Coast to Coast Day 3 – Borrowdale to Patterdale

You know when you wake up and look out the window and just think “ugh”? This was one of those days.

Regardless, today was always going to be a really big day. It was one of those earmarked as being big as it was 19 miles in distance, but also because it involved (or should have done) going past, or up, Helvellyn on our way to Patterdale. Those who know me know that I have been up Helvellyn more than any other mountain (maybe Pen y Fan excepted), and that I also love it with a passion. So walking past it, even after about 16 of 19 miles was going to be tough. And we are doing the Coast to Coast, so you can’t just walk past Helvellyn and not go up can you? It’s like going into town and walking past your favourite pub when you are going for a drink – it doesn’t happen in my world!

Waking up as we did in the Glaramara Hotel in Seatoller though, I knew however that the day was going to be ridiculously tough to even reach Patterdale at all. The weather was unrelenting since yesterday. Worse in fact if anything. The rain beat upon the windows and the wind was howling. The forecast (and it proved to be right) said it wouldn’t stop all day, and that the rain would get heavier. And we were in the rainiest part of the whole country, with many a hill to get over before we even got close to Helvellyn, which would come at about mile 15 or so.

We even skipped breakfast in the hope that we would get the day completed, and grabbing our things from the drying room of the Glaramara (the stuff we had left there was still damp at best, it wasn’t a good drying room), we set out at around 7:30am.

After an hour or less, despite being well protected, most things were wet already. Rain at this velocity just finds its way in eventually. What was worse though was the wind. We’d (or I’d, mainly courtesy of the Macs Adventures app) selected a route up a pass that I hadn’t been up before (Greenup Edge, via Lining Crag).

The main trouble however wasn’t what what coming down from the sky. It was what was coming along the ground by way of streams and running water. The paths themselves were like streams. The streams themselves were simply in torrents. Where there had been stepping stones they were covered, and not just covered but totally submerged with very fast flowing water over them. Fast enough to sweep you off your feet for sure. Mel was scared, and I was scared for her. It’s one thing to get wet feet. It’s altogether a different thing to get knocked over and hurt yourself. I know she was worried for me too – it was after all only three weeks ago that I was in hospital with a bleed on the brain following a crash on my bike.

This probably gives you a good idea of the paths that we were walking on, but not of the streams we had to cross, they were much worse!
The one bright spot on the way up to Greenup Edge – a rainbow!

Now what happened to those stepping stones again?
Still smiling, near the top of Lining Crag.

We passed about 7 or 8 of these fast flowing streams on the way up to Lining Crag and Greenup Edge, and negotiated most of them with just wet feet. The climb itself wasn’t too bad in the end. Coming down the other side to Grasmere however the fun started. At one fast flowing stream, it was very apparent that the water was moving so fast that it could be dangerous. And worse we couldn’t really even see the bottom of the stream so we didn’t even know how far we’d get into and thus how hard to would be to wade through – it was probably about 10 feet wide too.

I looked up and down stream in vain for possible other crossing points. All however were more perilous, and after about half an hour of looking, Mel decided that she didn’t want to try, so I had to respect her wish. There was no way round, and so we had to backtrack. I looked on the map and saw that we could retrace our steps for about an hour, and then take another route over higher ground to Grasmere, which would hopefully see us safe. I was worried already about time though, and figured that this was probably a two hour diversion at best on a day when we would already be out for 11 or so hours.

So back up towards Greenup Edge we went, it was the only thing to do. Just then, after about 5 minutes of going back, something strange happened, in that someone was coming down towards us! This was strange in that we had not since we left Borrowdale (some probably 3 and half hours earlier) seen a single soul anywhere. It was a guy on his own, and although he was soaked through, he clearly wasn’t going to let a fast flowing stream (I told him about it to warn him) put him off. He also showed us that inside what seemed to be a strangely bulging jacket that he had a small dog in there in a baby sling! The poor thing was shaking, cold and wet, and presumably he wanted to get her down too.

