Friday, 22 September 2017

Backpacking Sextagenarians

Well Geoff has pretty much told the story of our recent five day walk across the Lakes. And with remarkably few embellishments, and even fewer jibes at his inept companion.  He had endless scope for these, but chose not to indulge. Thus, my inability to put up a tent with his lightening speed, or to achieve the Holy Grail of drum tight silnylon to stop endless flapping in the breeze, hardly figured in his account. Several dodgy photographs he took were not used in his post.  So having no excuse to poke fun at this kindly old chap I shall keep to the facts, with some passing comments on my thoughts about backpacking at the start of my seventh decade. 

Geoff has also posted maps of our route, so I will not bother. I had originally hoped to do a much longer walk but various domestic commitments reduced the time I had available. As it happened five days was plenty, given my fitness level.

I'm not sure whether I'm proud to say that I am now entitled to own a Senior Railcard, but I flourished it at the ticket clerk at Penrith Station, gave Geoff a lesson on the need to push the button on the outside of the carriage to open the train door, and our journey began. Two sextagenarians setting off to zig-zag their way to Keswick from Windermere over five or six days. Six if we were feeling fit and full of life, and fancied a diversion to Buttermere.  Five if the organiser of the trip ie Lanky Old Fellbound was feeling radgered and fancied a gentle end to the stroll along the shores of Derwent water.

And we were off
Within an hour or so of starting I forced Geoff up Sour Howes and Sallows. It was only then that I realised that he has no understanding or empathy with peak bagging. Nor have I these days. To a point. But these unremarkable hills are two that I have only climbed once; and as my unintended second round of the Wainwrights is almost complete, it felt like they had to be done whilst we were passing.  I'd worried that the ground above the Garburn Pass would be boggy, and finding a decent spot to camp problematic, but we had little bother on the lower slopes of Yoke, and we finished our first shortish day nice and early in glorious sunshine but a cold, stiff breeze.
First wild camp. Lower slopes of Yoke

Gratuitous "look at the fabulous view from the tent whilst I'm brewing up" photo

Day 2, and there were eight Wainwrights between us and our intended camp spot high above Angle Tarn. Well actually only five were in the way, but the other three (Kidsty Pike, Rampsgill Head and Knott) were so close to our route that we did them anyway.  We'd got to the fabulous beacon on the top of Thornthwaite Crag before I realised that not only had Geoff no intention of setting up a spreadsheet, or at least a tick list, to record his progress at completing Wanwrights, but also that he had no idea how to pose on the top of a hill. He'll be telling me he doesn't own any cuben fibre gear next, I thought, but then dismissed that notion as ridiculous.

On Froswick. Fix the Fells remains on course to urbanise the Lakes.

Striking a jaunty pose on Thornthwaite Crag

Clearing clag and rain. Looking back to High Street from near Kidsty Pike
As we headed up the last pull of the day to escape the over-popular camping spots at the tarn we agreed without speaking that the top of Angle Tarn Pikes could wait for the following day, despite camping within five or ten minutes of the top. We was well done in we was.
Camped on Angle Tarn Pikes, at the end of a long Day 2

The best dehydrated meal I've ever had
I woke early. I always wake early. Five-ish if I'm lucky. Two-ish on a bad day. I brew up and get going slowly.  As I have aged and lost flexibility I do find being in a tent can be hard work, exacerbated by my unnatural height. Backpacking tents are not designed for lanky gits. I do a task, such as heating up water for my breakfast oats, then lie back and recover for a minute or so before taking on the next task. Eating them. Then the next.  That might involve, say, lassoing my feet one at a time with my trousers or socks to get dressed.  Or packing up a dry bag. Then realising just as I have done that thing with squeezing the air out and fastening the roll top that I have left something out and thus need to repeat the process.  So after about two hours I'm ready for a lie down again but it will be time to get my boots on.  I'm seriously thinking of taking a shoe horn on my next trip. Putting on my boots whilst lying on my side or sitting in the tent door way seems absurdly hard. Then I am ready to get the tent down and packed up. I'm sure it was all much easier when I was twenty.
Early morning brew, Day 3

Today, fortunately, is to be an easy day. The easiest of the trip. With a break in Glenridding for cake. And possibly bacon. But certainly cake. I try to smile at all the Americans, and the many others doing the Coast-to-Coast. We are walking against their flow. "No, we aren't going the wrong way. No, we aren't doing it. No we haven't come all the way from Shap by ten in the morning."

