This was going to be my first weekend in the Lakes since my tent and I were almost blown off Allen Crags in the storms between Christmas and New Year, so I was very excited about it!
The original plan was to go with 3 Mad Axe Murderers from the internet, but in the end one of them was working and another was injured, so only two of us actually turned out. We both had new tents to test, though - the two different versions of the new Moutain Equipment Dragonfly - as well as lots of surplus energy to spend, and so it was with considerable excitement that I drew into the National Trust campsite at Great Langdale just as dusk began to fall on the Friday night.
I paid for a car and a tent for two nights, and then drove up and down the field a little, looking for a likely place to settle. It struck me fairly quickly that the smartest move would actually be to just get out and do it, as it was getting darker by the moment and I'd never pitched this nice new tent in anger before. I therefore parked in a spot that looked large enough for another car - assuming that the others could find me - and began to dig around in the boot for the tent and other necessary things.
The ground I'd chosen turned out to be extremely stony, though, so I picked up the tent and moved further into the field. Fortunately, and not long after that, Darren arrived, and was able to give me a hand trying to force the pegs into the rockiest field I've yet pitched a tent in. I then helped Darren get his own tent up, and it wasn't too long before we'd unpacked the essentials and were heading off across the fields towards the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel on the other side of the lane, for dinner. Yum! :-)
At the pub, we considered the map while we addressed ourselves to the Old Peculiar, scampi and chips, and decided to aim for a circuit incorporating Scafell and Scafell Pike, followed by a return to the camp via Esk Hause. We set off back to the campsite eager for an early start and a sunny day, and for good luck we made a large pot of Green & Black's hot chocolate with fresh milk - a previously unheard of car camping luxury! - before turning in to test out our respective tents.
I'd taken advantage of the car camping opportunity to take a real pillow, and within only minutes I was falling fast asleep with my book on my face. The combination of real pillow, award winning Exped Down Air Mattress and hot, milky chocolate gave me the best night's sleep I've ever had in a tent, and had I not woken up at 5am needing to go to the loo then it would have been just about perfect! I couldn't bring myself to crawl out to the toilet block, though, so I just turned over and slept on until about 7.10am, when I heard Darren bouncing up and down outside in excitement, eager to get going.
I crawled out of the tent, feeling about 75 years old, but I felt a little better after a nice, refreshing shower. We then decided to start the day with bananas in porridge, and stood around drinking tea and coffee while the porridge plopped away in the pot. It was a rather grey but nonetheless warmish sort of morning, with some low cloud, but that looked to me as though it might well burn off later on. I was very impressed with how the little Dragonfly had performed overnight, in what amounted to the worst possible conditions for condensation; the inside of my tent remained completely dry :-)
It's surprising how long it can sometimes take to get one's bits and pieces together in the morning, particularly when there are interesting and anxious decisions to be made about which bits of kit to take and which to leave behind, and somehow it was getting on for 9.20am (or was it even 10.20am?!) by the time we were finally leaving the site to make our way along Mickledon towards Rossett Gill. I was trying out my new Montane Terra Pants - zip-offs - in the hope that I might be able to get down to shorts a little later in the morning.
The climb up Rossett Gill is always a bit of a challenge - at least, it is to me - but we dug in and made good progress towards the top, passing some people on the way up. By an hour or so into the walk I was a little disappointed that the mist had not actually burned off yet: in fact, it was quite thick down the Gill, and I began to wonder what sort of conditions we were going to meet on the tops, and whether we were going to be able to see anything at all.
At a little bend in the track we ran into a group of 4 blokes resting, and had joined them for a quick breather when all of a sudden the mist around us began to roll away and tops began to emerge from the mist high in the valley behind us. Stuck down in the mist I'd made a wry little joke about an imminent inversion some 5 or so minutes earlier, but I certainly hadn't imagined that an inversion lay just above us!
We were all quite thrilled by the beauty of the moment, and Darren took a photo of the four blokey walkers...
...and after that they took a photo of us :-)
The inversion was more clearly seen as we got up just a little higher.
Eventually the haul up Rossett Gill ended, and we soon dropped down to Angle Tarn.
After that we pressed on towards the cruciform shelter near Esk Hause...
...where we stopped for some lunch. I had my first cheese and onion pasty of the year, with a flask of coffee. V. yummy! Darren had sandwiches, and tea. The day around us was absolutely beautiful...
...and I zipped off my Terras at the knee as I finished my coffee.