This turned out to be the inspiration that Mel needed. She asked him if he would mind helping her across, and he said he’d be very happy to, so we retraced our steps back down again. Upon getting into the water, he stood there in the fast flowing waters and took Mel’s hand as she waded through and got her safely to the other side, despite getting in to above his calves. He did the same for me too, before getting out and then almost dancing down the path towards Grasmere.

We talked afterwards about how this was clearly ‘meant to be’, given that we saw apart from him actually only one other person on the path after that the whole day. He was there at just the right time. It also made all of our progress after that much easier. Once you have wet feet then they are wet, and although I did actually wring my socks out, that was a bit pointless as everything was soaked up to my knees anyway and would stay so for the rest of the day, and this was about 11am.

We then made reasonable progress into Grasmere which we got to at about 2pm, and got some lunch from a shop there. We would have missed out Grasmere but had no packed lunch and had intended to come here anyway. We also tried to get some Grasmere Gingerbread (if Helvellyn is my favourite mountain then Grasmere Gingerbread is undoubtedly my favourite food substance) but there was a big queue at the shop, and very conscious (as I always am) of time, I decided we shouldn’t wait. We did after all have another 9 or more miles to get through in the rain, and had to ascend up to Grizedale Tarn, even if Helvellyn was definitely way way out of reach for this trip by now, as was any other side turning or distraction.

This was the view at Grizedale Tarn – not even sure why I got my phone out really!

The walk up to Grizedale Tarn thankfully passed without further incident, although we did have a further few streams to dip our soggy feet and boots into. In fact we even had to wade through the tarn itself to get across to the path down Grizedale valley. Having been there a lot of times before I’ve never seen it like that, but at least it didn’t pose any danger.

So down we went, heads down, straight down the Grizedale Valley. No Helvellyn and no St Sunday Crag (that was my alternative for the day origninally). There was no point as it was too wet and too windy, and we didn’t have time by then anyway. We eventually got into Patterdale just before 7pm, with feet as wet as wet can be, but good and safe in the end.

We found a great drying room too at our lovely B&B, The Old Water View, which was in a great location and on another day would have been an idyllic place to stay. As it was we were glad to put stuff on radiators and turn them up, and head straight out the local pub (The White Lion). Thankfully, despite a short wait outside in the rain (we couldn’t book in there as they weren’t taking bookings, and there is no other pub in Patterdale so that was it)

It has to be said that The White Lion does a fantastic Cumberland Sausage, and also (as Mel will attest) a damn good chilli, and we were very grateful of the food and the beer (Wainwright’s, what else?) after a really tough day. We’d done nearly 4,000 feet of ascent, and 19 miles of walking, in horrendous conditions. The forecast for tomorrow wasn’t for rain! That would be a very pleasant and welcome surprise and we’d at least get to see some (and some might say the best) of the Lakes before we actually left it. Tomorrow is after all, always another day :).

24 Peaks – Day Two

So Day Two of the 24 Peaks Challenge began pretty much the same way as Day One had – with a 4am start! The one saving grace was that the herd of elephant children who had plagued our rest the night before, were probably all as tired as we were, and so everyone at least got a quiet night, unless anyone in the dorm heard me snore that is!! We were also two people down for day two – Peter and Margaret had decided overnight that there were much better ways of celebrating their anniversary than slogging away relentlessly up 24 peaks in two days – and I couldn’t blame them for that!

With breakfast and making sandwiches out of the way for the remaining six by about 5am, the trip to the drying room to pick up our kit revealed that it was every bit as damp as it was the night before. I was immensely glad that I had brought with me a spare pair of boots, even if mine were pretty dry-ish. The rest of my stuff though was sodden and heavy, not a good start to the day, even if the forecast didn’t look too bad – “early cloud, followed by lightning storms in the afternoon” sounded good compared to the monsoons the day before.

Stepping out of the hostel the cloud was low, but everything was unbelievably calm – and so incredibly beautiful that I could have stood there forever.

Looking south over Windermere, 8th June 2014, 5.30am....

Looking south over Windermere, 8th June 2014, 5.30am….

....and westwards....

….and westwards….

....and to the North West.

….and to the North West.

