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 11, Grisedale Tarn to Haweswater

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.
– Edward Abbey

Hiker coming around the bend in Patterdale.

I just might be at the most beautiful wild campsite yet, and the last of the wild sites. Tomorrow, when I hit Shap and cross the M6 motorway, the lakes will be just a memory – and most camping will happen next to pubs.

Last night was cold and damp. The sky was clear and some very bright planet peaked into the alicoop from the south across the Tarn. I shivered when I emerged into the wind and before I could make tea, a chilling mist sneaked up the dale “on tiny cat’s paws” covering the sun, causing me to shiver. The hardest chore camping is to take down in the rain. But taking down in the cold is right up there in challenge, when your frozen fingers can barely work as they touch metal and you try to roll up the tent and carefully stuff it in the bag. I sang to myself to move faster and stay warm as I left that lovely place, down and down to Patterdale.

Mist creeping in at Grisedale Tarn.

I always worry the impression I make when I enter town and need to buy things. I see myself as strong and intrepid, having added ten major peaks to the trail plus a day’s climbing. But the impression I must give is a bit raggedy, my hair squashed into a buff and held tightly off my burned face, my hands dry as crocodile leather, and my body smelling like a barnyard, and that’s an insult to barnyards everywhere.

But what a delight to discover that haggard hikers is the norm and I fit right in. All the action is at the local post office – part store, part cafe, part charging the electronics pit stop. Apparently it was the favorite of Alfred Wainwright himself, and the first to carry his beautifully illustrated trail books. BBC broadcaster Julia Bradbury hosts a special on her top Wrainwright walks and raves about the bacon baps at this very spot, so I was found mid-morning enjoying one myself.

Resupply at Wainwright’s favorite post office.

A thru-hike never really feels like a thru-hike until it’s time to resupply. On the Colorado Trail and the John Muir Trail, I sent my food ahead, but here, like France, I knew I’d drop into towns and could pick things up as I went along. Of course, you’re at the mercy of what’s available, like potted soup, random bars and “smash.” The tea selection was good and I was surprised the tiny store carried isobutane for the Jetboil.

It was hard to leave, but I needed to make some miles today, so crossed the beck and looked for the trail headed straight up the next set of hills. As I moved up, a few RAF jets came careening down the dale, the sound sudden and terrific.

Trail crew.

Up the trail, I finally saw trail workers laying the stone paths, young people I asked might show me how strong they are for a photo, and replying “but we are strong!” Now on the official C2C, more people shared the trail. Many a “hiya!” and “awright” as I meandered up the path.

If a walker sticks to the classic route, this one will be the hardest they hit. After so many peaks tackled, I was feeling pretty cocky. This is gonna be a breeze as one false summit after another was crossed. The map was clear, I’d walk nearly four miles before hitting the highest point at Kidsty Pike, but I obstinately believed each rise was my destination, even after passing the shapely Angle Tarn, only half-way up.

Kidsty Pike before the midges took control.

I only took a few wrong turns, quickly corrected, before seeing the obvious pointy brow of the pike and the long gulley leading to Haweswater. It was a lovely perch of jagged rocks framing the high peaks of the lakes I had only recently climbed. But as I admired the view, the wind dropped and the midges rose, as if one amorphous organism setting down on my face and hands. Think African Queen, no swatting would keep this evil cloud away, so it was out of there as fast as I could. It seems it’s not just water that attracts these buggers.

The next stage made me a bit nervous as my official guide warned of a steep, rocky descent where hands would need to be used. The first part was velvety grass, the type fell runners crack straight down. I’ve gotten pretty good at that myself, even with a pack. Sticks help the technique of placing your feet facing down, bending your knees, leaning back and running in smallish steps. You really move. No more zigzagging for this #blissfulhiker!

Beautiful Angle Tarn.

But the fun was over when the stones appeared. Wainwright himself suggests your best defense is to use your bum. There’s certainly no shame in it, and I have the snagged trousers to prove it. So I was fully prepared to get down in whatever undignified way necessary. It was a bit of challenge; a wee bit. I guess if this was your very first big pull, a fair warning might be useful, but I’ve been hiking now nine days, so just flew right down.

