When:13 March 2010
Weather: Generally OK: a fair bit of low cloud but our hill stayed clear (yay!)
Who: Self, husband and two mates
Time: 5 hours, including lunch stops and unscheduled waiting around…
Post walk drink: Merlot for some, real ale for others
Welcome to the first instalment of ‘Walking with Wainwright, the Malbec way’ in which I, accompanied sometimes by my husband and various friends, tackle walks made famous in the Julia Bradbury TV programme… but with rather more swearing, definitely more alcohol, decidedly less camera equipment, and absolutely no embroidered combat trousers!! We’d decided to book a weekend in the Lake District with two mates, one who we’d walked with several times in Scotland and another mate who prior to this weekend hadn’t done anything more hilly than the North Downs Way. It’s important to note at this point (for later reference) that I an English, my husband is Scottish, and one of our mates is from Belfast.
There were a few lessons learned from this trip about how not to plan a hill walking break…
Firstly, always check what you have packed before you actually get to where you are going. Otherwise something will always get forgotten. The thing that has been forgotten will always be something totally obvious, and not necessarily something related to walking. I almost always forget to pack something – usually it’s something like toothpaste or the skin-so-soft. This time it was some rather necessary items of clothing. Oh well, not a problem that a bit of washing couldn’t solve.
Secondly, do NOT have too many alcoholic beverages the night before a walk. Yes, after arriving in Keswick it was one of those evenings where the carefully planned consumption of a couple of glasses of Malbec or Rioja after the long drive, rather went to hell in a handcart. A bottle of Glenfarclas was produced and then liberally passed around. This was emphatically NOT a good idea – Glenfarclas is fairly lethal stuff particularly when it is cask strength (as this one was). 😯 Oh dear! The Saturday morning dawned to what can only be described as a stinker of a hangover which even after totting up the number of alcohol units consumed seemed to be out of all proportion 😦 Oh well, fresh air and exercise would cure that. Had to be said that the free cooked breakfast you get at Keswick youth hostel didn’t go amiss either.
The next decision was what walk to do. The original intention had been to do Skiddaw, but it had its own personal cloud blanket on and we’d seen from the George Fisher webcam there was still snow above about 600-700m. Although we had our microspikes with us (the crampons were in Scotland) neither of our mates had them. We therefore decided that a lower hill would be a better bet, so headed off for Haystacks. A. Wainwright says of this hill:
Haystacks stands unabashed and unashamed in the midst of a circle of much loftier fells, like a shaggy terrier in the company of foxhounds, some of them known internationally, but not one of this distinguished group of mountains around Ennerdale and Buttermere can show a greater variety and a more fascinating arrangement of interesting features.
He says a fair amount more besides, all very complimentary. The height of just shy of 600m also seemed about right for the conditions and predicted cloud cover, so off we drove over the Honister Pass and parked up at Gatesgarth farm. Kitted up and ready for the off shortly before 10am with some nice views up to where we were planning to go.
About five minutes into the walk it became obvious that someone was not feeling very well and not just due to hangover. That someone was going to need to turn back – at least temporarily – on the grounds of an upset stomach. After a quick conflab, myself and our less experienced mate decided to press on towards Scarth Gap (the high point of the pass over to Ennerdale) while the other two would head off in search of the necessary facilities. The plan was that we would wait for the others at Scarth Gap if they didn’t overtake us beforehand. So while they drove off, we headed up towards the pass on an excellent path. Sadly there are no photos of this bit as I forgot to relieve my husband of the camera before he disappeared. Grrr!
The ascent was for the most part reasonably gentle with good views opening out as we climbed. About two-thirds of the way up, Wainwright says:
‘It is a test of iron discipline to pass without halting several large comfortable boulders athwart the path’.
Well neither of our discipline was exactly iron, so a rest stop was duly had with the chance to take on fluids. My hangover was starting to abate by this point, so we didn’t sit too long but pressed on towards Scarth Gap. On reaching the pass, we couldn’t see the other two, so settled down at some more boulders just below to wait for them. And wait… and wait.
Third lesson: don’t assume you can get a mobile signal in the Lake District! By this point, we had both failed to receive a text that one of the others had sent, saying that they had decided to leave the car at Honister slate mine, go up the hill from that side and then meet us at the summit. Since we didn’t get this, we just kept waiting, and trying to phone them with no success. By the time half an hour had passed we had resorted to asking other walkers if they had seen an Irishman and a Scotsman, usually with the response of ‘Where’s the rest of the joke then’? We were failing to see the funny side. By the time we’d been waiting about 40 minutes we were getting cold and worried. Fortunately, our mate’s iPhone (at that point a new fangled fancy gadget!) finally managed to pick up a signal and we managed to get through to one of the others’ mobiles and find out where they were and what they were doing. Breathed a sigh of relief and started off up the zigzag path towards the summit.
The ascent was a tad more ‘interesting’ than I had perhaps expected 😯 .. and unnecessarily so as it turned out as there was a bypass path I managed to miss. The direct route – which is where the path seems to go – involves some scrambling, of a straightforward nature but involving hands on rock nonetheless. There were certainly a few points where I had to stop and figure out the best route up. I should reiterate at this stage that our mate had never done any hillwalking before and coped very well with this – have to say if I’d had to do any (even easy) scrambling on my first hill I’d have bottled it. I strapped both sets of poles to my pack and took charge of the route finding.. this also meant there was less temptation for him to try and aim a pole through my head.
Strapping the poles to the pack was rather less easy than it ought to have been, because they were a new fancy all singing all dancing shock absorbing pair which didn’t collapse in the same way as my bog standard ones and it turned out neither of us had a clue how to collapse them down. In the end I just strapped them to the pack more or less extended and tried to keep them as out of the way as possible i.e. waving around in the air above my head rather than risk them tripping me up. This bit was quite time consuming, certainly compared to what had gone before. On the plus side the hangover had now completely gone – obviously found the cure – mountain air plus concentration on where hands and feet were going! !
Meanwhile, the other two had headed up from Honister and past the two tarns, with some excellent views all round.
Finally, after a fair bit of cursing and swearing, we arrived on the rocky summit of Haystacks to find my husband waiting at the top. Our Irish mate is a mountain goat, so he had shot off along the ridge towards Buttermere, and had missed us because he had taken the bypass path down that we had managed to miss, leaving the car keys with my husband. Fantastic views all round from the summit, definitely a very special little mountain. 🙂 Had a decent enough break on the summit, taking pictures and generally chilling out. Thankfully nobody had brought a hip flask!
Extended photographic break over, we headed off in the direction of Innominate Tarn, last resting place of A.W. It’s certainly a beautiful spot, very restful, and we decided to have lunch there overlooking the frozen water.
Lunch break over, we headed off in the direction of the Honister Pass. Some nice wild scenery, and continuing good views, at least up to the point where all the slate mining stuff starts, which isn’t until reasonably near the end. Decided not to carry on and do Fleetwith Pike as a couple of us were feeling quite tired and it’s not like it is going anywhere. Back to Honister to pick up the car, then drove to Buttermere to pick up our friend – no signal again, so looked in both pubs and needless to say he was in one of them, wondering why several walkers had asked him en route from Haystacks if he was ‘The Irishman!’
Back to Keswick and to Sienna bar and restaurant for the inevitable post walk drinks plus a rather good steak – a very nice place indeed. After that it was back to the hostel for a post walk drink that just had to be bought given the name of the beer!
Overall a great walk which I thoroughly enjoyed despite the slight catalogue of disaster. Did I learn from this? The jury is still out!