This is the second installment of my 3 peaks blog and this chapter I will talk about the other 2 mountains, Scafell Pike & Ben Nevis.
Normally in the 3 peaks challenge you would start at Ben Nevis, travel down to Scafell Pike and finish at Snowden, in 24 hours. As I was on my own and wanted to scale these peaks when the weather was suitable and also for safety purposes as the hardest part is the driving in between these locations whilst fatigued.
After Snowden I travelled to the south of England to visit relatives and was back in Washington 2 days later. I saw a window of good weather coming up for Scafell Pike but would be on a Sunday, the following day after driving who knows how many miles. I also knew Sundays are the most crowded days on the trails so decided to leave it a little later than usual in the day so as not to have to overtake too many people on the ascent.
Scafell Pike is England’s highest summit at 978 meters, just a couple of dozen meters higher than Tai Mo Shan. For this I drove to Borrowdale and parked a few km down the road near Seathwaite farm, you will see cars parked at the side of the road on the grassy verge and is free to park. There are also public toilets at the farm too but no store for supplies that I know of.
The route I took was straight through the farm and alongside the Ruddy Gill stream and was a wide dirt and stone trail. The trail went in the general direction of Esk Hause and you will see the cliffs of Great End which stands at 910 meters. The elevation was gradual and only saw a few people on the trail, mainly descending. There are some lovely stops to admire the views as you slowly rise up the valley and waterfalls along the way.
Once up to Esk Hause and the ridgeline the cloud came in saw visibility to the west was obscured which was a shame as I was looking forward to some views over to Scotland and Ireland. I swung a right and followed the dirt path towards Broad Crag. Climbing started a bit steeper here and soon it came to more of a boulder terrain and I found the best way to follow the trail was to follow the small stone cairns as there was no clear path going over the rocks. Once at Broad Crag I was able to see the summit of Scafell Pike and people milling around the large 6ft tall cairn and much wider.
Here the going was slow and for once I understood it would be wiser to wear boots on this part as the shattered boulder field was a real ankle breaker. It would be like this as I descended down the ridgeline from Broad Crag and scrambled up to the summit. Again due to the cloud it was hard to make out where the trail was other than following the small stone cairns. Luckily the boulders were dry so grip wasn’t too much of a problem and soon I arrived at the large stone cairn which marks the summit. A few people milling around here with some even drinking beer to celebrate.
After a 5-minute rest at the top I took what seemed the less strenuous route down called the corridor route. This saves going back the way I came and get past the boulder field in the shortest distance. The trail goes towards Great Gable but stopped short of ascending this and went by the small lake of Styhead Tarn and then followed the small stream of Styhead Gill which brings you back to the valley near Seathwaite farm where I had parked.
All in all the route was just over 16km and 950 meters of elevation gain but didn’t run on this as didn’t want to risk injury on the rough terrain until I was descended about halfway down.
Once back to the car it was straight to Keswick for a well-deserved chips and gravy from the local chippie. A great day out and very impressed with the trail choices and the scenery here.
The next day’s weather was looking to be the best so far with the local media reporting a sizzling heatwave with temperatures reaching 30 degrees, something considered mild back home in Hong Kong. With this I decided to go for Ben Nevis but for this it was a long 5 hours plus drive from Washington. I got up at 4am and took off as I wanted to get past Glasgow before the morning rush hour.
Once past Glasgow and then to Loch Lomond, Scotland was showing its true beauty. It was my first time visiting here and was amazed by the drive up towards Fort William and the quiet valleys of Glencoe was jaw dropping. Had to stop a few times just to get some photos as you can see but wasn’t long before arriving at Fort William and from there it is a very short drive to Glen Nevis and the visitor car park which was only a few pounds to park for the entire day but judging by the amount of cars, this route was going to be very busy.
After getting changed at the public facilities I hit the trail and followed what’s now called the mountain path but was originally called the tourist path.
This trail was a bit narrow in places and had to wait in some places to get past people with quite a few already struggling with the first 100 meters of ascent and yet Ben Nevis stands at 1346 meters.
The trail zig zags its way up from the valley and then turns up towards Lochan Meall, a lake hallway up. Past the loch and now another steady zig zag climb takes you up further and above the clouds and here it starts to get rocky but still very manageable in trail running shoes. Here the views just get more and more stunning. Clouds were rolling in but were generally below me as you can see from photos below and the temperatures were dropping but was still very comfortable. Soon the surface was getting similar to that of Scafell Pike but not as difficult to walk on and the trail was much more visible. This is where I started seeing snow on the ground and as you can see, there was a fair bit of it around in sheltered corners of the mountainside. The trail then gets up to the plateau and passes within a few feet of the north face gullies and drop around 700 meters. Although this time I was up in the fog so no views were offered but was aware of the drop so stayed my distance. The summit was easy to spot, just look for where the crowd of people are. There is an old weather observatory (closed since 1904) here and a trig point. As it was foggy and getting a bit cold and know how the weather can change very quickly on the summit I just touched the trig point and then decided to run down back where I came.
The route down was the same way I came up but only took around about an hour to descend and soon as I had descended around 100 meters the fog went and was under clear blue skies again. I stopped a few times just to get some photos of course, and at the bottom of the trail, when I finally got to the valley floor, I found a convenient pub called the Ben Nevis Inn where I had a pint of the local ale to celebrate finished my 3 peak challenge.
The drive back to Washington was equally rewarding again as the Highlands just kept shocking me with stunning scenery.
So after all this, I was surprised by how easy it was to ascend these 3 peaks quite quickly although I did find the shortest mountain, Skafell Pike, to be technically the trickiest due to the shattered boulder field. If I could pin a favorite peak, it would be difficult, but would be between Snowden and Ben Nevis but I need to re-visit these again and take more challenging routes up with some more time. All these peaks I just drove up to, parked at the foot of the mountain and my aim was to bag them in the quickest and easiest way possible.
I used the same equipment and clothing for all three peaks although some sturdier shoes for Skafell would be advisable if you are not a fell/trail runner. Keeping an eye on the weather, especially for Ben Nevis will pay off. I did these 3 peaks in mid-July and some days on Ben Nevis it was below freezing.
Mission complete! Now after this I went off for a vacation with my wife to Cuba, won’t be climbing any hills there but sitting on a beach drinking exotic beverages.
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