Given my predeliction for the smaller fells, you might be surprised to find the big one in my list. But then again, it’s a pretty obvious choice when you look at it. I’ve got to the point now where the gap between my favourite fells is quite narrow, and it wouldn’t take much for them to shuffle about. So I hope no one is offended that their favourite fell (and there will be people out there who have this as their favourite, I’m sure) doesn’t even make my top 10. It’s purely that other fells more in tune with my preferences have gradually pushed it down the list.
I’m not going to go into lengthy descriptions of the fell, as most people reading this have been there. But I am going to give a few words over to explaining why I like it. First, the view from the top. By definition it’s the top so you’re looking down on everything. And on a clear day there are good views to be had in all directions. But views alone wouldn’t be enough to get this fell onto my favourites list, as there are many better view points in the Lake District.
The second reason I like the fell is that it is hard to get to the top. Certainly if you approach from Seathwaite or Langdale, you have a long walk before you, a boulder field to cross and then a final descent and reascent before reaching the top. Similarly, the Corridor route from Sty Head is a rocky path. A walk from Wasdale, although shorter in length starts lower and so means further to climb. A route over Scafell involves a big descent at the last minute, and an approach from Eskdale is both long and, in places, boggy.
Thirdly, all of the routes to the top pass by or over fells that you would want to climb in their own right – Scafell, Great End, Lingmell, Bowfell, Glaramara, and Great Gable to name just a few. So an excursion to Scafell Pike never needs to be an out and back affair as it can always be combined with something else to make it an even better day. For a mountain which from a distance just looks like a link in a chain, it has a surprising number of approach routes.
I’ve been to the top twice, as of February 2012, my first visit being as part of a 3 Peaks challenge, when we climbed the Pike from Seathwaite via Ruddy Gill and Grains Gill. This was possibly the most excruciating walk I’ve ever done because our pace on the return leg was slowed due to a knee injury of one of the party. But that slow pace allowed me to take in the scenery on a walk where speed was normally the aim, and it was this occasion which kicked off my love of the Lake District. My second visit was an unplanned extension to an ascent of Bowfell when I was enjoying the day so much I didn’t want it to end, and so just went for it. I got into trouble with my wife for the late arrival back at the camp site, but it was worth it. On that occasion, although all of that day’s walk was good, Scafell Pike was the icing on the cake.
But Scafell Pike is also a fell I’ve not yet done in “good style”, as on both occasions I got to the start of the walk using (respectively) a minibus or car. Since I am aiming to complete the Wainwrights using only public transport (and my feet, obviously!), I have to go again. But this is no hardship and gives me the chance to try a different route. When I climbed Lingmell last year, I enjoyed the view of Scafell Pike from the former’s summit and nearly took a detour across the Lingmell Col, but was pushed for time, and wisely (in hindsight) didn’t do it and so made my bus to Keswick.
A visit to Scafell Pike would really have capped the day off, but one of the reasons I didn’t was the number of people I could see up there. I don’t begrudge others the chance to be on the mountains, of course, but I do wish they were less crowded sometimes. And in Scafell Pike’s case, there will be a higher proportion of tourists up there than most other fells. They don’t seem to understand the unwritten rules of summit etiquette and any panorama camera shot always has people in it. The flip-flop walkers as I call them (so called because I did actually see people climbing Snowdon wearing flip flops once) were probably responsible for much of the litter that I found at the summit when I was last there, since you never see that sort or extent of mess on the other fells. So Scafell Pike may be a fine mountain, but it’s not without issues caused by its celebrity. In some ways, I wish Great Gable were the highest. It’s the right shape and has a great panorama too, but I personally don’t like it as much. But that’s me being selfish, although if you see a guy lugging rocks between the two that may be me trying to make my wish come true.
I have two things in particular that I want to do involving Scafell Pike (apart from diverting the crowds to a fell I like less). One is an approach from Eskdale, including a final ascent by the scramble over Pen below Rough Crag. On my trip to Eskdale in 2010, I saw enough of the majesty of the range from that side to know it would be very special. The other is the journey between Scafell and Scafell Pike, which I have yet to do. So there’s plenty of possibilities remaining for this fell, and it’s one which I expect to remain a favourite for a long time.