Last October, after booking a holiday in the Lake District on a whim, I decided I wanted something a bit more challenging than our usual hikes. I was set on climbing Scafell Pike – the highest mountain in England, standing tall at 3,209 ft – and carefully planned the 9-mile route we were to follow.
The weather wasn’t on our side that weekend, but it made for a memorable hike!
And when I say ‘the weather wasn’t on our side’, it’s a euphemism for ‘it was absolutely wild’. So much that, on the first day, after hiking a mere two miles, we had to turn around.
The route ran along a river that had overflowed and flooded the path so it was impossible to follow. We tried for a bit, walking way off the path, still following it the best we could but, thanks to a thick fog, there was zero visibility above 400 metres. For safety reasons, we decided to make our way back down and try again the following day; bumping into the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team only confirmed that it was the right choice.
Our second attempt started a little better; rain was forecast but the morning was drier and the fog hadn’t yet rolled it. The conditions were not optimal but they didn’t seem as bad as the day before, so we judged it was worth a try.
To avoid the flooded path, we decided to tackle the climb from a different side and followed Grains Gill past Allen Crags instead of heading toward Styhead Tarn.
Up to Calf Cove, the climb was rather uneventful – we met a few other hikers and chatted with a trail runner walking up Scafell Pike on his ‘rest day’ – but after that things got… interesting.
The higher we climbed, the stronger the wind got. By then, the thick fog was accompanied by a heavy drizzle and the visibility was zero. We thought of turning back again, but it felt even more dangerous so we just kept going and hoped the path down would be less tricky than the one up (spoiler alert: it really wasn’t).
We were just crossing the boulder field that is Ill Crag when we heard the first whistles of a mountain rescue team looking for a lost walker. Despite being obviously busy, the volunteers checked that we had the correct equipment and pointed us and two other guys in the right direction.
The two guys were Luke and Ben. Since they didn’t have a map, we all stuck together and were later joined by another couple – they were on their second date and didn’t look like they were having much fun.
After almost three hours, we finally reached the summit. Thankfully, the rain had stopped and we were able to sit for a few minutes before heading down. As you can see on the photo below, I was elated to have summited Scafell Pike (and the views were non-existent).
We climbed down via the Corridor Route, which was not the easiest (or safest) choice at the time. It all went well until we got to Spouthead Gill… The path above the gill is very, very narrow and the fall down would be a very steep one; I’m not normally scared of heights, but having to walk that path through the fog and then scale boulders made slippery by the rain put me way out of my comfort zone. I think the only reason I didn’t panic is because I had to get my very-much-scared-of-heights husband and a perfect stranger (the lady from that couple we had met earlier on) up as well.
Shortly after retrieving the relative safety of a higher and better defined trail, we parted way with the couple and the four of us headed toward Styhead Tarn. We ended up walking the same flooded path as the day before. It was still awash and difficult to follow, but we were already soaked so it didn’t seem to matter as much.
After 15K and nearly six hours, we finally reached our cars. I had never been so happy to see our little old, battered Yaris! We quickly said goodbye to Luke and Ben, impatient to dry off, change out of our damp clothes and EAT (we were so keen to get off that mountain that we barely had any food throughout the day and were starving).
Although the walk up Scafell Pike would have been challenging in any weather, this was much harder than I expected – not so much physically as mentally. It felt scary at times, and often unsafe. I’m not sure I’d do it again in those conditions, but I’m grateful for the experience… I learned a great deal from it.
We are planning a trip to the Lake District for the summer and another hike up Scafell Pike is definitely a possibility, depending on the forecast… After such an effort, it would be nice to actually see the view!