Shaun, Tetley, Allen & Grizzly, complete the Birkett challenge


Date - 14th August 2013 Distance - 9 miles
Ascent -
Map - OL6

Start point -

Parking above Jubilee Bridge at foot of Hardknott Pass (NY 214011)


Summits Achieved

Name Height (ft) Height (m) Grid Ref
Pen 2500 762 NY 2215 0674



"That was a good walk with Uncle Eric, last week in Bannisdale, and I was able to move on my Outlyer challenge", remarked Little Eric, as he helped himself to another piece of delicious chocolate caramel shortbread that Grizzly had made just this morning. Then looking at the diary on the iPad, he went on, "the next walk with Uncle Eric is down for the end of August, which seems a long time."

"That is because Dad is keeping the next two weeks free, with a view to making another attempt on Pen in Eskdale", replied Allen, as he poured himself another mug of tea.

"Let's hope we get a suitable day", prayed Tetley. "Dad really wants to get it done, and mark the completion of the Birkett challenge."

"Where's Shaun?" asked Grizzly, putting the lid on the cake tin to stop Little Eric scoffing the lot, and ensure that there would be some for Shaun.

"I'm here", he called out trotting into the room. "I have been talking to Dad and have news about going to climb Pen."

"Well first things first. Here's your tea", said Tetley.

"And some cake", added Grizzly.

"Thanks pals."

We waited patiently a few minutes, then putting his empty mug down Shaun said, "Aunt Tish and Uncle Eddie are visiting on Monday, and they are going with Dad and Uncle Brian to Elaine's, so Dad has said he wants to rest the next day. However he has checked the weather and it seems that Wednesday will be basically dry, but more importantly the high fells should be clear of mist. This is what is needed for the new route to the summit that we have planned."

"Oh, yes, the route you discovered in Wainwright" said Allen.

"That's right", replied Shaun. "You all will recall that when we made the attempt with Uncle Bob, we walked along Eskdale to Narrowcove. However, reading the Scafell Pike chapter in Wainwright, I found that there is a route that goes up from just beyond Cam Spout. The advantage of this is that we will not need to walk so far along the valley. However there is a downside, in that the ascent will be exceptionally steep and there is no path, but Dad feels this is the best option."

"It's Dad's legs that have to carry us up, so we must go with his decision", agreed Tetley.

"Oh and just one other thing. Dad says we must start walking quite early, so we will have to set off for the start at 06:30."

"That's no problem, Shaun. We made plenty of such early starts when we used to meet Uncle Bob for walks in Yorkshire", replied Tetley.


The Walk

Keeping an eye on the forecast, the day before, Allen said, it is not quite as settled as we thought it would be earlier in the week, but it seems the morning and early afternoon will be good and clear before the rain comes in again."

"That's OK lad, we are going, as really this the best day bearing in mind other commitments", replied Dad.

Having to be up at 05:30, we got the picnic ready the night before and stored it in the fridge to keep fresh. Then we made sure we were ready, as true to his word, Dad set off just a few minutes after 06:30. The drive was uneventful, being rather slow from Duddon Bridge as the roads are narrow and Dad took care. Just before Eskdale Green, by the George IV hotel, we turned right up the valley, for 4 miles to the foot of Hardknott Pass, where there is a layby to park, just above Jubilee Bridge.

Dad was soon ready and we quickly settled in his rucksack, then he strode off at 08:20. Down the road, to the telephone box and right along the access to Brotherilkeld Farm.

Now we should point out that Dad did not take his heavy Canon EOS 40D with him today, instead using Uncle Brian's little Canon IXUS, the reason being that it was much lighter in weight. Also Dad wanted to make good time to Upper Eskdale, so did not stop to take any photos en route. So, those like this above, have been borrowed from previous walk stories to illustrate this.

Following the path we soon reached a gate and then almost immediately took the footbridge over the River Esk, and crossed the pasture to Taw House, then going right on the green path between walls.

After a while it entered a field and led up to a ladderstile. Then on to cross Scale Bridge and with a determined stride up the zig-zags.

"Is this as steep as it will get on the final ascent?" asked Little Eric.

"No lad, I expect it to be even steeper", Dad replied.

"Oh dear it is going to be hard on your knees", he responded worriedly.

"Well at least that part is only about a mile up and down."

Soon the zig-zags were climbed and the rough and at times stony path continued ahead meandering to skirt bogs, and crossing at one point a single plank bridge, seen in the bottom left of the picture below.

This and the subsequent section passing a line a small hills to the right that includes Silverybield Crag, a Birkett summit we bagged on 24th April 2011, was very dull and the most uninteresting part of the walk.

"I remember this section", remarked Tetley. "Very drab and dreary."

"It won't be long before we can see Upper Eskdale, once we get near to High Scarth ahead on the left", called out Shaun brightly.

Sure enough soon the view began to open out ahead, and despite the higher slopes of the Scafells being shrouded in mist and low cloud, Dow Crag was clear, and perched on its top, the triangular shaped rocky summit that was our objective, Pen.

"How do we get to the summit?" asked Little Eric.

"The ascent is to the left of Dow Crag, up the steep slope with the scree that has a patch of grass in the middle."

"Ooh heck, that looks tough"

The River Esk runs through the valley and bends away right under Scar Lathing, seen here with Low Gait Crags and High Gait Crags behind.

