Fell Walking in The Lake District. Part One.
Ennerdale to Rosthwaite. 20 miles
If anyone has read the scribblings on this blog in any kind of depth (if so, I thank you and hope you've not considered any time doing so a wasted one), a familiar theme is that I tend to head off for lopes around the country and inevitably do things the hard way. Either the distance covered is ridiculously far, the ascents up mountains copious in number of feet climbed, or general silly moments like being chased by animals and insects or falling into ditches. Etc. And so it was that following a decision to spend some random days walking around the Lake District, an area I'd barely visited before, myself and my friend, Alex, decided to throw ourselves into the deep end and spend a few hours wandering around the High Stile Range, of Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag, and also just for the sheer pleasure of it, a jaunt up Haystacks, too. All in treacherously dreadful weather where we were blown to pieces, soaked through and, in my case, practically walking in bare feet such was the result of my boots slowly falling to pieces. We must enjoy doing things the hard way.
The route we'd take today was part of the Coast to Coast walk, and deciding to do the high route along the range, when reading our book, Wainwright suggested this option is only for the strongest and most experienced of fell walkers. Well, we’ve had some tough days in our short time of walking together but Alex and I certainly don’t fall into that category! Nevertheless, whilst I will admit the several hours on the mountains were incredibly difficult, physically and mentally, I’d hate to think Wainwrights advice would put off people from taking on this route as it is more than achievable for even the less hardy of walkers. Although, one clue that points to the difficulty levels is an amusing little illustration in AW’s Coast to Coast book, when on the page that maps where the low and high levels on todays stage meet, he drew a pair of walkers. One, patiently siting on a rock having taken the leisurely easier route, awaiting his or her bedraggled friend as he/she emerges from the last ordeal on Haystacks, looking a dishevelled mess, and with the friend asking “where the bloody hell have you been?!”
After an overnight stopover in Ennerale YHA, after a hard but unremarkable walk there the previous day, our route today started with a short walk east of the hostel down the same hard and gravelly track we arrived on, soon turning off through a small metal gate, where ahead of us lay Red Pike, the first ascent of the day, and at 2477 feet. We were advised to keep our eyes peeled for a large cairn to the right of a narrow stream, then head north east following a succession of smaller cairns. Great advice, until the realisation dawned that the landscape we were walking through was full of long grass and thousands of rocks dotted about, so just picking out the stream was hard enough. However, there was a mostly defined path to follow and half way up, sure enough the stream emerged and we zigzagged our way, almost like in an uphill slalom, to the top. It was exhausting work, the incline was incredibly steep and at no point at all did it flatten out. The wind picked up the higher we got but as I remarked to Alex, I’d rather do that walk in that weather than in exhausting hot sun. It seemingly took an age to reach the summit but when we did arrive there, panting as ever, the pain evaporated and the views were spectacular. Despite the day being a miserable one, the horizon was thankfully clear, so much so that we could still see parts of the west coast far away into the distance, with to the north, lovely views of the lakes and tarns and houses and mountains that represented our first proper elevated view of Lakeland. The wind was buffeting us now and so we took refuge of sorts in a north facing rocky bed that gave us some respite.
The next peak to aim for, High Stile, the highest on the walk at 2647 feet thankfully didn’t involve a massive lope down to the bottom of Red Pike only to start an equally high ascent, was tantalising close from the current peak we were at but typically, wasn’t exactly a walk in the park to get to. Due to the wind and rain going up a notch, the walk to our next fell summit seemed to take forever. Walking into the wind, our waterproofs (the name of which can be classed in the loosest of possible terms) were zipped to our mouths and hoods were down as far as they could go, but the rain, coming in literally horizontally, was as if it were being fired out a gun, such was the force in which it was hitting our faces. Because of this, I don’t think we realised how wet we were getting, only looking at my jacket and shorts did I realise how damp I was. I also had my muscle-tight skins on my legs and so was actually quite warm but by god, that wind and rain was not making the walk any easier. We hit the peak on High Stile and almost gave it a cursory glance before continuing on our less than merry and rather uncomfortable way, downwards via a slippy and rocky path to High Crag, at 2440 feet. Alex and I both have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to certain terrains or hills on our walks; I can seem to cope better with the upwards climbing, I almost prefer it but going the other way, and certainly when on the rocky paths, Alex just bombs along. He has no fear, a lower centre of gravity and more galling, sometimes runs along too whilst I fall ever further behind, taking one step at a time, like a toddler trying to walk for the first time.
