The three amigos being, in no particular order, Alan Sloman, Andrew Walker and David Wilkinson - soon to be TGO Challengers setting off from Morar into the inhospitable wilds of Knoydart ... then more and more wilds all the way across Scotland. But the Highlands of Scotland, although wilder than a Troggs single, have two great challenges for the flatlander fenboys of the south. It is very lumpy, being almost entirely composed of unfeasibly high lumpy bits. And boggy bits too. Admittedly the fens are frequently boggy, but they are at least level, whereas the cunning scot has devised a method of cultivating deep soupy bogs on slopes of sixty degrees or more.
So, with insufficient time (and funds) for a trip north of the border, a brief foray into Lakeland (not the kitchen shop) was devised to prepare for these challenges and acclimatise to unaccustomed altitude. So it was that on Thursday four largish chaps squeezed in to a smallish car and headed up the M6 and to Langdale for a couple of days of walking and testing kit and body. Would either fail? Read on.
|A very yellow Trailstar|
The weather forecast was for rain, thunderstorms and snow over 600m. Predictably after a brief foray around the retail establishments of Ambleside (and a visit to the Golden Rule - best pub in the town), we arrived in bright afternoon sunshine to pop up the tents at the excellent NT camp site in Great Langdale. It was here that Andrew produced his newest piece of gear - a spankng new Trailstar tarpy/tenty type thing in a startling yellow that I had not experienced since 1973, when I had a Ford Cortina in the same colour (Daytona Yellow, as I recall). The colour scheme may have been a tad retro, but not so the tent (for it had become a tent with the addition of an Oookstar
inner - which I have to say is a really, really clever piece of kit that bridges the gap between tent and tarp, keeping the advantages of each for just 370gms, less the weight of the bivi bag that you no longer need).
Tents up, Trailstar admired, we experienced a very brief shower before heading off to the Old Dungeon Ghyll bar for a light supper and a few beers. Here we discovered Moorhouse's Black Cat - a truly excellent dark beer, and ideal session ale. One pint leads wonderfully to another with a dark chocolate flavour and a nice palate cleansing bite of hops on the finish. Yes, I liked it ;-)
We slept well and awoke to a perfect morning with sunshine and just a few clouds. After a leasurely breakfast we were packed and ready for our trundle up Mickleden to Stakes Pass and on to the Langdale Pikes for a bit of unaccustomed ascent. We were quite pleased to be on our way and in good order by 10 o' clock, as previous experiences at the ODG had left us staggering in to the bar, bleary eyed, for coffee at eleven.
But as Andrew had left his map on the car roof, we tarried at the hotel anyway whilst he jogged back to retrieve it. There was a small debate along the lines of "well, we're late anyway, and they'll be open soon", but temptation was resisted and we were soon at the bottom of Stakes Pass enjoying a brief shower (sufficient for us to postpone elevenses until we were at the top).
|Alan on Pike o' Stickle|
Until we were at the top ... Dear reader, you have no idea what it is like for a bunch of flaccid flatlanders who last saw a hill in the autumn to stagger up this path in the Spring. We made it though, and celebrated the ascent with a sit down and a nice cup of tea. Fortified we set off to the Pike o' Stickle where, after a bit of lunch and another cuppa, we dropped our packs and scrambled to the top to take in the terrific views. I was pleased to note from my altimeter watch that since leaving the camp site we had achieved over 2000ft of ascent. Alan promptly felt faint and said he thought that he might have a nosebleed coming on. Andrew grinned (or maybe grimaced) Dave ruminated on his unfinished Independent crossword. Then it was off to complete our tour, bypassing Harrison Stickle (one stickle is enough, really) taking in more ascent to the dizzying height of 723m (2372ft) at Thunacar Knott and on to another spendid viewpoint, Sergeant Man. This gives a wonderful prospect of Pavey Ark, Stickle Tarn and far reaching views to ... well ... the horizon I guess. Alan claimed to discern Morecambe Bay, Coniston Old Man and other bits and pieces. I wasn't really paying attention as my phone had got a signal and the messages weren't great. Barclays Bank had spectactularly cocked up opening an executors' account for my mum's estate and were now phoning back 36 hours late. Grrrrrrr, I can't wait for Monday when I can get at the useless buggers.
|View from Sergeant Man|
Thence it was off to Codale Tarn to find a spot to camp. We decided on a direct route, eschewing paths, and, Challenge style, struck out across country picking our way to our objective - stared at by a party slogging up a rubbly path as we skipped down the greensward, neatly avoiding the odd inconvenient crag. We found a spiffing spot with views down to Grasmere village, Rydal Water and Windermere. Tents up, a bit of a social, supper and a well earned early bed. ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz.
|Camp by Codale Tarn|
The next day was Saturday. Once we had packed and climbed back up over the ridge to drop on to Stickle Tarn our strategy in avoiding the weekend was fully justified. Honestly, the average shopping mall would be pleased to have as many people thronging the aisles. At a weekend there are numerous opportunities in the Lakes to enjoy really fab countryside far from the madding crowd (for example, when pressed to a week-end in the past, we have explored from Dunnerdale - nice pub, good campsite, no crowds). However, I guess that as we ourselves were now numbered amongst the crowds we couldn't really complain - but we did find an alternative route down that avoided the throng coming up. Amazingly, a few hundred yards off the main drag, you can still be entirely alone, so why people trudge up the fells in huge crocodiles is a mystery. Still, it keeps the rest nice and empty for us.
|The week-end hordes approach!|
I have mentioned the effect of unaccustomed effort of ascent on the untrained leg. That is nothing compared with the rigour of descent. Sheer bloody purgatory. The constant braking effort - especially when you encounter a path lovingly restored by those "fix the fells" jokers with all the stones sloping downwards, so that any that are wet or icy precipitate a nasty fall for the unwary. However, we survived their efforts to thin out the tourist horde by selective injury and made it safely back to the Old Dungeon Ghyll by lunchtime, in time for restorative coffees and beers before fish and chips in Ambleside and the long trek home.
After all this, the burning question is, are the Three Amigos ready for the trials that await them? Well, of course they are. They are, after all, heading for a gigantic party in Montrose, and nothing will stand between these three and a party. A couple of days lying down in a darkened room and they'll be over the shock of upwardness and ready for anything that Scotland can throw in their way.
|The Three Amigos|
Good luck, amigos - wish I was going too!
Labels: Gear, TGO Challenge, Walks and Routes