Wainwright Walks 23: Sleepless on Scafell Pike

Hills:Scafell Pike, Lingmell
Wainwrights: 58 and 59
Time: ugh, don’t ask.
Weather: okay, though clag at the summit
Conditions underfoot: dry. Good paths throughout except for the descent off Lingmell. Stony/ bouldery terrain in part.
Who: me and the mountaineering minion
MWIS accuracy: medium. 80% cloud free and dry in the west translated to very light rain and some clag which blew in and out
Post walk watering hole: The Unicorn, Ambleside
Post walk drink: Merlot

What would make the ideal training regime for climbing England’s highest mountain? Probably something involving trips to the gym, shorter walks, etc… the sort of thing a sensible person would do. However, my training regime for this one was pretty much every bit as haphazard as my preparation for climbing the highest mountains in Scotland (Ben Nevis in 2010) and Wales (Snowdon in 2011).

My preparation for Ben Nevis went as follows: have a hectic week at work, trying to cram 5 days work into 4. Drive from London to my parents in Birmingham on the Thursday night. Drive from Birmingham to the Lake District on the Friday morning. Belt up Skiddaw in record time (for me) on the Friday afternoon. Drive to Scotland. Pick up Stuart from delayed plane at 11pm. Drive back to his parents. Get about 4 hours sleep at best getting up at 4am in order to get to the Torlundy car park for 9am for a friend’s compleation. Do Ben Nevis via the CMD arête in dodgy weather and see nothing from the top.. Snowdon was at least slightly better in that I managed about 5 hours sleep rather than 4 after a hellish drive to where my walking club was staying and I ended up plodding up the Pyg track on adrenalin and seeing nothing from the top apart from hordes of people – busiest summit I have ever seen by a mile.

As to Scafell Pike. I had booked a Friday off work at last minute to take advantage of a supposed weather window. I did not particularly want to do Scafell Pike on a weekend due to the crowds that might involve and with June also being the peak month (pun not intentional) for Three Peaks attempts a weekday blast seemed sensible. I had booked myself into a Travelodge on the Thursday night on the motorway just south of Kendal and B&B in a pub in Ambleside on the Friday night. For once there was no transport debacle as I had a pretty clear run up the motorway (although driving through a thunderstorm was not something I can say I particularly enjoyed). So what could possibly go wrong?

This time the answer was lack of sleep. I hadn’t slept well on the Wednesday and had had to get up at 5.30am in order to drive the car round to North London. I did manage to leave work early and the plan was to hit the pit at about 10.30/ 11, get up at say 6.45 and then head off to Wasdale which I reckoned would be about 90 minutes drive from the Travelodge. However it took me ages to go to sleep and I then woke up at about 4.30am. After tossing and turning for a bit I eventually gave up at 5.30, got up feeling pretty grim, and showered and made myself a cup of tea on autopilot. I’m not sure which of the Radox pink grapefruit shower gel or the tea did the trick of perking me up but by 6.30 I was feeling a bit more human and decided I may as well get underway. I got to Wasdale Head shortly after 8 and stuffed in an emergency breakfast of bananas and fat coke (for energy) and after the inevitable faffing about I started up the hill at 8.30. Any worries about parking were unfounded as there was only one other car and a minibus there, both for Three Peaks attempts, though the car park was pretty much full when I got back down.


The start of the path from Wasdale Head is quite nicely graded as it rises gently to meet the more direct route up from the National Trust car park at the Lingmell Gill ford. I’d been told this could be awkward after rain and in spate I am sure it is but after the recent dry spell it presented no problems.


The next stage of the walk is a grunt up the side of Brown Tongue on a constructed path which is clearly undergoing some work as there were bags of rocks dropped all over the place. It is also steep, and I can imagine would be a pain to descend after rain as it would be slippery. Despite the lack of sleep at this point I was feeling pretty good and making good time pretty much up to Hollow Stones – at which point my get up and go promptly evaporated. In hindsight I had probably gone off too fast and should have taken it more steadily – it was still pretty early however so I slowed my pace and kept plodding upwards. The path becomes a really good path for a while as it approaches Lingmell Col, then degenerates again once it starts to climb Scafell Pike – to be fair given the bouldery nature of the terrain there probably isn’t much that can be done about that, but I would not personally want to be trying to descend that sort of terrain in the dark.