I find that the Lake District like this is the most majestic, captivating, and inspiring place almost of all places I have ever been. This was to be ultimately such an utterly fabulous day for beautiful Lake District vistas, that I simply never wanted it to end. How lucky I am!

And so before I knew it, we were back in the bus, this time heading for the North Eastern fells, and principally those on the Helvellyn range. Alighting around 6.20am at the top of the Kirkstone Pass, we headed straight up the steep ascent of Red Screes, a veritable stiff pull if ever there was one. Unfortunately however, we were already well into the cloud by the top of the Kirkstone Pass, so the climb up was about as unscenic as it could ever have been.

Ascending the steep drag up Red Screes - at least it wasn't raining!

Ascending the steep drag up Red Screes – at least it wasn’t raining!

Once at the top of Red Screes, we ascended over boggy moorland before starting the climb up towards Dove Crag and Hart Crag, which were fairly swiftly despatched. Passing Hart Crag we realized that we were now more than half way to our challenge (i.e. 13 peaks down out of 24), but realized in the same moment that there was still a very long way to go.

The next ascent was that of Fairfield, at the top of the horseshoe range at the top of the Ambleside valley. Fairfield is a fairly flat top, but features no pictures here, and afforded no views, as the cloud was so low and thick as to render our eyes almost useless. In fact we had to navigate off Fairfield to find the path down (or Matt and Kate, our guides did anyway, doing a double compass navigation to be sure).

There then followed a huge and steep descent down to Grizedale Tarn, where we had a break for lunch to get some energy before attempting the Helvellyn range, and also something quite remarkable happened – the cloud lifted!

Sescending towards Grizedale Tarn - hard work, but helped by the views at last!

Descending towards Grizedale Tarn – hard work, but helped by the views at last!

Up until this point, everyone had been pretty cold still, as we were all clad in yesterday’s soggy waterproofs, and it was dreary and windy inside the clouds. The lifting of the cloud made everyone feel better, and the realization that once up the steep climb of Dollywagon Pike, our next objective, we would be on the tops for a while, and be able to rattle off peaks number 14 to 18 in reasonably quick succession.

The climb up Dollywagon Pike was fairly hard work, but with the brightening skies was so much more enjoyable than almost anything we had done so far. The wind by now had also picked up too, and it was really gusty and strong by the time we reached the summit at around 2,800 feet.

Dollywagon Pike summit – don’t ask what we were doing!

From the top of Dollywagon Pike, the next four objectives were almost laid out in front of us (helped so significantly by the fact that we could now actually see!), and we quickly notched off Nethermost Pike, and Helvellyn, passing by a great view of Striding Edge and Ullswater.

The view towards Helvellyn, centre in the distance, and Nethermost Pike (foreground) from Dollywagon Pike.

The view towards Helvellyn, centre in the distance, and Nethermost Pike (foreground) from Dollywagon Pike.

View towards Ullswater from Nethermost Pike

View towards Ullswater (far left) from Nethermost Pike

I want to stop and mention the above picture. It was taken for me by Lucilia as my camera was feeling a bit wet and sorry for itself at this point, so she kindly obliged when I asked her to do so. The above view, whilst probably fairly innocuous looking, is I think my favourite view in the whole of the Lakes.

There are prettier vistas for sure, but for me it captures so many things: A part view of Striding Edge, the first walk I ever took in the Lake District as a teenager; the side of Helvellyn, my favourite Lake District mountain; Ullswater, such a fabulous unspoilt lake, and my favourite lake too; and down below the villages of Glenridding and Patterdale, evocative of magical and never to be forgotten childhood memories of my first treks to this beautiful land. The view is also one almost the same as a picture I have hanging in my house by Alfred Heaton Cooper, my favourite artist, and a Lakeland stalwart whose studio sits a few miles away in Grasmere, about which I will wax lyrical another time!

I stood here at this point and had a mixture of feelings from wanting to punch the air for joy, and tears of almost unbridled emotion (yes, really!) which well up in me even now as I write about this a week and a half later. That is what this place does for me, and more. That is why I go back, and why I will always go back to this corner of the Lakes.

