Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Return To Lakeland...

(Not Charlton related). Very nearly 12 months ago myself and four of my friends embarked on a long weekend of fell walking and wild camping in the Lake District. It was a huge success and easily rates as one of the best experiences I've had in my adult life. This weekend we return to Lakeland, take to the hills and head out into the wilderness once again. I have to confess, like a kid at Christmas, I can't wait to go back!

Last year, the ultimate goal of our 3 day trip was to climb Scafell Pike, which, at 3,200ft, is England's highest mountain. It's not a huge challenge technically, but it does require a fair bit of stamina and no less determination to reach the summit, especially after a day and a half of trekking to get there. I was absolutely thrilled to bits when I reached the top (picture below) and rather enjoyed my brief moment as the tallest person in England!

This year we're looking at a route which covers an area north of the Great Langdale valley and encompasses 8 of the 214 Wainwright Lakeland mountain fells. As was the case last year, we'll be sleeping under canvas, relying on tarns and streams for our drinking water and carrying our food and other provisions in our weighty rucksacks. We also plan to do some wild swimming at Codale Tarn, which will be the location of our camp on the first night. Last year we attempted to take a dip in Angle Tarn (below), but the water was so frighteningly cold that nobody lasted longer that 2 minutes in the water. It was so cold, in fact, that my hands began to claw-up the second I entered the water. All I could think of was my Dad telling me to "get your shoulders under, son, and you'll be fine" but our bravado was beaten all hands down by Mother Nature.

For so many reasons I feel much better prepared this time around, not least of all as I have a far greater understanding and respect for the terrain. I've spent the last year studying OS maps and reading books by and about the legendary author, Alfred Wainwright, who made it his life's work to create fell walking guides to Lakeland. I shall be taking his third book up the fells with me, but the added weight will be well worth the effort, as anyone who has read his books will testify.

Lakeland is a truly awesome environment to walk in, but it can be unforgiving as well. One of our party still suffers occasionally from the effects of a nasty fall last year which injured his wrist and back and I had quite a scare myself when I suddenly found myself submerged up to the knees in a watery bog that appeared from nowhere. In my case, the shock was worse than the actual danger, but it was a lesson learnt. As Wainwright himself once said "watch where you are putting your feet". Great advice!

The one disappointment I have when looking back over my trip last year was realising that I had climbed on notable fells without even realised what mountain I was on at the time. Take Bowfell and Esk Pike, for example, both of which are not far off 3000ft high (only a few hundred feet smaller than Scafell Pike). Looking back I really would have liked to have appreciated in real time the achievement of climbing over both mountains on-route to Scafell Pike. It wasn't intentional: the fact is I was totally blown away by the sheer enormity of the landscape in Lakeland, completely in awe of my surroundings. We also relied a little too much on our unofficial leader, Rich, who was in charge of navigation. In hindsight, his keenness to keep focused on our route meant we never really discussed exactly where we was at any one time. This year I have propelled myself forward and it will be my proposed route that we will walk this year.

I have always been a solitary person, enjoying at great length my own company. The sheer vastness and remoteness of a place like Lakeland appeals to me in this regard. But as I get a bit older my desire for solitude has lessened considerably. I'm looking forward to a weekend of manly camaraderie and endless blokey banter (with my quirky ways often baring the brunt of the leg pulling), mixed in with some of the most impressive scenery found in the UK.

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