This has been a bit of a strange trip, and I have to say after 15 trips to the Lake District, I didn’t expect to still be learning lessons about my walking capabilities.
This trip was really two in one, and if I’d just done the first, longer, part it would have felt about right, as I really got tired after about a week. I’m not sure the addition of the extra 3 days in the Eastern fells has added much when you look at it in terms of peaks bagged (although in terms of quality, it certainly did!). Certainly it has picked off a few stragglers, but I’m still left with some oddments to do.
Throughout this trip I’ve drawn comparisons with previous trips, notably:
- September 2008 – a short 4 day trek through the western fells in foul weather, in which I visited some of the same places as on this trip.
- April 2007 – a 10 day trek at the start of my first work sabbatical, on which I grossly over-estimated what I was capable of and paid the price. I did that a bit this time too!
- March/April 2011 – the Cumbria Way. Similar in length to this trip, because I added some extra days exploration in the northern fells, but much less strenuous in terms of climbing and general intensity of the walk. But comparable in many ways because of similar pack weights and because it’s the best yardstick in terms of my current level of hill fitness. The “Stats” post analyses the similarities and differences in more detail.
I felt a lot less tired on all of the above – the first 2, largely because they broke down and I had to re-plan as I went; and the Cumbria Way was both less strenuous overall and on any given day (apart from the day over Skiddaw, which has been a useful reminder of how to pace myself on a big day with a heavy pack). Plus the Cumbria Way had some lighter days interspersed amongst the heavier days.
It’s all very well to plan individual days of 14 miles and over 1000m of ascent, but this trip has really brought home how doable it is (or rather isn’t) on day after day.
So any future trek of this type needs to reduce the amount of climbing on heavy pack days (clearly that’s obvious, and I did try this time when planning), but I also need to not overdo it on the lite-mode days in-between, as on at least one occasion this took too much out of me for the next, big pack, day.
So, the idea of staying two nights in the same place, meaning a day walking there from the previous place, and a day walking with less weight, is a good one, and nothing new to me. I just need to repeat the formula, or lighten my pack and make every day’s walk more like the profile of the SWCP sections, which aren’t a problem.
The other problem I have as I knock-off the fells, is that it’s increasingly hard to link what’s left into a meaningful trip. And I’m glad that I, somehow, have some big name fells left – for example Blencathra, Haystacks and High Street – as otherwise it might seem that I just have the dross left. To add interest to future trips, I’m now going to have to start revisiting some bagged fells. This should be easy, as in many cases I’ve bagged fells the boring way because of maximising the number on a walk. When I revisit I can do the good route – a good example being Pavey Ark, which I originally bagged whilst doing the Langdale Pikes for the first time in 2006, sneaking up on it from behind. Last year I did the Jack’s Rake route, and then strung a new fell (Steel Fell) on the end of the walk. So also a good way of dealing with one out fells.
Other Lessons Learned
- A week is about the right length trip for the future, unless it’s an “achievement” walk such as a specific LDP.
- I ought to build in at least one undemanding day to rest the legs, and give me an opportunity to paint. I really noticed the difference on day 10 after having done this.
- Hand in hand with the previous point – there’s no point carrying painting stuff unless I’m going to use it. The same happened on the CW, and I only painted one day and that was when the weather made me opt for a day indoors.
- I like my tarns, and I need to build more of them in to walks. In my book, they’re almost as worthwhile as summits. Good quiet places of reflection (indeed the first draft of this post was written lazing at the side of Lanty’s Tarn, and that’s not even a good tarn). This seems like the obvious way to address the points about taking it easy and painting too.
- Smaller and/or more remote youth hostels are generally better. What they lack in facilities is usually made up in terms of location and the camaraderie of fellow hostellers. Oh yes, and the food tends to taste more like home-cooked food and less like generic menu items that you’d get in any main hostel.
- 2 nights are better in a hostel than 1, because that halves the number of times one has to struggle making the sodding bed.
- Don’t take so much food. Ok, maybe I should eat more on a walk, but the simple fact is I don’t and am carrying unnecessary weight as a result. Probably because I wasn’t eating as much as I could have been, I lost about 2.5kg in body weight on this trip.
- Too much clothing again. Even 2 evening shirts was arguably too many, for instance. If I stay in the same place for 2 or more nights, that gives me more opportunity to wash and dry stuff and hence take less.
- Extra dry bags. I cut this down to the bare minimum and then found it inconvenient, and ended up buying some more cheap ones.
- The sports water flavouring tablets I use are fine, but after about 5-6 days they get a bit boring.
- Use a proper wash bag. The thin plastic thing I used developed a hole, and in conjunction with a loose top on my universal soap bottle, made a bit of a mess.
- Put a copy of my hill list on my Blackberry. I brought an extract on paper of everything I thought was relevant, but if I’d had to do more replanning then it would have been useful to have a copy of the full list. Plus I could probably have put that bloke straight on Birkhouse Moor. And put the list of tarns on too!
- Pacerpoles. Enough said really. No question that I’ll be continuing to use them. On the flat or gentle ascents they help increase and/or sustain pace especially when tired at the end of the day. The poles alone are responsible for me making the bus on day 8. They’re no more effective on descents compared with normal poles, but still better than using none or one as I did before. They’re going to be brilliant on the SWCP.
- Be a peakbagger or a long distance walker – don’t try to be both at the same time.
Accommodation – Hostels
Buttermere – I’ve stayed there before and once again it was fine. Not too busy, some friendly people to chat with, and dorms not too packed. Drying room was sufficient. Meals ok, but not huge menu (3/4 main courses), so went to pub on second night. Buttermere is a good yardstick to measure other hostels by – everything good or ok, nothing bad.