Anyway, on with the walk :)…..after a very windswept summit of Helvellyn, we headed north to Browncove Crags, before doubling back up the slopes we had just left to summit Lower Man (actually a subsidiary peak of Helvellyn) at 3,034 feet. This brought us to 20 peaks, and by now we knew (or I did, anyway!) that we would finish our challenge. It was a great feeling, and put a renewed spring in my step. In fact Matt, Ian and I literally fell-ran down the ridge off Lower Man towards the Dodds, which was totally invigorating.

From here there were really only one or two final pushes involved to get us up to the Dodds range, a much grassier domain than we had had previously been on, and a nice way to finish (well nearly anyway) our weekend. We first ascended Whiteside, and then Raise (peaks 21 and 22) in quick succession, before heading for the Dodds themselves. There are three Dodds I believe, but we only needed to do the two closes ones, being Stybarrow Dodd and Watson’s Dodd. And we’d done it! Watson’s Dodd is a bit of anti-climactic finish I have to say, if only because it is a flat, marshy, fairly featureless drag, but nonetheless it is 2,588 feet high, and our final objective, so it is forever memorable!

A celebratory moment atop Peak 24, Watson's Dodd.

A celebratory moment atop Peak 24, Watson’s Dodd.

And then all we had to do was descend, which we did via Thirlmere to our waiting minibus. There was still a long trek out, and this took us the best part of an hour and a half in what was finally bright and warm sunshine, a very fitting and perfect end.

In the car park at the edge of Thirlmere we met up with Jim our driver, and also Peter and Margaret, who joined us for champagne celebrations and a medal ceremony, which was a nice touch indeed.

Everyone happy and descended with medals to show for our endeavours.

Everyone happy and descended with medals to show for our endeavours.

So the stats for our second day on the hills were 14.9 miles covered, and 5,200 feet of climbing. A bit less than we thought we’d have to do, but still a lot overall, around 11,000 feet and 30 miles in what turned out to be around 22 hours on the hills:

I have to say that Global Adventures were brilliant throughout, with great organization and communications before and throughout the event. Both of the guides too were excellent, and allowed us to enjoy our weekend to the max, whilst providing exactly the right level of support when needed on the hills themselves, including the priceless navigation in the direst of conditions on Day One.

The route chosen for day two was the best walk I have ever done in the Lake District, and as I may have alluded to earlier, I’ll most definitely be back 🙂



The 24 Peaks are getting too close!

Well next weekend is getting very close indeed. Like 5 days away close, and that is scary.

The reason for such trepidation is that on Friday I will head to the Lake District for the so-called “24 Peaks”. It is an event that I only came across a few months ago, and thought “why not?”, whilst right now I just find myself saying “why?”.

The challenge is to climb 24 peaks above 2,400 feet in the Lake District in 24 hours trekking time, but spread over two days. There are 36 miles of walking, plus around 13,000 feet of climbing, including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, a tough climb in itself, and others such as Great Gable, Helvellyn, and Bowfell.

The full list is as follows, as modified for the route that I am taking through Global Adventure Challenges, the expedition leaders:

Day One: Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End, Ill Crag, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike, Lingmell, Great Gable. Green Gable. About 18 miles of walking plus the climbing.

Day Two: Red Screes, Dove Crag, Hart Crag, Fairfield, Seat sandal, Dollywagon Pike, High Crag, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Browncove Crags, Lower Man, Whiteside, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd, and White Stones. Again about 18 miles of walking.

Walks start both days at around 6am, following a minibus ride to the start, so 5am for breakfast both days in the bunkhouse.

I haven’t trained specifically for this, but am hoping that I have enough residual fitness to get me through it. I suppose having done the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the Welsh Three Peaks and a fair amount of other walking (I’ve just done 37 miles this weekend alone for example) should help a lot, but we will see.

I’ve done so far this year on my measured walks 227 miles and 33,800 feet of ascent. But that is since March. How much will that help me? Well some, for sure. I am set to find out though, and very soon.

I am maybe in for a shock…..