Saturday, 16 January 2016

Scafell Pike

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Route: Seathwaite Farm, Stockley Bridge, Greenhow Knott, Styhead Gill, Styhead Tarn, Spout Head, Skew Gill, Corridor Route, Lingmell Col, Scafell Pike, Broad Crag Col, Calf Cove, Esk Hause, Ruddy Gill, Grains, Stockley Bridge, Seathwaite Farm

Date: 16/01/2016
From: Seathwaite

Parking: Roadside parking in Seathwaite
Start Point: Seathwaite Farm
Region: Southern Fells

Route length: 8.8 miles (14.1 km)
Time taken: 05:01
Average speed: 1.7 mph
Ascent: 983m
Descent: 995m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Scafell Pike (978m)

Additional summits: None

Other points of interest: Styhead Tarn, Corridor Route

With winter now well and truly under way I had my sights set on scaling England's highest peak; Scafell Pike. Without wanting to drive all the way round to Wasdale to tackle the Hollow Stones route I chose a route up from Seathwaite which would take in the Corridor Route, a tad ambitious for a solo winter outing perhaps but, crucially, a route I had done before and knew well. With all the gear packed the night before, it was an early morning drive over the Pennines to arrive at Seathwaite Farm at 0900. I had been treated to a glorious sunrise as I drove past Blencathra and the forecast was predicting a sparkling sunny day.

Keeping things simple I set off up towards Stockley Bridge where I took the main path up alongside Styhead Gill to Styhead Tarn, a popular meeting point between a number of the main Lakeland valleys. Up to this point the going had been fairly straightforward with just a few icy bits to avoid on the steps leading up from the valley. Despite the obvious sunny skies, I was still in the shadows of the mass of the Scafells, anticipating a dark and lonely crossing of the Corridor Route.
Base Brown greets all arrivals at Seathwaite
Seathwaite looking up Grains
Stockley Bridge
Stockley Bridge
A distant Blencathra
Lingmell comes into view
Great End and Styhead Tarn
Great End
The stretcher box at Styhead Tarn
Sun lights up the Lake District
As soon as I left the main path heading for the Corridor Route, things got considerably more challenging. While the weather and visibility was fine, the depth of snow began to vary, ranging from pleasant ankle deep stuff to energy sapping, thigh deep drifts. Unlike the tramp up from Seathwaite to Styhead, no one had ventured out on to the Corridor Route and none of the snow had been compacted down. It was also impossible to see anything resembling a path, so much so, that I missed it's first main climb after Skew Gill and ended up a number of metres below it.
The Corridor Route
Lingmell, Wasdale Head and Great Gable from the Corridor Route
Lingmell and Wasdale Head
Great Gable
Red Pike
After dragging myself back up the level of the path, I was passed by a pair of fell runners who, despite the difficult conditions, were making good progress, unhampered by the weight of winter boots and ice axes. It was fortunate as I was able to travel in their wake, using their footholes to save time and energy as they ploughed through the deeper drifts. Despite appearances, the snow on the Corridor Route was not hard enough to warrant putting on crampons but the ice axe certainly came in handy, especially for hauling myself up the fellside.

All this effort did have its rewards with magnificent views of Wasdale Head, Great Gable and some of the Mosedale Fells as well as the dark and ominous crags of Lingmell up ahead; Piers Gill looking particularly uninviting today. All in all it took a couple of hours to cross the Corridor Route, twice the amount of time I had anticipated, so I adjusted my plans to visit Lingmell, aiming directly for the summit of Scafell instead.
Piers Gill and Lingmell
In the time it had taken to cross the Corridor Route, an un-forecast bank of cloud had rolled in, enveloping the mountain in a blanket of whiteness, almost a white-out. The snow underfoot had become much easier to walk on though snow was now steadily falling from the sky as well. So much for the none stop sunshine that had been promised.
Looking back along the Corridor Route
The view down to Lingmell Col
Looking up the final climb
Approaching the summit
Despite the weather, there were a number of people milling around the summit by the time I arrived, such is the draw of the England's highest mountain. I arrived an hour later than I had planned but still with plenty of time to get back down in the daylight. Sadly, there were no views to speak of but the opportunity to stand alone on the summit platform and confidently say that I was the highest person in England is always a satisfying feeling.
Scafell Pike's trig pillar - could be anywhere
Trig pillar on Scafell Pike
After a very swift bite to eat it was finally time to put the crampons on for the traverse of the ridge between Scafell Pike and Great End, the drop down into Broad Crag col being particularly steep. I decided that there wasn't time to visit the tops of Broad Crag and Ill Crag, nor was there much point given the weather. Travelling across the wind scoured snow here was much easier than fighting through the drifts and was actually easier than hopping over the shattered boulders that usually cover the top.
View across Broad Crag Col
I reached the slopes of Great End by mid afternoon and decided (given the weather) that there was not much point visiting the summit today. That left me with a descent down to Esk Hause and a return to the deep, drifted snow. Once I'd taken my crampons off again, it was another tough slog through the drifts until I reached the head of Grains Gill. Here, the popularity of the path had left much of the snow tramped down and I was able to make good progress once again.
Great End
The crags of Great End
Ruddy Gill
Despite the weather, I was treated to a minor cloud inversion in the valley below but, after reaching it, it only made the visibility worse. Still, everything had a charming dusting of snow which was nice to see. Unfortunately that also included the road out of Seathwaite. Once I had returned to the car and slithered my way to the main road, the snow continued to fall until I reached the summit of the A66 which, if your familiar with that particular A road, make for a pretty testing drive home.
Cloud inversion in Seathwaite
Ruddy Gill looking back to Great End
Stockley Bridge
A challenging drive ahead
I was pleased to have completed another winter walk, gaining valuable experience along the way including how gaiters would have been really useful - lesson learned. It's a shame the weather didn't hold up its end of the bargain but that's what winter is all about, expecting the unexpected.