(Photos all taken on different days)
Quite a few years ago now, I did another sponsored challenge in aid of my favourite cause – humane research, i.e. medical research not conducted on animals. For this I decided to do the Lakeland 3000 footers and managed to raise £500. Now, when I say I did the Lakeland 3000 footers, I don’t mean in the traditional way where you have to walk in between them making it a 45 mile walk and 11,000 feet of ascent. My own version, with my Mum driving me between the peaks in her car as acting as backup, still entailed a distance of 25 miles and 9,400 feet of ascent.
I knew I could do the distance and was pretty sure I could do 3 of the 4 hills but was a bit uncertain whether I could manage the 4th… I saw the challenge as being more psychological than physical really as, when you normally get down from a major hillwalk (which the two Scafells at the start constitute), your mind and body expect you to go to the pub and have the rest of the day off.
I picked a day towards the middle of summer as I’d need the long daylight hours – I didn’t fancy having to do any of it in the dark. My Dad originally was going to accompany me on the two Scafells as I was a bit nervous about the bit in between them but, in the end, I decided I wanted to really crack on at that stage and thought it wasn’t really fair to expect him to do them at speed.
So, when the time came, the day before the walk, my mother and I drove round to Wasdale for the night. She was to stay at Wasdale Hall, the Youth Hostel, and I planned to camp at Nether Wasdale in my Dad’s canvas ‘Blacks Guinea Tent’ – dating from around the 1930s I believe. We later found I’d definitely picked the best option!
My Mum had called at the Youth Hostel first and made her bed up – the only way to officially bag a bed in Youth Hostels – and then drove me round to Nether Wasdale to the campsite. The campsite was a really beautiful spot with hillocks, hummocks and bushes everywhere so you could get a really secluded spot to yourself. This turned out to be lucky as, it was so warm during the night, I slept on top of my sleeping bag with the tent-doors tied back and the flaps tied up all round the base of the tent – these are great tents for warm conditions.
My mother arrived back at the hostel around 2230 and got herself a bedtime drink and then went off up to the dorm. She arrived at her bed by torchlight to find… another girl sleeping in it! Now, I’d have tipped her out unceremoniously (or maybe got in alongside her for a laugh and maximum shock value ) but, for some reason, my mother didn’t and ended up having to make up the top bunk. She did make sure she made maximum movement during the night though, especially when turning over, just to ensure the bed-thief below did NOT have a good night!
Consequently, as I am a lazy so-and-so in a morning, and my Mum had a bad night (partly due to lying there fuming for quite a while), I was pretty late getting going in the morning. It was at least 10 am before I hit the start of the path up Brown Tongue en-route to Scafell Pike. At this point it was hot, sticky and sunny…
I stormed up to Hollowstones below the two Scafells and then turned left for the path up to Scafell Pike (3210 feet).
To get from the Pike to the second Scafell, I descended to Mickledoor (the col between the two mountains) and then descended down the scree-chute at the back to get to the narrow, rocky gully which heads back up to Foxes Tarn.
There were some scramblers tackling the very difficult route up Broad Stand as I passed…
I’d been down ‘Foxes Gully’ before and found going up it this time was much easier and more pleasant than the previous descent had been as some of it is quite loose and made it a bit worrying. Foxes Tarn is no more than a puddle and scarcely merits being given a name but, as it’s a permanent feature, it was named. From the tarn, there is a steep but brief stone-pitched section up to the main summit of Scafell (3162 feet).
I didn’t hang around but immediately set off down the West Ridge. Somewhere around the Black Crags area, I peeped over the side of the very long ridge and decided to take a short-cut down the scree to re-join the Brown Tongue route. I clattered uncontrollably down the scree, sliding slowly but completely unable to stop as I approached the beck at the bottom. A small crowd of people waited expectantly… I didn’t disappoint them – despite clawing with my hands and trying to dig my heels in hard, I was dumped unceremoniously in the beck by the scree chute. Oh well, it was still a nice, hot day and I could do with a cool-down…
I decided to have a drink from the beck and took a few good mouthfuls… just after I did that, I glanced upstream and saw, lying spread out all over the beck, a very green, dead sheep! I didn’t suffer any ill-effects though so she can’t have died of any virulent disease or anything…
By now, I was so hot, I’d stripped down to my bra (don’t worry, it wasn’t a see-through one – I always wear ones which are similar to bikini-tops on the hill so I can peel off without embarrassing folks). Now, normally it doesn’t bother me one jot strolling around the hills in my undies but, as I reached the narrow gate through the fell-wall, I walked smack-bang into a large group of soldiers out on exercise! Luckily I was already hot so, if I did blush, it wouldn’t have been noticeable. They were perfect gentlemen and lined up and held the gate open for me… all the better to get a good look no doubt! Oh well, possibly made their day.
I rushed on down to the waiting car complete with mother, cool drinks and raspberries from her garden – lovely. I was pretty thirsty as I’d been fairly quick over the two mountains and it was a very warm day so, when we drove round to Skiddaw, we stopped at The Castle Inn near Bassenthwaite for some tonic water. I noticed it was starting to cloud over…
By the time we came out of the pub and reached the foot of Skiddaw (3054 feet) by Mirehouse, it was drizzling with rain. I quickly marched up the forest road west of Skiddaw Dodd to the Long Doors col. I’d recce’d this route in the past and knew it was the easiest and quickest route up the fell.
From the col, a good little path takes a stile over the fence and rakes across scree, rising up to White Stones on Carlside. From there it’s an almightily steep slog up to the summit of Carlside and then, after a short descent to the tarn on the col, an even steeper one up the last 700 feet of scree to the south summit. At this stage, I was just wearing a vest top and shorts and found the cool drizzle very refreshing – this enabled me to set a cracking pace. I was soon taking the old zig-zag up the final 700 foot scree cone.
I went right along the ridge to the north summit at the far end as that’s how I believe Skiddaw should be done – it’s a lovely promenade with great views on a nice day, unfortunately this day it had none. I then came back along to the south summit and shot back down to Carlside and straight down to Millbeck at its foot where I was to meet my mother.
I’d sent her into Keswick to get some batteries for my headtorch while I’d been up Skiddaw as I was by now running fairly short of daylight and still had Helvellyn to do. I was surprised to see her just pulling into the carpark after my three hours on the hill. Apparently, when heading into town, she got caught up in some severe roadworks and ended up going round and round but not able to get to the town centre for ages. She was a surprised to see me already and asked if I’d turned back – I informed her I’d completed the peak okay – she said I must have been very quick…
We reached the foot of Helvellyn (3117 feet) at Thirlspot above Thirlmere at 7pm – I really didn’t want to be up there in the dark, headtorch or not, so that meant I had two hours to do my last peak. The weather was worsening and the cloud had come right down…
I shot gamely off up the zig-zags, ascending as fast as I could and made it to the summit mists in one hour 10 – a pretty good time! I stopped no longer than it took to touch the cairn and set off running back down. Despite a fall on the way back down, I made it back in 50 minutes just as it dropped dark – I’d done it!
The whole walk had taken more or less eleven hours. I wasn’t really tired as such but I had been right in that the challenge had been very hard psychologically. To get back to the car each time after doing quite hard hills only to have to set off for another 3000-footer got harder as the day went on. I never saw a soul on either Skiddaw or Helvellyn and that made it even harder. Rather than elated, I felt rather wrung-out afterwards and so we went off to one of the Grasmere pubs for me to re-hydrate with more tonic water, recuperate and cheer up a bit chatting to my mother.
I did feel good about it the next day though, and even better when I’d collected the money for my good cause!