All night the wind gusted around the tent, setting off metallic twangs as the crossing poles resonated. I lay shivering in my sleeping bag, barely dozing for much of the seemingly endless night, willing the dawn to come.
Yes it really was that cold. So cold that the slightest movement brought me into contact with the cold sides of my bag, yet needing the warmth that came from the occasional thrash about. A sudden cramp in my right calf had me yelping in pain and no amount of tensing, untensing or rubbing would make the pain subside until a couple of minutes had passed. This was potentially bad for the next day’s walking and coupled with the twinges in my right knee the evening before, was making my right leg look a bit doubtful.
The dawn came eventually and after giving the sun a chance to warm things up a bit, I climbed exhausted from my sleeping bag to greet the new day. The wind had dropped and a blue sky awaited me on the other side of the tent door. The subtly differing shades of coloured rock on the opppsote side of the tarn gave me hope for a less grey day.
I stepped out and looked Monica over. She’d stood up really well to the wind and I barely felt her move during the night, despite the audition for the woodwind section of the orchestra. All was intact and I praised my decision to upgrade in preparation for this trip. Who knows what would have been the result in my old tent. How much of the robustness was down to the use of the crossing poles, I’m not sure. More testing was needed.
I polished off the first of my porridge mixes along with a cup of coffee, then packed up and set off, my neighbours beating me by about 20 minutes. Whilst they disappeared on the flanks of Tarn Crag, I turned my back on the tarn and rejoined the path that had brought me up from Grasmere the afternoon before. I slogged upwards under my load, feeling heavier due to the effects of lack of sleep. Even so 50 minutes later saw me at the summit of Sergeant Man along with the early risers from “civilisation”.
We all set off for High Raise next and as I arrived I only just resisted the temptation to atempt to punch in at the orienteering control secreted by a rock there – force of habit I guess. Of course I was aware that the British Orienteering Championships were being held in the Lakes this weekend. Indeed I’d even considered attending the warm up event on High Rigg the day before. But with my current national ranking of 5,027th, I wasn’t going to be troubling any of the serious competitors.
High Raise is one of my favourite viewpoints to get a 360° panorama and today I wasn’t disappointed. Dozens of fells were caught in my sweeping gaze and it’s one of those situations that you can’t quite capture in the same way on camera. But I had a go.
Next stop Thunacar Knott and with a strengthening breeze and the effects of virtually zero sleep kicking in, I was starting to flag. I sat down in the lee of the summit and took a coffee break, boiling up a mugful of tarn water on my Trangia. Indeed I now had tarn water (unfiltered) in my Camelbak too. My stock from the night before had been really clear and from a decently fast flowing outflow so I took the chance and drank it untreated. No such risks with the coffee though, and I enjoyed it lazily with a cereal bar. But this couldn’t last forever, and after half an hour or so, I went on my way, heading down and across Harrison Combe to Pike of Stickle.
Now Pike of Stickle and I also go back to that fateful day in June 2006 when I had so much navigational difficulty at the end of the day which resulted in the discovery of tarns in general and Easedale Tarn in particular. But that day had started more promisingly. Tired from the previous day’s Fairfield Horseshoe and arriving in Langdale from Ambleside on a bus about 10:30, I’d slogged my way up Dungeon Ghyll to Loft Crag, only recovering some vigour as I scrambled up Pike of Stickle. That day I ate my lunch in a cloud of mozzies, and took several bites home with me as a result of my exposed legs on that fine summer’s day. Sitting on the top of Pike of Stickle you do really feel like you’re high on a perch looking down at the world around you, and this plus the distinctive shape of the summit endeared me to the fell from the start. It’s become a firm favourite amongst all of the Lakeland fells. So it was good to return today. I scrambled up and stood on the summit looking around me, watching the climbers on Gimmer Crag far below and the stately shapes of the high mountains across Mickelden.
