A Scary Afternoon on Scafell Pike - Early May 2003
By a Dutchman - Sven Pekelder
The following true story has been kindly provided by a visitor
to the Lake District who wishes others to learn from a his group's mistake - all
paths going up lead to the top, but this is not the case when descending,
particularly Scafell Pike in mist......
Dear people of the Wasdale MRT,
Through the Cockermouth MRT-page I found your page. Reading through the stories, I relived my agony from a year back, and decided to send in a story, as a warning.
My name is Sven and I'm from Eindhoven in the Netherlands. The following is an account of a scary afternoon high on Scafell Pike with my mate M. It shows that stop and think is a smart thing to do. Going back and not pushing on is sometimes even better.
Early may 2002, three friends and I were on a walking-holiday in the Lake District, staying near Cockermouth. It actually started, how odd it may seem, with a visit to the Cockermouth Sainsbury's. People from the Lions Club were selling tickets, with the first prize being a 3 minutes trolley-dash in the supermarket. We bought a ticket, what the heck. Two days later, we were called in our hotel by the chairman, who told us we won the prize! In unison, we decided to donate the prize to the
Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team. We agreed to show up at Sainsbury's the next day to collect the prize and donate it to the MRT, who's headquarter is (was actually) in the same carpark.
Next day, we set out from the bottom of Hardknot's pass to walk up Eskdale to Scafell Pike, and maybe, weather and legs permitting, climb the highest mountain of England. The weather was perfect, and we reached the bottom of the waterfall at the foot of Scafell Pike. Two of our party decided not to climb, as the climb would have to be fairly quick to be back a reasonable time in Cockermouth to meet the people from the Lions and the MRT. We had two hours to go up and return. Our friends would wait the two hours, then head back to the car, as we would catch up with them.
Me and M started out and made good progress, the weather turning to slight drizzle and a fair wind. Looking up, the top became covered in clouds, but the opportunity to stand at the highest point in England made us push further. We encountered two walkers, asking where they were. It turned out they had descended the wrong side of the mountain. We thought that was
rather clumsy. We would soon find out........
Further up the path, I turned to my compass to make bearings, thinking it would help me keep direction on the return. Up on the summit, the terrain was more flat and covered in loose boulders. We discovered cairns and making compass-readings, we followed them through the mist until we came to the top. We had made it in good time, one hour, no worries. There was
no view, the top being full in the thick mist. Retracing our steps, we followed the ill visible path back to a small cairn we built, from there retracing on the compass. Feeling confident from the quick ascent, we sped back to our friends and the party with the Lions and MRT. At the edge of the plateau, the actual path up was hard to find in the mist, but we thought we were on the right course. We headed down, quickly realizing it wasn't the path we had taken up. Based on the map, the compass and our sense of direction, we decided the path was a little over to our right, and headed that way, without going back up.
Progress was slow, slippery. But, the path was just around the corner, or so we thought.
As time passed, we became more urged to find the path and go down, or we would be late. This stopped us from going back, as it would mean losing a lot of time, and we would be facing the same difficulty finding the right path down. And, still sure, the path was just around the corner, to our right.
Scrambling down, we found ourselves in a gorge, and to our agony and fear, we found ourselves stuck there, the terrain being to slippery to go back up, being dangerous to go down. We stopped to discuss the situation, deciding to carefully press on down, to get under the mist to see where we were. The experience will not be lightly forgotten, as two times we
slipped and in a stream of boulders managed just to regain a stand and get out of the falling rocks. We had been stupid, we knew, extremely stupid. But stuck with it.
We made it down, finding a small path downwards, and were able to look around, just under the mist. We saw a lake. There is no lake in Eskdale. There is a lake in Wasdale though, so we descended the wrong side of the mountain! Man, were we p*ssed. I had walked in these hills before, I should have known better, my friends relying on me, I felt responsible. I put them in this situation, I put M. in this risk. I was angry at myself, embarrassed, concerned about the fitness of M. and about the worrying of my other two friends. It was now the time they would be heading back, expecting to see us any time now up the path down from Scafell Pike. And we were nowhere near.
Eventually we saw two walkers up on a path about half a mile to the north. We shouted for attention and sped over to them. They confirmed our position. We would have to go back up (about 350 meters up), and down the other side. Going down to Wasdale head was an option, but wouldn't get us back in time. We became worried that our friends would panic with us not
being back in time and call out the Mountain Rescue. And they were the people waiting for us at the supermarket! Oh man, horrible, shame.
We sped up the path over Hollow Stones towards Lord's Rake. We were tired, but the adrenaline and anger kept us going. Up Lord's Rake we were in the clouds again, and a group of walkers, also a bit lost but coming from Scafell, guided us in the right direction. We hurried down, now being about an hour late. Our friends would soon reach the car. There was a
phone booth at the beginning of the path up Eskdale, and we feared they would call the MRT from there. We had mobiles with us, but there was no signal, we couldn't stop them. Our only hope was to push on, trying to make up for lost time. The sun was setting, and tired as we were, we pushed on.
We were extremely grateful to find our two friends, who had walked slowly back to the car, constantly checking behind them to try and spot us at the phone booth. They called the people from the Lions Club, telling them we would not be able to make it, but had decided not to call the MRT yet, trusting our fitness and ability to find our way back. They were relieved to see us, and because of the look on our faces knew that being angry wasn't necessary. In the safety of the car, I finally could let the
tension slip and started crying, feeling relieved and embarrassed.
Extremely tired and hungry, we finally joined the meeting of the Lions club in a local pub in Cockermouth, being able to formally hand over the prize to the Mountain Rescue Team. At least we had a good story to tell!
Thanks to the walkers up on Scafell Pike that day. Thanks to Mr. McCuslin and all other members of the Cockermouth Lions Club for the pleasant evening and great fun (we did do a trolley dash the day after, see picture). But most of all, thanks to all the people of the Mountain Rescue Teams all over Britain for the reassurance of being there when you need
Regards, Sven Pekelder, the Netherlands
P.S. I posted this story to the Cockermouth MRT also.
"We gratefully appreciate your letter Sven and true story - please be assured that your warning will inevitably prevent at least one mishap in the future - we receive many emails from people who read the stories and modify their plans accordingly - Richard Warren WMRT"