Thursday 23 July 2015

Death Awaits....

Eagle Crag
A National Trust Land Rover pulled up in the car park at Rosthwaite as I was getting my pack out ready for the off.  I watched the ranger as he got out. Suddenly his nose went in the air and he sniffed.  His eye balls started to bulge and roll around their sockets.  His tongue lolled out and he began to drool.  I recognised the symptoms.  I had seen them before. Cuben fibre envy!  He rapidly took in the scene in the car park, sniffed the air again, and then headed over to me.

“Nice pack.  Z Packs cuben fibre Arc Blast?  I want it.  And I want it now.”

Fearful that I was about to be mugged, I calmed him down and we got chatting. It was fellow outdoors blogger and Backpackers Club member, Trevor Morgan. After the normal gear chat we went our separate ways.  Him to work, me to continue to enjoy my retirement.  I can't recall the name of Trevor's blog.  If you know it please could you tell me?

After 42 years of walking in the Lakes I should know that on 90 per cent of occasions it will be wetter and windier than the forecast, which had been for fair weather, and so it proved to be. I pulled on my waterproofs, today wearing my Z Packs Challenger Jacket.  I have been told by people who have never worn one that it will not keep me dry and I will die in it. A black cuben fibre shroud. The Death Jacket. As the rain came down I headed up Eagle Crag, the ‘back way’ via Greenup Gill, to avoid the more exciting, but very steep direct route I would probably have taken if I was wearing my day pack.
Greenup Gill. looking back to Borrowdale

Sergeant's Crag and Langstrath from near the top of Eagle Crag
After Eagle Crag, with it superb views up Langstrath, it was on to Sergeant’s Crag.  Then back to Eagle Crag to collect my camera which had fallen off my hip belt when I took my pack off there.  Forty minutes of unnecessary effort because of carelessness.

There followed the long plod over grass to Low White Stones, then High Raise, and on to Sergeant Man.  Memories of my first visit there in 1973 in thick mist on a school Combined Cadet Force expedition.  We couldn’t find the top on that day. We had sat on some rocks taking bearings and wandering around, always ending up back in the same spot.  Eventually we headed off down into Langdale, giving Sergeant Man up as a bad job.  A couple of weeks later, back at school, we watched some training films about navigation.  By coincidence they were filmed around Sergeant Man and we discovered that the rocks we had been sitting on were its summit.

After Sergeant Man there followed a long descent to little visited Tarn Crag, collecting water on the way ready for my overnight  camp from the stream that heads down to Codale Tarn.  The forecast had said that the previous day’s near gale force winds on the tops would abate in the afternoon. They hadn’t really done so.  Not gale force, but very strong at times.  The near constant showers persisted.  I spent some time finding a spot to camp.  Reasonably dry, reasonably sheltered and reasonably flat. Result!  By now I was wishing I had brought my Scarp 1 which is a great shelter in such conditions.  Thinking the weather would be clement I had chosen to bring my very lightweight Z Packs Duplex tent, also known as Daphne, which many tell me (including some who have never used one or even seen one in real life) is a calm weather tent. The sort you die in when the going gets tough. A cuben fibre coffin for the man in the cuben fibre shroud.
Daphne Duplex near the summit of Tarn Crag

Daphne braces hereself in the wind on Tarn Crag
Soon after getting the tent up, at about 4.30pm, the rain really arrived, and I spent the next 14 hours inside, cooking, reading, sleeping and worrying about whether Daphne would survive the night.  I dozed off and woke again at about 11.30pm.  The wind had significantly strengthened, and shifted ninety degrees, so that my sheltered spot was no longer that.  Very strong gusts intensified what was already a constantly strong wind.  I was glad that I had taken the precaution of packing up everything except my sleeping bag and mat before bed.  Headtorch in hand in case I had to make a quick get away, I lay listening to the gale and watching the poles flex.  After half an hour or so I fell back to sleep.  I awoke after dawn to complete stillness.  Daphne was fine.  The pegs hadn’t shifted, the guy lines had remained taut.  A good test that has increased my confidence in her.  We had survived and the rain, too, had ceased. Death is for another day.
Brewing up on Tarn Crag, three doors closed and one open. Great flexibility for varying conditions.

Below Codale Tarn. I had camped just over the central skyline

Summit of Blea Rigg, looking towards Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle
Pavey Ark: View to Stickle Tarn and Langdale
I was away by 7.30am.  Off to another little frequented hill, the lovely Blea Rigg, via Codale Tarn, then back up to Sergeant Man and on to the Langdales.  It is six years since I was last on the Pikes, and the July busy-ness of the hills in this area reminded me of why I now rarely come to what used to be one of my favourite destinations.  I popped over to Thunacar Knott, then on to Pavey Ark, Harrison Stickle and Loft Crag before skipping the final summit cone of Pike O’Stickle, to head to Martcrag Moor.  Another navigational challenge of long ago came to mind.  I had hitched up to the Lakes from home one university holidays.  I remember the feeling of satisfaction when I made my way in thick cloud from Pike O’Stickle, across the Moor to Stake Pass, probably the first time I had ever used my compass in anger whilst walking solo.  Back then, in the mid 1970s, the path was at best intermittent.  Nowadays it would be hard to lose it given the 40 more years of pounding by boots. In places it has been ‘improved’ by Fix the Fells.  I think they were worried that walkers might get their boots a bit muddy in some places.  They have even thoughtfully put a large stepping stone in a stream that is all of two feet wide so shorter walkers can avoid having to take an over large pace to get across dry shod

Loft Crag and Pike O'Stickle from Harrison Stickle

Harrison Stickle from Loft Crag

Martcrag Moor
 Towards the bottom of the Stake Pass, in mid to late afternoon, I met two blokes coming up towards me, in jeans and with map in hand.

Bloke: “Could you help us get our bearings?  Is this the path up to Scafell Pike? We’ve come from a camp site”.

Me: “Where is your camp site?”

Bloke: “Not certain.  I think it’s at a place called Stonethwaite.  The problem is that we are on the edge of a map.”

Me, unspoken: “No, the problem is you are complete dickheads.”

Me spoken: “You can’t make Scafell Pike today.  Nor would this be the best way.  Tomorrow?  Here let me show you.  It might be best if you first drove to Seathwaite and then..…”.
Heading down the Stake Pass to Langstrath
The Stake Pass path has been ponsified by Fix the Fells with sweeping, regular, unnatural curves.  Well we wouldn’t want the path to be too tricky would we?  It drops down into Langstrath.  This valley is long and beautiful and, for the Lakes, it has a wilder and more remote feel than many others.  I plodded along to Stonethwaite, the camp site remarkably empty for the school holidays and on to Rosthwaite.
Trevor Morgan wasn’t laying in wait to pinch my cuben fibre gear. I’m told by some that cuben fibre doesn’t have a long life.  I reckon mine will outlast my knees, which seem to ache badly for days after any walk such as this with long steep descents.  Those visits of discovery to the Lakes in the 1970s seem in my head to have only been yesterday.  What a shame that my creaking body tells me another story.