed towards my goal of the day – slightly less impressive than Scafell Pike, yet unconquered (for Jen and I): Esk Pike. Not much of a fiesta going on up here; we were back down to three on this fairly desolate peak, and the cold was beginning to bite, but we had made it *Yayyy*! From there, we had just one more summit on our route today before descending via the Band.
The thick clag was still with us as we approached Bowfell (902m/2959ft). About 70 metres below the final scramble to the summit were three cairns in an arc, and as far as we three were concerned, we were nearly on the homeward leg. Once on the peak – the sixth of the day! – we sat and celebrated with a jelly baby or three, with the clag hanging densely all around us… no views today, but fortunately no wind either. A couple of minutes later we prepared to move again, satisfied that we had accomplished as much as was possible for one day.
Hang on… I thought, a couple of minutes later… didn’t we pass this arc of cairns before?
Seconds later we paused, and Jen piped up: “I might be getting a bit confused, but I feel like we just came down the same way we went up…”
It only took a moment for Jonny to realise we had come back down on the wrong side of the summit… done a 180-degree turn instead of going straight on. It was no real drama; we could quite easily have carried on this way and re-joined the path we’d come up earlier. However, keen to stick with our Plan A and head down the Band, we began circumnavigating Bowfell peak to get back on track. I don’t mind admitting it was craggy… and (fortunately?!) still claggy! Had it been a clear day, I believe the exposure of our excursion around Bowfell summit might have been rather more ‘interesting’. I admit I did struggle visually, as the rain (or wet mist!) meant I had to remove my glasses – so I had the choice of either seeing footholds, or seeing where Jen was ahead of me. Whilst the latter would have been a delight, a good foothold was more pressing at the time!
Jonny’s bearing eventually brought us round to the path we’d been aiming for. High-fives at the cairn, and it was all downhill from here 🙂 At ‘Three Tarns’ we began our descent via the Band, then continued onward to the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. 22km from car to car!
This brilliant day marked the end of Jonny’s week-long first visit to the Lake District, and what a corker of a hike to end on! I think he took in an enormous amount from looking at maps and at the landscape – this man’s map memory astonished me time and again. We now had to say our goodbyes, as it was time for Jonny to make his way northward to board a ferry back to Northern Ireland.
He returned to the mainland just two weeks later, bound for Snowdonia this time. There, he would have paced and timed distances, pinpointed his location on maps again and again, taken bearings, wild-camped, micro-nav’d and night-nav’d his way through various assessment hoops, to obtain the richly-deserved qualification of Mountain Leader. So I can now wrap up this post with four short words:
Well done that man!
Simon Duringer is an award-winning blogger, interviewer and author. His own books can be found on Amazon too by clicking any of the following icons…