Scafell Pike has been attracting walkers up its steep, rocky sides for hundreds of years. With breath taking views across the Lake District from the summit and a challenging, rocky climb to put even the most seasoned hill walkers to the test, Scafell Pike offers a challenging – but truly rewarding experience!
We delve in a little deeper into its fascinating history.
Why ‘Scafell Pike’?
If you’ve been looking up Scafell Pike on a map, you might have noticed that there are several peaks in the region, one of them named – rather confusingly – Sca Fell. Scafell Pike and Sca Fell aren’t quite the same – in fact, the peak now known as Scafell Pike was originally part of a trio of peaks, alongside Ill Crag and Broad Crag. An error in the Ordnance Survey map bestowed the summit with the title – and the name has stuck to date. Scafell Pike is England’s highest mountain – standing at 3,210 feet tall. While from some views, the peak looks lower than the neighbouring Sca Fell, it does in fact tower 50 feet above it!
Made up of igneous rock, the summit is covered with an extensive boulder field composed of shattered rocks, formed through weathering and frost action, and providing a tough surface that shouldn’t be taken lightly by beginners. Alongside Ben Nevis and Snowdon, Scafell Pike is regarded as part of the National Three Peaks Challenge – a tough event that involves climbing all three events within 24 hours!
As well as being the tallest summit in England, Scafell Pike also features the highest body of standing water in England, known, slightly confusingly, as Broad Crag Tarn.
The summit is fringed by crags on all sides, which are often popular with rock climbers, and its exceptional height means that it is often subject to extreme weather conditions – you can often expect to find reasonable amounts of snow for much of the year, from October through to May, and high winds all year round. It’s always best to check the weather forecast beforehand, to ensure you can prepare fully and have the best experience of Scafell Pike.
People have gone up and down the steep slopes of Scafell Pike for years, but it wasn’t considered a worthy climb until much later. Until the 19th century, it was not regarded as much of a challenge at all, as its unique geography mean that its peak often looks less higher than it really is.
Until it was measured in the early 1800s, geographers widely held Helvellyn, in the neighbouring Eastern Fells, as the highest mountain in England. The peak was later donated to the National Trust in 1919 by Lord Leconfield, in memory of the lives lost by men from the Lake District. Perhaps because of its history of being underestimated, the first recorded ascent was only made at the start of the 19th century, by the noted Romantic poet, Samuel Coleridge.
In 1802, Coleridge wrote a letter from the summit, and his climb was soon followed after by the poet Dorothy Wordsworth, and later on, her brother William. Unsurprising, given that the Lake District was a source of inspiration for many Romantic writers – and Scafell Pike, with stunning views across Wastwater and beyond! While many of the paths these early climbers are now well-worn roads, much of the spirit still remains in Scafell’s windswept heights.
Walks up Scafell Pike
There are numerous paths up Scafell Pike, following from the four main valleys – Wasdale Head, Borrowdale, Great Langdale, and Eskdale. The first of these is often the quickest route, but is also the steepest and most dangerous.
Other routes offer a gentler and easier journey; paths are marked with cairns, but navigation skills are a must in order to stay on the right one, as many routes intersect and criss-cross – having a map and a compass to hand are essential to avoid getting lost! Though the paths are relatively short, measuring around nine miles, the steep and rocky surface means that it is an all-day climb, even for the most seasoned of hikers.
Rescue teams are often kept busy aiding climbers who have lost their way, with the history of Scafell Pike rescues often as dramatic as the many successful climbs! In 1859, locals from Wasdale enquired who had lost his way to the summit amongst the thick blanket of mist, while in 1921, an unlucky climber broke both ankles and was left stranded for 18 days in a ravine.
And it’s not only humans that find themselves in need of rescuing – the Wasdale Mountain Rescue services are often called out to help dogs of walkers that find themselves unable to cross the difficult terrain of boulders across the mountain.
For walkers keen to bring their dogs with them, it’s important to note that Scafell Pike is a demanding challenge for anyone, and a degree of experience and fitness is necessary. For dogs not used to hard, stony paths, there is a risk of split pads, and the loose boulders and rocks can often result in dogs getting a leg stuck in between gaps.
Wildlife on Scafell Pike
Walkers will come across a wide variety of wildlife across Scafell Pike throughout the year, including birds of prey such as buzzards, kestrels and golden eagles.
There are often hardy sheep and mountain goats to be found on the slopes, and walkers with dogs should take care to keep a close eye on them.
During nesting season, between March and July, birds will often be nesting on the ground and dogs must be kept on leads during this period. Although Scafell Pike is certainly a challenging and difficult climb, the dramatic views from its summit present a spectacular reward. While it is always popular with visitors through the year, it still offers a serene and inspiring experience to those that brave its rocky paths!