Despite several trips to the Peak District in the past few months, it had been a while since we had climbed ‘proper’ mountains. We travelled to the Lake District earlier this year but were quickly defeated when my Raynaud’s flared up on the first day, and by Edward’s fashionable footwear on the second day.
Lessons learnt – we were better prepared this time!
We got up early on Sunday morning, packed the car and made our way to Patterdale. After a quick stop in Glenridding to marvel at the landscape around Ullswater (and snap the obligatory selfie) we parked the car, nipped to the surprisingly clean public bathroom and headed toward Bridgend and Hart Crag beyond.
The route started on a grassy path going up, up, up. It was not a brutal climb, but a constant one and I got out of breath rather quickly – we stopped after two miles so I could use my inhaler which solved the problem. It was only 9.30 AM but the sun was shining and the day was already warm (which certainly didn’t help my asthma). The refreshing breeze on Hartsop Above Low was very welcome.
The path from Bridgend to Hart Crag is easy to follow but to avoid the same navigation mistakes we made during previous hikes, I downloaded the ViewRanger app to make sure we stayed on track. Obviously, carrying a good old map and compass remains essential but technology can be helpful too. ViewRanger offers a few different settings, including an option to be alerted when you wander too far off the path, which is pretty neat.
We stopped briefly at Hart Crag to replenish on some chocolate soya milk (another hiking favourite, even though it’s a bit inconvenient to carry) before continuing onto Fairfield. The path became rockier and we did wander off it a bit – it’s almost a tradition now – but we quickly found our way back.
The view atop Fairfield was well worth the climb; the day was still clear and we could see as far as the Irish Sea. We stayed at the summit for several minutes, snapping away and enjoying the stunning landscape around us.
As always in the mountain, weather tends to change quickly. By the time we had reached the path down Fairfield on the other side of the mountain, we had to stop and put on our waterproof jackets; The wind had risen, the clouds were rolling in and it didn’t take long before we felt the first drops. Thankfully the shower lasted only a few minutes but it made the descent to Grisedale Tarn a tad unpleasant; the path was all scree, very unstable under foot and made slippery by the rain. I called it a death slide but Edward had, less kindly, rebaptised the whole thing ‘Mount Bastard’ which made me laugh a lot… The caloric deficit had probably reached my brain because when he said he felt like a ‘paraplegic mountain goat’ I laughed so hard I had to sit down to catch my breath!
We finally reached a less rocky – but just as slippery – path. There were a few near-fall moments but I managed to keep my balance (I knew years of dance, gymnastics and yoga would be handy someday) long enough to make it to the bottom of the hill. We sat by the tarn for lunch, and both the break and food were much needed and appreciated.
It was also time for decisions. The plan was to climb the next mountain along, Dollywagon Pike, and from there move onto Helvellyn. However, sat in the valley we could see stormy clouds rolling in and over, covering the peaks above us. We knew the weather up there would be miserable – without the views to make it worth the while – so we made the wise choice of staying down in the dale and followed Grisedale Beck back to Patterdale.
I was slightly disappointed to miss Helvellyn but the walk through the valley was actually very enjoyable… The fog and mist gave it a beautiful, eerie atmosphere. It feels so rewarding to reach a summit – the exertion, the splendid views – that we often forget that there are things to see at the feet of the mountains too.
The last twenty minutes of the hike were properly rainy so we were quite happy to loop back to Patterdale and make our way to The Lodge in the Vale, where we had booked a room for the night. After wonderfully hot showers, we headed out for a much-needed meal. We found a quaint pub in Keswick where I got to satisfy my day-long craving for a cheeseburger – with a green salad on the side, for good measure. Edward ordered his usual post-hike Guinness and we sat there, enjoying a rather good selection of music and that particular feeling of ‘exhausted euphoria’ that comes after a good day in the mountains.
The 20K hike took us roughly 7 hours to complete. I didn’t find it as difficult as I had expected – maybe because we skipped the climb to Helvellyn – but you need a certain level of fitness to manage the constant climb onto Hart Crag and to be sure on your feet to deal with the scree and small ‘scrambles’ up and down. It was a tiring walk but a good one.
And we were ready to do it all again the next morning…