Backpacking Scafell Pike: A Story of Smashed Sunglasses and Shattered Confidence

Last month, on a Friday in May, I climbed Scafell Pike for the first time. Not only that but it was my first time backpacking up and over a mountain then camping for the night.

We chose to take the Borrowdale route from Seathwaite for the ascent followed by a descent to Wasdale. Camping at Wasdale without a car was always going to require a walk to get there so why not tackle England’s highest mountain.

It started out as a beautiful day. We began the walk at around midday, after an early train up from Manchester to Penrith, breakfast at Morrisons, a bus to Keswick and then the open top bus to Seatoller. From Seatoller it is just a short stroll down a lane to Seathwaite and the start of the walk. An easily doable public transport route to Scafell Pike as long as all the connections go to plan.


A beautiful start to the ascent from Seathwaite

The initial climb was steep and tough, especially in the midday sunshine, and whilst carrying a large heavy bag. Despite it being a sunshine filled Friday the route was quiet. The only other people encountered were small groups of Three Peak Challenge climbers who were zooming up and down without pause to take in the surroundings.  We didn’t need to rush like the Three Peaks crowd, although getting to the campsite in good time was an aim for the day, there was time to stop and sit for a while. We took a break upon nearing Esk Hause to eat pork pies and fruit, and admire the stunning scenery.


Taking a break to admire the views

A lot of the route it is on easy to follow paths, with only the final stages involving more tricky terrain. The large boulderfield at Ill Cragg was a test of my abilities, again thanks to feeling unbalanced with the addition of the rucksack.

Having made it over the boulders, I then tripped over a rock on a lovely grass covered easy part of the walk. It was one of those slow motion, head over heels falls. If I hadn’t been carrying a bulky heavy rucksack I probably would have stayed on my feet but the weight of the bag pulled me forwards. I landed on my face but thankfully I was wearing sunglasses which took the force and broke my fall. Smashed sunglasses and a grazed slightly bruised face were the extent of the damage, it could have been a lot worse. I was able to carry on although feeling wobbly from the shock of the experience. Chocolate covered kendal mint cake to the rescue! Falling over definitely left a dent in my mountain walking confidence. Every move was a careful one from that point onwards.


Struggling onwards with the giant rucksack

The final scree covered slope on the final approach to Scafell Pike wasn’t much fun either but with the help of my walking stick I made it up. It was quiet on the summit. Only us and a Three Peaks marshall. I’m told this is unusual so it seems I enjoyed a rare moment of quiet on Scafell Pike. Although the weather was much nicer the next day I was glad not to be heading up with the huge crowds setting off from Wasdale.


View from the roof of England

The descent down from the summit to Wasdale was a long and painful one. By this point in the day my legs were tired and everything was aching, again the massive rucksack was not helping. The path down was straightforward and easy to follow however it felt like it would never end. The weather had turned grey and gloomy, so I was very happy when we finally reached the campsite, although the weather didn’t allow for a lazy evening sitting outside the tent. However an enjoyable evening was had in the Wasdale Head Inn, eating lots of delicious food with a couple of pints of great ale.

Since this walk I’ve purchased a new better fitting rucksack for big trips. I definitely don’t recommend attempt to backpack over a very big mountain with something bought online over a decade ago to go to a music festival. Lesson learnt there.

Next time I’ll write about Day Two of the Wasdale backpacking trip, involving a walk from Wasdale to Boot, a steam train and more pubs.