Looking down at my (hopeful) campsite.

Haweswater is a reservoir, one that completely buried a village. In drought it’s said the ghost town comes into view. Right now, all that can be seen are crumbling rock walls and overgrown trees. My site is next to a small stand of tamarack next to a burbling creek. Idyllic and absolutely at peace. Hoping for Shap and Orten tomorrow, and on to the Pennines!

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 10, Mosedale Beck to Grisedale Tarn

There are two kinds of climbers, those who climb because their heart sings when they’re in the mountains, and all the rest.
– Alex Lowe

Striding along in Striding Edge.

Sitting in a steppe above a tarn below Dollywagon Pike. Feet are in crocks, tea’s steeping, the alicoop is ready for my weary body. There’s just enough wind to keep the midges from finding my delicious O+. A few sheep bleet from various ledges. Not only is it stereophonic, but in a third dimension of altitude.

Today has been the most glorious day yet. But it did not start that way. Last night, a cool breeze moved in and cleaned the mist from Blencathra just as I began eating dinner. Clouds turning golden as the sun lazily set close to 11. All this was good news for the next day, as cooler air might push out the humidity and thunderstorms, as well as the view-destroying fog.

View from my tent.

But late at night, it crept in settling right on the alicoop. I love sleeping with both vestibules open, but had to quickly close into the chrysalis for the remainder of the night.

And it stubbornly remained in my little dell by the beck when I awoke. I needed to wear both rain coat and pants to stay dry as I fixed my breakfast and rued the fact that this would be my last major peak climbed in a white out.

Bog Finder.

My plan was to crack up the gully and meet the meandering trail along the Dodds ending at the magnificent horseshoe-shaped Helvellyn, England’s second highest peak and highly recommended by Wainwright as the most thrilling ridges between St. Bees and Robin Hoods Bay. Yesterday was a bit of a disappointment with Blencathra in mist and tackling its Sharp Edge out of the question with the recent rain.

But the skies began to look like they were changing, so I packed up and started the day. The trail was not entirely obvious, just packed down in areas through sucking marsh. The English don’t bother with “spats” or gators. You pretty much have to make your peace with the fact that you will get wet. Rusty brown water oozed over the tops of my trainers as each step made a thwappy kind of sucking sound.

The fog is lifting.

But what a reward to reach the ridge, a main trail like a super highway and to come this time not into mist but above the cloud shyly revealing the peaks I’d walked, first Blencathra, then Skiddaw in the distance. Ahead, the Dodds unfolded – Calfhow Pike, Great Dodd, Watson’s Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, and the Browncove Crags in sensual rolling curves easy to walk and filled with views becoming more apparent as the day warmed up.

Soon the long upward sloping angle of Helvellyn herself appeared and I counted myself exceedingly lucky to be granted the perfect day of little wind and full sunshine. As I mentioned, the fell is shaped like a horseshoe with the two craggy arms reaching down to a sparkling tarn. Beautiful enough from the top, I threw off my bag for a snack to take in the magnificent view. It was a catalog of the last week of hiking. Ennerdale Water in the far distance to the south, and each peak I’d climbed one after another: Pillar, Sca Fell, Great Gable – where Napes Needles positions herself at the base – Cat Bells, Skiddaw and Blencathra.

Higher than summit of England’s third highest mountain, Helvellyn.

But what to do about the edges? On a day like today I simply had to be on them, but my pack wold make it awkward if not dangerous. It occurred to me that I could simply leave my pack at the top and do a little loop going down Swirral Edge, pass Red Tarn and shoot back up Striding Edge. And glory hallelujah, I have my mini daypack with me to take a few items like my camera and passport.

I can tell you after seven days of pushing all out up and down peaks, there was nothing like cruising without a pack. My breath is good, my strength is really up and my balance surprised me, especially on the exposed rocky portion where I skipped from rock to rock, truly feeling like I was striding.

Not recommended in mist or wind.

