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Tuesday 17 December 2013

WALK 1. Scafell Pike

I comment on walkers, possibly irritate them. This post, and ten others, will let them get their own back.

Scroll back decades. VR and I were fitter, even so we failed. How can one fail at walking? It's slow. Only writhing on one's belly is slower. But then both of us are good at excuses.

I suggested Scafell Pike. Once, with experts, I trudged up this eminence, hindered by snow underfoot and mist everywhere else - as impenetrable as chapter one of The Ambassadors. When the mist briefly parted I was startled, as if I’d gone for a step that wasn't there. I wanted to review that view.

VR and I set out from Langdale*. Quick pause for a jargon check, but all's OK; modern walkers do "set out". "Strike out" is now obs. in the dictionary. We had an OS map but never said OS in full; only pedants do that. Fact is the feet of millions have left a discoloured trail 4 m wide, going upwards, always upwards. You'd have to be an idiot to...

What kind of idiot? With that last step my sight blurred, another and the blurring got worse. The path got narrower. No it's not blepharitis, I'm due that in about 2012. My head and shoulders have entered a mist ceiling. One more step and the path’s like Blondin's tightrope. I can just see a knee-high rock: a sitting-down omen.

Granite (I'm assuming that's what it is) polished by a century's footwear is transformed, looks expensive. Of course, it's used for kitchen work surfaces. Boots bump lightly to my left and someone strides down, passing facelessly. No one's going up. I look at VR and she looks back. I reflect on my aversion to gravity. In a horse race we'd be DNF. 

* Pehaps we didn't. See Sir Hugh's comment.


  1. A good old walker’s cliché is the one about wise persons being the ones who know when to turn back. Congratulations.

    I was heartened to learn that you had some kind of favorable metaphysical appreciation of the view and surroundings on your earlier outing.

    The route from Langdale is a monster eleven mile round trip, and has more than 3,500ft of climbing ON THE OUTWARD JOURNEY ALONE. A tough day for any hillwalker with more content than most Munro days in Scotland, and not, I'm sorry to say, as wise a choice as the wiseness of your decision to abort.

  2. Sir Hugh: I take your point about Langdale. This all happened 35 years ago and, I think, while we were staying at Richard's mother-in-law's farm not too far from Ambleside. The shortest route appears to be from Wasdale Head but I think I'd have remembered if we'd driven round there. I seem to recall being on to the path fairly quickly and - this is admittedly more problematic - when we decided to turn back we were in fact on the mountain. Is there somewhere nearer we could have parked? The funny thing is I retain a sense of familiarity about the start which seemed to hint at Langdale. Luckily Walk 2 occurs in Genoa and I may the drop on you regarding that.

  3. Starting from Langdale you have a long walk up the flat valley bottom before arriving at the punishing ascent of Rossett Ghyll and on to Angle Tarn. It is only after that you find yourself on the massif of the Scafells, but you have to go over Broad Crag before tackling the final bit to the summit of SP, so it is only after you have done three-quarters of the walk that you could describe yourself as being "on the mountain" of Scafell.

    Wasdale Head is the shortest, but logistically awkward to get to. I reckon the next best way is from Seathwaite at the southern end of Borrowdale (South of Keswick and Derwentwater). That is the way we went on our aborted attempt on Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in the early sixties. After Scafell we still had eight hours left to go and do Snowdon, but we had all lost interest in the project by then.

    I know nothing of Genoa, but can't wait to hear your story. Your blog recently informs me of many places you have visited that I had no idea about.

  4. Discretion is the better part of valor and prudence. I'm glad you two turned back.

    Happy Christmas and New Year, RR and VR, and families.

  5. As you know from yesterday's Blonde post, only the finest of walkers knows when to stop walking.

    I once got this wrong in spectacular Dartmoor style and ended up having to insist on a helicopter ride home.

    But that, as they (who?) say is another story.

  6. The Crow: Actually, there wasn't a hope in Hell we'd have persisted. Sir Hugh regards mist as a technical challenge; me, there's nowhere lonelier.

    MikeM: How do you like them apples? Me, acting as straight man to a Yank?

    B2: It was the bit I picked out: "when to stop". But I imagine our "when to stop" has always been a good deal earlier than that of the fearless, mythic Blondes.

    My walking life was much more fragmented and less substantial than my ski-ing life. I always worried about helicopters, notably the cost. Are there times when the subsequent bill makes you wish the accident had been fatal?