On a clear day, England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, affords spectacular views across England’s deepest lake and the surrounding Lakeland fells. However, our streak of good luck with the weather had temporarily expired – and the Scafell range was shrouded in thick mist. So much for the optimistic weather forecast displayed at the campsite . . .
Since we were up, breakfasted, and had no idea when we might next get the opportunity to climb the highest peak in England, we decided we may as well have a go. If it all went to pot, we could always turn back.
Leaving the campsite via the car park, we headed towards Lingmell Gill and the misty fells. The mist combined with the low cloud and light rain was enough to make us pause to employ coats and rain covers for our bags. Much to our surprise, at this point on the route we met dozens of hikers who were already on their way down! Perhaps they were hoping to see sunrise, or just thought the weather would be better earlier in the morning.
After crossing the cascades of Lingmell Gill, we joined the Brown Tongue route, a well-trodden path to the summit. From here, it was approximately 2km to the summit, but the unwelcome fog resulted in this being a rather longer 2km than we were accustomed to.
Having asked for guidance from one of the workers at the National Trust campsite the previous day, we decided to fork left (to go via Dropping Crag) at the junction a little further on; he’d said the path to the right was more of a scramble, so we decided to give it a miss on the basis that visibility was less than ideal for that. So far, the cairns were holding up against the mist – but that wouldn’t be the case for much longer! Keen to up our pace as the mist was dampening our clothes and the temperatures decreasing, we continued along the path paying careful attention to the map so as not to turn off towards Lingmell Col.
Unbeknown to us, we had done just that. Never mind missing the right path, we’d inadvertently turned off the right path and onto a wrong one! As a result of the mist enveloping the fells, we were initially oblivious to our error. However, as we lost some height, crossed a ford and were greeted with a spectacular view of a gorge we quickly realised things weren’t going entirely to plan.
Taking note of a small tarn up ahead and the fact we’d crossed a ford roughly in line with the path we were never planning to take, we consulted the map (and the compass) and realised we’d put our feet in it. We were beginning to feel the chill, so promptly made our way back to the point at which we’d gone wrong. The cairn marking our route to the summit was elusive – so we turned to our other senses for help! It was eerily quiet, but gradually we began to pick out walkers’ voices – and followed them until we spotted the cairns and rejoined the path. Back on track, it was a relatively straightforward zig-zag across large boulders to the summit.
On this occasion, we could see absolutely zilch from the summit. Although we were cold and wet, we were ridiculously happy to have finally reached the peak and didn’t hesitate to take a few photos of the non-existent view! Barely ten minutes later, we were heading back down on the other so-called scramble path (which in fact was better paved than the one we’d come up); more people were descending this way so it made more sense to go this way. Safety in numbers, and all that.
Typically, as we were descending the mist began to lift – but hopefully one day we’ll have the chance to climb the Pike in decent weather. So much for summer, eh. By the time we made it back to the campsite around 2pm, it was raining. After changing out of our damp clothes and consuming a substantial amount of food in order to compensate for the fact we’d barely eaten during the hike, we decided to venture out to Wasdale Head in search of the pub. The Wasdale Head Inn’s roaring fire was just what we needed – even if we then got soaked again on our way back to the campsite! Stay tuned for our final hike-turned-climb-turned-scramble, Yewbarrow.
- Although there are signposts surrounding the National Trust campsite and car park at the foot of Scafell Pike, do not rely on these to guide you to the summit. There is no substitute for an OS map (OS Explorer OL6) – in poor visibility, you’ll need it.
- Take a compass (and know how to use it); in poor visibility, so long as you know your last known location, it’ll help get you out of a fix and back on track.
- Wear bright colours – it’ll help others spot you on the mountain if you get into trouble. On another, related, note – make sure you’ve got a change of clothes waiting for you when you get back down. Being cold is one thing, but being cold and wet is another.