I should mention here again that this portion of the hike has not been part of the official Coast-to-Coast trail, but even its creator, Alfred Wainwright suggests we all come up with our own path, so adding the three peaks over 3000 feet, plus some climbing and some spectacular ridges, I added maybe 50 more miles to the total hike, but have had the most incredible time. Carrying all my kit does slow me down, but it has made me far more nimble and free.

Perfect weather at the Grisedale Tarn.

Helvellyn is an option for those doing the official C2C, so as of now, I am back on the trail. In a few days, I leave the Lakes, sated and happy. For now, it’s a possible dip in the tarn, some food and a long nap in the sunshine. In the words of e. e. cummings, “I thank thee god for most this amazing day.”

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.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 8, Keswick to below Blencathra

Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.
– Walt Whitman

Knocking out another big peak.

Today the alicoop was carried to a spot along the Cumbrian Way right next to the river. Lonely and far from everything, it’s the first real “wild camping” experience so far. Even so, as I sat down to muse on the day with a spot of tea and my shoes off, another single woman slowly lumbered passed, the first person I’ve seen on the trip with a backpack.

Keswick was a fine stop for food and civilization. I skipped the Pencil Museum and instead hung out in town. Moot Hall with its high clock tower stands at the center of the pedestrian shopping zone and marks the start – and end – of the Bob Graham rounds. I was lucky enough to see a finisher just arriving for his picture and congratulations from about twenty-five pacers, supporters, friends and family. He was dressed only in flappy short shorts, fell runners and a light raincoat for the 24-hour slog of 28,000 feet over 40-something peaks.

Shy sun in the Lakeland Fells.

The forecast called for 40% chance of rain, but began clear, the sun going in and out of cloud, dancing on the far fells I climbed yesterday, giving them a velvety cast over Derwent Water.

The real issue was how to get out of town and on the trail to Skiddaw. I am always amazed at my luck on walks as just when I was wondering which road to take, a young man kitted out for hiking came striding down the sidewalk sending me on the right route.

Church bells pealed in the town as I got closer to the fell. A sign pointed towards the public footpath, but appeared to be bent. Confused I marched up a trail that gave way to bracken, thick stemmed ferns standing three feet high with long grabby tendrils setting up a tripping hazard and hiding holes.

Helpful signs for once.

Turning around, I ended up heaving myself gingerly over a barb wire fence only to find the way closed by the owner. The only option was to get down to the road and start my search all over again.

Eventually the path came into view, and a farmer was even kind enough to ensure hikers didn’t accidentally venture into his fields. The going was steep, but to my surprise, signs had been erected to keep people from charging straight up the mountain, which had eroded away a good bit of it. Instead, the path zigzagged on a short series of switchbacks. I am betting these will be the only ones I use the entire walk.

Miss Smiley goes up.

Higher and higher as all of Cat Bells ridge came into view above the water, but so did mist blowing right over the peak I intended to climb. I met a couple who told me England’s third highest peak, Skiddaw, tends to “trap the cloud.” It makes me a bit tense to get into the mist. I’m blinded, for one, and the cool air feels like chilled silk against my cheek. But it’s also a lonely feeling. I find it hard to relax and feel sure being here is the right thing for me to do. It’s more than loneliness. More like an out-of-sorts.

But that all blew away as hikers suddenly appeared at the ridge, most in shorts and tank tops. Someone told me, “If we waited for good weather to go into hills, we’d never go.” I felt instantly better.

Backpackers appear on Skiddaw’s misty summit.

After the summit it was down and down towards a wide, well used track called the Cumbrian Way. On the way was one little Wainwright at 673 meters called Bakestall. I was certain I was on it at a cairn until one lonely cairn appeared out of the mist about 50 yards away and only slightly higher. Of course, I took off the pack, marched over, and touched it. One more for the record books.

My goal was to reach a flat spot by water and set myself up to tick off England’s second highest peak tomorrow, Helvellyn with a side trip up Blencathra. On the way is a youth hostel high on a bench looking out on the hills. No one was around when I arrived, and no beds were available anyway should the rain come. So I had my lunch on their bench, then pressed on.