Now it was decision time as, although I’d started reasonably early, I’d taken it very easy and consequently had only managed about 3 miles by lunchtime. My vaguely planned route down to Stake Pass, up to Rossett Pike and along the Glaramara Ridge, felt a bit beyond my physical condition at that moment, and as I descended over Martcrag Moor, I decided to continue down into Langstrath, get myself a pub meal and reascend at the far end of the ridge for my overnight stop. In any case, my plan had been to return back along the ridge tomorrow so this way I’d avoid traipsing over the same ground twice. And having not checked in with home the night before due to lack of mobile signal, I thought I ought to descend and look for a payphone.
I reached Stake Pass and followed my route from the Cumbria Way last year, on that day when I’d had to fight my way into a strong headwind all the way up Langdale to the pass, only to be greeted by an emerging sun and blue sky as I crested the pass and headed down into Langstrath. Today was much better weather, but there was still a patch of sunlight over Sergeant’s Crag ad Eagle Crag, just like last year. I zigzagged my way down to join the path at the bottom of the valley. This time though I crossed the footbridge, and got a surprise when I discovered the minature canyon underneath it. I took another break just gazing down into the gorge and lying there listening to the rushing water.
I awoke with a start as I realised someone was talking to me. A couple were just crossing the footbridge after telling me I had the right idea. Not wanting to be comatose all afternoon, I picked myself up and continued down Langstrath, recalling how long it had seemed last year. It hadn’t got any shorter, and the “lang” part of its name still belonged. I emerged at Stonethwaite and eyed up the Langstrath Country Inn’s menu. Rather snootily they dictate to you when you are allowed to eat, and all that would be on offer to me would be soup and a sandwich. Sod that. And I was probably a bit too down-market for their tastes anyway. So I continued onto Rosthwaite and the Scafell Hotel, where I’d eaten last year, although I hadn’t been overly impressed. It seemed to have improved and my tomato, orange and coriander soup, cumberland sausage and mash and warm apple pie with ice cream disappeared very swiftly.
I headed out and retraced my steps along the B5289 heading again for the fells. Tempted out of laziness and a full stomach by the campsite at Chapel House farm, I resisted and continued along to the footpath that would take me up onto Rosthwaite Fell.
With around 400m to ascend, it was hard going after a heavy meal and late in the day. So there were frequent stops to take in the views back into Borrowdale. On emerging from the pub, I’d been tempted not just by the bustling bank holiday campsite, but also by the shorter and lower walk up to Castle Crag for the night. Being another favourite fell, this would have been a good idea on one level, but I couldn’t guarantee proper wild camp solitude so low down, and it also felt a bit like a cheat. Oh yes and the fact that I’d still have a big climb the next morning. Hard work though it was, knocking off some of the climb by ascending on to the Glaramara ridge tonight was the way to go.
I got to the 290m contour and the path emerged onto a small flat area shielded by a rock with plunging views back down the fell to Borrowdale. I stopped and looked it over. My legs put up a case for simply stopping here and pitching. It would do, but was a bit exposed to wind if it rose in the night and it was still early. Common sense said to carry on. I slogged on up, counting down the height gain in 50m chunks.
I emerged amongst the outcrops at the 500m contour and Tarn at Leaves lay before me. Not before time. I was knackered. I squelched across the depression to the tarn and started looking for a spot. A slight raise next to the tarn seemed to be relatively flat and dry underfoot, so I went for it. Up went Monica and again I included the crossing poles, although I was starting to find them a bit of a hassle.
Tent erected, I consulted the map and concluded the tarn outflow stream was going to be tap for the night. I headed to the other end of the tarn to follow the stream downhill sufficiently to be happy with the quality of the wet stuff. One platypus full of slightly yellowy water later, I squelched back to the tent and begun running it through the filter. I gave up after a while as it was such hard work for relatively little output. I was going to boil most of it anyway. A cup of coffee and some custard set me up for the night and as the sun drew lower in the sky behind me I started preparing my refuge for the coming night – expecting another long and cold one.
I peered out of the tent one last time and enjoyed the reflections in the tarn and the vividness of the colours imparted to the hillside by the setting sun. And on that note, I retired for my second night in the wild.