The views as I climbed were very good, particularly over to Great Gable and Styhead Tarn, although the summit of the Pike remained covered. The path is pretty clear the whole way though I can see given there are lots of cairned paths it would be pretty easy to take the wrong one in the mist and end up in completely the wrong valley. I eventually reached the summit of England at 11.20 and was able to report that the views from the highest points of England, Scotland and Wales are basically identical and all consist of grey clag! The cloud did clear from time to time but never really enough to permit a decent photograph. Given the reputation of this hill for being about as busy as Sauchiehall Street/ Oxford Street (depending if Scottish or English) there were relatively few people about. At about 11.50 I gave up waiting for it to clear, not least as it was quite cold, and headed off back down towards Lingmell Col, again getting some good views.


Decision time: was I going to go up Lingmell? It was ultimately a no-brainer as there seemed very little additional ascent, although the short ascent is pretty steep and the path has degenerated into ball bearing like slidy scree, so I probably spent more time off the path than on it. I was at the summit, which had a cracking view, shortly before 1 and stopped for my lunch to take in the view and relax.


I had a pretty extended break as the tiredness was starting to catch up with me a bit, finally setting off at about 1.30. I decided against going down the scree path and instead dropped off the summit taking a line to join up with the Pike path lower down. This presented no difficulties and I was back on the Scafell Pike motorway before too long. There were now a lot of people about, mostly on the way up and in a variety of degrees of preparedness/ suitability of kit (in particular there seemed to be very few maps in evidence).

The descent unfortunately seemed interminable – one of my knees had started to hurt and on the steep bit down Brown Tongue I slowed to a crawl and felt absolutely knackered. It seemed to take forever to reach the Lingmell Gill crossing and shortly before the crossing one of my feet went out from under me. Thankfully (or embarrassingly depending on your point of view) this was on an easy bit of path and I just subsided gently onto my bum with no harm done except to my pride. Picked myself up and carried straight on but the last bit of the walk seemed to take forever and it was 3.30 before I reached the car, just as the heavens opened. A 2 hour drive to Ambleside then followed – I won’t drive over the Hardknott Pass so had to take a fairly circuitous route and got stuck behind a coach for what felt like ages which didn’t help matters. Finally got to the pub (The Unicorn) shortly after 5.30 where the inevitable post walk drinks were waiting, as was a trip to the Salutation to use their hot tub – just the thing for post walk aches and pains!


All in all it was a tougher walk than I had perhaps thought it would be, and it was a shame not to get the views although the ones I did get were excellent particularly from Lingmell. It was also nice to do a walk from Wasdale, which is an area I had not done any walking in before and indeed hadn’t visited at all for 13 years (in my non walking days). A lot of the hills around there (Kirk Fell and Yewbarrow in particular) look pretty tough, and I suspect I’ll end up tackling Great Gable from Honister Pass, not least given that makes using public transport an option. On balance though, a good day on the hill, though a tiring one – in bed by 9.30 for a blissful 9 hours sleep!


4 thoughts on “Wainwright Walks 23: Sleepless on Scafell Pike

  1. On of my regrets was not doing Lingmell when I went up Scafell Pike via the corridor route. I made Lingmell col pretty well but went straight up the pike instead. I returned over Broad Crag and Great End which means I still have to do Lingmell!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t do well from lack of sleep either – it’s probably the thing which finishes me off quickest now I’m older. I usually get better during the walk though rather than worse – perhaps that’s because I completely plod from the outset (as does Richard uphill).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, I think it would have been better if I had plodded it! I went off faster than usual then ran out of steam. I probably should have had a snack earlier than I did too!

    All in all 8 hours sleep in the previous 2 days wasn’t the greatest prep..


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