All the Fells: Scafell

Scafell – The Southern Fells 3,162′ (171)

Date: 29 April 1993/4 August 1996

From: Slight Side/Wasdale Head

Originally, Scafell was thought to be the highest fell in Cumberland, as its name attests: to the shepherds who work these fells and who named them, it was the obviously more important mountain, and the one that was eventually found to be higher than it was merely ‘The Pikes near Scafell’. It ended up being the last of Lakeland’s four 3,000 footers that I climbed, and whereas I ascended each of the other three four times in total, I only reached Scafell’s top twice. Both days were, however, magic. The first was from Eskdale, by the Terrace Route and Slight Side to begin with. Beyond the latter, a long, intriguing, surprisingly grassy shoulder of land, on which the path stunned me by being so intermittent in its lower stages, took me upwards. It was a very long way, though the walking underfoot offered me nothing but distance by way of difficulty. I was in a heightened state following this way, filled with anticipation. I couldn’t believe how far I had to walk, and how over such a distance I could still be going uphill, with no longer any vistas ahead to suggest how much further until the summit arrived all at once and I was there. To descend, after I had rested and revelled in just being there, and had roused my incipient vertigo by trying and failing to peer down Deep Ghyll, I descended right from the col, into the deep groove that led me down to Foxes Tarn. It was relaid almost to the tarn itself and was thus easy to manage but what held my attention was the feeling that I was descending into a secret chamber in the mountain: no exit was discernible from above. The Tarn was tiny, no bigger than an average living room, dominated by a boulder the size of a three-piece suite. When I reached its shores, the exit opened up, around a corner to the left, and down a stony channel to the path from Cam Spout to Mickledore. I descended by the five point method: five points of contact with the ground, four of them fixed at every moment. Five? Two hands, two feet, one bum. Below Mickledore I turned right, descended to Cam Spout. It was my second descent by its steepness and I no more relished it than the first. I crossed the low horizon to my left, into that lonely, amazing, tip-tilted valley in the sky, down to the Catcove Zigzags, Taw House Farm and the long but happy road walk back to my car at Wha House Farm. My second visit was all about climbing Lord’s Rake. From the car park at the Lake head, up the steep valley between the two mountains that we had ascended as a family, but for a first time onwards, by Brown Tongue to Hollow Stones and that amazing cirque of silent crags, the sun’s rays falling over their rim. A long scree fan, taken slowly but steadily, the ground never 100% stable underfoot, until I worked round to the right and into the bottom of Lord’s Rake. That stony, bare, wide groove, high grey walls on either side, testing each step, the angle increasing until it was so steep getting to the top, before the days of the perched boulder on the first col, that I entirely missed the access to the West Wall Traverse. Then down and up, twice, on a narrow path with no protective wall shielding me from the falling fellside to my right, but up and out, and I had walked Lord’s Rake: Dad, you would have been so proud! And so envious. I was so adrenalised by doing that safely that I fairly shot up the rest of that flank to the summit. I had no dreams of descending the bland, tedious looking Greenside slope back to the lake, so I came down by Foxes Tarn again, the relaid path treacherous, indeed next-to-invisible under the loosened stone and scree. But I was so charged up that, instead of coming back over Mickledore, as soon as I got back up there I turned off to climb the Pike again, which I certainly hadn’t intended to. According to Wainwright, there’s only one rougher ridge-route in the whole Lake District, and that’s this one in the opposite direction, so I had every right to feel so excited that, once I found a phone box in Eskdale, I rang my girlfriend at home to boast about it. And all this on a Sunday that had started at 6.00am in Manchester.

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