Coast to Coast

more deets on aliloop-of-the-lakes, Northern England

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

My Garmin inReach Explorer guided me away from the C2C for some spectacular must-see peaks.

When I set out to walk Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast, I had an idea to pick up more of the big peaks in the Lake District. So – with the help of map, compass and my Garmin GPS – I left the C2C at the end of Ennerdale Water and headed south, cracking straight up a steep ascent towards Steeple and Pillar.

It was here I saw the mist flying up over the cliffs in fingers of white, fell runners barely dressed in floppy shorts, a thin mac and camelback, as well as sheep parked in meadows leaving me wondering how they managed to get there at all – isn’t the grass good enough at more reasonable elevations?

Ticking off my first Waingrights of the trip, I worked my way down to the famous climbing Mecca of Wasdale, camping in a field and treating myself to another first; a splendid serving of lamb rump – sorry, friends, but you taste so good and this tired and damp hiker could not resist.

The next morning saw me contouring up towards Sca Fell relying on my Garmin to allow me to cut off some zigzags and march straight to my destination just like the runners do. And it was a good thing I had the Garnin as the mist came right down to only a few inches visibility. Fickle as can be, the sky cleared up at Sca Fell Pike and the lovely ridge descent to Seathwaite.

Summit of Pillar with Great Gable and Sca Fell looming in the misty distance.

Though it was intended as a “rest day” I was out early for some rock climbing with guide Tom who leads trips in the Himalaya – and England. Many of my climbing pals would have winced at the two-hour approach right back up the track to the base of Great Gable. It was a day of both personal and physical discovery and we got off the face just as the thunderstorm approached.

Tom left me at another camp spot in Seatollar where I headed back into the hills, walking along a high ridge towards Cat Bells and the lovely tourist town of Keswick. Decisions had to be made at the misty top to forgo a long day in white-out conditions and rather drop down towards Derwent Water. My timing was spot on as I was there when a Bob Graham Rounds finisher arrived at Moot Hall after running up and down 42 Lakeland Fells in under 24 hours. That’s more elevation gain – and loss – than Everest. Big smiles from this hugely impressed hiker.

My Garmin inReach Explorer is a necessity, not a luxury when solo backpacking.

Clear skies all around when I set off for Skiddaw, but the peak “tends to attract cloud” and the day was socked in all the way to one of my favorite spots I named Camp Spooky. Again, my Garmin kept me on track hiking overland towards Blencathra, which remained in mist and dampened my spirits. She only showed herself at sunset from my tent far across the dale.

Waking up in a damp tent and overcast sky nearly broke me before I decided to give the weather one more chance and pushed up again without a clear trail towards the rolling peaks of the Dodds. By the time I reached the ridgeline, I could see where I was going and my Garmin lived up to its other very useful purpose of tracking my course and pinging Richard every half hour with my location.

The map above is what he could see as I crossed Northern England. He followed my every step as I circled England’s second highest peak, Helvellyn, by walking down one knife edge and back up another – wisely leaving my backpack behind and picking it up before heading down towards Grisedale Tarn (lake) and setting up camp high above her banks for my final day before meeting up the C2C again in Patterdale and following the “proper” route to the North Sea, 120 miles away.

Belaying Tom on the flanks of Great Gable, Wasdale far below.

If you want more details on my route and/or the Garmin breadcrumb, don’t hesitate to contact me. This extra 40 miles or so really made this an unforgettable hike and quite unique to the mostly plodding course in the valleys. With some alteration, it would be possible to plan your stops at B&B’s or huts and not wild camp as I did.

And remember, Not all those who wander are lost – J. R. R. Tolkien

Grateful for a clear day at the summit of the bloody big hill, Helvellyn.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 9, Blencathra to Mosedale Beck, below Clough Head

It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.
– Dave Barry

Looking for a wild camp above Threlkeld.

An ode to the alicoop:

Oh, alicoop, you are so long and shapely with your twin peaks and proud double mastheads.
You are my chrysalis and my haven.
Light and lithe, you cradle me when darkness falls at half-eleven, and as the eastern sky lights at 4 am.
Thank goodness I haven’t broken a trekking pole.

I’ve been sleeping so well on this walk, probably because my floors have been grassy. But last night I was awakened by flashing light. A thunderstorm?! I lay there cozied in and heard the rumbling approach up the dale. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…kaboom-boom-boom, it rattled and echoed the surrounding fells, as I wracked my brain, does five seconds mean five miles away or one? KaBOOOOOM-boom-boom!

Soft grass, water and solitude in the fells.

I breathe very shallow in lightning storms, feeling vulnerable and completely at their mercy in the wild. I was surprised to here that the English are not too worried about a little crashing in the heavens. I was told the storms are never all that severe, but this one sounded close.

Soon the flashes stopped and the rain came, pitter patter at first followed by a downpour. The alicoop stood up to the shower, and I slowly drifted back to sleep.

Thankfully, the morning came with no rain. There’s nothing worse then packing up in damp. Well, maybe walking in rain is worse. It was dry and the midgets had given up for now, so it turned out to be nice for a spot of tea next to the beck.

First order of business was to get up in Mungrisdale Common, and that would require walking across the rushing water. I did so by wading straight in as I wisely chose trainers for this walk. Sometimes I long for ankle support when I’m contouring the side of a hill, but mostly they are perfect, strong, comfortable, light and quick drying in these marshy, boggy conditions.

Uber-complex stile.

Where I made my mistake was in my sock choice. I have a slight allergy to elastic, so I thought I’d nip it in the bud with low socks. But within just a few days the promised perfectly fitted heel failed completely and the socks spend more time under my feet then around them. I hope to find a suitable replacement in two days when I hit Patterdale.

I pushed up the tussocky – pronounced toossookey – hill, straight into disorienting mist. Blencathra, just shy of 3000 feet, was my goal but finding my way took extra time. This peak was one of Alfred Wainwright’s favorites. It’s more a mountain of ridges than a peak with multiple gullies and sharp edges to be explored. But on a wet day like today with a backpack, I took the easy way up and down. Still a slog and for what? No view whatsoever.

Descending Blencathra, views finally appearing.

As I sit here now I’m looking back on the peak and fog spreads a tablecloth hiding her beauty. Perhaps tomorrow will see clearer skies as I cross the Dodds. You could say a hike like this is a test of one’s attitude and spirit. Can you still feel joy if the weather is not in your favor? The people I met at the top seemed to take it in stride. If not today, there’s always tomorrow.

I chose the least direct route down to avoid a slippy descent on rock. Still, one area was closed by farmers and I found the free-to-roam public footpath going back up before finally heading down into Threlkeld. I was delighted to find a cafe open and serving a bit of lunch, before I heaved the pack back on and headed up the next sheep field towards a blue line in the map where I might wild camp.

Charmer charms.

Who knew there would be a perfectly flat grassy area right at the bridge, and close to the junction for tomorrow morning’s walk with just enough wind to dry the alicoop and my freshly rinsed clothes, and keep the midges at bay. Perhaps it’s a wind persistent enough to blow away the mist? Let’s hope, but no matter the weather, count on me out in it.

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