On the 28th February 2015, 8 brave souls from the directorship of Toyota GB,
set out to climb 4 of the Lakeland 3,000ers in two days in aid of Comic Relief.
This was a real challenge as hardly any of these guys had stepped foot on a mountain before let alone in winter which creates so many more obstacles than walking these mountains in the summer.
As part of the initial equipment preparation day we insisted that there were some other items that would be compulsory even before they could contemplate this challenge and we suggested Montane clothing including direct ascent waterproof jackets, astro ascent waterproof trousers, base layers and of course the Beanie Hats, all red and black in colour of course to match the Toyota brand. To complete the essential kit list which consisted of Meindl Toronto and Kansas B rated walking boots, these would be minimum requirements in the conditions we were expecting.
We arrived in Langdale in the early evening pretty much at the same time, most people arriving by train apart from Sean, Dave and Rob and myself who arrived by minibus with all the kit and instantly set about briefing the chaps on what they had let themselves in for.
Four routes were displayed on a screen to indicate our routes up and down the four mountains along with dialogue explaining some of the symbols on the map including what those tight contour lines mean?!!!!
After a health and safety brief and a quick Q & A session we began the process of issuing the essential kit that would be needed to take on such a challenge including, crampons, ice axes, warm jackets, walking poles, head torches and gaiters, all supplied by Trek Hire UK. The crampons needed to be sized at this point as it was something that you would need to avoid doing on the mountain, especially in wintry conditions….
The evening was quite relaxing, much banter and maybe a little nervous laughter was had as the topic of conversation shifted from the journey up to what would happen over the coming days, a couple of pints of beer would eventually ease any worries that they may have….
The first day went like clockwork, Sean (our lead guide) suggested an early start on the mountain so the alarms were set for 6am with breakfast at 7am which left the guys enough time to get their respective packs down to the mini bus and of course the extra support vehicle in the guise of Ewan’s Toyota V8 4×4, what else?
DAY 1 Before we set off, a few photos were taken of the smiling adventurers resplendent in their bright (Toyota and Comic Relief) red jackets and black trousers which would indeed protect them from the elements that we would encounter on the mountains.
The journey to our first location and start point in a car park in the village of Boot took us over Hard Knott Pass which thankfully wasn’t icy as the roads many twists and turns would have had more than a few squeaky bum moments. After around 30 minutes driving we finally arrived, a quick kit check, a few happy snaps and we were off!
The first part of the route took us along a path that ran parallel to a stream that lay fifty feet or so to our right and then up onto Eskdale Moor. This part of the trek was very easy with a number of stops to layer down as some people decided to set off with more layers than they really needed. Our first obstacle was soon upon as in the shape of Burnmoor Tarn, the stream entering the tarn had what looked like a bridge that didn’t quite reach right across to the other side so it had to be negotiated by placing your foot on precariously placed rocks slightly below the surface of the water which of course led in turn to a few wobbly moments and people were silently betting among themselves who would fall in first but surprisingly no one did and the journey carried on. That’s not to say that there weren’t quite a few mud sucking squelches as the odd person went up to their knees in the bog.
After an hour or so we eventually reached the base of Scafell and as we ascended into the cloud the temperature dropped, the visibility started to diminish and the ground became colder with patches of snow starting to appear more and more frequently the higher we went.
Onwards and upwards we went, nothing was stopping us now and the summit was reached, the first mountain standing at 964 metres had been reach and the first of four summits had been conquered. Out came Toyota’s Comic Relief flag and the guys gathered round it as evidence of this great achievement, it needed a few hands on it as the wind was starting to pick up but nothing in terms of what lay ahead of us.
Because of the cold wind and the lack of shelter Sean and Dave (assistant guide) decided that lunch should be taken at a lower level, we could see that the path down was quite icy so it was decided to get the crampons on. This was done relatively quickly thanks to the pre sizing session back at the hotel, Sean took the lead down, and we all lined up behind him and snake our way down too. On our way, we bumped into a mountaineering group from the south who looked ill prepared with warnings of a tricky descent due to icy conditions, wise words from a bunch of guys without crampons and to top it all, they loosened a rock higher up the pass, shouted ‘below’ and we all waited to see what was on its way down. The spiralling rock came fizzing past me and narrowly missed Darren who used some amazing footwork to avoid the projectile which had it him would have caused some serious damage, dangerous places these mountains….
Lunch was well deserved and everyone eagerly got stuck into their packed lunch that had been provided by the hotel we were staying at. We now seemed to have an uninvited guest for lunch in the form of the biggest crow that I’ve seen who in turn gratefully accepted some of the scraps of sandwiches that had been discarded in his direction in preference to the more appealing chocolate bars. Ah that’s why the bird is so big I thought, how many times has he joined other groups for his packed lunch date?
