I had planned this walk pre lock down, around early March 2020. This was a hike that would include Englands 2nd highest peak and one I was very much looking forward to. Then came the uninvited guest which lead to a stop to all hiking in the Lake District. Since the ease of the lockdown, I had already returned with a more gentle hike, detailed here in another post ‘Lakeland – The Return’ On my 2nd return to the National Park however, it was time to face the big one, Sca Fell. The majority of the walk seemed quite gentle. Maps however do not give any idea of what faces you in terms of the weather conditions. This is the story of a day where my confidence diluted the risks.
The walk started from Eskdale, parking at Wha House Farm car park which is situated just off the road which leads to the bottom of HardKnott pass if heading East. Sca Fell is usually climbed from Wasdale, often incorporating Sca Fell Pike, Englands highest . The route heading North from Eskdale however seemed more interesting and to be honest, I wanted to avoid the crowds. Little did I know however, any little hint of human presence may have changed the story of the day ahead;
I had made the conscious effort to try and reduce the weight of my backpack, The Lowepro Whistler 350. It is quite a heavy beast so any reduction in weight is welcoming. The bulk of the weight is from both my video and camera gear. The dilemma however is I still wish to take as much camera gear as possible including both my main lenses, the 70-200 and the 16-35. I dread the occasion where a composition appears in front of me and I haven’t the right tools to complete the job in hand. The only sacrifices I made therefore were to not take a heavier tripod which was used for my videography and opt for a mini tripod, the Manfrotto Pixie. This is a handy little tripod which I often use to prop up my 2nd video camera, Canon G7x mark 2. The other weight reduction came from the decision to not take my filter bag. I find I am using less filters these days and recently none at all.
The morning started off with a warm and gentle breeze with a spot of rain. The dark clouds that were hovering above Hard Knott and the Crinkle Crags looked menacing and so I opted for the sensible approach and put on the weather proof pants from the start. I headed North on a gradual ascent towards my first fell of the day, Slight Side. It wasn’t long until the prominent shapes of both Slight Side and Sca Fell came into view. To the right appeared the rest of the Sca Fell range including Esk Pike, Bow Fell and the Crinkle Crags. For me this range of mountains offer some of the best photographic opportunities in the Lake District. The area between Catcove Beck and Cowcove Beck was an open grassy plain, scattered with Cotton Grass and the occasion craggy section. It was an area I will no doubt return. For the moment however, I had a task in hand so after I captured some video footage, I continued towards the foot of Slight Side.
The gentle breeze by now had gathered some momentum and was relentless as it made my task in hand that little harder. I recall when I was at around 400 metres in altitude that the conditions at the summit of Sca Fell were going to be ‘interesting’ I had another 564 metres to climb. The moody skies and thoughts of what was ahead and in store drove me like a magnet. The adventure was always going to win in a battle against sensibility. As I started my ascent of the short, steep path up to Slight Side I knew this short interlude of wind break was not going to last as the clouds whisked over the brow of the craggy horizon.
Slight Side had its own little scramble to accomplish but offered a welcome rest and shelter from the very strong winds that met me there. The small flat area to the North East between Horn Crag and the cairn at Slight Side offered some good photographic opportunity and it was here where all of my images were captured for the day. I scrambled around the crags whilst at the same time fighting the continued onslaught of the winds. I quickly made up my mind that this was going to be a hand held day. The Gitzo tripod is excellent and stable but even Land Rovers struggle against hurricanes, metaphorically speaking of course. The very harsh winds were accompanied by hale stones as I took out the telephoto from the bag. I felt like I was entering no mans land and the enemy was making my progress nearly impossible. I had no choice but to retreat and carry on towards Sca Fell summit.
It wasn’t long and only a short distance until I met another collection of crags that stood guarding the wonderful scenery of the Sca Fell range. I must have spent around a couple of hours or so it seemed watching the light show in front of me above Greencove Wyke. ‘Splashes danced across the fell tops’ a phrase I often use in my vlogs but it was so fitting for this moment. Here I fired away, some images worked better than others but still to be present brought me the biggest joy. Thankfully I had managed to grab one of my favourite shots of the day of Harter Fell as I took a rest under the cairn of Slight Side. At this point, I was a very happy man and still had the excitement of Sca Fell summit ahead.
The final ascent to Sca Fell was one of my most memorable during my goal of completing the Wainwrights. The fells in the Lake District have delivered all forms of weather and that’s why I find this place so rewarding in terms of the adventure. The winds on this day were probably some of the strongest I had witnessed. The ground was very technical and I was pushed to my knees on a few occasions but thankfully my instinctive reactions broke my fall, aided with my poles. I had no choice but to stop, kneel, wait and carry on a few yards and repeat the sequence until I pulled myself to the shelter at the summit. I managed to film a short clip of the rushing clouds that ran across the small plateau. I quickly abandoned all hopes of walking on to find Lords Rake and Fox’s Tarn. That would be for another day. I looked across towards Sca Fell Pike and it was empty. Not a soul in sight. It quickly cemented my decision of getting down as quickly and as safely as possible. I loved adventure but the risks of having an accident and being alone shook my head.
Another excellent day of memories and drama was edged in my memory banks. It was also a reminder that everyone has their limits and level of risks. Life. Live it