Hiking Scafell Pike was definitely one of the best hiking experiences I’ve had in the UK. It was a challenge, but in an absolutely beautiful area that’s well worth a visit. For any of you that don’t know, Scafell Pike is 978 metres tall, making it the tallest mountain in England (note not the UK), and is situated in the Lake District in Cumbria. In this post I hope to answer a few questions about Scafell using what we learnt along the way to help you plan your trip
1 – How hard is the Hike?
The hike itself will vary depending on which route you take, we took the route from Wasdale Head which is the most popular route, and is about 6 miles long. The hike is hard, it’s pretty much all ascending with limited flat parts, lots of steps, and lots of hard work. I looked on the map before and thought to myself ‘how does it take that long, 6 miles sounds easy?’, then I realised it’s also going up nearly 1000metres and over uneven rocky terrain. So underestimate it at your peril.
2 – How long will it take?
There are various estimates of how long the hike will take, but you should allow for at least 4-6 hours. We took maybe around 7 hours all together, but this was with various stops along the way and different paces within our group, so 4-6 if you’re not planning on stopping for too long is a good estimate. This means don’t leave too late! It’s amazing the amount of people we saw late afternoon just starting the hike without torches or proper equipment. It will take a long time and you don’t want to be stuck without light or proper equipment, so start in the morning or around midday if you can.
3 – What route should you take?
If you’re hiking from Wasdale Head, my advice is to take the main route with the most people, this will be clear when you start hiking. This the easiest and safest route, and will be the one marked with cairns (piles of rocks you’ll start to see about 1/2 of the way up that are there to show you where the path is in bad weather). There are actually two starting paths, one from the campsite and one from near the Wasdale Head Inn which is the most popular which join up about a mile in to form one main path. There are a couple of branches you can take from this main path I’ve explained below, however my advice is to just stick to the main path where you will see most people.
Branch Left – This is a path going upwards from Wasdale Head Inn route beginning just after the path curves left into the valley and just before the two starting paths join by the stream (won’t see this route from campsite starting point). You’ll climb directly left up the side of a adjacent hill, we didn’t see anyone going up this way but did see people coming down, this is a detour that will take a bit longer but is steeper then flatter rather than being constantly moderately steep. However is an option if you want variety in your route. We chose not to, as this route is very exposed, and coming down is very steep.
Branch Right – This is an option that starts when you start to see the cairns, about halfway up after the long rock stairs section. I would strongly advise to not take this route unless you know what you’re doing. This is shorter, however a steeper more dangerous route with loose rocks, that has fallen into disrepair and is advised against by all rangers in the area unless you are a climber. We actually even saw helicopters having to emergency rescue someone from this route whilst we were on the hike. So in simple terms take the main route, it’s a lot safer.
4 – What gear should you have?
This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at the amount of people that think Scafell Pike is just a walk in the park. It’s not. There are lots of rocks, a stream to cross, and likely wet and slippery surfaces. So importantly bring proper walking boots or shoes that are designed for this type of terrain. Please don’t be those people you see that have to get rescued because they wear shorts and flip flops.
It will also get cold so bring layers you can put on near the top, and take off if you get too hot. It’s also important to bring plenty of water and food (energy bars, snacks etc), as there isn’t anything along the way There are no water taps or anything other than streams in the first half of the hike (which probably aren’t that safe to drink from unless you have a filtered bottle), so if you’re out for 4-6 hours you’ll need plenty of food and water.
If you’re not confident on slippery or rough terrain a walking stick is a good idea to help keep you stable on the slippery or rugged surfaces too, there are parts of the path that were very wet with running water across them. If you’re hiking alone, or at a time without other people, make provisions for some way to communicate in case of emergency. We had plenty of people around so weren’t too concerned, but there is no phone signal in the whole valley until you get to near the top of the mountain, so if you’ll need to contact people, it’ll likely be impossible along a lot of the hike.
5 – What’s the weather like?
Unfortunately, being in a beautiful valley close to the coast, this also means clouds are extremely likely to be overhead. Even if 10 miles away there is perfect sunshine, you should prepare for wet, windy or cold weather in any time of the year. We were there in what was a record warm August bank holiday down south, but was a mid teens, rain at times and windy and grey. Mostly though check the local guides to the weather before you hike, there is plenty of information on weather conditions around the base of the hike.
6 – Will there be great views from the top?
Unfortunately because of where Scafell Pike is, it’s extremely rare for there to be a clear summit. My friend who had been previously said in his 4 attempts he had never had a view from the top. You’ll likely get views until about 3/4 of the way up, where the vegetation stops. But after that you’re up in the clouds (as you can see from our summit picture).
7 – How do you get there?
If you’re hiking from Wasdale Head, you’ll need to get there by car. There isn’t any public transport because the roads aren’t really suited to large vehicles, but most cars will be fine. The car park is clearly signposted and is just before the Wasdale Head Inn with toilet facilities. If you’re more exercise inclined you can even hike or cycle there, we saw a few cyclists along the roads, and people who were hiking from valley to valley.
8 – Where should you stay?
My friend Sam planned for us to stay in a National Trust campsite in Wasdale Head (which you’ll need to book in advance). The facilities were very good and price more than reasonabl. There is also another campsite next to the Inn, and the Inn itself as places to stay. I’m going to recommend staying at one of these 3 in Wasdale Head as they all have direct paths for climbing Scafell Pike, so once you’re there you don’t need to travel further to climb Scafell. Not to mention that it’s the most popular route so it’s easy to navigate and get help if you get into trouble
9 – Is there a good pub?
The most important question of them all. YES! There is. It’s called the Wasdale Head Inn, and it’ll be the building with an ‘INN’ painted on the side of it, you can see from most of the valley. It was so good (and there wasn’t really another option), that we went there 3 nights in a row. The pub is used to catering for large numbers of people and having probably been there in there busiest time of the year, I can say it won’t put you off. There are lots of food options, great local ales, and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. So if you need a decent fill after a tough day hiking, it’s absolutely ideal. Not to mention their brownie desert was probably the best I’ve ever had…
Any other questions about Scafell I haven’t mentioned, post them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them…