It's late September and I'm finally back in the Lake District. I hop off the train in Penrith at teatime and hear a big wolf whistle. I look up and it's Nicola (@lilacswizzle). A big sparkly grin on her face, this is the start of our adventure!
We set off to Wasdale and pull into the NT campsite just as dusk hits. Nicola informs me that she changed tents at the last minute and borrowed a bigger one. One she's never seen or pitched before. We don't have much light and its starting to rain so we quickly set about pitching. Luckily for us outdoorsy girls the tent is up in record time and we move in! Nicola is super organised and makes cosy beds, hangs a glitter ball and Cath Kidston bunting and unpacks our kitchen and groceries. I'm super impressed. I take on the role of 'man' and get out my maps and compass and hurry her to the pub!
By now it's torrential rain as we don our waterproofs and head torches and set off on the mile walk to the Wasdale Head Inn.
Wasdale is quite literally the end of the road. Encapsulated in the stunning western fells, it's what dreams are made of. I'm completely and utterly in love with the place. I have @justin_norman to thank for this. He was the person who first introduced me to Lakeland. He was (and still is) my mentor, coach and inspiration. No-one knows or understands mountains and geology quite like Justin! He taught me all about Wainwright. Taught me how to read maps, tried to teach me navigation on ScaFell Pike summit and annoyingly introduced me to expensive brands of mountain gear that I now have to have, yet can't afford.
Nicola and I are decked (and drenched) head to toe in The North Face tonight. We earlier had a 'gush and Ooooh' fest as we unpacked our bags and compared all our 'designer' mountain gear. Nic Nac has a white Nupste body warmer and pink North Face Base Camp bag that I'm jealous of. I plot to steal both during the night and blame it on the squirrels.
We arrive at the pub and order two pints of Great Gable and the magnificent cheeseboard for two. We plop our maps out and try to plan a route of at least 5 summits for tomorrow. We get chatting to a group of cheeky lads doing their Mountain Leadership course. They are Wildcamping nearby but not in a hurry to leave and head out into the pounding rain and wind. So we all get very drunk and stay until closing time!!!
Nic Nac and I stumble back to our tent eventually. Nicola has a bottle of red stashed in her rucksack that we drink on the way back!
I don't really remember passing out in my sleeping bag. I remember waking at 4am and seeing Nicola asleep on her back with her head torch still on. A beam of light shooting into the sky like the Luxor in Vegas. This makes me chuckle.....then pass out just like Grandpa Simpson.
And then morning comes.
We emerge blearily eyed and realise we still don't have a route. "Ah fuck it" I say. "Lets just do Great Gable and take it from there". We glug coke and then spot a big police 4x4 pulling into the campsite! People stare but not us! Because we know that it's Mark (@west_lakes_adv) the Wasdale bobby and he's come to deliver us hot cheese pies from Gosforth. Pies so famous they sell out by 9am. We charge over to him and thank him for delivering us the best breakfast ever. Written in biro on the paper bag containing the pie is the word COP. "Oh how cool. They write cop because of your job".
Im politely informed that it actually stands for Cheese Onion Pie. Ok.
We chat briefly about crime in the area (there is none) and then it's time to set off. Mark reassures us that he will be watching MRT closely today. Cheers Mark!
Nicola takes care of catering whilst I pack maps, compass, whistle, survival bag etc. I reassure Nicola that should she get trapped under a rock then she is not to panic. I have the 'King' of Swiss Army knives on me and I'll have her limb off in no time at all. She doesn't look impressed.
We set off from Wasdale Head and slowly make our way up Great Gable taking the Gavel Neese path. It's a beautiful day and not a cloud in sight. We have the mountain much to ourselves as ramblers head to the Scafells on this gorgeous morning.
We spy little dung beetles and are super impressed by just how bright purple they are. We decide that we'd really like an eyeshadow in dung beetle purple and add it to our ever growing list of things to do.
There's no rush today. We take our time, we take in the views. We gasp, we sigh. We breathe in the mountain. We frequently get goose bumps. We often spin around with our faces in the sky and scream "I love life! I love mountains. I love just being here!" It's all rather perfect.
We glance at the map and realise we don't have a clue where we are.
"How are your mountain navigation skills?" I casually ask Nicola.
"I don't have any" she nonchalantly tell me.
"But you've done winter skills in Scotland. You also did a navigation course....." I remind her.
