Lakes Challenge

Lakes Challenge

A challenge walk in 1994 with people more used to playing football than hill walking

Lakes Challenge 

Leading a Group Walk 

Back in 1994 my friend John was seeking a challenge for the year to raise money for the local hospital, in which a friend died of leukaemia a year earlier.  He and a group of other friends had done various fund raising challenges in previous years, and this time they fancied something to do in the hills. John knew that I was keen on the outdoors and spent a lot of time in The Lake District, so he asked for ideas.


Climbing just one hill was no good, they wanted a challenge, so we set on the idea of climbing the three biggest mountains in the Lakes, being Scafell Pike, Scafell and Helvellyn.


Not knowing most of the group, I organised for us all to meet a few weeks before the event so that I could explain what the challenge was, how tough it would be, what kit and people would need etc. I stressed ‘no jeans’ and that waterproofs should be breathable if possible, and to avoid heavy duty rubberised jackets as they did not breath. Everyone was enthusiastic, but one person did not turn up. That person was Ade, and he was the brother of the lad who’d died, so he was an important part of the group.


I talked through how bad the weather could be, the requirement for waterproofs, top and bottom, hat, gloves, and high calorie carbohydrate packed food and not just a normal packed lunch. A couple of the guys stated that they preferred ‘bulk’ to chocolate snacks, but I stressed about the higher calorie requirement and snacks were good to eat ‘a little and often’ rather than one lunch stop at the top.


One of the group was good friends with Ade, and he promised to pass on the information and ensure that he was properly kitted out and brought the correct food.


The group of about 15 people had little in the way of experience, but most of them were pretty sporty, being weekly foot and basket-ballers, so fitness was unlikely to be an issue.


The plan was to ascend the Scafells from Great Langdale, then take the mini bus over to Wythburn and climb Helvellyn. Langdale to Scafell Pike is about 5.5 miles, then about another mile to Scafell, which involves a descent of approx 900 ft, and renascent of about the same. The route back is reversed, so it’s no walk in the park, being approx 13 miles and 5,000 ft of ascent.


I’d recruited my best mate Carl to assist for the weekend. He had lots of walking experience in Snowdonia and would be there to assist in any difficulties.


The evening before the walk we all met in Elterwater Youth Hostel and had a couple of pints in the Britannia Inn before turning in for a reasonably early night. This was the first time that I’d met Ade. I’d best describe his as being a little over weight, which no one had though to mention to me. Perhaps I hadn’t asked. Ade then joked about having jeans in which to walk, and not yet having bought any food. His expectation was that he’s buy some when he got to Elterwater. I’m pretty such I advised for people to buy stuff before travelling, but Ade wasn’t here, and he obviously didn’t get the message. I had hoped that he was joking, but on return to the youth hostel he did seek out a selection of Mars bars etc from the tuck shop.  Others of the group had said they’d share food with Ade on the day.


In the morning the weather was looking promising; it was dry at least.  As we parked at the Old Dungeon Ghyll (ODG) I got my first view of Ade’s walking attire for the day, which in fact did comprise jeans, and his ‘men at work’ thick rubberised jacket. Eyes rolled, but not a lot I could do about that now. I was carrying a lot of kit and my aging Alpinist 7 rucksack, being the biggest rucksack I owned, was out for the day, and it was pretty full. Included in which was a sleeping bag, spare clothing, extra food etc. It was heavy. The lads were raring to go and after me pointing out the path, they were off on the path, with Carl in tow. I faffed a little at the boot of the car and then set off a few minutes later knowing that I could catch them up.  I was impressed with their progress and it took me about 15 minutes to catch up, although they were in sight for most of that time.


It was then I realised my first mistake of the day. I’d left my map in the car. That was a fact that I wasn’t about to share with anyone as it would be certain to negatively affect their confidence in me, but with a quick assessment of my knowledge of the route I decided that it wasn’t an issue about the map as I’d walked the same route a couple of weeks earlier in preparation, and had previously walked the same route two or three times.


As we started the ascent up the old pony track, it started to rain, which became sustained and enthusiasm sucking. Alan and Powelly were steaming ahead, with most of the group walking at a similar pace. However, Ade was lagging way behind as soon as we started the ascent. His fitness was letting him down when compared to the sporty nature of the others, and his poor kit was only adding to the situation. It was less than two miles walk on the flat back to the van, and suggesting that a party member split from the group is generally a bad idea. However, in this situation, with only one way out of the valley and straight back to the car park, I’d decided that even he could manage that walk with little risk. But, as it was his brother for whom we were walking, he was determined to continue.