"We climbed those too, and High Scarth on that same day in April 2011", remarked Tetley. "It was a tough walk over mainly trackless ground that was rocky and rough too. But, you were up for the challenge as you are today to get to Pen."

"That I am lad". replied Dad. "We have had to wait nearly two years for this day."

The path continued along the shoulder of High Scarth, then descended rough and stony, crossing a number of small becks, and passing through the walls of a long abandoned sheepfold, then just ahead we passed some huge boulders.

"They are called Sampson's Stones", said Shaun.

"From the size I can see why", replied Allen.

We were now passing beneath the massive cliff of Cam Spout Crag, and it was not long before we had to ford Cam Spout and looking left we had this terrific view of it tumbling down the fellside. Beside it a path climbs up leading to Mickledore and Scafell Pike.

"Wow that is beautiful", cried Little Eric.

A couple were making their way across to climb the path by the waterfall and the young lady waved to us.

Then in a short distance we forded another stream, and stopping and glancing at his watch and checking the GPS, Dad said, "that is just under four miles done in a little over two hours."

"Well on schedule, then", replied Allen.

"Right lads, this is where we need to go left and start the final assault on Pen." This is clearly illustrated below, and you can see what Dad was in for!

Best foot forwards, first he picked his way though the bracken taking care to avoid hidden rocks, and once clear of this crossed a narrow beck and headed up to the left of the sprawl of stones, before crossing right through them on the grass. It was truly unrelentingly steep and needed Dad at times to use his hands as well to continue upwards. Not surprisingly too Dad needed a few stops to catch his breath.

During one such stop, Dad said, "this reminds me of the ascent I made with Uncle Eric of Steel Fell, early in 1998. Those were pre STAG days too."

"And like the climb to Scale Knott" on then south end of Mellbreak", added Tetley.

"Oh yes, that was very very steep too, but not as much ascent", replied Dad.

"Then there was that ascent from Seat Sandal to Dollywagon Pike in May 2004" went on Tetley. "Just Shaun and I were going with you then."

"Heck, I had forgotten about that. It was indeed very steep, and I recall a gentleman who was coming down, saying, 'I would never go up this way!'."

Then gritting his teeth, it was off ever upwards, and finally to everyone's relief we reached a plateau, below some crags ahead, to which there would be a very rocky and rough climb.

"Is that Pen?", queried Little Eric.

"Thankfully no", answered Shaun. Then adding, "we have to go to the right, and that is Pen we can see at the top of the slope."

The ground was slightly less steep, but by now Dad had broken the back of the climb, and it was not long before we reached the base of Pen. Birkett refers to some exposed scrambling to reach the summit, but this was quite easy, Dad weaving his way through the large boulders on grass until finally the cairn came into view.

And so it was that at exactly 11:15 we stood at the cairn and the Birkett challenge was completed. All the 540 summits reached.

Dad let out a shout of, "YES!!!"

We called out "hooray, we have done it."

Fantastic and we all felt quite euphoric.

Then quickly we scrambled out and settled on the cairn for our usual picture, but this was extra special being the final summit.

Then, Dad came over and holding the camera at arms length got himself in the shot with some of us.

Dad wanted to phone Uncle Brian, to let him know we had made it, but it was quite windy up here, so we settled back in the rucksack and made our way down the the base of the hill to make the call.

Uncle Brian was very pleased for Dad and us, and gave us his congratulations.

We were all still pretty euphoric, but this was now tempered by the fact that Dad was now faced with the equally if not more difficult descent to the valley path. The grass was wet and the rocks damp in places too, so he took great care over the descent. The last part was through bracken, and quite suddenly there we were on the main path again - thank goodness!

I am heartily glad we do not have to use that route again" said Dad with feeling looking back up the fellside.

"I'm hungry", complained Allen.

"Me too" replied Dad, who soon found some convenient rocks for us to sit on and enjoy our lunch, with the view of Dow Crag and Pen.

As he munched away, Tetley said, "wow what a tremendous effort Dad put in to get us to the summit. He truly is the best Dad in all the world."

"Here here", cried Grizzly.

Lunch over and settled again, it was now just a matter of retracing the outwards route. By now the clouds had completely cleared off the mountains, so we had terrific views like this below.

In the centre is Scafell Pike that at 3210ft is the highest in England. Then to the right Dow Crag of course topped by Pen, with the twin summited Ill Crag, 3068ft, rising behind. On the opposite side of the valley we could see the Crinkle Crags, the unmistakable pyramid shape of Esk Pike and Bowfell.

We saw many of our lovely Herdwicks as we made our way along the valley, but having Uncle Brian's small camera, it was not so easy to get a quick shot, so at long last we have a sheep picture free story!!

Dad did not dawdle on the descent in view of the weather forecast, and shortly before 14:30 we were heading across the field from Taw House to the footbridge over the River Esk to Brotherilkeld.

Then just along the access and over Jubilee Bridge to the car.

A great and momentous day!

It had been Dad's plan to stop and have a snack at Dalegarth Station, but as we approached it was clear that it was very busy, so he decided just to drive on home. As we started up Birker Fell, we ran into rain, and looking back could see that the high mountains had once again disappeared in the cloud.

"Well you timed the walk to perfection", remarked Tetley.

"I did rather", Dad replied, with a wide smile on his face.


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