Bad steps and nasty paths

Tuesday 27 October 2015. There’s nothing like jumping in at the deep end and today’s walk up England’s highest mountain was quite a challenge. Jacqui had never been to the top of Scafell Pike (3,210ft) and with rain forecast for the next couple of days, today was the day to get it done. We arrived at the road-side parking spaces near Seathwaite Farm at about 9:15 to find that is was already fairly full and we had to park a little further down the road. By the time we got our boots on and kitted up it was just before 9:30.

Route finding for the first part of this walk to Styhead Tarn is easy. Just head through the farmyard and on to Stockley Bridge before turning right up to the tarn. This section was a steady uphill climb and took us about an hour and a quarter; just right for our first rest/coffee stop overlooking the tarn. It is half-term week and there were lots of family groups up until this point but most of them seemed to be doing a shorter route via Sprinkling Tarn rather than heading on up to Scafell Pike. Anyone who has walked in the Lake District will know that there are no signposts out on the fells so route finding is down to you.

Our path up onto the Pike turned left at the landmark of a Mountain Rescue shelter box which, in good visibility, was easy to spot, and then turned right to join the Corridor Route. This right turn wasn’t as easy to spot, we were taking a short cut, and Anquet came into its own at this point. The Corridor Route up to the top of Piers Gill was perhaps the most enjoyable part of the walk as it weaved it way through the hills high above Wasdale. The interest factor increased as we came to the infamous “bad step.” This is a part of the path where there is a drop of about 12-15ft down a sheer cliff wall with only very small footholds to help ease your way down. Both Jacqui and I had to use our bottoms as well as hands & feet to safely slither down to the bottom. One of my pictures shows walkers making their way down the “bad step” preceded by a couple with their dog which seemed to have less trouble than its human companions.

Turning around the top of Pier Gill, we then encountered a boulder field for the last mile or so up to this summit. It was at this point that we encountered what can only be described as “crowds” of holiday walkers making their way either up or down to the trig point at the top. I knew that Scafell Pike is popular but not quite as attractive as it seemed today. There had been a strong breeze blowing for most of the ascent but this took on near gale-force proportions as we posed for pictures at the trig point and was so strong that the gusts almost blew us off our feet. We found a relatively sheltered spot for a quick lunch stop before making the long descent back to the car. It had taken us nearly 4 hours to get to the top and would take us almost a long to get to the bottom.

The descent route took us down to the col below Broad Crag before climbing again on the path leading towards Esk Hause. I say path, but it wasn’t a path as understood by the Fenland Ramblers as it crossed even more large boulder fields and then along pitched tracks with stone steps or just rocky/stony ground. This was to become a feature of our return route. At the top of Ruddy Gill we still had a couple of miles to go and I estimated that it might take us about an hour and a half to complete. I had under-estimated by about 20 minutes as the never ending and somewhat tedious path made for slow going meaning that we got back to the car just before 5pm in rapidly fading light. The 9½ mile route with a total ascent of 3,900ft had taken nearly 7½ hours to complete. Whilst it is an iconic route, there are many more enjoyable Lakeland walks and, as I’ve now been to the top of Scafell Pike on at least 5 occasions, I won’t be rushing back to do it again any time soon.

Scafell Pike – walk route

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