Sunday, 28 August 2016

Climbing Scafell Pike

A non-birding post! I have been working in West Cumbria for a few years on and off and I have been keen to get up Scafell Pike but time, weather and work have never aligned to allow this to happen. Last week I was doing some dusk work starting at 6pm and the forecast was for a sunny but cool day with highs of 18c. It was ideal and so I found myself at the foot of Scafell Pike in the National Trust car park starting to ascend at 09:00. I had been warned this was a particularly steep approach and not the most interesting. I did a bit of reading and it became apparent that a reasonable walker should take between 2-3 hours. Now I'm a lardy bloke but I am definitely walking fit so I felt I was aiming for inside three hours up. As I was on my own I wanted to go slow and steady.

It was a cool 15c when I arrived and I made steady progress to 200m although this seemed to take ages as the legs warmed up. There weren't that many folks about so I was determined to get a jump on the masses who would surely follow. I walked along side Lingmell Gill as the treeline disappeared. The gradient ramped up quickly and the crossing of Lingmell Gill was a welcome respite in the middle of perhaps the toughest section of the climb. The gill was in spate after overnight rains which were the reason for the cool temperatures. This made it a little hazardous crossing over and a small queue had formed as people scrambled with either little dignity or wet feet. When it got to my turn I plotted my course only for a mis-step to leave me stuck with my feet the wrong way round and I decided wet feet were a better option than falling over. My boots are leather and goretex so they werent likely to dry out anytime soon and my car boot now has an aromatic flavour!

Beyond the gill it is a steep staircase of rocks and from here to 400m was perhaps the most demoralising as it was over an hour since I had started and yet it was very challenging. The National Trust are continuing with repairing the footpath to prevent erosion in this section. A few other walkers were about in this section and one family in particular were good for pacing against. I finally crept in front as I got to Lingmell Col and the Hollow Stones which have travelled down the col from a cliff on the peak. Here I was at 550m and I had made good time over the last 100m ascent or so despite the gradient. After eating my Malteaser Cake from the excellent Gosforth bakery I suddenly felt jet propelled and the gradient eased significantly.

I climbed from 550-700m in next to no time as the peak of Lingmell appeared to my left and then the path veered violently up and right towards Scafell Pike. The family I was walking near had disappearred behind me and I felt good. However the remainder of the walk was both steep and rocky. A fell runner flew past me and I started to slow and flag. Physically this was the hardest part as I was tired as well as the difficulty ramping but my spirits were good. The grind from 700m to 800m was long and slow and this took well over half an hour as I found I had been going for nearly 2 and a half hours. I didnt think that I would make it in my planned three hours but I was phlegmatic. The walk had been much more enjoyable than I imagined and I was sure I would make it to the top.

A cheery voice piped up from beside me encouraging me as a man from Lincolnshire extolled what a glorious day for a walk. I smiled and we walked together for a while. It was now a cool 10c and the gradient suddenly slackened just a little. We were recounting our experiences of the walk thus far when all of a sudden we were there. Just fifty metres of walking remained. I had flown up the last 150m of ascent in about 20 minutes and I hit the peak at 11:57 having taken 2 hours 57 minutes. I was very chuffed and I thanked the gent for the distraction on the final approach. A few photos and it was time to descend.

After 100m and 10 minutes of descent it was obvious that I had just beaten the masses up the mountain as people of all shapes and sizes huffed and puffed up the final approach. The crowds only got worse as I went down. Going down was extremely difficult as my quads rebelled and I remained pretty slow. The descent was less exciting and by the time I was down to Lingmell Gill I just wanted to finish as I was knackered. The water had dropped a bit and I crossed without further flooding of my boots. The temperature now well exceeded the predicted 18c and was well into the mid 20s making hot and sweaty work.

The final half an hour was just painful as I maneuvered my sore legs over the steep gradient and finally I arrived back at my car. I was delighted and a little overwhelmed. I was extremely proud of myself and the endorphins were rushing. Doing it solo was also great fun surprisingly as I shared my experience on the journey with fellow walkers rather than a couple of mates. People were almost entirely gracious and pleasant and the achievement was palpable. As a certain Jonny Rankin posted on my facebook post, Live To Win! I certainly did.  

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