Our pre walk daunder started well enough with a splendid lunch of warm ale, cold beef pies and hot mustard in the Golden Rule – a real traditional boozer in Ambleside that stoically ignores the tourist trade. None of your lasagne and glass of Pinot Grigio here, thank you very much. No menus or blackboards. If you want food, you ask, and are offered pork or beef pies (excellent they are too). And here you can still have a pickled egg in a packet of crisps, a sadly neglected triumph of English cuisine.
Then off to the Great Langdale campsite to get a pitch above the flood level of the beck before an evening at the climbers’ bar of the Old Dungeon Ghyll, where serious training for the social side of the Challenge was undertaken.
When it’s fine, the views compensate for everything on the walk to Wasdale, but when it’s dire the rocky scar of the path with intermittent stretches of slippery stone repairs is a bit grim. The Wasdale Head Hotel, though, is great – and their lamb hot pot, with the chief ingredient bleating just outside, is wonderful. We felt immensely cheered up and trotted off to the NT campsite happily, resisting Richard’s suggestion to camp in the field by the pub.
It continued raining all night, and we packed up in light rain in the morning. Ah well, good practice, I suppose.
David Albon works on Sundays, so had to return in the morning. We set off for our wildcamp at Scar Lathing. The cloud came down to meet us as we started our climb up Oliver Gill, and we spent the rest of the day with about twenty yards visibility; a great opportunity to hone our skills with map & compass. It was at this point, as I reached for my compass pouch, that I remembered that I had not attached it to my new pack before setting off from home. Fortunately we had five with compasses (often a recipe for lively navigational debate, but Alan was quickly elected as navigator in chief) and Richard produced his new toy – a Gecko gps.
“Our average speed is 177 kph”
“I might have switched it on when I was on the train”.
So we set forth once more, fully confident in being able to verify our exact position at any time. Even so, navigating on bearings in near zero visibility is a bit tricky, and being just fifty yards off track was enough to provide us with an interesting traverse of a loose and slippery boulder field where David Hobbs’ slip allowed me the frisson of hearing unseen rocks heading in my direction.
And as well as being in cloud, it was still raining – did I mention the rain? There was a lot of it, so the crossing of the River Esk was interesting. However we crossed without incident, apart from Alan being kicked in the head by his own boots as he battled with the current.
Putting on boots and socks on the far bank, I congratulated myself on being dry and warm, even in these conditions, and trotted off happily to camp.
It was the whisky that did it. Four flasks being passed around rapidly means a large intake over a short time. This, it has to be said, can impair one’s judgement somewhat – and so it was with me.
I decided it was time to eat, and went to the river to fill my Ortlieb bag. The current tugged the screw top out of my hand, and it bobbed and swirled in an eddy by a large tussock out in the stream. I decided that I could easily leap onto the tussock and retrieve it – so I did. The top sank. I lunged for it and plummeted headfirst into the torrent, grabbing the black top as I did so. I surfaced to find that I had grabbed a black rock by mistake.
Great hilarity from all ashore (apart from Al, who had retired to his tent refreshed).
For the first time that night I had some condensation in the Akto. Unsurprising really as despite stuffing my sodden top, socks etc into a drybag, the soaking Paramo and trousers lay in the corner of the tent, and I cooked with the porch just open a crack as it was raining. To be fair my companions did offer dry clothing and occasionally shout to see if I was alive.
Actually I was OK. Once towelled off and in the bag, I cooked and slept like a babe, only waking for a pee and checking that the water outside was not going to rise over the edge of the groundsheet. Yes, it was raining – hard.
The next morning, the rain stopped for a while. We could see things, and all agreed that yesterday’s walk would have been wonderful if we could have seen anything. It was a bit like the game shows of old where the host would say to the losers, “…and this is what you could have won”.
With dry underclothes and socks, I donned my wet trousers and Paramo top. What miraculous stuff Paramo is. Within ten minutes it felt dry inside, and I was warm. Very impressive. I was unsure about using the Velez top on the Challenge; now I have no doubts. A superb bit of kit.
Visibility soon deteriorated as we made our way to ford Lingcove Beck and pick up the path to Three Tarns. This is a lovely path, little trodden and a bit intermittent in parts, but what the Lakeland paths were probably like before they were reduced to rubble. The mist lifted and I loved it. Delightful. Then just over the hill we descended The Band – another once wonderful path destroyed by the thousands plodding up to Bowfell. Not complaining, really. Whilst the hordes stick to these trails, it keeps the rest of the place nice and empty for the rest of us!
All in all, a great week end with great company, thanks to Alan Sloman, Mick Hopkins, David Hobbs, David Albon & Richard White. And are we fit for the chally? Well, only me Mick & Al are actually on it this year, and I reckon that now we’re all as fit as we’re likely to be.