Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Wainwright’s Seven Summits – 08 May

Between 1955 and 1966 Alfred Wainwright wrote the definitive 7 volume set of Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. Selection of fells in the Pictorial Guides is completely uncontaminated by any objective criteria which has the advantage of avoiding any revision of the original list of 214 fells. More than mere lists and more than mere guide books these volumes are unique in their depth, detail and style with handwritten type and sketches of the fells. Dividing the Lake District into seven areas naturally creates, amongst other sub-lists, a list of the highest summit in each area - “Wainwright’s Seven Summits”. I am not aware of any recognised route visiting the Seven Summits although it has been acknowledged by long distance walkers as an informal “challenge” for some time it has been run round only once, by John Fleetwood in 2008. The challenge is simple – visit each of the seven summits in any order and finish at your starting point. The distance is about 62 miles with 19,000-20,000 feet of climbing depending on route choice. Unlike other big days in the Lakes, Bob Graham Round or Joss Naylor Traverse I wanted to solo this one, albeit with road support from Pauline & Keith, carrying my own kit and doing all the route finding.

At 09:00 on Saturday morning I set off from Cow Bridge car park to visit High Raise (1), Scafell Pike (2), Great Gable (3), Grasmoor (4), Skiddaw (5), Helvellyn (6) and High Street (7).

AW 7-001 Keith & Pauline at the start

AW 7-002 Grisedale Tarn with Scafell Pike (2), Great Gable (3) and Grasmoor (4) on the distant skyline

AW 7-003Helvellyn (6) in the centre of the skyline

AW 7-004 Leaving Dunmail for High Raise (1)

The first couple of hours running took me to Dunmail Raise for the final approach to High Raise. This was long enough to establish that the bitterly cold wind was going to be troublesome for the rest of the day and was going to need heavier clothing than I had first hoped. The fell top forecast suggested 25-30 mph winds gusting to 40-50 mph but this seemed both very pessimistic and in complete contrast to conditions in the valleys.

AW 7-005 From High Raise (1) with Scafell Pike (2) just left of centre, Great Gable (3) right of centre in shadow and Grasmoor (4) further to the right.

AW 7-006 On High Raise

AW 7-007 Great Gable (3) with sunshine on the summit and shadows on near face

AW 7-009 Looking back to Scafell Pike (2) – highest point on the skyline

AW 7-010 Grasmoor (4) in the centre on the skyline

AW 7-011 Looking back towards Scafell Pike (2) over Great Gable (3)

AW 7-012 Looking west from Grasmoor (4)

AW 7-013

Last look over the fells to the south and west from Grasmoor (4)

The wind was a problem throughout the day and although I lost a little time over the first three I recovered it to descend Grasmoor back on schedule as the day drew to a close. Another couple of Rucksack Club members, Rae & Helen (whose BGR isn’t far away, see BGR Recce) looked in to see how I was doing and provide some very welcome encouragement. Rae was optimistic the wind would drop as darkness fell and I hoped he was right. After a couple of breaks for food and additional clothing I started climbing Skiddaw (5) about 30 minutes down but still happy I could get through the night without losing much more time.

Conditions on the summit ridge were worse than anything I had experienced all day. Zero visibility, near freezing temperatures with the wind gusting to close to 40 mph (the fell top forecast wasn’t unduly pessimistic) and I felt awfully alone in the darkness. Struggling to keep warm and keep moving I was glad to see the first fence emerge from the darkness to confirm I was on the right route and dropping down on the correct side of the fell. The long descent to the next road crossing where Keith and Pauline were waiting gave me time to consider whether I wanted to repeat the experience again on the next summit and I didn’t. 5 out of 7 ain’t bad, as Meatloaf might have sung, 42 miles and about 14,500 feet of climbing isn’t a bad day out and all I have to do now is find another weekend to try again.


  1. Great effort regardless, and what sounds like a grand day out. Well done, and good luck for your next attempt.

  2. Simply stunnig.
    (Not too sure I would want to be up there at night though.)

    As for 42miles and 14,500ft being 'not bad'. I think you might be being a tad harsh on yourself there!

  3. Nice pictures! I never thought of the UK as being so mountainous. The one thing that strikes me is the lack of foilage (trees, shrubs). We have our share of mountains here in California, but except at the highest altitudes (over 10,000 feet high) they are covered in dense forest or chaparal.

  4. Glenn - the tree line is at a low level in the UK. much lower than the rest of Europe. These mountains are all in one little corner of north west England. North Wales has slightly higher mountains and in Scotland they can be another 1000 feet higher than the highest here. There should be pictures from Scotland in a few weeks time.

  5. what a great challenge. i'm surprised it's not more popular. 5/7 is extremely good going, particularly as a solo attempt. top effort!! look forward to hearing about 7/7 in the near future :)

  6. Awesome run, Ian, and an interesting challenge. You'd have made it without those icy winds for sure. I hope you make it next time,


  7. 42 miles and about 14,500 feet of climbing is a very good day, especially on a solo attempt. You're a better man than I am Gunga Din! Nice set of pictures too, as ever. Looking forward to viewing your pictures from Scotland. What part of Scotland are you going to?

  8. We are going up to Ballachulish for a few days