Alicoop at “campsite spooky.”

And here I am, right next to an almost cliche bubbling brook, wide views and soft grass. The English describe carrying a tent and pitching outdoors, “wild”camping. I find it such an apt description of how I’m blending in with all that’s here, the birds, the grass, the changing weather and the continuity of the natural world. I am its guest here and my memories of this moment embraced in its wildness will go on the rest of my life. Will this place remember me?

Above England’s second highest, Skiddaw.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 7, Seatollar to Keswick

Walking: the most ancient exercise and still the best modern exercise.
– Carrie Latet

Descending below cloud on Cat Bells.

There are five good reasons to hike in mist:

1. You get the fell all to yourself
2. It’s cooler (well that’s debatable; the day actually started out humid)
3. The birds sing louder
4. It’s intimate with every footstep a surprise
5. You get to test your navigation skills

On the steep path out of Seatollar, the stillness of the mist was magical. I only ran into one older walker striding at a good trot and obviously pleased with the day having just finished his final Wainwright, at least from one particular book, Castle Crag. This was Alfred Wainwright’s plan all along, to organize the hills so people could organize their walking. Most people I met proudly ticked off the fells on their list before they asked where I was from.

Lonely stile in the Lakes.

In the mist, the Lakeland Fells look as they usually look, poetic, hidden, mysterious. At the junction, I pushed up a steep section littered with slate. The low fog added atmosphere to ruins of walls, buildings and mines along the hillside.

Soon I reached the ridge completely hidden in cloud. My plan was to do a circular route that would find me eventually in the bustling village of Keswick, a tourist destination filled with shops and pubs. But with the weather, I decided to shoot across the moor towards High Spy, Cat Bells and eventually work my way around Derwent Water.

What is a fell, you might be wondering. It’s likely from old English or perhaps Norse, another word for hill. In the Lake District, fell and hill are interchangeable, even though Sca Fell is over 3000 feet high. The term mountain is reserved for Scotland, higher – by 1000 feet or more – and craggier.

And a peak? That’s reserved for a completely different district, unless you’re referring to just one particular top. And the term for the fells in North Yorkshire that I’ll hit next week? Those are called moors, high tussocky and wet flat areas on top of fells. It’s really all quite confusing with the most important thing of all knowing where I am when I’m there.

Stairs built and walked by thousands of slate miners’ feet.

As I approached the pointy lookout of Cat Fell, the number of hikers increased 100-fold. Lots of “hiya”s and “allright, mate”s as we passed. I loved the speed I was getting even with my home on my back, so flew up to find a little rest stop for lunch. It didn’t take long before my overconfidence was deflated coming down on rock stacked like bread slices, and needing to slither slowly, inch by inch on my bum.

Once I reached the lake, it was only a few miles to town and I was overjoyed that a public foot path was organized through the forest and gardens. You really can walk anywhere in this country and people do.

Damp selfie in Keswick.

By this time, it was raining full on, but no one seemed to mind too much including me, the temperature is so lovely and the air fragrant. Today is market day in Keswick and I arrived just in time for half price on fruit and vegetables, the stall minders loudly selling their wares like carnival barkers.

Tomorrow proves to be better weather and I hope to find a little tarn near Blencathra for the alicoop whose seen only campgounds for the last few days. But for now, it’s window shopping and pub crawling. Cheers!

Large cairns for low visibility.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 6, climb on and have fun

Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.
– Hermann Buhl

Ali abseiling on one piece of gear off Napes Needles.

The crag gods tested me, but they must have had a conversation with the weather gods in the end.

Again, it was an early morning, the sun up at 5 with stirring in the alicoop in a farm field in the crook of the fells. The day began muggy, with drizzle then thunderstorms predicted. I was to meet Tom, the climbing guide, somewhere down the road near Borrowdale. A farmer said it was at least a mile, so I set off in search.

Luckily Tom found me in the road in his kitted out van. Tall, blond and fit, Tom is an accomplished guide having led teams in Nepal and China. He’s done much in his 26 years, now building a business as a personal trainer. But not like any trainers I’ve come across. He helps people achieve fitness and life goals in the outdoors whether hiking a certain number of peaks in a set time, learning the skills step by step to orienteer, or training to climb Everest.

