Saturday 3rd March 2012
Ambleside, Lake District.
A short drive takes us to Dunmail Raise where we park up, gear up and head out.
The plan is to bag six summits today. It's a fairly miserable day, it's claggy and raining and at times rather windy. So we start with summit number one.....
We set off via Raise Beck heading east towards Grisedale Tarn. It's a steady and fairly easy trek. The fresh clean air, the gushing stream and the sound of silence soon mend my weary body and in no time I'm feeling 'normal' again.
At 2415 ft, Seat Sandal is a comfortable fell to begin on. The air is wet and some of the rock slippy. Sheep laze around with not much 'get up and go' today. It's probably the weather. We reach the summit cairn fairly quickly (about 90 minutes) and in no time at all we are off to bag Wainwright number two....
I've never really given Fairfield much thought. When mapping, planning and dreaming, my thoughts often run away with western fells so therefore Fairfield never seems to make that list.
But never underestimate those fells you know little about! That's what I have cruelly learnt.
We drop down into Grisedale Hause enroute to Fairfield. As usual I adopt my geriatric approach to descent and wobble about on the pre-historic boulders deciding which foot to place where, a bit like a game of Twister. I spy Davie look at his watch and I know he must be thinking that maybe planning six summits in a day with me wasnt feasible afterall. He's polite and doesn't comment, but instead waits patiently for me to catch up.
We start the ascent to Fairfield summit.
Now I've climbed steeper, much steeper hills and mountains, but somehow the adrenaline just kicks in and you forget about the burning muscles and aching limbs. However there wasn't much adrenaline happening on Fairfield, but there was a LOT of burning and aching going on. Davie is ahead, barely breaking a sweat, but as he's an ultra runner and fell runner I'm not surprised. It's only when he hears my wincing and groaning that he stops and sees me somewhat struggling.
"It hurts", I moan. "I have to squat for a bit.....it's just too burny for me".
So I adopt the 'piss in the woods' position and squat on the side of the fell hoping that this will somehow ease the pain and make me fighting fit again. It doesn't. If anything it makes my poor legs hurt more. I look to Davie for sympathy or even just five minutes of respite, but he's already set off walking again and laughs "feel the burn baby".
"Feel the burn baby? Feel this Leki pole up your arse" I mutter under my breath as I struggle on, resembling a battered troll.
I try to work out why I suddenly feel so unfit. Was it all the cheese I ate last weekend? I decide not to beat myself up too much about this as we approach the summit and I flop down and pose for a photo sitting on the cairn, too lazy to stand up for it.
A quickie sandwhich break of 10 mins and then its time to make my zimmer frame descent off. As I stand and choose which rocks to hop onto Davie (bravely) raises the subject of whether or not we will make all six summits "cos we're a wee bit slow".
"I can't go any faster" I retort. "it's not possible. I'll fall and die".
He then decides to show me how fell runners do it. He starts running down the steep path and within a few seconds has disappeared into the clag.
Seriously. How the heck do they do that?
I used to be fairly ok with descent but exactly one year ago today I had a small skid/fall on a descent and then watched a friend fall moments later whilst we were climbing down from Mount Kenya summit. We were at about 16,700 ft and trying to climb down a particularly hairy and sheer vertical rock face. It was only about 12ft but the drop either side and below was quite terrifying to view. As Ella lost her footing below me she tumbled backwards onto a small ledge, pulled even further backwards by her backpack she came within a few feet of a certain death fall. Or at least that's how it looked and felt from where I was clinging on for dear life (and the screams from other climbers around us told me I wasn't over reacting). Next stop for Ella would have been a glacier several thousand feet below. I remember suddenly needing to be sick followed by masses of tears. Jeez I sobbed like a big baby. Giant tears laced with exhaustion and emotion.
But Ella just looked up at me and flashed a big old smile and shouted "I'm ok folks!"
*As I spend my 1 year Kenya summit anniversary in The Lakes, Ella is back summiting Kenya again. When I return home I have a message from her saying......
"So! As I lay on that mountain with my foot dangling off I thought of you a LOT....That f***ing scree slope got me!!! I genuinely thought of you heaps in those few hours. I even remember you flashing through my mind in the helicopter xxxx"
I'm pleased to report that Ella and her foot have undergone surgery and are both back in the UK now.
I then thought that doing the National Three Peaks may bring me up to speed again and get my confidence back, but a ten boulder bounce/tumble on ScaFell Pike descent (which saw me end up on crutches, lose every toenail and be on penicillin for two months) made things worse and robbed what little confidence I did have.
Luckily for me from now on the route is all grassy banks, polished rock steps and gravel paths.
The walk to....
St Sunday Crag.....
is a delightful one. Sweeping, lush landscape and even the sun has made an appearance! It's much busier than the other fells as walkers approach from all directions.
We come in via Cofa Pike. We take the traverse path rather than scrambling over. Scrambling would have been more fun but we are pushed for hours of daylight after setting off late at 10am.
Thankfully the skies are clearing and we are starting to get the magnificent views of Lakeland today.
After a quick summit stop we retrace our steps off St Sunday Crag and head to our next Wainwright....
As we pass Grisedale Tarn again (before starting on the zig zag track to the summit) the weather changes yet again! This time it's nasty, rude and viscous hailstones.
The little bastards pelt me from behind and my bum takes a beating. Davie is unaffected by the hailstones and doesn't see what all the fuss is about; But Davie is walking right in front of me and my poor body is acting as his shield.
"Does it hurt?" he shouts
I don't answer.
"I dare you to turn around and put your face into them" he quips.
Now don't ask me why I did this...not even I'm quite sure why I did, but I did. The result wasn't pretty. Best edit out what I said. Words too explicit for most.
A brief photo shoot at Dollywaggon Pike summit and we're off to fell number five....
We walk across the ridge to Nethermost Pike. It's a lovely easy route with splendid views and reveals many large patches of snow. The wind has really picked up and I'm forced to focus on balance rather than views!
I'm rather concerned about my beloved bobble hat blowing away. My little girls bought it for me for the grand sum of £2 to "keep mummy's ears warm on the mountains". It holds great value to me and I'd rather lose all of my expensive gadgets and gear before this sacred bobble hat. I pull it down hard around my ears and snuggle it under my hood. Hopefully that should do the trick.
We've now made up lots of time thanks to there being no big bouldery descents. I prove that I can be pretty nippy on the fells when I need to be and even break into a little run.
So now I guess its only right that I add Fell Runner to my Twitter bio.
The summit of Nethermost Pike is not visible from the path and lies off to the east. We line ourselves up with it via GPS and once in the right spot we set off up the grassy bank to reach the summit. It is perched precariously close to a knife edge drop which as always makes me slightly queasy.
Five down and one to go which leads us nicely on to...
With stunning views of the famous Striding Edge we approach our summit trig point from the south. Helvellyn is just like all the photos I've poured over and dangerous cornices of snow still sit on her eastern crest. She's our highest point today (3117ft) and lakelands 3rd. It's a great way to end what has been a terrific day. A day of fell walking taking in six eastern summits covering approximately 10 miles.
The thought of food and ale beckons a speedy descent down Birkside Gill. We are overtaken only by mountain bikers.
We reach the road shortly before 6pm as darkness drifts in. Perfect timing to end a perfect day.