The next part of the route took in a quite imposing gulley with numerous tricky obstacles to overcome. Doug (our biggest guy) took the lead and slowly manoeuvred his way down with us all following in his footsteps. Dave and Sean strategically positioned themselves along the narrow fissure ensuring that the chaps got themselves down safely with me bringing up the rear (as usual) keeping an eye potential hazards that the other guys may have missed.
After what seemed an age, we all managed to get down to the base of the gully only to hear a few moans and groans as we all peered up the next ascent enroute to Scafell Pike. “How far Sean”? a voice was heard to ask, “200 metres” was the reply, is that vertically or horizontally people were asking themselves, in fact it became the standard from Sean whenever asked throughout the weekend.
We had to ascend the route adjacent to an incredibly steep rock face to our left called Broad Stand if we wanted to achieve our second summit and the 200 metre ascent again seemed to take an age but the guys were very determined and after a Doug was taken out a couple of times by an invisible sniper we managed to get to the first waypoint called Mickledore. This is a narrow ridge that has a 250 meter drop off on the other side from where we came up which seemed to focus us all as we turned right to wind our way up to the summit. It has to be said that at this moment a couple of climbers walked down to where we were and had to be turned back by Dave as they had got totally lost and would have invariably tried unsuccessfully to descend this particular point, impossible without crampons it has to be said, so well done Dave for saving their lives.
The mist now was now thicker than it had been all day which I guess helped keep the eyes away from the exposed ridges and the path to the top of Scafell Pike was clear. The summit was reached at roughly 4pm, the flag was out and the ritual was repeated, a couple of mountain rescue guides who appeared with their dog were surprised to see us and thought we were the military and no sooner had they arrived they disappeared into the deepening claggy skies.
It was a quick stop here, we weren’t hanging around now as night was fast approaching, so a bearing for a suitable ascent was taken by Sean, Dave concurred and we were off albeit a bit slower now due to a couple of aching limbs and sore feet. It was quite a simple manoeuvre now, get down as quickly and as safely as possible and the rapidly dropping temperature wasn’t helping either.
The stronger guys were now setting a pace and poor Doug was feeling every step and his pace had slowed quite dramatically and Dave now became tail end Charlie and I moved forward to walk with Matt who was also suffering from a ITB issue that had inflamed during the day, these are normal injuries for this type of thing and we will get down in our own time, after all, we all had head torches, didn’t we?
Two hours had now passed and the skies had darkened to a hew of light which made each step an art in concentration and the head torches had to be broken out. Unfortunately, I hadn’t put the batteries in most of them as I seriously thought we wouldn’t need them but I did have a fresh pack of batteries in my daysack which managed to light up 7 out of 8 which left Rob without a light and had to rely on the other guys to provide the sufficient light for him to get down but when you walk with Sean, you got to keep up and I think I overheard him call to Sean to come back as he left him without the means to see where he was walking which could have proved tricky!!
Four hours had now passed now and we still weren’t fully off, some of the guys had managed to pick up the pace and get down in pretty good time, I think the instigator for this was when Sean said, ‘oh you can see the lights of the pub now’ that was it! They were down, a brief walk up the road and the first pint ordered all inside of 20 minutes!
Dave and I managed to Doug down in one piece but he was in considerable pain and to be fair he never moaned once and showed real grit and determination to finish the day, so well done big fella!
The pint that night was well deserved and much appreciated and drank with gusto but time was getting on and the hotel said that they could only serve dinner up to 9pm so it was into the minibus which was slightly overloaded as we needed to get back to the start point in Boot to pick up Ewan’s vehicle before we could even think about the drive back to the hotel. Chris our driver (and one of the directors) did a great job in keeping the wheels on the road in what we’re becoming quite tricky driving conditions with the onset of a rain shower and once we had unloaded the vehicle to its normal operating weight we were off again for some grub, I was starving, I don’t know about the others…
Back at the hotel for around 9.20pm and thoughts of food was now in everyone’s mind and although the cut off time had been and gone, they were still prepared to make us a pizza which was better than nothing and actually tasted very nice especially when it was washed down with a glass or two of the local ale.
Day Two, there were a few weary faces at breakfast, none more so than the
limping Doug who quite rightly announced his emittance from the day’s
activities to come. We still had two mountains to summit and as one of them was
quite notorious for injuring climbers the right decision was made by Doug and
he and Chris now became the support team which worked out well as we had two
vehicles to drive.
Again we arranged to leave at 7.30am and everyone was present and correct at the right time with a certain amount of gusto which surprised me a little bearing in mind what had happened the day before.