From there we set off towards Sprinkling Tarn, and it wasn't long before the Gables hoved into magnificent view!
Sprinkling Tarn was shining in the sun, but despite the warmth and blue sky there was an intriguing bank of mist curling up from Styhead below.
We pressed on down, just stopping to fill up our water bottles in the cold, clear gill on the way. At the bottom we made our way left and onto the Corridor Route, to start the pull up towards the Scafells. The day grew hotter and hotter, and we were both glad of the streams we passed along the way as opportunities for further cooling and refreshment!
As we began to near the top we came across some very welcome little patches of snow, and stopped for the obligatory snowball fight :-) It was really lovely rubbing grainy snow into my burning face, and dropping a few little icy lumps to trickle down the back of my neck... We'd decided by this time to forego Scafell in favour of Scafell Pike, and just as it was beginning to feel as though we'd never make it to the top we arrived there, to join a throng of 30 or so people sitting around enjoying the sunshine and the views.
We took some piccies, and then settled down to enjoy the rest of our food, tea and coffee.
After that I took a few more pictures - for the middle of March, the weather was really quite amazing!
It must have been some time after 4pm by the time we set off towards Esk Hause for our journey back to the camp. Neither of us was familiar with that path, and we were hoping to follow the ridge along Esk Pike and over Bowfell and then descend to The Band, in order to avoid retracing our footsteps back down to Langdale from Angle Tarn. The day moved on a little quicker than we'd anticipated, though - as sometimes happens at this time of the year - and then we made a bit of a navigational cockup and found ourselves descending towards the River Esk, rather than ascending the lower slopes of Esk Pike. I've long regarded myself as a sort of navigational Jonah, so that didn't particularly surprise me, but in the end we decided that discretion was probabaly the better part of valour, and so we decided to drop down to Angle Tarn from Ore Gap (I think...) and make our way back down the path along Rossett Gill.
Darkness fell before we got to the bottom of the gill, but we both had our torches available, had we needed them. In the event we didn't bother - it was a pleasure making our way down in a relatively leisurely fashion, by the natural light surrounding us, and I pointed out the nematodenous terraces to Darren as we passed.
We'd planned to return to the campsite for showers before hitting the New Dungeon Ghyll for dinner and an update on the rugby, but as we wandered contentedly - albeit a little stiffly - back along Mickleden we suddenly realised that by now it was just after 8pm, and that if we went back for showers we'd be in danger of missing last orders for food at 9pm. Horrors! So, we decided to postpone the showers, and go straight for the food. Around about the time that that decision was made we were actually walking along the back of the Old Dungeon Ghyll. I can't actually swear that the scent of scampi and chips emerging from the kitchen window played the decisive role in the decision making, but I think there's a real possiblity...
The pub was crowded, and so we sat outside to eat. By now it was considerably cooler than it had been earlier in the day, but there was still no threat of rain. A pint of real scrumpy (or so it was alleged) was very refreshing, and I was utterly starving by the time the food arrived. I think I'd managed to finish my meal before Darren was even half way through his, but that just gave me extra time to contemplate the puddings board, and I feel that sticky toffee pudding was definitely the right decision on the day :-)
Not long after we finished eating I nipped inside to see what was going on. I'd noticed people with guitar cases the night before, but I'd not heard anyone playing. This night, though, there were fiddle and what looked like mandolin cases too, and it seemed clear that some sort of music had been planned. I went in to check, and found a group of 6 in the corner just playing through a lively jig in excellent fashion, so I nipped out and persuaded Darren to decamp to indoors.
The musicians were absolutely brilliant - I just couldn't sit still from the moment they started until we reluctantly left an hour or so later. There were two fiddlers leading the tunes, backed up by two guitars, what looked like a bouzouki and a bodhran. It looked as though there were at least 2 separate groups of musicians, with slightly different styles, but they played together seamlessly. It was a major blast listening to them, and I can only begin to imagine how it must have felt to have actually taken part!
We eventually headed back to the ranch, and along the way we chatted with a couple of blokes from the pub. The hot choccy the night before had been such a success that we did it again, and again I turned in and dug out my book, only to fall asleep with the torch on and the book on my face within minutes of lying down. This real pillow thing works very well indeed!
On Sunday morning I woke up early and whizzed out to the toilet block. I then returned to my lovely, warm sleepy bag for another couple of hours, and didn't get up until Darren - who seems to be quite abnormally energetic - called to me through the wall of the tent, some time after 8am. I dragged myself over to the shower block, and emerged some time later feeling a little more human. We repeated the porridge and banana recipe, since it had worked well the day before...
