Scafell Pike Test

• March 21, 2013 • Comments (0)

blizzard1 Scafell Pike TestI spent much of the day before the “Scafell Pike Test” playing with my new equipment and trying to get my head around how the GPS worked.

I downloaded a .gpx file of the route from a random site but, nervous that it might not be reputable, I tried purchasing one from a site. Which turned out to be complete rubbish. Three waypoints, in my amateur opinion, is not nearly enough for this walk (in fairness it was 5 way points, but 4 and 5 were just 1 and 2 in reverse order – wow, thanks!). The random .gpx file would have to suffice. Hopefully I can find a reputable provider before the real thing.

Taking no chances, I scanned the piece of O/S map for the route and also two different route descriptions.

Then it was time to pack. I decided upon:

  • Trowel.
  • Towel.
  • Wet Wipes.
  • Hand Sanitiser.
  • A 3-in-1 device containing a small compass, whistle and mirror.
  • A small first-aid kit.
  • A torch.
  • Spare batteries.
  • 2 litres of water (in a hydration bladder).
  • A fold-away rain mac.
  • GPS
  • Flip Camcorder
  • Snacks (mini pepperamis, sesame seed snaps and “9 bar” energy bars)

And for clothing:

  • Thermal underwear (full arms and legs)
  • Jeans
  • Two tops
  • Water/Wind proof coat
  • Scarf
  • Snood
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Walking boots

My biggest concern at this point was the Met Office report from Thursday advising that heavy snow on all approaches to the summit meant it was dangerous to attempt without crampons.

I decided we would still go and see how far we could get safely so we would at least have chance to test the equipment and familiarise ourselves with the location.

Saturday morning, up at 4:30am, away by 5:30am.

As we got closer to Wasdale and I saw the snow-capped hills I started to feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

Could we really pull this off?

Neither me or Joel (my 3 Peaks partner) had ever climbed a mountain before or had any experience of navigation. The scale of the slopes before us suddenly made me feel silly. Who was I kidding? I had no right to think I could climb the highest mountain in England without a guide or prior experience.

Going from the Otley Chevin to Scafell Pike was lunacy.

But before I knew it we’d arrived and were pulling our equipment on. Cocooned in my layers of clothing and hefting the equipment on my back I at least felt that I’d prepared well. Nothing left to do but get started.

The uphill ascent started almost immediately. Nothing unexpected but I quickly realised there was a substantial difference between walking on flat ground uphill and walking uphill via a rough staircase made of uneven rocks. Tough on the knees!

The weather, cloudy and overcast but not particularly cold, quickly made me realise that I was overdressed. I soon shed my gloves and, not long afterwards, my snood and hat.

We crossed the beck safely and saw the first few patches of snow next to a seemingly endless stretch of, even more steps.

The hydration bladder seemed to be working well and it was nice to be able to take a few swigs every time we paused for breath without having to wrestle water bottles out of our backpacks. The only snag was that I kept forgetting to close the valve which resulted in small dribbles of water running down my coat and leaving suspicious-looking stains on my jeans.

None of that seemed to matter as we continued to trudge uphill. I forced myself to stop looking up and tried to focus on just the next few steps. Physically I felt ok but my knees were really feeling the burn.

The higher we got, the more patches of snow we saw and the more the visibility dropped. Each time I looked back and saw how far we’d come I felt encouraged, but after the “steps” we rounded a corner and there was nothing to look back on.

The path became rougher and a little more difficult to traverse but at least it was easy to see. The GPS seemed to indicate we were on the right track so we kept moving forward.

Eventually we caught up with a group of four who had been slightly ahead of us for most of the way. The reason they’d stopped was because the path had disappeared in the snow. In fact the snow was so deep we couldn’t even see any cairns.

Fortunately the temperature was still comfortably above freezing so, although the snow was deep, it wasn’t icy or slippery and it felt safe to continue. But continue which way?

The low visibility made it impossible to see the peak and the map showed that the route wasn’t quite a straight line to the top.

So it would come down to the GPS. Would the route I’d downloaded get is there?

The route on the display matched the map so it seemed trustworthy so we set out, following the line as best as we could.

Now it was really hard-going. The snow was deep and there was no telling whether each step would sink up to the ankles or up to the knees. If you’ve ever tried walking through deep snow then you’ll know that this was even harder than the steps.

To make things worse we’d veered of the route shown on the GPS. We were going in the right direction but a bit off to the right and it was proving difficult to get back on track.

We got to within about half a mile of the summit and the visibility dropped to around 50 metres. If we were going to make it, we’d be reliant on the GPS to get us there.

With about 100 metres to go the temperature suddenly dropped to freezing and the snow had a crisp crunch to it. I suddenly realised that my wet hair had just frozen into icicles. I figured we must be nearly there.

And then there it was.

The summit loomed out of the fog and we quickly gathered at the top for a quick photo and a nip of whiskey (kindly donated by our new friends).

At this exposed point it was suddenly very cold and windy and we spent a few minutes eating before starting on the journey back down. There was certainly no view to enjoy.

Almost immediately we started meeting people on their way up. Ironically it appeared everyone was following our footsteps, despite the fact that we’d veered off the GPS path a few times.

Getting down was quicker than going up (natch) but very slippery, even after we’d left the snow behind. Total time was around five hours. That’s around an hour longer than it needs to be on the 3 Peaks challenge but I’m hoping that most of the extra time is accounted for by the snow. In May the conditions should make the climb easier and navigation simpler.

Overall, I have to say I was thrilled with the experience. We handled the conditions ok and, to be honest, I was glad for the extra challenge. I wanted this walk to stretch me physically and it certainly did that. And although I’m more confident now, I still feel like I could do with cranking my fitness up a notch.

Things we did right:

  • Used a GPS (we’d never have found the summit without it).
  • Ate a huge breakfast a couple of hours before starting (I had cornflakes, muesli, three eggs, bacon and mushrooms).
  • Got someone else to drive (I didn’t feel the need to sleep on the journey but I would have been too distracted to drive safely).
  • Used the hydration bladders (saved a lot of time and hassle).

Things we did wrong:

  • Wore too many clothes to start with which made the early walking more warm and uncomfortable than it should have been (should have started off with clothes to match the conditions and added extra as required).
  • Started from the 3 Peaks car park rather than the campsite layby (the first part of the walk on the route we talk is steep and rocky – not ideal to do in the dark, which it will be when we start Scafell Pike on the 3 Peaks challenge.

Next up is the Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge (April 27th)…

Followed shortly after by the National 3 Peaks challenge (23rd-24th May)…

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Category: Three Peaks Challenge

About the Author

David Congreave began working online in 2001. He is now an SEO and Internet marketing consultant, a writer, and an editor. He lives and works in Leeds, UK with his wife, Leanne.

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