Scafell Pike – The highest mountain in England
October 2016 seems like a long time ago, but I do remember that the 11th October was the last time Jen and I headed up England’s highest mountain.
Our second visit wasn’t planned a long while in advance, in fact I had only looked at the weather on the previous evening. I suppose an adventure isn’t really an adventure if it isn’t spontaneous. So, we had huddled in front of my computer and weighed up options of where to go the following day.
I had previously mentioned to Jen that I fancied climbing Scafell Pike again before the year was out, as on our previous visit we had been somewhat hampered on the visibility front. Yes, we had reached the summit in good time, partly thanks to having camped in the National Trust campsite at Wasdale Head the night before (ah yes, fond memories of putting up a good-sized tent at 2am, in the rain…), but thick cloud had surrounded us every minute we were above 600m-ish. So to be frank, I was determined to go up again come hell or high water, and I guess we got a bit of both.
This time around, if I could get Jen to agree to it, it looked as though we might be in for clear views from Scafell’s summit. Fortunately, once Jen had glimpsed some fantastic pictures posted on social media by others that same week, it wasn’t much of a challenge to get her on board! All we had to do was be ready the following morning reasonably early to miss the mid-afternoon weather front that was due to come in…
So, arriving at Wasdale Head, at the foot of Scafell, after lunch was probably a tad optimistic. OK, I mean silly! But there we were, and having made it this far we weren’t going to throw in the towel at this stage. In fact, the drive there had been awesome, with clear skies pretty much all the way. But in the mountains you simply never know when that will change. We were equipped to cope with whatever the weather could throw at us really (Everest conditions aside) and whilst time wasn’t on our side… well, if you can’t take a joke then you shouldn’t have signed up!
We sorted ourselves out at the car, delighted that our National Trust membership exempted us from the fairly steep (geddit?) car parking charge, and looked up and beyond to a glorious summit free of cloud… Could this be our day?
We agreed a start time and off we went at a fairly speedy pace. It’s amazing how much I seem to have slowed down in the three months since our previous visit, and for some reason I had it in my head that we had taken 2.5 hours to reach the summit and 2 to get back down to the car. Whilst I tend not to pick up my feet on an ascent, if I’m given a good path I certainly don’t dawdle on the descent…
It was good to see volunteers about halfway up, doing a really good job of fixing the main path. I used this as a reasonable excuse to catch my breath and engage in idle banter. I always think it looks bad when people keel over with heart failure on hills, and I probably fall into the category of “those most likely to” as I do like to push the boundaries a little. So, if you happen to catch me on a slope admiring the fantastic scenery, give me a second or two and you’ll be doing me a great favour. In fact, if time is on your side, feel free to engage me in conversation and depart knowing that you may even have saved my life! Lol.
Having finished admiring the volunteers’ work so far, we resumed our ascent. Of course at that time of day (mid-afternoon) there tend to be more people coming off the mountain then heading up it. We notice that those on the descent appear more cheerful – smiling and saying hello – funny that! As opposed to those we meet on our way down as they’re climbing up… their faces and whole demeanour are reminiscent of impatient kids radiating the question, “Are we there yet?!”
It was about three quarters of the way up that we first encountered a school party of teenagers being professionally led back down the mountain, and I heard mumblings from their leaders that there was a front fast approaching. It was time for us to get our skates on too and get the last quarter bagged, so desperate was I to get the views from that still-unshrouded summit. More and more people were pouring off the mountain as we finally got close… 300 – 200 – 100 yards to go and then *BOOM* cloud immersed the summit and us with it. Thankfully we had stopped prior to the summit to take in some of the grand views that keep us hiking. At the top it was pea soup and Jen and I could hardly see each other. We sat there for 5-10 minutes as the weather came at us from all sides – a piercing wind sent us running to cower behind the cairn while we attempted to look happy with our lot. Coffee and sandwiches were devoured a little quicker than usual and we checked on our times.
Now, that boosted my spirits. Had I mis-remembered our last visit? We both reckoned the time so far as one and a half hours from Wasdale Head to the summit. It seemed we had set the bar high for future visits and now we were to head downwards… at pace…
Practically skipping down the path, we caught and flew past the school group that we had passed on our ascent. I felt quite sorry for one lass, who was verbally annoyed that she couldn’t go faster on the downhill despite doing quite a respectable job of trying. I guess if folk aren’t used to hiking up and down mountainside paths – even good, well-maintained ones like this – such terrain must be extremely challenging. We uttered some well-intentioned comments of encouragement as we headed past them and continued down.
I guess we must have been three quarters of the way down when Jen looked at her watch. A mischievous look spread across her face, which could mean only one thing: we were doing well, a few minutes off a milestone time… and she wanted to try and make it, i.e. break the one-hour mark for our descent. God, I hate running but this seemed like a worthwhile reason to get airborne, and so we flew down the final descent amidst a few looks of disbelief – two adults, not in fell-running gear, hurtling down Scafell Pike! I guess people might have thought there was an emergency further up or something… At the end of our “run”, about two hundred metres from the car park, we tore past a family and prompted some “what’s the rush?!”-type grumble, to which Jen responded, “We’re against the clock!”
Touch car, check watches… and cue massive deep panting breaths! Yeeeeah, we made it! 1.5 hours up Scafell Pike, 1 hour on the nail back to the car. We didn’t get the view I had hoped for at the summit, but enjoyed a different kind of triumph instead. There will be other times, and that elusive clear view from the roof of England is a fantastic reason (not that I need one!) to keep coming back.
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…