Scafell Scramble

Standing in a foggy miasma, I could be anywhere in the world. Anywhere, that is, atop a scattering of loose rocks and semi-large stones. Surrounded by adventure tourists, dogs, and random locals. So, honestly, this could be anywhere in Wales, or a world straight out of Ridley Scott’s imagination.

But it is neither of those things. I’m standing atop England’s highest peak and, if it weren’t for the hours-long trek it took to get there, often scrambling up scree-falls and sharp inclines, there’d be little to alert me of the altitude.

An hour earlier I found myself and our crew stripped to t-shirts, baking in the summer sun, now we’d bundled down in wind-breaking jackets and warm under-layers.

It may sound horrendous and disappointing – to some I suppose it would be – but to us it was euphoric. Scafell Pike isn’t a monster of a mountain, by any stretch. Of the three tallest peaks in each of the UK’s adjoining nations, it happens to be the shortest. Even though it’s technically a little more difficult than the other two – those being Ben Nevis and Snowdon – it’s still not a difficult summit.

This is also the UK. While the country experiences far more sun and nice weather than its reputation lets on, its peaks are notoriously fickle when it comes to weather. A beautifully clear day can still see cloud cover shrouding the summit from view. From below, this instills awe and wonder. It is positively other-worldly from within.

As I said, though, we were not disappointed. I think each one of our group – which included several experienced climbers, as well as dodgeball comrades, partners, and new friends – knew what to expect from the outing. While a view would be a nice cap to the day, we were all here for the experience, first and foremost.

And what an experience it was!

Arriving in Manchester, Kat and I met with the trip’s masterminds, Rob and Gareth. After months of waxing ambitious about the UK’s three peaks, and how we should start checking them off our lists, they’d managed to inspire us all to put a trip in the books. Gathering in Manchester, we’d hire a couple of cars and make our way north, towards The Lake District.

I’ve always been a fan of road trips, so am quick to jump at a chance to be a part of one. They’re generally good fun, usually filled with great stories, good tunes, and unexpected finds on the airwaves. Film scores accompanied our travels through the hamlets peppering England’s midlands, and picked up again after obligatory pub stops along the way (The one we found was rife with locals, wellie boots, and border collies to a degree that I’d characterise as quintessential).

We arrived in the small town of Grasmere, fed and ready to crash, with a mountain to conquer in the morning.

When travelling in rural parts, hostels are certainly your friend. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that not all hostels are created equal. While ours was lovely … it was a bit of a surprise to discover that rooms were gender restricted. Kat and I really don’t mind. One night apart isn’t exactly torture. Then again, she didn’t have to spend the night with a group of farting, snoring strangers. I still have hope that my bunkmates didn’t think too poorly of me.

But I digress. You’re reading this to be beguiled by mountains and adventure, not flatulence and cheap humour. Or, hang on. I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.

Suffice to say, the hostel was pleasant and, as it turns out, not in any way near to our actual destination. Roads leading through the Lake District are exactly what you’d expect from British country roads. Narrow, hedged, and winding, they wend across dale and dell, through passes and over hills, often barely wide enough for a single car to pass, let alone a lorry or caravan. Most excitedly, roads are often set at such an angle that the way forward will be entirely covered by the bonnet, pointed skywards. It was as harrowing as it was agonisingly slow.

The long & winding road to Scafell Pike

If your ultimate destination is Scafell Pike, I would recommend either setting out early – as Grasmere is a lovely town to stay in – or seek out a hostel much nearer to the mountain.

As it was, we arrived before the afternoon and had plenty of time to summit at a reasonable pace. Had we been a slower group, we may have found ourselves chasing daylight on the way back down. There’s nothing worse than vastly outpacing someone, so it’s better to have the time to allow you to travel at a comfy pace, or stop often enough to keep folks together.

We made good time ascending and were treated to some stunning views of the countryside, lakes, and shrouded peaks. The final scramble was particularly picturesque.

Just prior to this scramble, turning a last bend reveals the summit of Scafell, it’s surrounding peaks and crags. With the low lying clouds, it looked otherworldly. As we began our scramble, we drew nearer and nearer the clouds, which felt somewhat like entering a new world from below…which I suppose is precisely what we were doing.

After the clear skies and blasting sun of the morning, the chilled mist was a shock. We were quickly damp, cold, and tiring.

That said, after 100 metres or so of scramble, the route eases off considerably. It transforms into a gentle scrabble over scree and rubble. With the pea soup of mist, however, visibility was limited to mere metres. I can see how accidents can happen in these situations. A person could easily lose their way and wind up wandering down a potentially dangerous path.

Looming out of the mist at regular intervals are ghostly cairns, which mark a circuitous path to the peak. Like I said, it wasn’t difficult, but the visibility added a spooky atmosphere to the trek. Even though we couldn’t appreciate the view, the atmosphere and effect was it’s own reward. That and the accomplishment of reaching the top of England.

It was pretty magical standing atop Scafell Pike with a group of friends, having shared a great experience.

I could wax poetic about the scenery, our descent, and the rest of the Lake District, but I’m going to cut this post here. Scafell was a fantastic experience, which I’d recommend to anyone interested in adventure trekking. Even if that’s not your cup of tea, the Lakes offer more than enough to warrant a visit.

Trekkers in the mist