The walk up to the summit of Sca Fell on Saturday 17th of May, 2014
This walk saw the end of my quest to ‘bag’ all four three thousand feet mountains of the English lake district which was also part of a greater task – to climb to the top of the top ten English summits of the greatest altitude. I had wanted to do the mighty rugged peak of Sca Fell after completing last August’s Helvellyn Walk but events external to walking had taken precedent, then the colder weather had kicked in and before I knew it we were into 2014.
Sca Fell is notorious for being one of the hardest mountains of the Lake District, routes like Foxes Tarn and Lords’ Rake bring forth a wry smile from those that have done them and a cold shudder down the spine on those whom have attempted them! We (that is Karl and I) were not about to attempt anything as brave – just a walk up to the summit and then a gentle descent that would also take in the handsome crag of Slight Side.
We arrived at Wasdale Head at around 09:45 and after booting up headed off on our journey in glorious sunshine. Initially we walked through the minor woodland glade near “Down in the Dale” where there are car parks – nothing fancy just grass and gravel and a national trust campsite + with toilets – believe me these are emergency only toilets! We crossed a few minor streams before starting the ascension at Brackenclose After crossing over a lovely little double-bridge which crossed Straighthead Gill and…Straighthead Gill(?) we then went off-piste!
It has to be said that if I could get away with walking up a nice flat tarmac path all the way to each and every summit – I would. However, not all of us are alike and I am in the minority, apparently most walkers prefer making their own tracks up to their intended destinations and that was the fate that the day now had in store for me as Karl and I went up the side of a moor once again (Remember Helvellyn? A pattern is forming here!). For the next half a lateral mile we ascended roughly 600 feet, which appears to sound nowhere near as energy sapping as it was. I think it was at this point in the walk that my energy reserves took their biggest and most damaging hit as by the time that we eventually reached Hard Rigg and gazed at the fore boarding gouge of Kepple Cove I needed to eat. It was a relief to find the ‘green path’ which would ultimately facilitate us in our trek to the summit. First however we had the arduous path(Really?) with which to contend. What had started off as almost a lawn (such was the smoothness of the grass) soon metamorphosed into a path of many textures, at one moment it was half-housebrick-sized igneous rocks, then a shale-like substance which filled in the gaps left by smaller but very definitely transient whitish-grey pebbles akin to the ones found within the last few hundred feet of the southern approach to neighbouring Scaffell Pike. In the last twenty feet or so before the col the route was nothing short of a scramble and although my face might not have expressed this…I did love it! This reminded me of the first time that I had ascended Pen-y-Ghent in the Yorkshire Dales…plus another six or seven hundred feet worth of altitude and blazing sunshine.
The col atop the last major climb is a wondrous place, even though I knew that I had been walking (and scrambling) towards here for the last four hours to actually arrive was something of a shock – some ascensions seem as if they are not meant to end! The views across to Scafell Pike would drive mad any peak bagger for (to coin a phrase) it was so near but owing to the drop of Broad Stand…so far away. I consoled myself with the knowledge that I had done it anyway! The neighbour views, from Scafell Pike are quite literally all-encompassing, one can see for scores of miles across to Scotland, the Isle of Man, the beautiful Northern Pennines …Sca Fell is not as generous! What Sca Fell serves up in terms of views are beautifully defined images of the neighbouring fells, of course as far north as Blencathra and Skiddaw can be made out, but it’s the close-up features of the landscape which takes the eyes across each of the Crinkle Crags, over to Bowfell, over a peek at Broad Crag and onto Ill Crag as if nature herself is rewarding one’s efforts. We spent some time wandering around the col, shouting “Climb a real mountain” across to the summiteers across at the Pike and I had my first (hopefully for all concerned last) attempt at yodelling down Scafell Crag’s valley and daring to try and grab a photo of the perilous ledge and drop off from where Lord’s Rake could be spied. This was what I had wanted from the walk. Our next destination (after of course the final thirty feet climb up to the very top of Sca Fell) would be the drop down to the subsidiary summit of Slight Side.
