Last night certainly put the wild into wild camping. 7 hours of constant heavy rain and strong winds battered the tent, and with each climactic gust I watched for signs that my shelter wasn’t going to hold.
But it did hold, I survived it and the weather abated just before 1am, allowing me to get some sleep. I awoke just before 6am to the sound of water cascading into the tarn from the slopes of Mardale Ill Bell and Harter Fell above.
Monica was absolutely soaking so again spent the day on the outside of my rucksack, enjoying some great views. The plan formed last night, in between watching for signs of lack of structural integrity, was to descend towards Mardale Head and then head up to Gatesgarth to bag Branstree and Selside Pike, coming down again and doing an out-and-back to Tarn Crag and Grey Crag. Ideally I’d then return and do Harter Fell, Kentmere Pike and Shipman Knotts, but that might be pushing it a bit.
On a walking trip, I’m usually fine the first day then my pace and general levels of vigour take a dip on the second and third before being back up on top form for day four. So today I should be capable of a big walk. It turned out to be a bit of an epic.
I arrived at Mardale Head and I had a better idea, after a quick study of the map. I set off along the road to pick up the Old Corpse Road which would take me up to the “other end” of Selside Pike. It was a gentler climb and would also avoid covering the same ground twice. This proved to be an inspired decision.
I powered up the Old Corpse Road and feasted my eyes on the Outlying Fells to my left and spread out ahead. But my target lay to the right. I thwacked through the squelchy stuff to gain the ridgeline of Selside End and plodded up to the summit.
It’s always encouraging to get to your first summit well before lunchtime and it usually gives me a little boost. I got some snacks down my neck and took advantage of being in line with the 3G signal emanating, presumably, from Penrith or somewhere near.
I made short work of Branstree North East top but then lingered a few moments at the tarns. Up to the main summit next and the second decision point of the day. Tarn/Gray Crags or up to Harter Fell and down the Kentmere Pike ridge? Although I could in theory do them either way around, it potentially chose my overnight spot and hence my walk out route – either to Shap or somewhere on the Windermere – Patterdale road.
I told myself to take advantage of day four fitness and launched myself down the side of Branstree heading for Tarn Crag. A long slog up the boggy side of Tarn Crag rewarded me with a boggy top too. I swear the whole fell is really one giant tarn. Now starting to be concerned at my pace, it having taken a knock on the squelch up Tarn Crag, I tried to up it a bit on the walk down and up to Grey Crag, but the terrain was even more boggy.
I now had a dilemma: I was looking too slow for my original plan to retrace my steps to Harter Fell, but it was far too early to call it a day and camp at this end. I gave myself the walk out to Harrop Pike to form a conclusion.
Halfway along the soft ground I went in over my boot tops, and the peaceful mountain landscape was shattered with a high volume tirade of swear words. On a walk, this not uncommon incident tends to crush my spirit, and any adrenaline rush generated usually only lasts long enough to get me to the nearest safety off the hill. Today was different.
I continued to berate the fell as my resolve hardened. After the mission was aborted in July, there was no way I was going there again. I reached the summit, paused only for a swig of drink and forged back towards the main summit of Grey Crag, this time on what turned out to be the terra firma side of the fence.
I marked the moment of conquering my local Wainwright not with the planned celebration but a long hard look at the situation. This fell may be the nearest of the 214 to home, but it’s still over 220 miles as the crow flies and by my rule of completing the Wainwrights without using a car, it works out in practice to be pretty much the remotest. So this should have been a moment to rejoice. It wasn’t.
To achieve my target fells for the trip I had to camp somewhere on the Kentmere Pike ridge tonight. Of course I could camp early and local to where I was, and effectively write off the remaining 3 fells. But that wasn’t a great option either as I really didn’t rate my chances of finding a dry spot over here.
So now either a descent to Longsleddale and climb back up to the Kentmere ridge at Shipman Knotts, leaving me with work to do tomorrow; or a big walk back to gain that ridge from the Harter Fell end, which would leave me with at worst a downhill walk out on Saturday. It was 2:45, time was tight and the latter option would effectively be a race against sunset, given the terrain I had to cross. The former felt like failure on my hypothetical best day.
Sod it. Harter Fell it was, but I needed a big pace. An hour and a half tops to get to Gatesgarth Pass and if I couldn’t do it then I’d have a big problem. It was now that already having soaked feet became an advantage. I steamed across the boggy descent and reascent to Tarn Crag oblivious to the need to pussyfoot around avoiding the bad patches. The descent of Tarn Crag went similarly swiftly and I then went for broke with a sweeping curve up through the rough wet ground direct to the pass.
Just after 4 I reached the pass and now had a safe stony and gently gradiented path. But the bog trot had taken it out of me and I struggled to get to the summit for 5pm. In doing so I eschewed the slight detour over Adam Seat, and now hope that this deleted Nuttall doesn’t get reinstated.
Although I was tired and now in a full-on race against sunset, I spent a few moments looking around me, and in particular north to High Street, which I’d not really seen that well up close due to the conditions yesterday. I then continued to follow the fence to swing down onto the Kentmere Pike ridge.
I looked to my right, and the western sky beyond the Fairfield group of hills and the Scafells in the further distance, was glowing alarmingly, the grey clouds tinged with orangey undersides. And to the east on my left a squall over Sleddale Fell was partnered with a rainbow, both moving inexorably in my direction. So now a race against both sunset and the rain. And this wasn’t the part of the day when I wanted to stop and adjust my layers – I just wanted to get on with it and get to my camp spot.
I trudged wearily down to Kentmere Pike, the felltop not really seeming to get much nearer as I walked towards it. I got to the summit and lured by the rocky outcrops, wasted a few minutes investigating some potential spots tucked behind the rocks. But nothing appealled, and I continued my descent towards Shipman Knotts.
To save time, I cut the corner off and missed off Goat Scar, the second deleted Nuttall of the day, and this was despite its potential, from a distance, as a likely spot for a bit of rocky shelter overnight. I really didn’t have the time if I wanted to get camped before sunset and have time to enjoy it – it was looking like a decent one.
I crossed the wall that runs across the fell, and plunged down to Shipman Knotts. Over both of the main contenders for the actual summit I went, and then it was down a steep rock-strewn path alongside the wall. My map showing potential water at about the 500m mark, I listened carefully for the gush (hopefully) or trickle (more likely) of the precious elixir. But in the end I settled for some run-off close to the path, which looked pretty clear – certainly better than the peaty concoction of the first night.
I inched around the various outcrops, the wind much less down here and the need for a windbreak much reduced. I focussed on a spot with a bit of shelter, but with flatness and dryness being more critical, finding a spot soon after. I got Monica up, with the open door facing the sunset, and got some dinner on just after the sun had dipped below the distant western fells.
I sat on the hillside, watching the lights of Kentmere and the larger settlements further south, while I tucked into my hastily cobbled together tomato rice soup (the, as yet, uneaten Uncle Ben’s and two Heinz squeeze and stir tomato soups). It took ages to eat, but was filling and far better than the Stagg chilli, the remaining can of which was silently taunting me from my food bag.
I sat in the darkness and reflected on the day. A total of 7 Wainwrights and 8 Nuttalls was a good haul, and I silently praised my judgement call earlier in the afternoon, when I’d made myself go for it. I’d probably pay for it tomorrow, but instead of having work to do the next day, now all I had to do was get myself down to the valley and then connect somehow with the 508 bus route. I went to sleep, unbelievably contented in comparison to the previous night.