There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
Seathwaite Camping Farm is accommodating the alicoop for tonight. It’s a real working farm with implements scattered about, stone-walled buildings of indeterminate usage, odors sweet and pungent and sheep allowed to roam. Its location is divine, surrounded my Lakeland fells in a kind of bowl, the burbling brook in duet with the lambs calling for their mothers. She calls first, a low-throated “baaaaal” answered by the sweetest “beeeel” as the little ones run to find a ready teet, leaning in, their tiny tails wagging. Right now, the clouds are pink, a cuckoo is singing and the midges are surrounding me.
Light comes early this far north, so I was up and out for a day of peak bagging by 7. After much reconnaissance of the map, I realized a backpack was going to make some of the going up England’s highest peak not only hard, but verging on dangerous, so I hatched a plan to contour up fields from the east.
There was a very narrow road some of the way, but soon I needed to simply get high. Up I went. Straight up trampled meadows, breathing hard and finding my rhythm of determination. I’d focus on a rock and go for it, huffing and puffing and watching Wast Water come more into view. The tops of the fells were all in mist, but my mind seized on a sky beginning to lighten. Perhaps it would burn off, I thought.
Just as I reached the ridge, Sca Fell in all her glory came into view. A giant, massive, distant lump. While it was clear, I headed straight for her with a blessing from peak goddess as a path suddenly appeared in front of me, replete with cairns.
And the timing could not have been more perfect. Just as I alighted the mist came down completely. All was obliterated. I have been in full-on fog and had some exposure to the English version, but when you’re looking for the peak and out of breath, utter blindness can be terrifying.
I pushed on, up scree at about a 55 degree angle, like in a nightmare when your feet can’t get purchase and there’s no context for how far you’re going. Rocks loomed into focus, but were never the promised summit. At one point, I saw the mountain top, far away and massive. My heart sank thinking there was no way I could get up that. It turned out to be a mirage, just a pile of rocks appearing further away then they were. And in fact, that pile was the top. I set my backpack in a wind break, put on more clothes, grabbed the phone and gps and cracked up to the top to find no view whatsoever except for swiftly moving mist.
Out of nowhere came a few other hikers. Pictures and beta were exchanged, as well as “all that work and this is what we get.” Most importantly, they sent me down a route that would get me to Sca Fell Pike. Just when you thought you were at the highest peak, someone goes and busts your bubble to correct your ignorance. Not only did you bust your ass for no view, but Sca Fell itself is not the highest.
We said our goodbyes and I searched out my trail. Understand, this is in a fog so thick, I barely saw three Fell runners, dressed in shorts and the lightest of rain gear, coming up the trail. They assured me I needed to find Fox Tarn, take a left and crack up to the Pike.
Not so fast. Going up would be after going down a huge slope of rocks upon rocks flailing underfoot. Looking down the scree shoot, I couldn’t believe I needed to descend so low to go higher on my peak bagging.
Finally the mini lake came into view, a magical spot tucked into the crags and teaming with big black slugs. I sat to enjoy this lovely blissful place feeling I’d arrived at some sort of destination. That was until I saw the continued descent, down a water filled gully of broken fallen rock. I imagine the ascent would be fairly reasonable, but the descent with 22 pounds on my back was a broken ankle waiting to happen. I soon became one with the mossy rock, sliding as much as walking.
Fox Tarn is up there as the most difficult trail of all time. Once I reached bottom, it was right back up another scree slope. A young man greeted me at the top to the fine views and to share thate he was working on his first Class 3 scramble, one first ascended by Samuel Coleridge Taylor in 1803. I hung back a while to watch him negotiate the exposed ridge, my “woohoo” and his “cheers” echoing off the rock.
It was time to press to the top and being the highest point, I could already see that Sca Fell Pike was packed with tourists, all happy and full of the joy of success. A few pictures, a snack and then I was off for Seathwaite along a ridge of hills, one after another hanging high above the lakes. It was an absolute dream of beauty, though perhaps not the kindest underfoot with rocks, slippery pebbles and more rocks. I thank the good people of the Lake District who thought to pave the trail with individual stones strategically placed by hand. No garden designer could compete with these lakes trails. After starting the day simply marching upwards of 1000 feet in fields and making my own trail, the pavers were a god send.
It’s off to bed now to get set up for tomorrow’s climb of Napes Needle, a big approach back up those paving stones to get to one of the most famous crags in the lakes.
Bang sticks for luck with the weather.