Lovely Tom, the guide.

We had to walk back up the trail I just came down the night before, this time with gear and rope, heavy, but nowhere near what I’d been carrying exploring the Lakes with my own pack.

When we took the cut off for the climbers route, he stopped to check his book. “Actually,” he said in his Lancashire English, “I’ve never done Napes Needle.” OK, then. It was going to be a discovery for both of us, clearly at different levels of achievement, but nonetheless, starting fresh.

On and on we went, my mind wondering if the rain would come making any climb out of the question. Just one more scree slope to cross, just one more heap to climb over. And suddenly – after a two hour approach – it was there, just like the pictures in the guidebooks. Another hand-over-fist scramble and we were at the base with not a soul in sight. All ours.

The approach was tougher than the climbing, but so worth it.

We clambered up the scree and clattered over rocks, carefully placing our feet on the thin grassy strips of trail at the edge of a 1,000 foot drop to the Moses Trod leading back to beautiful Wasdale. You may not die instantly if you tripped, but as you gained speed rolling down, you’d certainly create a show for the tourists walking below.

Every rock outcropping looked promising, beautiful ashen black pillars and ledges, but we had our heart set on the Needle. It’s famous for its shape, a kind of Thor’s hammer cut out from the rest of the wall. It’s not a technically difficult climb for me, but the views would be superb as would the airy feeling that high on a tall obelisk.

Tom led the climb, that’s why he was there, and I followed. Easy and short, the route on Napes turns sharply, so you have to separate the climb into two pitches. But here was the problem: there is no way the leader can abseil from the top. The only way he could get down was to downclimb, using his pieces of gear as a handrail. Fortunately someone left a sling at the ledge, where he would be able to bring himself off the first “pitch.” So with a sigh of relief I prepared myself to belay him the 20 feet or so to the top. He struggled just a bit, practicing the downclimb a few times before landing on top.

And then he gave me the bad news: there was no way he could belay me from the top. He placed only one piece of gear within easy reach of the ledge. But it left me an exposed climb above it and if I slipped, I would definitely deck.

“Can’t say no to her enthusiasm;” climbing fast to beat the thunderstorm.

We sat there in that stunning setting, my disappointment obvious. The moves didn’t look too hard, but I’d have to do them going up and down. Could I risk a broken ankle just to say I did this climb? I touched the rock, put my foot on the first hold and decided, no.

Tom told me that the English way is not to make things too easy. This is why they don’t place bolts at the top for safety. If you can’t hack it, you shouldn’t be on it. That sling at the ledge will be taken down soon enough.

And come to think of it, we abseiled off that one piece of gear: a piece of rope lassoing a rock with one carabiner for the rope to pass through. Not the wisest thing I’ve done but likely safer than making Tom downclimb and it was there because others wanted a modicum of safety on such a classic climb.

Tom on the climber’s route.

I got to the bottom, took off my climbing shoes and harness and had a snack before packing it in, feeling disappointed. Tom told me there have been plenty of climbs he quit when the feeling wasn’t right. The entire experience is a process of learning, not just succeeding. It was a hard pill for me to swallow, but a sobering one. Not every summit can be reached and I knew I needed to accept it.

Assuming we’d head back as the weather moved in, he suddenly suggested trying another route. It hadn’t even occurred to me and my whole mood lightened. Had the weather gods discussed my little lesson learned today with the crag gods? Perhaps.

Black mist swirled over the fells across the dale. It looked unlikely any more climbing was possible that day. As we ruminated should we be caught out in thunder, I asked that we sit a moment longer. I leaned back and touched the rock, and said I’d really like to climb. And this seasoned guide said he couldn’t resist that kind of enthusiasm and told me, let’s get on it.

Bags of rocks delivered by helicopter.

It was a beauty, maybe 80 feet of bliss. Nothing too hard, certainly within or below my grade, but the striated, pitted rock was so nice under my fingers as I felt about for the holds. My feet stuck to everything and I pushed right up to the grassy bench.

