Monday, 21 June 2010

Scafell Pike and Bowfell: In the Shadow of Ogreish Giants

We arrived in Penrith (North Lakes) late Friday evening, before appropriating a hire car and speeding through the Lakeland country lanes to Ambleside. We were in time to find a thronging local hostelry to watch the England game. Of course, we wished we hadn’t bothered and soon after repaired to an Indian restaurant to continue our tradition (inflicted by circumstance rather than self-imposed) of pre-hillwalking curries. It is a sad by-product of living in London that we cannot get to any decent hills on a friday night so we camp after ticking off the lion's share of the journey and do the rest in the morning, typically starting walking about midday. It was rather like that this weekend. So it was that, on Saturday morning, we set Ambleside in our rear-view mirror, raced over the Hardknott Pass and parked at Eskdale Youth Hostel before setting off for the hills.

However, before that, I should like to make a few comments on the Hardknott Pass. Some of you will already know this but what a road! Perhaps the most simultaneously exhilarating, terrifying, thrilling and panoramic of roads I have been on for some time. Without a high level of driving competence, it should be taken very, very slowly! The Warden at Eskdale YHA, in return for a modest contribution to local trail upkeep, permitted us overnight parking at the hostel from which we headed to Scafell Pike along the lustrous valley dominated by the River Esk. The first 6 or 7km was sedate, tranquil fayre and the warm, gentle sun smiled down on us like a benevolent father, as we threaded our way along the myriad paths next to the bouldery, rock-strewn river. This route into the Scafell Pike fells was blissfully quiet.



Following a perfunctory climb up from Lingcove Bridge to Scar Lathing, it was not long before we reached the base of Scafell and Scafell Pike. As we munched on welcome ham and cheese sandwiches within a sheep-fold, we contemplated our route up, eventually settling on the rather more interesting Broad Stand/Mickeldore route which would permit us a bit of scrambling as well and give us a chance to deal with demanding, loose scree slopes. It was punishing, technically challenging and a real test of our endurance. It would be good training for the Tour du Mont Blanc. Periodically, we would pause to savour the views behind us, as we ascended. Much of it was three-points-of-contact stuff, but relatively uncomplicated.





Once we reached the edge of the scree field, before we traversed the bouldery bedlam approaching the summit, we adjourned to scrutinise the activity on Broad Stand, leading to Lord's Rake and the massif's malignant, magnificent understudy, Scafell. We gazed, somewhat wistfully, at the scramblers making their way up - had we time, we'd have tipped up their too, but we had our route and our timetable. Taking on fluids, for it grew ever hotter, we then made our way to the summit of Scafell Pike.




The weather was so ridiculously clear and beautiful that, when we reached the apex of England and the summit shelter, we swiftly donned our windshirts to repel the whirlwind swirling throughout the rocky crest, and perched to savour the spectacular topography, gazing wistfully at the majestic hills all around us. Sadly, it being a summer weekend on England’s highest peak, so were dozens of other people. The sense of achievement, being voiced by so many of them, rather than annoy me because of the natural desire to have a peak summit to yourself, actually made me smile in acknowledgment. I would far rather people enjoyed the hills, even if that meant some were a bit more crowded on occasion, than people not understand the majesty of our wild spaces.





As the afternoon wore on, we clambered like inebriated mountain goats to Esk Hause and took the easy path heading down to Angle Tarn to pitch in the shadow of Hanging Knotts. There were a few others joining us across the other side of the tarn but, otherwise, it was quiet. After some time searching for a suitable pitch, we unpacked our kit and settled in. We ate well that evening, as the sun descended, casting a rosy hue over the craggy outcrop keeping watch over us, and planned our ascent of Bowfell and Esk Pike for the following day. We’d, sadly, forgotten our port and rather missed that but still had a good night’s sleep. As the sun dipped below the horizon, the warmth of the day was forgotten as the temperature plunged sharply to around 4C. Snuggled within the cocoon of my Summerlite, I sat and gazed at the stars, clear and bright with no ambient light to ruin their sharp, unadulterated perfection. It is a boon of the Fly Creek that the angle of the porch, not suited to cooking in inclement weather is ideally suited to stargazing in good weather.




I awoke only once during the night to relieve myself and, as if waiting for me to appear from my slumber, four dark silhouettes with ghostly white light emanating from their heads strode purposefully up the hillside above us. A quick check of the Suunto demonstrated, the hour being close to 0300, that I was either dreaming or they were deranged lunatics in need of psychiatric help. I repaired to bed, trying to get the image of night hillwalking nutters out of my head.

Sunday morning, we were up early, broke our fast with some porridge and hot tea and strode up to Ore Gap directly from Angle Tarn. Again, we chose a tough ascent rather than taking the path as a bit of a test of both technique and stamina. Even in base-layers, and at 0800, the sun was hot and so were we! Needing both hands and feet, we soon reached the top and the gale from yesterday re-emerged. Windshirts on we headed for Esk Pike and then Bowfell.





Wainwright appraised Bowfell as his 6th favourite peak and it's easy to understand why. A bit of scrambling to get to the summit cairn yields a quite simply awe-inspiring panorama. We both stared, perhaps even open-mouthed, at the wonder surrounding us. I could hardly feel the wind as I sat and drank in the vista, intoxicated by the elation of being there so early and having Bowfell to ourselves. It is the true exultation of wild camping that you can have the hills to yourself both in the evening and the morning after. For me, I feel far closer to the hills I’m climbing when I sleep beneath them after everyone else has gone home with their day-sacks.




It was an ugly 600m descent over 2km to Lingcove Beck over wet, rocky and boggy ground on a path which disappeared from time to time and we made slow progress as we wound our way down, rock-hopping and bog jumping. The sun was searing and intense - and we both came away scalded on open parts of our body. That we were walking alongside Lingcove Beck was a blessing as we cooled down and re-hydrated in equal measure. It was a pleasant walk out after that and a reasonable journey home despite Virgin laying on only 5 coaches on the train home - intriguing train management, that.



3 comments:

  1. You had good weather Maz. I would avoid Angle Tarn like a plague. When it is cold the air sinks and it is even more cold there and it is too crowded and too close to main walking routs. Still getting out is what it is all about. Nice one.

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  2. I've got to say I don't disagree - it was a little busy (3 other tents) and the air was quite cold but not unduly so. In fact, given I wanted to test the Summerlite a bit, colder weather was fortuitous! It was also too close to the main routes out of Esk Hause and we waited a bit before pitching to let the last hikers get through above us. That wasn't much of a hardship as we broke out the DX and got a brew on the go. It was also much easier for us to get up to Esk Pike and Bowfell as we had time constraints imposed on us by the trains back to London (and the real world)...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've got to say I don't disagree - it was a little busy (3 other tents) and the air was quite cold but not unduly so. In fact, given I wanted to test the Summerlite a bit, colder weather was fortuitous! It was also too close to the main routes out of Esk Hause and we waited a bit before pitching to let the last hikers get through above us. That wasn't much of a hardship as we broke out the DX and got a brew on the go. It was also much easier for us to get up to Esk Pike and Bowfell as we had time constraints imposed on us by the trains back to London (and the real world)...

    ReplyDelete