Ennerdale – smaller and more intimate. Everyone eats together. Lucky with my choice of bunk as seem to have got extra thick mattress. Dorms ok and only once was it so full that someone used a top bunk. Meals homecooked but no choice (one veggie and one carniverous option). Breakfast slightly bigger and a step up in quality from the normal YHA offering, although the thick meaty sausage is a bit disturbing to look at. Good banter with other guests. Drying room crap, but limited power at the hostel as they make their own electricity, and as a result is limited. Powermonkey came in handy here.
Wastwater – again, I’ve stayed here before. Bigger choice of meals but nothing I wanted especially (but I wanted to walk to the pub even less). Brekkie fairly tasty for a YHA. In a dorm of 14 although quite sparsely populated – I got the lower bunk by both windows, what I would consider the premium spot, despite being 4th or 5th to arrive. Would have been hell if the room was full though. Overall impression that hostel was a bit impersonal. Not much interplay between guests. Having said that there was the previous time I stayed there in 2008, when I remember a whole evening flying by in the self-catering kitchen. That time I even teamed up with someone I met there. Location stunning though, but I would choose it mainly because I needed to rather than because I wanted to. Biggest plus is the drying room. It’s the dog’s. It took sopping wet gear that I’d just rinsed out and turned it into bone-dry gear by morning. And this time I didn’t even get a frog in my boots.
Helvellyn – more old-fashioned. No personal lights for each bunk, and no power sockets in the rooms, so Powermonkey used again, rather than leave valuable electrical kit lying around the common areas. One set of male and one set of female washrooms. Only 1 of the 2 male showers was useable as the other had the temperature control missing. Some quite old furniture, and the bedroom and washroom end of the building was a bit shabby generally. But menu choice good considering the size of the place, and food was good for the money, at least for the evening meal – breakfast wasn’t great. Just using a slightly more expensive sausage and charging a little more to cover it would largely solve the problem. After two days the breakfast was disturbingly reminiscent of a Travelodge breakfast. But the biggest issue was the number of teenagers. One group of 6 girls, like, didn’t, like, stop talking, like, during the whole evening meal, like. And at least two of them could win prizes for speed talking. Annoyed both me and the film crew. A herd of elephants in the common room above on the second night helped destroy my nights sleep – another school party. Location is again the main selling point for this one, and if I’d done my Helvellyn walk from Glenridding or Patterdale instead, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the tarn.
Accommodation – B&Bs
Latrigg House, Keswick. Having stayed here when I did the Cumbria Way earlier this year, this was my first choice for this trip and I stayed here twice – once for the first two days as planned, and then a single night in the middle of the trip. En-suite single with mountain view for £33. It’s fine. Many of the individual elements are better in other places I’ve stayed, but this has none of the negatives. The biggest gripe is that the beans on the breakfast are clearly not Heinz.
Norcroft House, Penrith. Stayed here before too, back in 2008. That time the landlord used me as a sausage-tasting guinea-pig and as I think I was the only guest in (well it was April), gave me an upgrade of room to the newly refurbished accessible room. Bit different this time – I got put in a 4 bed room, which seems to be the one they have especially for groups doing the CTC cycle route, which passes the house. Big en-suite shower room. Breakfast ok. £38 a night. Would probably use again if I need to stay in Penrith, largely because I know what I’m getting.
- to complete the NW fells. Met
- to complete or substantially complete the Western fells, leaving only viable daywalks and no oddments. Sort of met
- get as many Wainwrights and Nuttalls as possible. Virtually met. I was, as usual, a bit ambitious with my target list, so a few were missed out. But I’m happy that what’s left leaves some workable walks that I could plan future trips around.
- My “lazy” day in Buttermere when I managed to bag 2 Wainwrights and finish the NW fells, having failed to complete them as planned the day before.
- Conquering Red Pike at the second attempt. I don’t like having failed peaks sitting there taunting me.
- The views down into Ennerdale, especially from Steeple.
- Wasdale scenery, on the first really warm day.
- The view from the summit of Lingmell, where I could see pretty much all the major mountains.
- The Helvellyn day. Great weather, both arretes done.
- The performance of the Pacerpoles.
- Missing the bus home on day 2 despite actually being early for it. Meant a second late finish in a row after one of the hardest days.
- Descents. A number of days ended with unpleasant descents due to poor path quality or navigational challenges. Exacerbated by tiredness, which I don’t think helps decision-making.
- Over-ambitious planning of big walks on successive days, especially on full pack days. I “lost” two days walking as a result, although one of these was recovered on the following day by extending that day’s walk.
Although not a total disaster by any means, I underperformed against my plan, which I think assumed that the fitness I would gain during the trip would be greater than it turned out to be. I did get fitter during the walk, but also knee and foot fatigue increased as time went on and cancelled out some of the fitness gains.
It’s difficult to strike the right balance – I live so far away from the lakes, that the temptation to try to plan too much in when I do get up here is great. Ultimately I then just end up missing stuff out and it feeling like a failure, which it wouldn’t if I planned for lighter days in the first place.
I do need to either really trim my pack weight, for example by making it a rule that I bring my smaller rucksack only, or I need to plan things so that my transition days are relatively light and low level. As I complete more and more of the Wainwrights and Nuttalls, though, this becomes a lot harder to achieve.
I also need to get the trip length right – this one was a bit too long as fatigue meant that I only really walked one of the 3 days in the Eastern fells. But that’s not likely to be an issue in the near future, as I need to go back to work soon and earn some money.