Monday, 2 May 2016

Scafell Pike - 30 April

Last night's discussions concluded with the, perhaps reluctant, acceptance that we wouldn't be able to get round the "Old County Tops" route today. In fact, we are far from certain what we will be able to do so the new plan is to set off a couple of hours later than originally intended, make our way to Scafell Pike and then on to Raw Head in Great Langdale by whatever route seem fun and feasible at the time.
The weather looks better than any of us expected from the forecast but you can't see far up the valley from here. There could be blizzards on the Scafell massif and you wouldn't know this far down Borrowdale. We leave Seathwaite about twenty past seven on cold morning under a leaden sky. The forecast suggested we should enjoy sunny intervals but not until after 10 o'clock and there are no signs they will arrive early.
Approaching the Sty Head Tarn a squally shower of hail and ice blows through and all get into waterproofs, Looby is already wearing her coat - not because of the cold but because she doesn't like rain and there could be plenty of that even if it falls as snow. By the time we reach the tarn the shower has gone and some of the waterproofs are returned to rucksacks.

Julian at the Stretcher Box

Phil & Julian crossing Sty Head

I have a slight concern about the 'bad step' on the Corridor Route but Phil is happy we will be able to deal with it. Confident we will find the Corridor Route, deal with its difficulties and reach Scafell Pike summit in a reasonable time we leave Sty Head. As we begin to gain height the snow gets deeper and wetter and the going gets slower and slower. We may or may not have found the Corridor Route but before long we realise we are probably not going to be able to find or follow it.
The ridge is clagged in and even Lingmell disappears into clouds from time to time. We have a bit of a quandary now because the route is completely concealed and we are probably above it already. The ridge we can see on the skyline has another beyond it and we don't know what lies between them but the 'only way is up'. Initially this isn't entirely obvious but the more we look to the west the more we realise we would probably have to down climb to get into the next gully, which isn't Little Narrowcove. This means we would probably have to climb out and then back down into the next one as well. This must be obvious to everyone because the possibility isn't even discussed.
Up it is, steep and unrelenting but exhilarating and very enjoyable. The views down to Wasdale Head are beautiful, the fells around the head of the valley are covered in snow high up and their tops are wreathed in clouds. This is like deep mid-winter, not unpleasant and not too cold probably because the ridge is sheltering us from whatever wind there might be. The conditions confirm the wisdom of last night's decision - we wouldn't have been able to get round the Old County Tops today, not even in 24 hours had we been prepared to struggle on for that long.
Eventually we gain the ridge and Phil correctly realises we are almost on the summit of Great End when we gain the ridge. We can see one of the summit cairns as we put more clothes on and grab a bite to eat.

Wasdale Head

Great Gable

John climbing Great End

The clouds are beginning to lift from Scafell Pike, just as forecast which is very encouraging. Conditions underfoot are not improving - the snow won't take our weight but allows a carelessly place foot to slip deep between the rocks which means that although the snow isn't as deep the going is just as slow or even slower. There are already people on the summit and we pass a couple of well equipped small parties coming down as we make our way to the summit cairn.

Julian Lunching on Scafell Pike

The clouds are lifting and we enjoy lunch in sunshine as well a gentle snow shower or two on the summit.Now there is no question about a wandering route or visiting other summits on the way to Raw Head, the shortest route is going to be slow and anything else isn't even considered. Slow going to is and we now encounter the crowds making their way up, initially they are well equipped and moving pretty well but the closer we get to the valley the less well equipped the groups are and the less well they are moving.

Looking north from Scafell Pike

Esk Hause

Down below the snow line we are in warm sunshine, we have entered another world or at the least another season or two. I am not sure about the others but I don't have the legs to include Helvellyn on the way back to Borrowdale and when alternatives are discussed no one makes the case for including it. To put all this into some sort of perspective - we reach Raw Head at or around the time I thought we probably would have done after having crossed the Great Moss, Mosedale and having been to Coniston Old Man. Our route back will be to cross to Grasmere and walk up Far Easdale to Greenup Edge and then down into Borrowdale.

Great Langdale

Great Langdale is bathed in warm sunshine as we set off for Grasmere. The 'crossing' to Grasmere is as delightful as always, more so because we aren't going on to Helvellyn. It is a pretty long way up the valley to reach the bogs at the top of Wythburn but the evening sunshine is very pleasant and we have a buttie break just below the head of the valley.

Ged, Julian, Phil and Looby descending to Grasmere

Looking towards Buttermere from Greenup Edge

Evening Sun in Borrowdale 1

Evening Sun in Borrowdale 2

Evening Sun in Borrowdale 3

Not the day out we planned but a great one nevertheless even if my first Fell & Rock CC themed Meet had its theme removed. The Old County Tops will be there for next year and we will be back for another attempt.

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