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 5, Wasdale to Seathwaite

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Albert Einstein
Play Misty for Me.

Seathwaite Camping Farm is accommodating the alicoop for tonight. It’s a real working farm with implements scattered about, stone-walled buildings of indeterminate usage, odors sweet and pungent and sheep allowed to roam. Its location is divine, surrounded my Lakeland fells in a kind of bowl, the burbling brook in duet with the lambs calling for their mothers. She calls first, a low-throated “baaaaal” answered by the sweetest “beeeel” as the little ones run to find a ready teet, leaning in, their tiny tails wagging. Right now, the clouds are pink, a cuckoo is singing and the midges are surrounding me.

Light comes early this far north, so I was up and out for a day of peak bagging by 7. After much reconnaissance of the map, I realized a backpack was going to make some of the going up England’s highest peak not only hard, but verging on dangerous, so I hatched a plan to contour up fields from the east.

Magical Fox Tarn.

There was a very narrow road some of the way, but soon I needed to simply get high. Up I went. Straight up trampled meadows, breathing hard and finding my rhythm of determination. I’d focus on a rock and go for it, huffing and puffing and watching Wast Water come more into view. The tops of the fells were all in mist, but my mind seized on a sky beginning to lighten. Perhaps it would burn off, I thought.

Just as I reached the ridge, Sca Fell in all her glory came into view. A giant, massive, distant lump. While it was clear, I headed straight for her with a blessing from peak goddess as a path suddenly appeared in front of me, replete with cairns.

Yes, that is the way down.

And the timing could not have been more perfect. Just as I alighted the mist came down completely. All was obliterated. I have been in full-on fog and had some exposure to the English version, but when you’re looking for the peak and out of breath, utter blindness can be terrifying.

I pushed on, up scree at about a 55 degree angle, like in a nightmare when your feet can’t get purchase and there’s no context for how far you’re going. Rocks loomed into focus, but were never the promised summit. At one point, I saw the mountain top, far away and massive. My heart sank thinking there was no way I could get up that. It turned out to be a mirage, just a pile of rocks appearing further away then they were. And in fact, that pile was the top. I set my backpack in a wind break, put on more clothes, grabbed the phone and gps and cracked up to the top to find no view whatsoever except for swiftly moving mist.

Higher than the highest point in England on Sca Fell Pike.

Out of nowhere came a few other hikers. Pictures and beta were exchanged, as well as “all that work and this is what we get.” Most importantly, they sent me down a route that would get me to Sca Fell Pike. Just when you thought you were at the highest peak, someone goes and busts your bubble to correct your ignorance. Not only did you bust your ass for no view, but Sca Fell itself is not the highest.

We said our goodbyes and I searched out my trail. Understand, this is in a fog so thick, I barely saw three Fell runners, dressed in shorts and the lightest of rain gear, coming up the trail. They assured me I needed to find Fox Tarn, take a left and crack up to the Pike.

Long descent on stepping stones.

Not so fast. Going up would be after going down a huge slope of rocks upon rocks flailing underfoot. Looking down the scree shoot, I couldn’t believe I needed to descend so low to go higher on my peak bagging.

Finally the mini lake came into view, a magical spot tucked into the crags and teaming with big black slugs. I sat to enjoy this lovely blissful place feeling I’d arrived at some sort of destination. That was until I saw the continued descent, down a water filled gully of broken fallen rock. I imagine the ascent would be fairly reasonable, but the descent with 22 pounds on my back was a broken ankle waiting to happen. I soon became one with the mossy rock, sliding as much as walking.

Ali on the Rigg.

Fox Tarn is up there as the most difficult trail of all time. Once I reached bottom, it was right back up another scree slope. A young man greeted me at the top to the fine views and to share that he was working on his first Class 3 scramble, one first ascended by Samuel Coleridge Taylor in 1803. I hung back a while to watch him negotiate the exposed ridge, my “woohoo” and his “cheers” echoing off the rock.

It was time to press to the top and being the highest point, I could already see that Sca Fell Pike was packed with tourists, all happy and full of the joy of success. A few pictures, a snack and then I was off for Seathwaite along a ridge of hills, one after another hanging high above the lakes. It was an absolute dream of beauty, though perhaps not the kindest underfoot with rocks, slippery pebbles and more rocks. I thank the good people of the Lake District who thought to pave the trail with individual stones strategically placed by hand. No garden designer could compete with these lakes trails. After starting the day simply marching upwards of 1000 feet in fields and making my own trail, the pavers were a god send.

Another night, another farm.

It’s off to bed now to get set up for tomorrow’s climb of Napes Needle, a big approach back up those paving stones to get to one of the most famous crags in the lakes.

Bang sticks for luck with the weather.