Sunday, 22 June 2008

Summer Solstice on Scafell

A Long Weekend in The Lakes

18:30hrs, Thursday 19th June:

Blue skies - check. Reasonable forecast - check. Much optimism and big ideas - check. Enough time to get to The Coledale Inn for tea - just...

09:30hrs, Friday 20th June:

It's the Summer Solstice. The start of summer. And the longest day of the year. And after a night in the David Imrie Hut and breakfast at Booths, Andy C, Graham, Jonah and Ste load their heavy packs onto their backs and set out from Seathwaite. Andy G and Jeff plan to join them during the afternoon, while Mark, Dan and Richard, and also Jess and Jason, will travel up later that night. Several sweaty hours later, after a brief rain-shower and an encounter with a pessimistic southerner who was swiftly ignored when he claimed it would rain all weekend, and with tired legs and sore shoulders, the tents were pitched just west of Lingmell. Minds and muscles were nourished and rehydrated, and enthusiasm stoked. And while the buttresses of Scafell looked damp, Pikes Crag was dry, so Grooved ArĂȘte (VD, 2*) became the afternoon's entertainment.

17:00hrs, Friday 20th June:

Andy C and Jonah quickly despatched this, and wandered off to examine the more exciting, and by now dryer buttresses on the other side of Mickledore. Graham and Ste were still enjoying the upper pitches of the route - and by now could see Andy G and Jeff pitching their tent after their excursion to the summit of Scafell Pike. By the time they were back at the base of the crag, time had moved on sufficiently for Graham and Ste to want some tea more than another route, so they promptly returned to base-camp.

21:00hrs, Friday 20th June:

While Ste passed round his latest elixir, the medicine-like cherry-menthol tune flavoured gin(a home-made concoction containing no less than 5 packets of tunes), Andy C and Jonah had been unable to resist the temptation of another route, and were now having a great deal of fun on Moss Ledge Direct & Jones' ArĂȘte (VS 4c, 3*). Darkness fell as they were completing the route, but a torch-lit 'a cheval' traverse over the knife edge ridge at the top of Scafell Pinnacle and a misty descent from the summit plateau and down the Foxes Tarn gully still remained before they could drop their guard (Wasdale MRT advise that the Foxes Tarn gully is currently less safe than Lord's Rake).

22:00hrs, Friday 20th June:

After being delayed by traffic on the way up, Mark, Dan and Richard eventually leave the cars behind and set out on foot to find our camp at Lingmell Coll.

00:30hrs, Saturday 21st June:

Andy C and Jonah finally return to their tents and reward themselves with a gin & tonic or two.

01:00hrs, Saturday 21st June:

Unknown to the rest of us, Mark, Dan and Richard are reaching the col under Lingmell after a late start. Unable to locate any tents in the darkness, they decide to pitch theirs' on the opposite side of the col. By this time Jess and Jason had already given up and resorted to a B&B.

07:00hrs, Saturday 21st June:

The late arrivals are keen, get up early and see the other tents about 500m away. However, they also catch sight of figures approaching the crag and assume that they are already late.

08:00hrs, Saturday 21st June:

Mark, Dan and Richard arrive at Central Buttress and make a start up Botterill's Slab (VS 4c, 3*). Nearly two hours later Jeff and Andy G arrive under the same route, while Ste and Graham find the base of Moss Ghyll Grooves (MVS, 4c, 3*)... But before any gear is even removed from the bags the rain begins. Whilst waiting for it to pass, Jonah and Andy C arrive, and they all point and laugh at the hapless party on the now very damp Botterill's Slab, where the second is off route on pitch two as he tries join the others on the stance.

10:00hrs, Saturday 21st June:

It doesn't look like the rain will pass any time soon. Hoping the weather will be much improved on Sunday, Jonah and Andy G suggest leaving the tents and gear, and spending the day eating heartily, and drinking heavily in the Wasdale Head Inn. No one objects. High on the crag, now Richard has arrived at the stance after going off route towards the top of the second pitch, Mark suggests that an abseil retreat is the best option for self preservation. Again no one objects. Once back on terra-firma, a no nonsense policy is followed, tents are promptly packed away and they're soon heading back towards Seathwaite.

19:30hrs, Saturday 21st June:

All day the rain fell steadily harder, and the wind blew progressively stronger. And while Mark, Dan and Richard had dried themselves off, checked into a hostel in Keswick, and made a start on the beer, there were six men in Wasdale reluctantly preparing to battle their way back up to their tents. As they branched off left up the spur leading directly up towards Lingmell, they could see hoards of Three Peak Challengers queuing up at the crossing of Lingmell Gill which was now in spate... and then some.

Although they didn't have a hazardous river to cross, as they got higher, Andy C, Andy G, Graham, Jeff, Jonah and Ste found it more and more difficult to walk into the ever strengthening wind and rain. It was with some relief when they finally reached the tents and saw they were all intact, and although Graham and Ste found that the dry ground they had pitched their tent on had become a marsh and the floor of the tent was a little damp, it mattered little anyway because sleep was constantly being interrupted by the howling of the wind and the sound of buckets of water being thrown at the tent and the occasional faint whistle of a distress signal from somewhere on Scafell Pike.

01:30hrs, Sunday 22nd June:

After spending all day feasting, drinking and even patronising a night club, Mark, Dan and Richard finally return to the hostel much to the annoyance of their dormitory mates.

09:00hrs, Sunday 22nd June:

The weather hadn't improved. Not even slightly. So tents were bundled into their packs, and with everything now sodden and even heavier than it was when they hauled it up there, the six remaining campers started back down the mountain to Seathwaite. But it wasn't as easy as that. Every river crossing - normally just a hop, skip or jump, was now treacherous because they had swollen so far beyond their limits. Jonah's walking poles were passed back along the line to aid the crossings and to help prevent anyone being swept off their feet and down the ghylls. And there was the wind. Every one of the party was at some point blown off their feet. Most of them more than once. In fact while approaching Styhead Tarn a pair of fell-runners floated gracefully past on the 'breeze', before the back-packers were all caught out by the gale-force gust that came in their wake.

12:30hrs, Sunday 22nd June:

After crossing the last, but without doubt the most forcefully raging torrent just above Grains Ghyll, Seathwaite was reached and there was no hesitation in diving into the cafe for tea and cake. More tea and cake followed in Keswick. And then home, all still unaware that Mark and Dan and Richard had been on Scafell a little over 24hrs ago - it wasn't until e-mail was exchanged on Monday that everyone first heard they had been up there.