Now I would like you to compare and contrast the next two photographs.  Ideally, I would have placed them next to each other, but my ability to manipulate Google Blogger is limited. It is true that Geoff may have much better IT skills than me and he can prettify his blog very nicely. He fails miserably, however, in the posing on top of hills department.  He really needs to team up with Alan Sloman for a day or so in the mountains. He would then learn the art pretty quickly, or face the backpacking equivalent of the Wrath of Kahn.  You will note that the top photograph is of an upright, rugged, rufty tufty but veryveryniceman.  The second appears to be a chap broken by a string of Wainwrights and the ranting of his walking companion. Someone who will lie on the ground and scream and scream if he hears one more complaint about Fix the Fells and its inept handiwork.

A fine figure of a man who has just bounded up Angle Tarn Pikes

A broken man, resigning himself to defeat in the posing on top of a hill competition. Never mind, Geoff, you will improve with practice.
After Glenridding we plod up Grisedale.  It rains heavily for a while. The wind gets up again and the temperature drops.  I had been reticent about stopping here but it was the natural place on our route.  We find a reasonable spot below the tarn.  Other tents are on its shores. Six more backpackers arrive and set up a hundred yards from us.  Fortunately they are quiet.  But camping at Grisedale Tarn is not a good experience.  It is over used , as are many of the tarns in the lakes, but this is one of the worst.  Rotting toilet paper and worse lie around.  Two broken beer bottles are poking out of a bog.  It goes against the grain, but I do wonder if regulation is needed.  At the least the National Park should start encouraging people to pack out toilet waste.  I know only the responsible would do it, but at least this would mean less mess in these areas, and less environmental damage. I don't know the answer really.

The impact of the over popularity of the Lakes saddens me, even knowing I am part of the problem. The erosion, the terrible path repairs, the litter, the mess at tarns such as this. I am glad I knew the area forty-five years ago, when these problems were much less.  I feel like a man in the wrong era these days. Apart from when I'm ill and want modern health care of course.
Ready for the third night out. Pitched on layers of used rotting toilet paper, tampons and broken beer bottles below Grisedale Tarn. A case for some form of regulation?  
The fourth day turns out to be far tougher than I had planned, despite following our route to the letter. Three more lowlyish Wainrights, but a reasonable distance and lots of ups and downs.  I have a difficult hour or so after Helm Crag. My legs lose all their power and turn to jelly.  I am physically shaky.  I put it down to dehydration, so we stop to filter water from a small pool. It works and I rapidly feel much better. But it's another long day. Fortunately with a camp site and a few pints and a steak in the very good Langstrath Country Inn at Stonethwaite. 
A sunny Sunday on Helm Crag above Grasmere. Generally, though, it was pretty quiet and we still found solitude for much of the walk

Rock gymnasts on the Howitzer, Helm Crag. I did it once to say I had. No need to repeat.

Looking east from the pull up to Greenup Edge

Looking back to Lining Crag having just descended a Fix the Fells staircase
The fifth day of walking. A gentle eight or nine mile day into Keswick. Still several hours, but little in the way of serious climbing as we follow the Cumbria Way along the River Derwent.  I bore Geoff with details of the ash scattering that my nearest and dearest will have to undertake for me by this river at sometime in the future.  We eat the best ever breakfast rolls at the cafe in Grange. Then it's Keswick.  My favourite town in the whole world.  The route being perfectly planned we get to the stop just fifteen minutes before the Penrith bus.

It had been a super trip with excellent company. But I was ready for a shower and a rest. 
Well it would have been rude not to go in. Grange-in-Borrowdale.


  1. are so kind David, even as you insult my posing skills. But it was truly a most enjoyable saunter. Must do more...with less uppy bits 😂

    1. "So kind"? You should hear what I say about you behind your back, Geoff.

  2. It might be too big an ask to get Geoffrey to pose properly in a day. He should start small - draping himself over the bonnet of his motor-home and then work up to smiling at pub tables. Once he's cracked that we could take him up the hill.

    As he's whinged about all the uppishness on this walk, it might be prudent to give him time to recover before each pose. A few slugs of electric water might help.

    Given time the boy might just make it to semi-professional Fellbound status.

    1. Geoff definitely needs lessons in posing, Alan. As he is on the Challenge in 2018, against his better judgement he claims, you may be able to seek him out and give him instructions in the noble art. As for uppy bits? They never hurt anyone did they? Well they did actually, but as I'm sitting at a desk at this moment I am able to kid myself.