Today’s targets were Hellvelyn and Skiddaw and we had to get a wiggle on, we left the car park at the base of Hellvelyn and ascended very quickly through the forest. Once through, we had a steep but firm footing ascent to the main ridge to the summit. It was at this very moment that the weather started to deteriorate and the wind picked up which wasn’t a bad thing but it will make the ascent to the summit ridge much trickier in terms of footing due to slippery icy paths so yet again the call for crampons went out. They helped and aided our speed along to the summit and what became the ritual of flag waving and cheers took place for the third time and 3 out of 4 peaks was now ticked off.
The wind at this point was very strong and a group joined us at the summit and warned us that the route down had become quite tricky due to clumps of ice and snow and had to rely on a stranger to chop steps for them with his ice axe so they could get up. With this in mind, Dave went ahead to reccee it for himself but was quite confident that it would be okay and we could relinquish our crampons and off we went.
The wind had picked up a notch or two and using walking poles became quite awkward as they were flapping around like wind charms clanging into each other and knocking a few people off balance. As we descended we saw a few people trying to negotiate the icy pass that we had been warned about, they had very limited gear so it was quite ironic to see what I assume was a mountain rescue volunteer below them slip on a pair of crampons and get his dog into a warm body suit and harness to make this short but important manoeuvre safely, irony? you could see him coming back to rescue the idiots behind him (should have gone to Trek Hire UK).
We took particular care and time to negotiate this bit too and then took cover behind a large boulder to sort ourselves out and prepare for the next stage down. By this time, some of the other guys were starting to feel the pace and as I walked with Matt I could see that the events from the day before had finally taken its toll on his ITB problem and Skiddaw was becoming less appealing with every step and our progress slowed right down to make sure that we got down safely. In fact the walk off slowed our progress considerably and the time to get off and over to Skiddaw for our final ascent became time critical, just at the same time as a storm was fast approaching from the west, how’s your luck?
All down, Sean needed a small number from the team to make the final push and the injuries to four of the guys seemed to have made his mind up. We boarded the transport and made a mad dash for Skiddaw, it didn’t look great, the weather had closed in as promised and we were expecting 60mph winds in the area which would definitely make things interesting on the last peak, especially at the summit.
After a 20 minute drive we arrive at Skiddaw, the car park is relatively empty with a few remaining cars waiting for their owners to descend the mountain. A few concerned looks from those wondering why we were climbing so late in the day, particularly as the weather was worsening by the minute….so with lots of back slapping, a few high fives with the remaining members of the team and no time to waste, Sean (with flag in hand), Dave, Steve, Darren, Richard, Ewan and I set off at a fairly brisk pace for the summit. The going for the first 10 minutes or so was fairly flat with good terrain which seemed to be made up of relatively freshly laid scalping/slate mix which felt good under foot and seemed to drain away the water very well.
We reached our first waypoint quite quickly and our initial hopes of the mountain peak in the distance being the summit were soon dashed by Sean who explained that the route followed the base of this one on a single track that seemed to have quite a bit of snow on it but luckily for us it stopped at the track so we could carry on safely in single file.
The wind by now had picked up to 40mph (we guessed) and the noise from the wind was quite loud now and like on Hellvelyn, made the use of walking poles almost redundant but the wobbling, stumbling group carried on regardless. With the closing weather came the diminishing light so after a 2 1/2 hour battle more so with the elements than the mountain we were all glad to see the summit where we hoped to take some limited shelter. Our shelter was a pile of rocks and by lying down was the only way we could protect ourselves from taking off. It was now down to Sean to break out the flag, get some photographic evidence and get the hell out of there. We assumed the wind must now be around 50/60mph which made standing a challenge and encouraged us to pull the hoods around our faces to protect us from the stinging rain that was being blasted up the mountain. I visualised the chaps opening the flag and being carried away into the distance like disorientated paratroopers missing their LZ, thankfully that never happened and the moment to descend quickly had arrived.
As we started down, we soon realised that we had had the wind at our backs, now it was full into our faces, it seemed that every step we took brought a change in the weather though, the wind slowed but the rain stayed constant and with everyone now happy with their successful summit our progress had quickened and after a couple of small breaks we were down. Strangely, the walk from the base of the mountain to the car park seemed to take an age and that was on level ground!
Back in the minibus, feeling a little warmer and rightfully chuffed with our achievement, which included thoughts for the rest of the team and the effort that they had made to get us to this point, we headed for home but felt a celebratory beer was well in order. Dave, who’s a regular in this region, suggested a pub close to our hotel and on opening the front door we were welcomed by a wonderful scene which included a roaring fire and tables full of people recalling stories from their own day’s activities on their respective mountains. Job done!
Well done to all those who took part;
Toyota GB Team: Matt, Rob, Doug, Ewan, Richard, Steve, Darren, Masa and Chris (the driver and support team)
Guides: Sean (Mountain Leader), Dave (Assistant guide) and Mick (Director, Trek Hire UK)