Third time unlucky

Stacey and the support crew of Stuart and Chris picked me up at around 8:30 on Saturday morning. We got packed up and, after waving goodbye to my family, we headed up through Scotland. The journey was uneventful, although the weather did give me some cause for concern. As usual, we stopped at the Glencoe Visitors Centre for a quick break and availed ourselves of their catering.
On arrival at the Glen Nevis car park we got ourselves organised and ready to go, just as it started to rain. This didn’t last too long fortunately. Something else that didn’t last too long was my fitness. After half an hour or so my heart and lungs felt as though they were going to burst and I had to take a breather. I was wearing my heart rate monitor and decided that the best course of action was to keep my heart rate below 190 and everything would be fine. This actually worked out spectacularly well as we got ourselves up and down Ben Nevis in four and a half hours.


There were no surprises for us on Ben Nevis really. The cloud line was at about the same height as the last time that we went up. However the snow line was much higher, despite all of the horror stories that we heard about it having snowed the night before. Stacey had brought two pairs of crampons with him just in case and they wreaked havoc on my food bag.


Feeling all pleased with ourselves when we got down from Ben Nevis we headed off to Sca Fell Pike. We arrived there around two hours ahead of plan and set off for the summit at a slightly slower pace than maybe Stacey would have preferred. We ground out the ascent and made it to the summit in a bit less than the two hours that it has taken us previously. As we had passed through Hollow Stones we had headed into the clouds. This was relatively early on and slowed us down a little. At this point we encountered another group heading for the summit and we tagged onto them. Stacey wanted to get past them but there wasn’t quite enough speed left in my legs for that and so we followed them up. They had a more powerful torch with them than either of us and that helped to pick out the cairns that line the route as we ascended.


The summit always comes as a surprise on the Wasdale Head route and this time was no different. What wasn’t so welcome was the turn in the weather. As we approached the summit it started to rain. Within the space of a minute this had escalated into a storm with wind speeds that were threatening to knock us over and driving rain that felt like hail as it pelted us. Now the fun began. When we turned around to head back down we realised that we couldn’t make out the path. A combination of the cloud cover and the driving rain meant that our torches were not able to reach the nearest cairn. While the other group and Stacey consulted the map I cast around for the path. Not having the confidence to stray too far from everyone else in the conditions I eventually opted for crouching in the lee of a boulder while the discussions were being had about what to do. Panic was starting to set in with the other group and they were seriously considering getting into their survival bags and calling the Mountain Rescue. I didn’t think that this was necessary and so we started to formulate a plan for finding the path when another group suddenly appeared at the summit.


This group had not followed the path. Instead they appeared to be following a bearing on a GPS. Whether they understood how this worked or not was thrown into question when they decided to lead us all off on a circumnavigation of the summit. The loudest one of them kept shouting that we needed to get further left and so we almost ended up on the next mountain. Between the guy that seemed to be leading the first group and Stacey we managed to find our way back to the trig point at the summit of Sca Fell Pike. I went looking for the path again because I was certain it was right there. The arguments about whether to “go left” or “just head down” continued on while I was looking. The simplest thing to my mind seemed to be to take a map bearing from the trig point to Wast Water and follow it until we hit the path.
I went to see the leader of the first group and explained this to him. I don’t think that he was over confident in his ability to achieve this and so I oriented his map for him and told him that we were stood on the path. Quickly we headed away from the trig point and fanned out, while members of the second group kept shouting at us that we needed to “go left”. With the concentrated effort of the majority of the group we ranged a little further afield than I had been confident to do and quickly found the first cairn. From there we made our way down the mountain in a long line, being battered by wind and rain the whole time. As we reached the bottom of the mountain we headed away from the main group and got ourselves back to the car as quickly as possible. We had been away for just over five and a half hours and the rain had been so heavy over the intervening period that the road was becoming flooded. We beat a hasty retreat without getting out of our sodden gear.
We still had eight hours left and in theory could have climbed Snowdon in time to allow us to complete the challenge. Listening to the weather forecast on the radio confirmed that the conditions on Snowdon were going to be similar, and from experience the wind was likely to be worse. We decided that discretion was the better part of valour and that we should not make the attempt. Better to have tried to complete the challenge and fail for a third time than push on and have to manage the increasing risk of the weather, injury or worse.
Third time was not to be lucky for us, although we are getting faster.  I don’t think that we will be trying again this year but I don’t think that we’ll be leaving it at this either. We will be back, and next time Snowdon is where it will end.

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