Tobar nan Ceann Gang

The blog of a bunch of middle aged men trying to stay youthful…!

Sep-11-2011

Scafell Pike Weekend

Skafell Pike

Back down to the Lake District for the latest adventure of the TNC Gang, this time to tackle England’s highest Mountain – Scafell Pike and to try the scary looking Via Ferrata on Fleetwith Pike at Honister. The weekend was also going to be the first time of staying in a Youth Hostel which given our ages, seemed inappropriately named!

Stevie and Jay were TNC debutants for the weekend and they were joined by Hammy, Jock, the two Johns and Toba from north of the border and Craig and Neal from Bolton. Previous TNC trips had seen some pretty favourable weather – not this time!!! Has anyone ever been any wetter?!

After very early starts from our homes we met up at Seathwaite in time for us to make a start on the hike just after 9am. The plan was to ascent Scafell Pike using a route in a recent ‘Trail’ Magazine that would also allow us to conquer 2 other Wainwrights – Scafell and Great End. As we set off from Seathwaite Farm, the rain was coming down steadily, the hills were shrouded in mist and the forecast was gloomy. The rivers in the valley bottoms were running fast and deep whilst the becks and waterfalls on the sides of the fells were white with fast, cascading water.

Given the conditions the initial progress was quite slow and it was obvious that the longer planned route, wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. So we divided into 2 groups. The two Johns and Toba went off to Wasdale whilst the rest of us battled on up the hillside.

The higher we climbed the gloomier it got. We followed the path as best we could but there were times when we just weren’t certain where we were going! We did our best with the maps and GPS but eventually, soaked to the skin and waning in enthusiasm, we abandoned plans for a longer route and concentrated on getting to the top of Scafell Pike.

The route was made easier by the presence of many cairns marking the way. They were a godsend in the conditions and for all those campaigning to have them removed – think again! The upper slopes of Scafell Pike are characterised by large boulder fields. They were very slippy and awkward to cross and progress was very slow. Eventually though we made it to the top. Any expectations of feelings of euphoria were replaced by relief and a desperate struggle not to get blown over!

We didn’t stay long and promptly set off back down the hill. We chose to return to Seathwaite via Esk Hause and after a couple of wrong turns we were back on track and clambering over boulders, following the cairns. Much of the return was alongside streams which were still raging and thunderously noisy! On many occasions we had to try and cross them – ordinarily that would mean nothing more than stepping across but today it was about jumping, hoping and getting very wet feet!

Finally we returned to the car at Seathwaite Farm, surprised that the 2 Johns and Toba hadn’t yet got back down the mountain. Theirs is a separate tale…!

It was a good walk and very challenging in the conditions, but this is one that I would like to try again in the future – just in better conditions!

 

 

Youth Hostel

Overnight accommodation was arranged at the Borrowdale Youth Hostel. It was the first time that we had used any of the YHA properties and any worries about us being too old were well wide of the mark! If anything we were possibly the youngest of the 80+ people staying on Saturday night!

Having booked accommodation for 8 of us we were allocated bunk beds in the one 8 bunk room that they had… not ideal! The facilities were good though. Thankfully they had tumble dryers as well as a drying room; cooked meals (and kitchen facilities for anyone wishing to cook their own) and perhaps most importantly – alcohol was available from reception!

The fact that there was 9 of us meant that Jay had to stay at the nearby Gillecombe Bed and Breakfast accommodation. It was warm and comfortable and he was mothered by the landlady who made sure he was fed and watered and that all of his clothes and boots were warm and dry by the morning!

Sunday 4th September

Woke up with a slightly dodgy head but pleasantly surprised that I’d enjoyed a full nights sleep considering I was in a room with 7 other blokes! Thankfully the rainclouds of yesterday were replaced by bright blue skies and warm sunshine which was a relief for us all.

After a reasonable cooked breakfast at the Youth Hostel, we paid a visit to Keswick to see the Castlerigg Stone Circle. The circle is around 4,500 years old and is surrounded by fells on every side, a fabulous setting and well worth a visit, even if it isn’t quite on the same scale as Stonehenge!

But looking around the ancient stones was only really filling in time, waiting for the main event. Unfortunately the Via Ferrata wasn’t booked until 3pm so there was a little more waiting still to be done. This gave those not taking part the opportunity to leave for home and so goodbyes were said to the two Johns, Stevie and Toba.

After enjoying coffees and then lunch in Keswick it was soon time for the Via Ferrata which is located on Fleetwith Pike at Honister. Via Ferrata actually means ‘Road of Iron’ and involves ascending the steep rock face by standing on step irons drilled deep (hopefully!) into the rock. At all times you are harnessed and clipped onto a steel cable for safety but there are still places where fear strikes home!

There were about a dozen people in our party and after putting on the harnesses and hard hats it was time to make a start on the initial ascent up the mountain. The advertised 4×4 transportation turned out to be an old bus, but no worries as we bagged the back seat! There were also a few children in the party which took away any apprehension that I might have had!

After a brief walk through dark and wet mine tunnels we arrived at the start point on the cliff face and attached our harnesses to the cable. Every few metres or so, we would reach a point where the cable is fixed to the rock and so the harness had to be unclipped and then reclipped on the other side. Having two clips meant that you were always clipped on – unless you were daft enough to unclip them both at the same time!

At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that they don’t allow you to use your own camera. I thought that that was just so that you would purchase the official photographs, but its probably because a camera is easy to drop… gutted!

Anyway, its fair to say that I have had sweaty palms every time I’ve thought about the Via Ferrata for weeks. But in all honesty most of the climb wasn’t scary. I felt totally secure on the harness and had no problems leaning over the edge – totally reliant on the safety equipment. Possibly the hardest aspects of the trip were the ascent of vertical ladders (which relied quite a bit on upper body strength – not exactly my forte!) and climbing round corners that required a very long step – pushing out your foot and hoping to feel something secure to stand on!

Mid way through the ascent was a zip wire crossing which added to the overall experience but in truth that was over just a bit too quickly! After that it was back on the steel rope and up to the top, passing a few psycho mountain sheep that make light work of the terrain. Group pictures were taken at the top before a speedy walk back down the hill to the café that was now closing for the day.

All in all the activity lasted for about 3 hours and was very good value at £35. I personally think that it would be very good to help anyone overcome a little fear of heights – I know it worked for me!

Why not have a look at the weekends photo’s, Scafell Pike Weekend Photo Galleries

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