We put on our trainers and simply walked off the back side of the cliff to pack up and return on the pencil thin trail, over the rocky bits that shifted down the slope with each step and back to the main trail just as the first drops of rain touched down. The thunder rumbled as we reached the stone steps, but it wasn’t until we got to his van parked where I camped the night before, that the heavens really broke open and the rain dashed down.

What timing, what luck, what a perfect day. The kind of dreamy sort of changeable day about which Wordsworth penned, and here I am right in the thick of it.

Cloud coming down in Seatollar.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 5, Wasdale to Seathwaite

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
– Albert Einstein

Play Misty for Me.

Seathwaite Camping Farm is accommodating the alicoop for tonight. It’s a real working farm with implements scattered about, stone-walled buildings of indeterminate usage, odors sweet and pungent and sheep allowed to roam. Its location is divine, surrounded my Lakeland fells in a kind of bowl, the burbling brook in duet with the lambs calling for their mothers. She calls first, a low-throated “baaaaal” answered by the sweetest “beeeel” as the little ones run to find a ready teet, leaning in, their tiny tails wagging. Right now, the clouds are pink, a cuckoo is singing and the midges are surrounding me.

Light comes early this far north, so I was up and out for a day of peak bagging by 7. After much reconnaissance of the map, I realized a backpack was going to make some of the going up England’s highest peak not only hard, but verging on dangerous, so I hatched a plan to contour up fields from the east.

Magical Fox Tarn.

There was a very narrow road some of the way, but soon I needed to simply get high. Up I went. Straight up trampled meadows, breathing hard and finding my rhythm of determination. I’d focus on a rock and go for it, huffing and puffing and watching Wast Water come more into view. The tops of the fells were all in mist, but my mind seized on a sky beginning to lighten. Perhaps it would burn off, I thought.

Just as I reached the ridge, Sca Fell in all her glory came into view. A giant, massive, distant lump. While it was clear, I headed straight for her with a blessing from peak goddess as a path suddenly appeared in front of me, replete with cairns.

Yes, that is way down.

And the timing could not have been more perfect. Just as I alighted the mist came down completely. All was obliterated. I have been in full-on fog and had some exposure to the English version, but when you’re looking for the peak and out of breath, utter blindness can be terrifying.

I pushed on, up scree at about a 55 degree angle, like in a nightmare when your feet can’t get purchase and there’s no context for how far you’re going. Rocks loomed into focus, but were never the promised summit. At one point, I saw the mountain top, far away and massive. My heart sank thinking there was no way I could get up that. It turned out to be a mirage, just a pile of rocks appearing further away then they were. And in fact, that pile was the top. I set my backpack in a wind break, put on more clothes, grabbed the phone and gps and cracked up to the top to find no view whatsoever except for swiftly moving mist.

Higher than the highest point in England on Sca Fell Pike.

Out of nowhere came a few other hikers. Pictures and beta were exchanged, as well as “all that work and this is what we get.” Most importantly, they sent me down a route that would get me to Sca Fell Pike. Just when you thought you were at the highest peak, someone goes and busts your bubble to correct your ignorance. Not only did you bust your ass for no view, but Sca Fell itself is not the highest.

We said our goodbyes and I searched out my trail. Understand, this is in a fog so thick, I barely saw three Fell runners, dressed in shorts and the lightest of rain gear, coming up the trail. They assured me I needed to find Fox Tarn, take a left and crack up to the Pike.

Long descent on stepping stones.

Not so fast. Going up would be after going down a huge slope of rocks upon rocks flailing underfoot. Looking down the scree shoot, I couldn’t believe I needed to descend so low to go higher on my peak bagging.

Finally the mini lake came into view, a magical spot tucked into the crags and teaming with big black slugs. I sat to enjoy this lovely blissful place feeling I’d arrived at some sort of destination. That was until I saw the continued descent, down a water filled gully of broken fallen rock. I imagine the ascent would be fairly reasonable, but the descent with 22 pounds on my back was a broken ankle waiting to happen. I soon became one with the mossy rock, sliding as much as walking.

