I’m afraid we’d been a little disappointed on Day 1 of our latest hiking trip in the Lakes, having had to rein in our multi-peak agenda due to bad weather. We had “only” climbed one mountain, albeit a mighty good one – Scafell Pike, which we had scaled in the clag for the third time! Happily, our motivation was rekindled by the barman of the Wasdale Head Inn who informed us that the next day’s weather was set to be spectacular!
Armed with this exciting news we headed back to the campsite on the evening of Day 1, where we bumped into a lovely couple we’d met there, Jack and Julie. They had had an equally clag-shrouded experience on Scafell Pike; in fact how we had taken the same route up and down yet missed them is anybody’s guess, and testament to just how poor the visibility had been. My heart went out to them, these dispirited first-time visitors to the Lakes; however, I was horrified that they had planned a lowly, low-level outing for their next (and last) day, especially with the forecast being so good!
“Get up to a peak,” I urged them. “It doesn’t matter which one, just get on top of a mountain tomorrow!” You simply have to seize every possible chance to make the most of good weather in the Lakes, and I couldn’t bear the thought of these two heading home without enjoying a single mountain-top view. I gave them a few pointers, and as we set off the next morning they were still mulling over their options…
As for Jen and I, we were hoping for an epic multi-peak hike, but also hoped somehow to avoid the crowds that are almost guaranteed around England’s highest mountain on a sun-drenched weekend in July. A good look at our map led us to zoom in on a mountain called Lingmell that lies at the top end of Wastwater. It’s good and high, with the summit standing at 807 metres (2647 ft), and from the Wasdale Head campsite it presents a nice, gradually ascending, velvety-surfaced green hillside. Lingmell looked so gentle alongside its crag-topped, scree-sided neighbours that the idea of hiking up its flank to gain access to greater glory elsewhere almost felt like a cop-out! But by Christ, looks can be deceiving…
Lingmell’s steep, grassy climb certainly goes on a bit, and from our angle of approach there was a brilliantly deceptive false summit. When we eventually reached what we’d thought was the top – I’d gone so far as to sit down at a cairn for a victory pipe – we realised that there was still plenty of grassy uphill still ahead, and a higher craggy bit beyond that! So we had at least a kilometre or so to go, albeit on a less bruising gradient. When we finally did make it to the summit, we were rewarded with stunning views, including of astonishingly dangerous-looking cliffs that comprise the “other side” of Lingmell. A mountain with a dark side, and no mistake…
For Jen and me this day’s hike would prove to be a lynchpin: a central point we’d never visited before, surrounded by other visible peaks we knew. You see, Jen and I have done a good many walks in the Lake District over the last couple of years – a bit here, one or two over there, a few this or that way – but we suddenly realised that until now, our mental maps of the region had been fragmented. Today, with perfect visibility from the top of Lingmell, we could see familiar summits from walks past, and see their locations in relation to one another in a way that now made sense. We could pick out peaks we had climbed previously, others we knew from having passed them many times, and another few we hoped to climb in the next few hours!
From Lingmell Crag there are uninterrupted views back to Yewbarrow in the west, just across Wastwater. Looking to the north we saw Kirk Fell, Great Gable, Green Gable and Base Brown, and to the south east Sca Fell, Scafell Pike, Broad Crag and Great End were all close at hand. Lingmell is bang in the middle of this plethora of majestic peaks, and as a dramatic bonus, one can stand just a few metres from its summit cairn (careful!!) for a view of the near-vertical drop down almost to the valley floor. The grassy, velvety yet brutal slope we had climbed less than an hour earlier seemed to belong to a different mountain altogether; one could easily imagine somebody walking off the edge of this terrifying crag in poor weather. Thankfully, for us the weather was perfect, and after feasting our eyes on the topology and trying to memorise the newly-visualised geography, we pulled out the maps. Next step: how do we get up the “mountain next door”, i.e. Broad Crag at 934 metres (3064 ft), without a) hitting the tourist line and b) losing too much height?
We could see the wide path hundreds of people were currently following to the summit of England’s Highest Mountain. We really didn’t want to take that one (we’d done it the previous day, for a start). According to the map there was a route, potentially a path-esque type of affair, leading up the middle of the wide gully between Broad Crag and Scafell Pike. From our vantage point at the top of Lingmell we could see a faint line in places; indeed, a few hikers trying (we assumed) to descend that way seemed to be sliding down the scree bank. Perhaps not one for the faint-hearted, as this almost-path looked more like a steep, rocky scramble.
We would unfortunately need to lose some height (100m, at a guess), moving almost right down to the “corridor route”, but at least we would steer clear of the really busy section. The Scafell Pike path was packed with visitors trudging antlike in lines, scaling what we had climbed in the clag a day earlier. Jen and I discussed three or four options and were – fortunately – on the same page as regards which looked like the most feasible and least treacherous way up to Broad Crag. *Yesss!* Off we headed for a bit of a scramble (LOL).
There were a couple of hairy moments, with rocks slipping under our (well, more my) weight. My main concern was about choosing footholds that would not only hold me, but avoid sending rocks sliding down straight at Jen. In no time at all (it seemed, anyway) we’d made it up the rocky scramble, and agreed that we’d both enjoyed every moment of it! A couple of minutes and many boulders later, we were atop Broad Crag, having missed the entire flood of visitors making a similar, yet more protracted ascent to the top of Scafell Pike.
From here a myriad of possibilities were open to us, but we had already decided where to aim for next: our highest peak of the day, a mere metre higher than Broad Crag. Off we went, just a little down and then a little up, and within a few minutes we were standing on Ill Crag, at 935 metres (3067 ft). From there we would turn around and head towards our final named peak of the day, which was Great End at 910 metres (2985 ft). Here, we were delighted to find ourselves looking at a newly revealed set of peaks, again familiar to us: the Langdales. The view included Esk Pike, Bow Fell, Crinkle Crags and in the distance Grey Friar. I can honestly say I have never been able to see AND name so many mountains in a single day’s hiking!
We sat for a while in the small stone shelter on Great End summit, and checked the map for our route back. We now had around 7 kilometres of descent back to Wasdale Head, and enjoyed the walk around the back of Great End, past the beautiful Sprinkling Tarn and Styhead Tarn, and along a scree-ish traverse of a flank of Great Gable. On reaching the valley floor, we still had a couple more kilometres to cover, but we stopped well before our campsite on this occasion! I mean, why would we walk past the only place serving food around here without popping in? Another slap-up meal at the Wasdale Head Inn was on the cards before we’d be ready to return to the tent!
We had only been in the pub a couple of minutes when we spotted Jack and Julie! Well, I did say it’s the only place serving food… and great food too. They’d already eaten and they were all smiles, eager to tell us what the day had brought them. I was delighted to hear that they’d climbed to the summit of the iconic Great Gable (899m / 2949 ft), and spent a good while up there enjoying the amazing views and sunshine. Apparently they had taken so many photos their phones had all but run out of juice! I have to say, seeing this lovely pair so happy gave me an extra glow to round off an already brilliant day 🙂