Adrenalin Junkies?

Nether Wasdale has a hotel, a couple of pubs and a campsite. It’s also just up the valley from Wast Water in the Lake District which is where you’ll find Scarfell Pike. After the triumph in Wales it seems obvious that we should attempt England’s highest mountain too – there’s a faint murmur of three-peaks-challenge in the air!

We’re praying for better weather this week, we’ve been camping out for most of the summer and our morale is struggling against the peaks and mostly troughs of the British climate. While the weather may be beyond control, understanding the terrain is achieved by purchasing a map. I’ve plotted a route and put in a request for sunshine.

I’ve had a rough measure and estimated how far we’ll need to walk if we’re to get to the top of Scarfell Pike then back to the campsite. It’s an ambitious target as first we have to get to the top of Whin Rigg then walk some distance before even seeing the real challenge – I’ve got a plan B.

The boots are on and we’re making tracks in the early sun. After steady progress up the hillside we’re onto the ridge and heading towards the mountain that is now visible in the distance. Far below us is Wast Water, the cars on the road following its north-western shore are specks of colour dwarfed by the mountains that rise above the calm waters. As the clouds move across the sky their shadows remind me of a camouflage pattern that rises then falls from peak to peak.

From Whin Rigg at 535m (1,755ft), to Illgill Head, 609m (1,998ft) – yes, one metre short of being considered a mountain! While walking the weather is changeable with banks of cloud racing passed above our heads, we can see the summit of Scarfell Pike, 978m (3,209ft), menacingly flirting with dense grey storm clouds.

It’s decision time! Have we got the time? Will the rain hold off? Perhaps more importantly, do we have the energy? It’s a close call but caution wins through – no on all accounts – we opt for a gentle stroll back along the shoreline. We descend down to the lakeside car park where most people start the challenge of conquering English’s highest point.

I’d learnt lesson one in Snowdonia – buy a map. The Lakes were about to teach me lesson two – study your map and carefully. Underneath the closely packed contour lines that follow the edge of Wast Water there’s some faint grey squiggles. The contour lines indicate a steep face, the squiggles – if I’d seen them – would have warned me of scree. For those that are not familiar with the work of Messrs Ordnance and Survey, scree is a collection of broken rock fragments at the base a mountain cliff.

There’s a small farmhouse at the north end of the lake and on its gate there’s a sign suggesting that the path ahead can be difficult to travel at times – can’t be that bad can it? The sun is shining, it’s lovely and warm and we’re strolling through the thickening plant-life along the narrow path that gently weaves up and down the hillside.

The Screes, Wast Water.

The Screes, Wast Water.

After some time we’re halted by a stretch of small rocks that have replaced the plants and more importantly, the path. There’s no going back so we scramble across and eventually pick up the path once more. The terrain switches from green plants to grey rock several times then suddenly on the path ahead appears a young man. I couldn’t say who is more surprised to see the other but he stops running to ask us if we’re continuing around the lake, we confirm that we are. He wishes us luck then runs off. We speculate that he may be on some sort of army training exercise then continue walking.

The increasing amounts of scree slow us considerably as we have to step carefully from rock to rock. Sometimes the rocks are small and slip easily under foot as if walking up a steep pebble beach, sometimes they’re big boulders that unnervingly tilt when you stand on them. Each section seems to get wider than the previous, it’s nearly impossible to follow the path but we start to notice small cairns that keep us on track.

It takes several hours to cross but, as the sun starts to set, we leave the scree behind us. As we walk the last couple of hundred metres we relax and watch a solitary rower on the lake, surprisingly the one and only person we’ve seen using the lake all day. We exit into some farmland through another gate with a sign that suggests conditions can be tricky when walking the path. Our pint that night is well deserved.

We’ve earned a treat so check in at the Skelwith Bridge Hotel. A proper bed and private bathroom facilities revive our spirits enough to give us the strength to walk to Elterwater one day then Ambleside the next.