During the early eighties Mark and I were in the habit of going off once a month to take pictures of steam loco’s. These monthly trips had initially been to preserved railways and then more latterly to wild line side locations in such places as Ais Gill on “The Settle Carlisle”. Without realising it, a transition had occurred whereby we had replaced our fluorescent yellow jackets with a pair of walking boots. With our newly acquired decent footwear the natural step (forgive the pun) was to take on more hill walks. Mark, to be fair had done his fair share, however to date I’d just managed a few jaunts around the Dales and a couple of weekend trips to the Lakes. Things were about to change and this walk, which effectively became our first day trip to the Lakes, also became a monthly fixture.
My view is that if you’re going to travel for three hours to the Lakes you may as well climb something of significance. Hence we chose to Climb Scafell. Neither Mark nor I had been up this hill and as it was over the magic three thousand feet barrier it would be a most worthwhile target. We had read about the exposure, risk and excitement of a climb up Lords Rake and had set ourselves the goal of topping out on Scafell by means of this fine scramble. A couple of fellow hikers who were about to set off from Wasdale seemed somewhat alarmed at the idea of Mark and I attempting Lords Rake in such weather conditions. Sod it, Mark and I were pretty sure of our capabilities, we wouldn’t have any of it and decided we knew best (read I decided I knew best). I wouldn’t mind we’d only got a few walks under our belts and were full of false confidence. One look at me in my plastic mac, jeans and fluffy white socks turned up half way up my shins should have told the story.
Brown Tongue is quite a straightforward route up towards the two Wasdale giants, Scafell and Scafell Pike. However after toiling for three quarters of an hour we were well and truly immersed in the clag and quite clearly this would bring a new dimension to the days walk. By Hollow Stones we now had a choice of routes, some were obviously man made and some no doubt sheep tracks. In our ignorance all we knew was that Scafell lay to the right of Mickledore and so that was the way we chose to clamber. I say clamber, as the terrain had become extremely rough and rocky. Not only that, but as we gained height the wind which had really picked up was being funnelled through the small gap of Mickledore. As we stumbled around on the rock and snow, all the time struggling to stay upright in the wind we entirely lost our direction and with it any chance of finding Lords Rake. Perhaps those blokes at the car park were right. It really would have been foolish to attempt such a vertical route in those conditions.
Once at Mickledore there was only really one option, to climb Scafell Pike. How different it was on this wet, windy day. My previous ascent had been made last year with Keith Hawes in cracking weather. Yes, the summit was still crowded, however apart from a quick bite to eat there was no point in hanging around. We had clearly had enough of our ascent route and didn’t really fancy battling against the same wind and so chose to take the longer return route via the Corridor Route. After ten minutes of rock and rubble and by more luck than judgement we came across a faint path which was vaguely familiar. We had found our way home. Very soon matters were to improve no end as the clag cleared at long last and gave excellent views of Pillar and Great Gable. “Go on, we can add that to the walk”. Here we were again; my eyes were bigger than me belly. After all we’d just struggled to over three thousand two hundred feet and here I was looking to reascend to just short of three thousand feet. Mark stood no chance and simply gave in for an easy life. The walk to Sty Head would prove to be the highlight of the day. We had clear visibility; it was even sunny for a while, sheltered and thankfully dry.
The Great Gable ascent proved to be a trudge and in no time we were back within the clag. Should we have made this detour? In these conditions, probably not. Either way forty minutes later we found ourselves still in the clag, aimlessly wandering around amongst the summit rocks and imagining the wonderful views down Wasdale. Not for the first time we were about to make a serious navigational error. Unknown to us there were some pretty serious cliffs to the south west of the summit. A compass bearing was taken which indicated the direction of Wasdale Head. Our error was to have not studied the map correctly. The problem was that once a descent had been started we were committed and there was no way we would turn around. “It’s only a few rocks and a little lumpy scree”. Well, that’s what we told ourselves. Unfortunately we had stumbled upon (a very accurate turn of phrase) Great Hell Ghyll. This would prove to be an extremely dicey descent over totally unstable rock and rubble. One of the problems with poor visibility is that perspective is lost. Distant rock formations tend to appear in no time and in reality are only a few yards away, likewise car sized rocks tend to look the size of a house. With all this in mind our descent through this “Doctor Who” style landscape seemed to go on for some considerable period of time and really did seem eerie. Just as we were starting to get a little concerned the rocks stopped and the first faint views of the valley floor were glimpsed through the last of the clag. As it turned out we had veered off south easterly rather than in the direction of Wasdale. This was no problem and half an hour later we were back at the car chomping at the bit and looking forward to a cracking bar meal. What we hadn’t yet realised was that the famed pub didn’t serve chips!
Even allowing for the tough weather conditions we had still had a cracking day on the hills. From here on we would make sure we managed a monthly hill walk. We would also become better equipped and sometimes take more sensible decisions.