And so began the drop…and how I now hate dropping off such big mountains. The fear of falling, the continual analysing of the terrain immediately about to be beneath one’s feet, the knee-jarring which never seems to ease – I absolutely hate dropping off mountains…hills…minor rises in the landscape…pavements. I hate them all!!! Admittedly, the journey from atop Sca Fell to Slight Side is not an epic in any sense of the word. The terrain is actually not the hardest that one will ever encounter being a mixture of boulder field giving way to igneous rock and grass punctuated by the odd igneous boulder. Once we had worked our way across the stoney obstacles it has to be said that the final ascent of Slight Side is sheer joy. The summit micro-massif is divided into left and right pinnacles and Karl and had debated as to which was the higher. Without discussing it Karl made a beeline for the left hand pinnacle and some moments later I ascended the right hand one only to be proved wrong…the left hand one is higher! With nothing much else on the agenda we now took to the moor again and began our descent once more to the bog of Quarrig Moss. This was a moorland yomp that ordinarily would be nothing out of the ordinary and no mean task. However, all I had consumed since my Asda Chicken Mayo sandwiches a couple of hours ago were the contents of three Tesco energy gels each of which totalled no more than seventy calories at best. My fasting in November last year taught me how short term hypoglycemia feels and before long I was giving way to the more emotional aspects of it. I became very irritable, quite shaky, sudden bouts of complete exhaustion would overwhelm me, as did a feeling of dread that we would never get of this bloody moor! It goes without saying and the title of this post should infer that yes, once more I did fall over a number of times. Readers of my blog will take note from previous articles and expeditions that I am not good at moorland walking…there is no reason for this, however combine this completely irrational pseudo-phobia with the very real symptoms of hypoglycemia and this makes for one giant pain in the backside – me!
How Karl did not take the initiative to escort my sorry ass over to Burnmoor Tarn and haul me in I do not know…but am very grateful to him that he didn’t! I have never declared publicly that this is a “Warts and all” blog…but it is. My triumphs are of course listed, hailed and lauded. In this moment I recognise that I have failings (it’s not a sudden realisation, believe me!) and that moor – Bleaberry How-Broad Tongue and the back of Kepple Cove including the crossing of Long Gill / Hardrigg Gill brought out the worst of them from me. Finally we reached what Karl had referred to as the “Corpse Road”. The lake district, moreover, the north of England has many of these such roads and from my experience they have one thing in common…they’re nothing like a road or even a track. That didn’t matter though for now we were at the moor’s end and beginning the lovely descent back to Wasdale. We passed once more the unluckiest fell in the Lakes – the 1,998′ Illgill Head (imagine being so close to being a mountain!) and once more crossed the quaint little double bridge which straddles the winding Straighthead Gill. We dropped back down the track which leads to the main Wasdale Road and over the same metal bridge that we had crossed almost twelve months previously at the start of my minor obsession with ‘bagging’ the 3,000’s of the Lake District. A brief five to ten minute walk along the road, (we decided that Lakeland roads are dangerous enough as it is without driving over them in darkness) and we were back at the car at roughly 19:40 some nine hours and forty minutes after we had left it.
In summing I am very glad to have completed this first ‘bagging’ round of the four major, three thousand feet summits and will now concede that Sca Fell is indeed a mountain in its’ own right and not just an extension of the neighbouring Scafell Pike. I won’t concede the same point for Slight Side ‘tho, Wainwright did but there are many differences between us. With Helvellyn and Sca Fell what has come to light is that I am more of a social walker – I am not a fan of great expanses if there is no evidence that I am not the only person traversing said expanse! Whilst I am more or less happy to do a short round of my locals – Winter Hill and Pendle Hill. I need people around me and do not visit the high places in order to ‘escape from it all’ – just to appreciate it all. Likewise I have no qualms at all with walking over inorganic, man-made paths which cut a swathe through the hill or mountain side – they usually facilitate progress as opposed to hindering it! I do however, respect that we are all essentially allowed our own opinions and methods of doing things and should respect that of each other. The next accompanied walk that I go on I will take an mp3 player with me for use in case I can’t keep up for a certain downhill stretch 🙂
Ironically the true beauty of Sca Fell’s upper reaches is only just sinking in me now that it is out of my physical sight. This is a breathtakingly beautiful mountain and to walk on the summit is like being permitted to a mountaineer’s personal paradise. The most enchanting view on the day and one that shall be filed under “Never forget” is the view of Sca Fell and Pikes Crag together as seen from the car park at Wasdale head…simply stunning and easily on a par with anything that I have seen at ‘ole Pendle and Skiddaw.
My next new (to me) summit is due to be the Northern Pennines’ giant Cross Fell but I have to admit that from Saturday evening until Monday afternoon it was not a prospect that I was eagerly relishing…I do need to get fit or at least more fit than what I am at the moment. That being said my legs have suddenly started to feel much better than they have done all year, the shin splints which normally plague me on a daily basis appear to have dissipated. Could it be that walking this route has already been beneficial?
For now it’s au revoir Lakes, yes I will be back and hopefully it will be this year there are some attractive summits yet to bag. I still want to do the major “Horseshoe walks” – but NOT Mosedale – it looks too bloody hard!
Finally a revised “to do” list
Scafell Pike Sca Fell Helvellyn Skiddaw
- Great End
- Bow Fell
- Great Gable
- Cross Fell
- Nethermost Pike