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An Unusual Ascent of the Scafell Pikes

Another episode in the career of Bob Cross.

Many well known paths climb Scafell and Scafell Pike from the radial valleys of Borrowdale, Eskdale, Wastdale and Langdale.  I have ascended a few of the better known routes and enjoyed them all - in particular the Corridor Route from Sty Head Pass via the head of the spectacular Piers Gill.

During a midweek stay in Langdale in the late spring of 1974, I was invited by two friends to join them on an unusual round trip of the Scafells.  One of' these friends, Mike Rose from Leeds, is an authority on Lakeland fell walking and his company on the fells is both informative and jovial. Andrew Sagar, my other companion, is an accomplished rock climber, a born optimist and a very enthusiastic walker. Needless to say, I found myself in rather superior company.  We were all encamped on the National Trust site at the head of Langdale and our walk started and finished there.

It was a warm spring morning with a clear sky, good visibility and the promise of a settled day. After a good breakfast we started off, the time was a quarter to ten.  Our path lay across the flat pasture land surrounding Stool End Farm, through the outbuildings and across the open fell side to the foot of the Band, a long spur running East/West down .from the summit of Bow Fell.  The Band is a steep, rocky ascent of a mile and a half, and the path leads you to the col between Bow Fell (2,960’) and Crinkle Crags.  In the col are there small tarns, called simply ‘Three Tarns’ but a more apt title would have been ‘Three Puddles.’  From there, we got a fine view of our objectives, Scafell (3,162') Mickledore and Seafell Pike (3,206') overlooking Yeastrigg Crags.  Below, and to the south, we could see the head of Linecove Beck in an area of lush, marshy ground befittingly titled Green Hole.  We followed a feeder stream down the heathy hillside into the hole, getting a boot full of slime and sphagnum moss on our way. A halt was called here in order to empty this sludge from our footwear.  Rather a wild spot was Green Hole - surrounded by dark crags and silent apart from the gentle murmur of the beck and the faint swishing of the breeze through the tussocks.  The apparent illogicality of our route had dawned on me by now as I stared - blinking up at the thirteen hundred feet of hillside we had come down and the three hundred feet we were just about to go up.  I began to think my companions were a pair of lunatics.

The next leg of the mystery tour took us across the Southern end of Yeastrigg Crags and into upper Eskdale at the back of Scafell.  t proved hard going.

A bite to eat; a mash of tea, followed by a footbath and a nap.  What more could a weary mortal want?  That was our dinner break, and we took it at the foot of the well-known Carn Spout Waterfall, a perfect spot for camping or bivouacking.  At this time, the waterfall was in spate, and a fine sight it made.

Upper Eskdale lies between the Scafells, Esk House and Yeastrigg Crags.  The back of the valley is flat and composed largely of moraine, the result of the glaciation and frost shattering of the surrounding peaks.  In dry weather, the infant Esk sinks into the pebbles a quarter of a mile below its confluence with Carn Spout.  The vegetation is almost entirely tussocky grasses and bracken.  In the winter, the whole place is one huge bog when the overlying peat becomes saturated with floodwater.  The most striking feature of the valley is Dow Crag - better known to climbers as the Esk Buttress and situated on the lower slopes of Scafell Pike.

I remember the ascent from Carn Spout to Scafell as being exhausting but nonetheless interesting and very worthwhile.  The first stretch was over steep, sharp rock at the side of the Spout.  This was followed by steep to moderate scree and boulders that led directly to the Col of Mickledore.   After approximately a thousand feet, we turned left off the main path and started up a steep gulley, full of loose blocks which brought us to 'Fox's Tarn'.  Again, like Three Tarns, nothing more than a puddle.  From here, a steep, coarse scree of about three hundred brought us to the summit of Scafell (3,162').

Scafell stands at the Southern tip of a huge arc of mountains that overlook Wastwater.  The summits along the arc could all be seen clearly.  Starting with Haycock (2,618') we could see Scout Fell (2,760') Pillar (2,927') Kirk Fell (2,630') Great Gable (2,946') and finally Scafell Pike.  Features such as Calder Hall Atomic Power Station, the Isle of Man and the Pennines could also be seen.  The green undulations of Cumberland’s coast with wide expanses of sea provided contrast to the frowning mountains.

We got as close as we could to the sheer cliffs of the Central Buttress and gazed down at the jumble of boulders at its feet, called Hollow Stones.  Somewhere down there was the traverse known as Lord's Rake, along which our path was to take us.  Actually, the descent and traverse of Lord’s Rake was not too hairy.  There seemed to be more danger from loose rock and rotten snow than from exposed heights.  In all, about eight hundred feet is lost by the time you have descended to the foot of the Rake.  The traverse across to Mickledore is short and sharp, albeit a little loose and slippery.

Lord's Rake at the time seemed to be a by-word amongst Lakeland fell walkers.  It had been a scene of tragedy as recently as last Christmas, when a schoolmaster and his son had died in the snow while trying to cross it. I recall a feeling of mild satisfaction at having negotiated it safely.  Rock climbers and walkers with a head for heights can descend from Scafell to Mickledore by Broad Strand.  I've looked at it from both directions, but haven't yet dared to venture forth. Rather a well known member of the B.C.R.A. reckons to have descended Broad Strand clad in gum boots and without an ice axe in January!  That’s what he told me, anyway.  For information, there is a Mountain Rescue Kit box strategically positioned below Broad strand.

From Mickledore, our walk took us up over a boulder field to the cairn atop Scafell Pike, England's loftiest spot.

At this point, we must leave Bob until next month!  (Ed.)