The poor weather persisted and so did Ade’s lack of progress, putting us further and further behind schedule as the hours went by. I can’t remember the exact timings, but knew that the appointment for soup and roll that I’d booked at the ODG for about 3pm was definitely going to be missed.


As we walked from Esk Hause towards Scafell Pike we were in the cloud. Carl got his map out and tried to work out where we were, but I assured him that I knew (which I did), and that we were on course. The lads weren’t used to walking in such conditions, but with the exception of the slow pace of Ade, everyone was doing pretty well. Dave was looking a bit cold and wet as his waterproof was one of those thin cagools type jackets, and frankly is wasn’t waterproof. As we negotiated the boulders of the shoulder of Broad Crag, Carl and Ade were bringing up the rear. They stopped before descending to Broad Crag Col, which I’d noticed as I’m half way up the last section of Scafell Pike. Carl had been doing a great job walking with Ade and encouraging him along, but it seemed that enough was enough, and Ade was going no further. I think the sight of the final steep section of Scafell Pike had zapped the remnants of enthusiasm from him. Carl and I were carrying walkie talkies, so a quick chat over the air confirmed that they’d be staying there for a bit, before turning back. As a precaution, Carl advised that he’d be sticking Ade in a survival bag whilst resting, to switch into dry clothes and prevent him getting any wetter. I was assured it was fine for the rest of us to continue.


Minutes later the rest of us reached the top of Scafell Pike, and at that time the rain stopped, cloud lifted, sun came out and we had a great view of Wast Water. Dave was by now shivering, looking very cold and I was becoming concerned. His kit was awful and he was soaked. We gathered around to protect him from the wind, stripped off his top half of the soggy clothing he was wearing, replacing it with a couple of dry T shirts and a thick Nato type sweater that I’d had stashed in my rucksack. Dave’s a fighter, but after suggesting that he went to join Carl and Ade, he decided that was best.


Paul worked for the local Cable TV company and was the first of the group to have a mobile phone. So before leaving the summit of Scafell Pike I used his phone to call my parents to get them to contact the ODG to alert them that we would be late. The last thing I wanted was for the ODG to report us overdue, and spark a rescue. (I’ll always remember my mum’s response when I said I was calling from the top of Scafell Pike. She replied “oh, are you on a mobile phone...”)


Checking on the radio that Dave was safely with Carl, the rest of us continued to Scafell, via Foxes Tarn and back without issue. Walking back from Broad Crag towards Esk Hause, I recall seeing the remains of enthusiasm drain from all but a couple of the group. Bailey was previously insistent that he needed bulky food when hungry, but was perhaps now realising that he did in fact need that extra energy. He was about dragging his knuckles along the floor in the drudgery of the return journey, and he was a fit guy, playing football a few times each week. I’d been eating a little and often all day and was feeling fine, checking the rest of the group and trying to keep give them a little motivation. However, there are only so many times that one can say ‘not far now’ before they think you’re perhaps telling a few porkies!


Back at the ODG, Carl, Dave and Ade were in the bar and had been there for a couple of hours and reported that the journey back was slow but everyone was ok. The pre-planned soup had been well needed, but Dave said that moments after leaving us, having donned dry kit, he was warm again and wished that he’d continued with the rest of the group.


Whilst a couple of the guys were keen to go and do Helvellyn, we all decided that the day had been challenging enough and that early door at the Britannia Inn was a much better idea.


I think it was about that point I confessed to having forgotten my map, which brought a few stunned looks and questions of “how did you know the way...”


Good Points
  • Advance planning of expectations, kit, soup at pub
  • General fitness
  • Experienced ‘second’
  • Spare kit carried


Lessons Learnt
  • Route was perhaps a little long (certainly Helvellyn was a step too far)
  • Didn’t personally discuss requirements with Ade
  • Poor kit for the conditions from a couple of people
  • Could have checked more with the group that they were eating frequently
  • Forgetting my map, although that wasn’t an issue for navigation itself, it did mean that I couldn’t have given a grid reference in the event of calling for help or re-located if required
  • Emphasis that hill walking is not the same as 90 mins on a football field
  • Leading a group is not the same as walking alone, or with a couple of others