Hills: White Side, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd, Watson’s Dodd
When: 15 May 2015
Who: just me and the mountaineering minion (again)
Mid walk drink: back to non-alcoholic (capri-sun) on grounds of good sense
Post walk drink: Malbec
Post walk watering hole: The Golden Lion, Keswick
I commented on my last post that often finding the start point of the walk can be the trickiest bit and today was to be a case of same old same old. Given I was starting the walk from Thirlspot, a popular start point for the ascent of Helvellyn, I was expecting the start to be rather more obvious than it was, and having wandered through a farm and confirmed that I was actually looking at something purporting to be an aqueduct which was on my map and was a point of reference, there still seemed to be loads of paths.. one of the issues I find when navigating in the Lake District is that there can sometimes be too many paths and it is ridiculously easy to take the wrong one. Of course I should simply have realised that after the smooth and highly enjoyable short poddle up Latrigg the previous evening it was time for business as usual i.e. for things to be a tad less smooth!
The morning hadn’t got off to the greatest of starts. Having had a nice relaxed evening in Keswick I slept appallingly. Whilst I often don’t sleep well when my husband isn’t there this was worse than usual and I probably got about 4 hours sleep if I was lucky. I woke up to glorious sunshine at 5am but without a car there was no chance to capitalise on this and get an early start. At about 6.30 I gave up trying to get back to sleep and instead sorted out my gear before going for a shower. I came out of the shower to find my hydration bladder had emptied itself all over my socks! Now there is nothing worse than starting a walk with wet feet and I was delighted I had another pair in the case… which of course turned out to be two purple socks, but from two different pairs of purple socks one of which was slightly thicker than the other. I did not want to wait until the shops in Keswick opened as I had planned to get the 9.26 bus that heads to Grasmere, so decided reluctantly to wear the odd socks as a better option than the wet socks or the slightly whiffy (if dry) ones from the day before. Nevertheless I was starting to feel a certain amount of foreboding about the walk.
The plans were semi fluid – get the bus to somewhere in the Helvellyn range, climb up onto the ridge and walk back in the direction of Keswick or Threlkeld. I’d originally planned to get off at Dunmail Raise, go up Dollywaggon Pike and do as much as possible of the Helvellyn ridge, however given the lack of sleep I felt this would be too much. I settled for getting off at Thirlspot which – as noted above – found me fiddling with the map trying to work out which of the many paths actually led off to White Side rather than going off towards Helvellyn. I ignored a sign marked ‘Helvellyn’ and ended up taking the next path along which seemed to rise at a more or less vertical angle up the side of the fell. Still feeling wiped, it was a case of grit teeth and get on with it – with frequent breaks for photos!
In a situation where you are not feeling your best on the hill there are several possible options. Firstly give it up as a bad idea which I have done on several occasions. Secondly grit teeth and carry on regardless. Thirdly start thinking about a ‘Plan B’. With that in mind I took on plenty of water and plodded gradually up the hill with a decent break about ¾ of the way up to reply to some texts from Stuart who was travelling up that evening (and who I would later meet from the train in Penrith).
The path levelled off at about 600m and after that was pretty much plain sailing, landing me on top of a very windy White Side shortly before midday. The views were pretty good, though quite moody, and it was clear looking over to the West that the promised closing in of the weather, which was supposed to happen late afternoon, was going to be early. I was going to have to keep an eye on things.
As so often happens, I got something of a second wind having reached the first summit and was on the summit of Raise pretty shortly afterwards. Probably the most interesting of the walk, with a nice rocky summit and trig point and good views, Helvellyn again being the most promising. I’d planned to have lunch there, but it was far too windy to contemplate sitting about, so I took a short stop for photos and then decided to press on in the direction of Stybarrow Dodd and see what happened.
From this point the character of the ridge changes – the rocks basically disappear and what you end up with is rolling grass slopes, which are easy to get up and down but not the most interesting, although the views stay pretty good. Unfortunately, about half way up Stybarrow Dodd my second wind upped and left, coincidentally as the actual wind got worse. I rolled onto the top of Stybarrow Dodd on momentum and realised I really needed to eat something whatever the weather was doing. Fortunately, there is a wind shelter (or possibly just a conveniently shaped bit of collapsed wall) just past the summit so I settled in to that and stuffed in my lunch. It was still too cold to stay for long though and I was conscious I had a decision to make and would have to make it soon. I sorted myself out then pressed on to Watson’s Dodd, which is one of those ‘hills’ where there seems to be no ascent at all to get to – not that I was complaining!
It was decision time. It wasn’t exactly late (2.15), and if I wanted to I thought I probably still had plenty of time to go over Great Dodd, Clough Head and drop down to Threlkeld which had been the original idea. However, I just wasn’t sure I had the energy. I was really starting to feel the lack of sleep and conscious I was not at my best. I decided that I would retrace my steps back over Stybarrow Dodd, then escape down Sticks Pass and catch the bus back to Keswick from Stanah.
Bad move! In hindsight I think it would have been easier to stick with my original plan, but then 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing! I slowed to a crawl on the way back up Stybarrow Dodd which isn’t even that much re-ascent. That was okay though and the initial part of the descent down Sticks Pass was decently graded. I knew from the map though that it had to plummet down at some point.. and I hate steep descents particularly if they are loose.
I reached an old sheep pen where I had a bit of a break… and looked at the path down. Oh dear! It seems to plummet a long way in a pretty short distance. The path does zig-zag – fortunately – but was extremely loose in places and I probably spent as much time off the path as I did on it. The redeeming feature was some nice waterfalls in the ghyll, but the whole thing seemed to take forever and I was conscious that I was getting very tired. I was delighted when I finally popped out at Stanah and was able to get the bus back to Keswick for a post walk drink in the Golden Lion, which seems to have become the watering hole of choice when we are in Keswick (though we have certainly taken it upon ourselves to try out a number of other hostelries!)
In hindsight, a decent enough day on the hills but not a classic, and I’m not sure in hindsight it would have been any less effort to carry on over Great Dodd etc than what I did – would have been more mileage but less vertical. Never mind, that got me to 41 Wainwrights. Not that I am bagging them… honest!!