The day started badly and frankly, just got worse. My partner Dean and I were supposed to be travelling up to Scafell together to climb the highest peak in England, but when I was ready to leave at 6.10am and he was still asleep (late night + beer = inevitable) it was clearly going to be a solo effort.
Well solo, except for the rest of the gang. Jenna Brough had come up with the idea as a fund-raiser/Kilimanjaro training run, and it did seem like a good idea at the time.
What no-one tells you - but you soon learn - is that certain hilly and uninhabited parts of the country have no internet signal, so about 10 miles out, I was blindly following roads in the hope they all led to Scafell. They didn’t.
I eventually found the Wasdale Head car park thanks to two fell runners with proper old fashioned maps and a man walking his dog. I was though, about 40 mins late and beginning to resign myself to climbing the thing alone because, surely, everyone else would have arrived on time and be halfway up by now.
THIS MAD CHALLENGE
Wrong. Ade Cunliffe, our fearless leader, and the man who dreamt up this mad Kilimanjaro Challenge, was loitering, managing to exude an air of positivity mixed with a touch of ‘perturbed’ and ‘pissed off’. He does it so well.
Jen and her party, it seemed, were awol en route. We’d have to start without them. So we (including Ade’s missus Rachel and Gareth Carvell’s mum Alicia) set off towards the gate at the bottom (yes there really is a gate at the bottom that says ‘Scafell’, with a little arrow pointing upwards) just as a speeding mini bus rounds the bend, with Jenna and her mates banging on the windows to get our attention.
Yes, it was going to be one of those climbs.
Scafell Pike, for those who don’t know, is one of the British three peaks along with Ben Nevis in Scotland and Snowdon in Wales. Scafell is the smallest of the three, at 978 metres, but boy does it make up for its stature with attitude.
The path to the summit is well trodden but offers little respite to the walker, with very little in the way of plateaux en route, meaning that every step was a climbing one. We’d cleverly picked a day of low cloud which afforded spectacular views as we ascended but quickly deteriorated into no views at all.
Luckily, when the group got divided, with the leaders disappearing into a bank of fog and mist, we had natural foghorns to help us locate our missing buddies, in the form of the laughing and cackling of Jenna’s gang of enthusiastic no-nonsense Yorkshire women. Couldn’t see ‘em but you could bloody hear ‘em.
Jenna also brought her trusty selfie stick which meant that every new terrain or twist was a photo opp, with the gorgeous white-toothed grin of Mrs Brough at the forefront of each picture. She’s super fit is Jenna, and had no problem scaling the sheer wall of shale about three quarters of the way up, while at the same time pushing my arse and taking photos with her other hand. Multi-skilled is an understatement.
This was my first mountain, and I’ve vowed never to climb it again. Within 20 minutes I was breathless, and had already got stuck (paralysed with fear) halfway across a stream. Jenna came to the rescue then, and many times later, grabbing me under my armpit every time I lost my balance (lots) and pushing me (literally) when it looked like I’d stalled.
GRAND CENTRAL STATION
It was not an easy climb, and neither was it ‘fun’. My muscles were tensed from the very first incline, and only relaxed once I was back in my car. I have a gammy knee that plays up every time there’s a slight camber to the right. Bad enough going up, but agonising on the way down. It was in the descent that Alicia Carvell came to my rescue, talking to me all the way down so the pain in my knee was forgotten and the tension in my bones was ignored. Thanks Alicia.
At the very top it was like Grand Central Station, so many people had conquered the climb and had now settled in with a flask and a scotch egg. I found my own rock and took a little time for contemplation. My knees ached, my hair was dripping wet, and I could hardly see the tip of the hill for bodies and fog.
As I ate my Double Decker, a young man plonked himself down next to me, and 30 seconds later his mate ran up the rocks to join him.
‘One twenty, I’m happy with that, you must have been about one nineteen?”
“Yep, about that.”
“Not bad,” the first said
“Not bad,” nodded his mate.
They’d run all the way up, and had taken a good hour and ten minutes off the time it’d taken me. I sighed a deep sigh full of admiration for them but disappointment for myself.
And then I remembered a group of people we’d (almost literally) bumped into on the way up. Barry West was, it seemed, the leader of this group, and he was certainly an inspiration. Bazza was riding his bike one day when a badger, or a beaver, ran out in front of him. He swerved to miss it and fell off, breaking his neck. Here he was, surrounded by mist and a circle of strangers, explaining that this was the last of his three peaks challenge, each one completed while he was in a wheelchair while his friends carried and dragged him up.
And you can’t hear that story without thinking of the reason why I was sitting on a rock at the top of England. Steve Prescott covered the length and breadth of the United Kingdom on a bike, pausing en route only to scale the 3 peaks, while battling a rare stomach cancer that it was believed would kill him within six months.
That was just one of his mad challenges, which ignited a desire to in so many others to push themselves beyond what they thought they could achieve. Steve may have died, but the ripples of his actions continue to spread outward.
So I sat atop the highest peak in England, having taken the first step towards the goal of doing the same at the summit of the highest freestanding mountain in the world. It’s going to be some climb.
Spectrum Kilimanjaro Challenge 2015
England's Baby Grand: Scafell Pike-d