"Aye, but I didn't really pay attention ".
Ok. Lets improvise. Justin always told me to seek out evidence of human traffic so I do this and after 15 mins or so I'm convinced we are heading in the right direction.
We traverse around White Napes before passing Beck Head and beginning our final ascent to the summit.
It's a terrific, cheeky, little scramble. Nicola is an ace scrambler and takes the lead flying up there. I follow behind in awe at how cool she looks showing no fear. I decide that today I'll face my demons and try and regain the confidence I lost via a series of stupid falls.
We make it to the summit where there are several hikers already here. We crack jokes very loudly "Wow! I can't believe we're finally on ScaFell Pike". People look at us oddly and show signs of pity.
We find a spot by the summit cairn and settle down to eat our lunch.
Nicola isn't impressed with mine. I ordered corned beef today. The poor love had to shop in aisles of the supermarket that she's never been down before! Lunch is fab. Our Nicola knows how to put together a fab feast.
Next stop is Green Gable so we start the steep descent off and pass over Windy Gap and onto Wainwright number two of the day.
Again we are largely alone except for a few groups of climbers and ramblers. The sun is still shining and views of the Ennerdale Forest and Haystacks are breathtaking.
We are still not 100% on our navigation but we're in the right place for now so we'll take it one step at a time! Literally.
I'm having a wonderful day. I'm in magnificent company. Nicola is funny, smart, bright, witty, kind and simply beautiful. She's one of the most kind hearted people I've ever met. She's endured some terrible blows in life, yet here she is still smiling and still embracing life, giving more than she ever takes.
Base Brown is our next fell. Another one of those deceptive ones where you think you'll do it really quickly but the reality is much, much different.
We pass Mitchell Cove and its a fairly straightforward path to the summit cairn. However, it's one of those fells that has several false summits. Just when you think you're there....you look up and see another cairn, a wee bit higher, a wee bit further.
We stop for a bit and decide what to do next. A look at the map tells us that we can bag three more but only if we're nifty and quick. I've already upped my pace and sped up just by watching Nicola. I feel like I'm back to my old self and it feels great.
We retrace our steps off Base Brown and do something that you really shouldn't do. We decide that it will be quicker to reach Brandreth if we come off the path and head due west to Gillercombe Head.
This is a mistake. Apart from being steeper than we thought its also boggy, soggy marshland that not even the sheep are entertaining. So it's back on the path and finally heading North to Brandreth. It's a lovely sweeping fell and very easy. We chat lots and lots and laugh ourselves silly.
We know we don't have much light left as we bag summit 4 of the day. But Grey Knotts IS within reach and we are so close. Tired? yes! but can we manage just one more? Bossy me decides yes and we are off!!!!
We continue north to reach the summit and then something really beautiful happens. Just like on New Year's Day when I had Whin Rigg to myself and it began to snow....we are now faced with the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen.
If we'd decided to turn back we would have missed this eternally stunning sight. We stand in silence. We cry a bit. We've both lost people we shouldn't have far too young. Nicola her husband and me my son.
We close our eyes and for just a few special moments we are with Colin and baby Micky again.
We flop down and take out the hip flask full of brandy.
Engraved into the silver are the words
"The stars are shining like rebel diamonds cut out of the sun, when you read my mind".
How apt. No words are spoken we swig and smile. Big cheesy grins. Happiness hugs us and its time to head back.
It's a straightforward route off. Albeit a long one. We chat to some Dutch wildcampers looking for a suitable tarn to pitch up next to. Our toes ache and our rucksacks are ready to come off! It's been a long old day. But there's always the pub at the end!
Tonight we are off to the Santon Bridge to meet Ian and Eric (@wasdalewarren and @stridingedge)
We flop in dirty and tired. Our lovely companions make sure we have pints of Jennings and crisps. Eric introduces us to Nell the dog and we quiz him about his late friend, the one and only Alfred Wainwright. I fess up to the boys that I've still not brushed up on my navigation skills since our last meeting in Pointy Corner. Ooopsy.
It's an inspiring end to a magical day.
We head back to the campsite where Nic Nac cooks us a scrumptious feast of dips and yummy chorizo pasta. I sup wine and we giggle and laugh and reminisce. We sip gin and tonic from china Cath Kidston mugs and finish our perfect day with a gigantic hug. We don our matching pjs and snuggle down in our sleeping bags for the night.