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Whether something is a challenge walk or not really depends on the person doing it.
For many people unused to the hills, summiting one of the higher mountains of Britain is a considerable challenge; whereas for others used to sustained exercise, a route won’t become a challenge unless it covers perhaps dozens of peaks over several days.
Luckily, the Lake District provides the canvas for challenges aimed at people on all parts of this spectrum. What matters is not what you choose, but that you’ve chosen to push your comfort zone and are eager to explore the mountains.
Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England and sits in the south-west of the Lake District, surrounded by peaks of similar height and bordered by the great valleys of Wasdale and Eskdale. The usual routes up are from Wasdale itself, and from Seathwaite in the north, at the top of Borrowdale.
Though the Wasdale route is a relentless uphill struggle at times, it is more than made up for by views up to the crags of Scafell and Scafell Pike, like gates into the sky. The Seathwaite trail, via the corridor route on the western side of the mountain, is longer and more gradual, with a constantly changing path that leads you gently up.
If you want a longer day or don’t want to drive round to either of these two places, Scafell Pike can also be climbed from Langdale, via a longer route that can be turned into a circuit by descending over Bowfell.
If the rocky plateau of Scafell Pike isn’t your dream destination, Helvellyn, England’s third highest peak, is a very different hill. The centre of a long broad ridge, from the east Helvellyn loses it’s pleasing rounded curves and becomes a true mountaineering objective. An ascent via Striding Edge and the descent down Swirral edge is one of the classic Lake District journeys, and a great challenge for those looking to do something hands-on.
For a longer challenge that includes Helvellyn, it is a long but very satisfying day out to attempt the whole ridge-line in one walk, starting at Dunmail Raise and ending in Threlkeld. Though only 12 miles long, the route has over 1300m of ascent and spends a lot of time up high. There are times when it feels like the ridge will never end, but the views west over the Lakes and east towards the Eden Valley and the Pennines are well worth it. It is also wide and grassy, the perfect antidote if you’re keen to summit Helvellyn but haven’t quite got the nerve for Striding Edge.
If it’s a whole weekend you’re looking for and you have time to do the training, the Lake District 24 peaks in a fantastic challenge, where you’ll see nearly all parts of the National Park over a two day epic. Day 1 usually takes place in the west, and includes the mountains around Buttermere, Scafell Pike and Bow Fell, before heading along the Helvellyn ridge and Fairfield on day 2.
The idea is to summit 24 peaks in these two days, but exactly which 24 peaks seems to change every time, and it’s a challenge that can be made your own. The best bit is the huge variety of terrain you cover with only a tiny amount of driving to shuttle your team to the start locations on each day. And unlike the National Three Peaks you actually get to sleep in a bed rather than on a minibus!
The reason the Lake District is such an inspiring place to explore is that all the fells have their own paths and personalities, meaning a great day out or a challenge walk can be conjured up anywhere you put your finger on the map. Long ridge-lines, multiple peaks, or just a big day in a part of the Park you’ve always wanted to see can easily be turned from names you’ve never heard of into a memory you’ll never forget.
Author: Alex Kendall
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