Ali on the Rigg.

Fox Tarn is up there as the most difficult trail of all time. Once I reached bottom, it was right back up another scree slope. A young man greeted me at the top to the fine views and to share thate he was working on his first Class 3 scramble, one first ascended by Samuel Coleridge Taylor in 1803. I hung back a while to watch him negotiate the exposed ridge, my “woohoo” and his “cheers” echoing off the rock.

It was time to press to the top and being the highest point, I could already see that Sca Fell Pike was packed with tourists, all happy and full of the joy of success. A few pictures, a snack and then I was off for Seathwaite along a ridge of hills, one after another hanging high above the lakes. It was an absolute dream of beauty, though perhaps not the kindest underfoot with rocks, slippery pebbles and more rocks. I thank the good people of the Lake District who thought to pave the trail with individual stones strategically placed by hand. No garden designer could compete with these lakes trails. After starting the day simply marching upwards of 1000 feet in fields and making my own trail, the pavers were a god send.

Another night, another farm.

It’s off to bed now to get set up for tomorrow’s climb of Napes Needle, a big approach back up those paving stones to get to one of the most famous crags in the lakes.

Bang sticks for luck with the weather.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 3, St. Bees to Ennerdale Water

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.
– Susan Sontag

The Irish Sea at St. Bee’s where I pick up a stone to drop into the North Sea at the end.

The morning began with the sound of birds and breakfast being made for a decent-sized group of hikers, their luggage piled high in the sitting room. Their luggage would be ferried to the next B&B. But not for this intrepid one. With food, water and fuel, my rucksack – backpack – weighed in at 25 pounds and I was all my own.

After some small talk and “see you on the trail” betwixt us, I was off. The path heads west first, straight to the beach. I promised my friend Kate I’d wade in at least to my knees in the bracing Irish Sea, which I did, before – true to tradition – I selected a pebble to make the journey across England with me.

St. Bees Head in unusually spectacular weather.

Up and up St. Bees Head towards its lighthouse past unimaginably beautiful vistas, the path sometimes within the animal fence, sometimes without, right at the cliff’s edge. It was full on sun all day, unusual for this part of the world, making the wild flowers sparkle in pinks, purples and yellows.

After a little over three miles, it was time to say goodbye to the sea and push west through Sandwith, Demesne and Moor Row, crossing under the railway line that brought me to the start and striding through fields of sheep and sheep poo. My water was getting low, so I stopped into a garage to top up. The eager proprietor had lots of advice in his accent of rolled R’s.

“Crrrrrikey , you’rrrre crrrrracking along. The sun will be on yourrrr back. Make surrrre to pick up all you need in Cleitorrrrr. Therrrre’ll be no otherrrr place to stock up forrrr days.”

Shops along the way make resupply – and rehydrating – easy.

Then he sent me up the hill reminding me at the top of the rise to turn left and “crash through the hedge” for the shortcut to the next village, where that proprietor happily disagreed with my comment about too much heat saying “it’s a nice change from the rrrrain.”

What a lark to have such a glorious day as I strode up and up through forest then out onto Dent Fell, the panorama of the lakes opening in front of me, the sea just behind.

The going was steep now, straight down the slope. And it’s here I’d like to sing an ode – in the form a haiku – to my trekking poles.

Walking Coast to Coast,
Up, down, views, flowers, wind, stiles.
Nil wobblies with poles.

First big pull up Dent Fell with big views of big mountains ahead.

The lovely people of Ennerrdale made a footpath next to the road for safety, but by now, my feet had had just about enough for the day. It was a walk past town towards the man-made lake and I felt sure I’d find a spot for the alicoop somewhere as the C2C follows the shoreline. But after a hard, tiring 20 minutes of scree-filled walking, I had to give up and turn around. Not one flat place showed up, just the grassy area next to to the overflow.

The spot appeared made for camping, its little locked fence unable to keep this tired hiker out. It even had a rock wall to block the whitecap-inducing wind.

Alicoop in her element next to Ennerdale Water in the Lake District.

