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,
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 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.”