...and then began to take down the tents. We'd decided on Friday night in the pub that we were going to tackle Striding Edge today, weather permitting, and since the weather looked much as it had the day before we saw no reason to re-think the plan.
We were joined by a small flock of sheep with one little lamb during our morning ablutions...
...but they soon made their way off towards the next field for breakfast.
After that we finished off our packing, and finally we hit the road towards Ambleside some time between 10am and 11am. Uh-oh... not sure where the morning went...
We soon drove over to Glenridding, where we parked in the Tourist Information carpark. It wasn't long before we were on our way up towards Helvellyn via Mires Beck, and we made good time to the Hole-in-the-Wall where we stopped for lunch (another C&O pasty for me, and more sandwiches for Darren).
I was excited but apprehensive at the prospect of Striding Edge, as I've always been bad at heights and I've grown steadily worse - even to the extent of developing vertigo - as the years have gone by. I've done Striding Edge many times over the years, but the last time I did it was sometime in the summer of 2004, and it was such a terrifyingly vertiginous experience that I swore I'd never do it again. I particularly remember experiencing swooping vertigo on the top of some high, flat, exposed rock or other, while small children frisked and gambolled all around me: it was truly horrible... I wanted to drop to my hands and knees and squirm across the rock. When Darren suggested having a go on Friday evening, though, I was immediately keen to try again, as I'd very much like to be able to overcome my fear of heights, at least to the extent necessary to allow me to enjoy fairly low level scrambles in the Lakes, Snowdonia and other places I'm likely to want to walk.
Before moving on we took a couple of piccies with Helvellyn in the background...
...and afterwards we set off for the ridge, taking a route I've never taken before, which yielded an impressive view of Striding Edge that I'd not previously seen.
Once we actually began to walk along the ridge, I very quickly gained significant confidence. Darren was very patient and reassuring, and for once I didn't feel any pressure to hurry in case I was holding anyone up. Darren was determined to go right over the top all the way along, and I quickly became equally determined to follow him :-)
Taking the high path, we could clearly see Striding Edge extending in front of us.
There came a point at which I was able to stand with one foot on either side of the ridge, which seemed appropriate on Striding Edge, so Darren took a piccy for me :-)
We continued along the ridge towards the step that I've always found particularly difficult in the past, and as we got there we had what I considered to be a very welcome break while we waited for a guide to take a party of school children up it.
Darren took a daring route down the step, but I went the standard way. I was pretty delighted to find that I could get down on my own, despite a couple of anxious moments: it just goes to show how much of a part confidence plays in this sort of thing! After that I felt quite invigorated, and able to go first up the scrambly bit which links the end of Striding Edge to the side of Helvellyn. There was another great view of the ridge from higher up the side.
We stopped briefly on the way up to the summit to read the 1805 memorial to a fallen walker and his loyal dog...
...and then we stopped at the summit shelter for a drink and a snack, and fell into a chat with a couple from Kendal, who were lucky enough to be up in the hills on a regular basis. The clouds in the distance were beautiful against the hills and the sky, but unfortunately my camera and I were not quite up to the task of recording the beauty of the moment.
We didn't linger long on the top, as we still had Swirral Edge and the descent to Glenridding ahead of us. I'd been nervous about Swirral Edge, based on experiences in the past, but I felt much better about it in view of the confidence I'd gained along Striding Edge earlier in the day.
In the event nothing more than some care on descending was required, and we decided to make our way down via the summit of Catstycam, since it seemed such a pity to miss it out, as close to the path as it was.
We managed to identify the path back home, round the back of Nab Crag, and eventually we dragged our tired and aching limbs back along the path through the campsite towards the car park. We passed a pub of some description on the road, and it just seemed wrong to pass by without making at least a quick visit, and so we popped in for a quick glass of cider before beginning the long journeys home :-)
This really was just about the very best weekend's walking I've ever had in the Lakes, what with the weather, the views, the chips and the company! Many thanks to Darren for suggesting it and coming along :-)
p.s. It's been pointed out to me - quite correctly - that there's an important bit missing from this trip report, which is the account of the particularly delicious fish (hake!), chips and mushy peas that Darren and I stopped for at a chippy in Windermere on the way back to the motorway. Mmmmm... It may be that I left it out because of the way I accidentally smeared chip fat, vinegar and mushy pea juice not only down the front of my lovely new Velez Smock, but also onto the front passenger seat of Darren's new car...