Up went the tent, dinner soon made – mashed potatoes, broccoli and squash with beef jerky, apple chips for “pudding.” The sky is crystal clear promising another glorious day tomorrow as I scramble up some of Wainwright’s favorite peaks, one of them delaying the view of tonight’s full moon.

Not to worry. I’m crawling in now and will await her glow under the canvas.

Queen of the Stiles.

hike blog

Coast-to-Coast + aliloop-of-the-lakes, England – June, 2018

I want to encourage in others the ambition to devise with the aid of maps their own cross-country marathons and not be merely followers of other people’s routes.
– Alfred Wainwright

England’s Coast to Coast is roughly 192 miles from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, but I added another 50 miles peak bagging in the lake District.

Coast-to-Coast + aliloop-of-the-lakes, England – June, 2018
I want to encourage in others the ambition to devise with the aid of maps their own cross-country marathons and…Read
Read more.
C2C: gear list
It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. …Read
Read more.
C2C: day 1, getting to the start
Everywhere is within walking distance, if you have the time. – Steven Wright And so, it begins. But not so…Read
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C2C: day 2, Manchester to St. Bees
You were made to soar, to crash to earth then to rise and soar again. – Alfred Wainwright It’s half…Read
Read more.
C2C: day 3, St. Bees to Ennerdale Water
I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. – Susan Sontag The morning began with the sound of birds…Read
Read more.
C2C: day 4, Ennerdale Water to Wasdale
Nothing is as close to magic as nature. – Anastasia Bolinder It’s happened again. I’ve found myself in a pub,…Read
Read more.
C2C: day 5, Wasdale to Seathwaite
There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as…Read
Read more.
C2C: day 6, climb on and have fun
Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence. – Hermann Buhl The crag gods tested me, but they must have…Read
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C2C: day 7, Seatollar to Keswick
Walking: the most ancient exercise and still the best modern exercise. – Carrie Latet There are five good reasons to…Read
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C2C: day 8, Keswick to below Blencathra
Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to…Read
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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…Read
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C2C: day 10, Mosedale Beck to Grisedale Tarn
There are two kinds of climbers, those who climb because their heart sings when they’re in the mountains, and all…Read
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C2C: day 11, Grisedale Tarn to Haweswater
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and…Read
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C2C: day 12, Haweswater to Orton
I have two doctors, my left leg and my right. – G.M. Trevelyan What a sight to see beautiful Orton…Read
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C2C: day 13, Orton to Ravenseat Farm
You need special shoes for hiking — and a bit of a special soul as well. – Terri Guillemets The…Read
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C2C: day 14, Ravenseat to Reeth
I like being near the top of a mountain. One can’t get lost here. – Wislawa Szymborska I broke two…Read
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C2C: day 15, Reeth to St. Giles Farm
Travel far enough, you meet yourself. – David Mitchell Another stunningly beautiful, bright, sunny day completely out of the norm…Read
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C2C: day 16, St. Giles Farm to Ingleby Arncliffe
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. – Frank Lloyd Wright Today was the…Read
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C2C: day 17, Ingelby Arncliffe to Blakey Ridge
Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow. – Henry David Thoreau Rain…Read
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C2C: day 18, Blakey Ridge to Grosmont
Desert, jungle, mountains or coast; I don’t have a preference. If I’m out in the wilderness with everything I need…Read
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C2C: day 19, Grosmont to Robin Hood’s Bay
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came…Read
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C2C: day 20, epilogue
Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no…Read
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Creatures of the C2C
I was never alone hiking in Northern England.
Read more.
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…Read
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Created by the illustrious fell walker Alfred Wainwright, the Coast to Coast is an unofficial and often unsigned path that passes through three contrasting national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors.

The last time in Yorkshire, I ran.

Which pretty well describes my plan of no plan aside from ‘wild camping’ and catching a bus and two trains from Robin Hood’s Bay back to the airport and home mid-June.

My mantra…

To experience the countryside on fair days and never foul is to understand only half its story.
– Melissa Harrison

<bang sticks for luck!>

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