1 Way up - 360 Ways Down

The following letter was written by a visitor to Wasdale and included a small donation to the team which we gratefully acknowledged.  What I particularly like about the letter is that it is an accurate description of the problems people experience on the hills each and every day.  (the gentleman kindly gave his permission for it to be reproduced here so that others might learn from his experience).

As rescuers with a very good knowledge of the Lake District fells we sometimes find it difficult to put ourselves in the shoes (boots) of the missing or cragfast walker.  The following account is one persons experiences of Wasdale.  It was unfortunate that each day of his four day visit brought a different problem,  however, it clearly shows, how people can get into real difficulty.

Thank you for your letter  Mr. S

                                    Richard Warren - Secretary WMRT

17th October  2000


East Sussex


Dear Sirs,  

Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team

Firstly may I attract your attention by enclosing a small donation to thank you for not having to rescue me on a recent holiday.  I had an enjoyable four days towards the end of August when I was able to ascend Kirk Fell, Scafell, Illgill Head , Whinn Rigg, and the Screes, and Scafell Pike. Each day brought at least one moment when I thought the end was nigh!

On each occasion the cloud made navigation very difficult even although I had with me the Ordnance survey Leisure map 1/25,000 scale, the Altos explorer guide map, a GPS and spare batteries, a top range  Silva compass, Mobile Phone , etc. and have passed Sailing coastal navigation and am a Surveyor!   

The first problem was that the GPS would not lock on to the satellites possibly because of very heavy cloud cover, even at the top of the routes. Secondly the compass did not appear to be reading accurately. Another walker said that this was due to very high  iron ore content in the rocks near the summit. This appeared to be likely especially at Kirk fell because the scramble section at Kirk fell crags was red with  iron ore.  

From Scafell I intended to return via Long Green but ended up going too far East, slipping some way down the wet grass and scree  eventually passing a wrecked aeroplane and emerging at How Beck waterfall and returning to Wasdale via Eskdale , Wool Pack Inn, and Burnmoor Tarn a bit later than intended.  The problem appears to be due to the fact that when aiming for the summit there is really only one way to go and that is upwards. However having reached the summit there are 360 ways  down, and a slight deviation in starting out can lead to a large error quite quickly.   

Is it correct about the magnetic deviation at the summits, and would a digital/electronic compass be more accurate?. Are there, or would it be possible to erect rock markers with North South East and West markings so that compasses could be checked and directions taken with reasonable accuracy?. The trig Point at Scafell Pike did not appear to relate to the compass orientation at all. I was hoping to reach Broad Crag and Glaramara by travelling NE from the summit but abandoned the idea when all the cairns appeared to look the same whichever direction I set out! Maybe a detailed summit plan would be a useful feature! 

With reference to the Screes I was under the impression that this would be a pleasant afternoon return stroll along the edge of the lake after ascending Whin Rigg. Travelling from south to north the warning notice near the pumping station/boat house did not really prepare me for the difficulty of the large rock fall. I was not able to find the proper route close to the Lake and went much too high hoping to circumnavigate the Rock fall. Not much fun having hundredweight rocks  sliding about. It must have taken an hour to traverse the first rock fall, and I was getting very worried about the time factor in case it became dark before I could reach Wasdale.(even although I had a head torch). I would have been really worried if it had been  raining and slippery as well as being dark,  instead of luckily being a warm sunny evening. 

Eventually a more experienced Walker going in the opposite direction said that I was much too high and should have followed the red paint marks on the rocks. Which red marks? I was not aware of any red marks! I did follow these on the subsequent easy sections.  If the notices had stressed the potential difficulties of the large rockfall/scree and referred to the red paint marks life would have been much simpler and safer. (Editors note - WMRT carry out around four rescues a year on this boulder field - hence the rescue boat) 

I experienced a similar problem with route finding on the Corridor Route descending from Scafell Pike at Gr. 218086 travelling NE approx. Fortunately some kind soul had scratched Arrow heads to indicate the route which is a bit scary because of the exposure near the gully.  I am just wondering if there is some merit in painting difficult part of the route with white or red marks to show the correct way.   I appreciate that this is turning the countryside into a glorified motorway with signs everywhere, but surely safety at some difficult spots is more important. I must say that Wasdale is a superb area of Natural Beauty so too many signpost could be a problem, and may be self defeating in attracting too many inexperienced visitors and causing parking problems and erosion etc.


Lastly I am wondering whether a scrambling rope is worth carrying for exposed scrambles, and if so if you can recommend a publication giving practical advice on belays and the methods for using a scrambling Rope without carrying about fifty pounds of nuts and friends etc. eg using natural chockstones and gaps in the rocks etc.


I enjoyed reading your annual Yearbook, ample food for thought there,  and hope to return to Wasdale soon, to scare myself to death yet again. This letter is intended to be positive and constructive, but I do hope that I shall never need your services personally!


Yours faithfully,

(full name and address accompanied the letter)

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