Despite this, the views down to High Crag and then seeing Haystacks peaking its head out beyond it, were glorious, and to the north, still the great vistas kept coming. As ever, I found it hard to keep one eye on the ground with the views as they were, and I needed all the concentration I could muster considering both the miserable conditions and trying to look after feet that were becoming increasingly painful due to my boots ensuring I could feel every little stone and rock digging into my soles. Certainly going downwards, my big toe was continuing to hurt from the previous day after managing to connect with a rock at full force whilst traversing along Ennerdale Water. Following the ski slope-esque poles on High Crag that helped to point us in the right direction, the wind went up another notch. I can’t emphasise enough how strong it was, even the clouds that we were now on the same level on were being blown around us like confetti. Alex’s bag cover got blown off in to the distance (he managed to retrieve it using the walking stick he was now using, basically a long, thick-ish branch that was doing him the world of good), and just talking to each other when yards apart meant we had to shout to make ourselves just about audible. Standing still with legs and arms apart and facing south, the wind was able to blow us over into ridiculous angles. Whilst we weren’t in danger of being blown off the mountain, it certainly made the descent quite hairy when the zigzagged path in places did have a bit of a drop either side.
We descended down to 1300 feet but there was still no respite. Looking up, soaked to the bone and considerably bedraggled, were we confronted with our next obstacle; Haystacks. Less than 2000 feet high but looking up, with an ascent reminiscent of Pen Y Ghent - almost impossible looking from afar. Maybe there is an easier path somewhere on Haystacks but we sure as hell couldn’t see it, and we wearily threw ourselves into the last major climb of the day. The descent from High Crag had already put me in a black mood - it doesn’t take much admittedly - but I’d slipped over a couple of times and had resorted at one point to using my arse to slide down the mountain as I didn’t trust myself to stay upright on some of the rocks, especially with the wind as strong as it was. So to be confronted by Haystacks and a near vertical 700 feet climb wasn’t exactly what I wanted to face at this juncture. But some kind of mental strength comes to the fore and Alex and I encouraged each other to the top, with much of it being essentially rock climbing as we clambered up the wet and sharp rock face. Once at the top, we hadn’t got a clue where to go. The book says look for a tarn, well, there were seemingly loads of them in amongst long grass, more rocks and the ski poles that headed east, along with what looked like a path to the north of it that we decided to follow. At this point we decided to stop for lunch, and so sheltered up alongside a crag face and fuelled ourselves up for the next part of the day. Despite the conditions of the weather, moments like those are some of my favourite times of our walks, just sitting there in the silence of the high hills and mountains. The only thing that would have made the current situation any better would have been a flask with some steaming hot tea, but in lieu of that we decided once down at Honister we'd treat ourselves.
We hadn’t realised it at that point, but the hardest part of the day was over. We’d still got a few miles to go but none of it involved much climbing, and following the way off Haystacks to the Brandreth Fence, we turned north along Honister Pass with lovely views over Buttermere and eventually reached the old slate mine, where now lies a cafe and walking in, we must have looked, and definitely felt, very bedraggled as we slowly found ourselves a table, reacquainted ourselves with the warmth and ordered ourselves some much needed refreshments. In reality we could have stayed there all afternoon and certainly would have done if we’d booked ourselves into the YHA next door. But our YHA for the night was still a few miles away at Rosthwaite, and so off we headed into the nippy late afternoon air and onto a rocky path adjacent to the road to head down to Seatoller, a lovely little village, lined with cosy looking whitewashed cottages and B&B’s that lay among lime-green fields surrounded by the gorgeous mountains around Borrowdale.
A brief walk down the main road is ended by cutting through a small car park and onto yet another path (no surprise that this was also rocky) that became increasingly narrow and with more obstacles designed to trip you up with tree branches, large roots that stick out the ground and just to cap it all off, a stream with a slippy and dangerous rock face that has had chains attached to hold onto as you gingerly walk above it. We were aching for the end and in the nick of time, the lovely and warm YHA came into view. We checked in to a nice and large and warm room, though not before though removing my soaking wet boots to see that the soles on my boots, that had caused me so much aggro the last couple of days, had completely caved in. More walking for the next day had to be regretfully cancelled, but the pay off for such a hard, but rewarding walk, was a meal at a pub that night on the Keswick road. The drive to which was glorious, over little stone bridges and surrounded by the mountains above. Patterdale would have to wait for another day.