All good walks end up in the pub. Today’s ascent of England’s tallest mountain, Scafell Pike, was a good walk. And I’m writing this in the pub with that first pint glow adding a silver lining to a cloud that didn’t require one in the first place.
It wasn’t the perfect day to climb Scafell, far from it. Despite the Daily Express promising a return of the heatwave that global warming has flung in our direction this summer, today in the western Lakes was always damp, often wet and never hot. At least in wasn’t cold. And at least I set off to climb the mountain at 9am (or thereabouts). Most of the campsite at Wasdale had yet to emerge from their tents by the time I’d set off although I did manage to squeeze in three interesting conversations. The first with an Anglo-American actor who had slept in the covered area beside the reception as his bus to get to Wasdale had broken down (his mission for today was to phone a taxi, return to civilisation and forget about camping and hiking for the rest of his life). The second with the guy running the reception who gave me some route advice and updated me on the weather (which turned out to be about as wrong as you can get but hey! The National Trust are a charity so I’m sure his advice was well meaning. Just utterly wrong…). The third was a chap on an adjacent pitch who asked if I intended to climb the mountain. We had a good discussion – he had done the same thing yesterday – before he launched into a character assassination of his travelling companion. The friend was responsible for the Scottish leg of their four-day trip and he had been responsible for the English section. Two days in the lakes had cost £60. Two days in Scotland near £500. He was not happy and blamed his friend’s need for a decent night of sleep. Having spent many, many nights in the tent where the decision to get up has been based not upon when I have woken up but upon when I have stopped making the effort to fall asleep, I could see where his friend was coming from. That said, £500??? I suspect the friend might have been trying to make a point. It’s now nearly 4pm and they must be well over the Scottish border. I wonder if they are still on speaking terms.
Anyway, I left the campsite at 9am ish. The climbing kicked in almost immediately after the campsite and continued at roughly the same rate for the next three hours. I entered cloud at perhaps 600 metres and the views disappeared. Although armed with an OS map both in my hand and on the phone, map reading was a smug optional extra (as I can read a map and still cling to the dubious belief that anyone that knows how to read a map and stand on the side of a mountain studying one and pointing is a notch up the walking stick of coolness; I stress the word ‘dubious’). The optionalness of the map was because of two other factors. Firstly, the National Trust, who own the land, have seen fit to build a hiking motorway to the top. Secondly, the presence of many other people on the mountain walking in exactly the same direction as me. It wasn’t rocket science finding your way to the top or back down. It required no other skill than being able to walk up and down a rather steep gradient. It didn’t stop me pausing from time to time, however, to consult the map and point.
The weather started to turn when I was nearing the summit. Everything was now shrouded in cloud so there was no view other than that of rocks seen through a lace curtain that got thicker the further away I looked. Then the drizzle started. Could it have been haling at the trig point? Perhaps. Along with perhaps half a dozen other hikers, I sheltered and scoffed a few healthy snacks from Clearspring on the eastern side of the memorial. It is England’s highest (how could it not be?). The rain was increasingly hard, and horizontal. Viagra rain? But we didn’t really appreciate this until we started to shift away from the protected eastern side of the monument. (Think person-high roundhouse made from stone about the size of big circular rug from Ikea rather than plinth with a soldier standing on top.) Once we did move, everyone seemed to have one purpose in mind; to get to the bottom rather more quickly than they had come up.
I smiled at the poor souls who were continuing to ascend in the rain and wind. Some asked how far it was. Some seemed determined to plough on regardless. Some were huddled in consultation with only one thing on the agenda: should we turn back? Some were men with maps and had points to prove… I did hear one woman try to console her teenage son: “Well I’ve told him I think we should turn back…”. She wasn’t, perhaps, appreciating the unstoppable force of nature that is created when a man, a map and a mountain come together in the same place.
The only issue I was having in descending was that of negotiating the hiking highway that has been built by the National Trust. I can see the need for such a thing but it’s far easier to negotiate when going up than when coming down. With the stone being wet, it was the stuff of dreams for an under occupied health and safety officer. The predominant angle of the rocks was down rather than either flat or up. I saw my career as world explorer flash before my eyes on more than one occasion.
To bring this tale to a close, I’m now back on dry land. Or rather, in a dry tent. The rain continues to fall after a pre- and post-pub pause. I’d love to crack on with a bit of cooking but even with its large porch area I’m not sure that under the man-made fabric of my Vango F10 Xenon 2+ is the best place to light my camping stove. I’ll have to wait while sipping another glass of National Trust wine. From Rioja… Cheers!