Sweet Sixteen – 214 summits in 214 days
All my best adventures start in darkness. When this one started at 4.30am this morning, it was pitch black. After a strong coffee and porridge for breakfast, I was out of the door, driving towards Shap in the gathering light along deserted roads. I always smile at the ‘Welcome to Shap’ road sign. It reminds me of when I first moved to Kendal. My friend Chewy asked me “do you know why they call it Shap?” I had no idea, and he answered after a suitable pause “because they couldn’t decide between Shit and Crap”.
There was a Roe Deer on the road just before Pooley Bridge. It was in no hurry. I had to almost stop the van. I reached for my camera and as I did so, it squeezed through a beech hedge into someone’s garden.
I parked up by St Peter’s Church, near Howtown. In less than nine minutes I was at the huge summit cairn of the baby peak of Hallin Fell. It was clear, although hazy, with very little wind. The reason for my early start was last night’s weather maps. A front was due to move in from the west around midday. So I wanted to make the most of the dry morning on my day off work.
Steel Knotts was my next summit. A toddler peak this time, startling the first skylark of the year. I took a lovely, inviting ridge line down towards Howtown, one I’d not run before. Then the steep vertical climb of Bonscale Pike, taking a detour past a huge badger sett, hoping to see one. Arthur’s Pike was only a few minutes away, overlooking Ullswater, and for the next hour or so, I’d be on the Joss Naylor Challenge route.
The ground was dry as a bone, and I enjoyed running on the firm peat. A splendid male hen harrier was quartering the ground ahead, unaware of me as I was into wind. It’s silver grey wings tipped with black, then suddenly, with a tilt, it was up and away. A magic moment for me, a first, as I’ve never seen a male hen harrier in the Lakes before.
It was fast, easy running up Loadpot Hill then Wether Fell. I found it easier to hold my poles rather than use them. The ridge was disappearing into mist. I stopped to get out my map, then followed the dry stone wall, crunching through old snowdrifts, towards the summit of High Raise. The nearby summits of Kidsty Pike and Rampsgill Head were also in light cloud. Brief glimpses of the view towards Riggendale Crags, the home of the Lake District’s only golden eagle.
Running down out of cloud, up back up the short climb to The Knott. Across tussock grass, looking for a way across an old snow filled gulley, not liking the look of it one bit. I found a narrow section to cross without snow. Looking up at the dark cave of eroded snow drift above, a man trap.
A herd of red deer, maybe twenty strong, watched me run towards them. They let me get quite close before they were off, heads held high.
I contoured around the steep rocky slopes of Rest Dodd on one of their trods, littered with deer shit. Leaving my poles and running pack by the stile, I ran up the easy slope to The Nab. Across dried up peat hags, back collecting my gear again before the short, steep climb to Rest Dodd.
My legs were tiring, although I was still going well. My spirits lifting by the views from Brock Crags towards Brotherswater.
I could see the cloud was moving in from the west, and with just three summits left, hoped I would have enough time. Canada geese echoed across the still waters of Angle Tarn.
On the summit of Angletarn Pikes, my first humans, three Wainwright baggers from Leeds. “Go on then, how many?” one of them asked me. I loved the look on his face when I replied “Fourteen so far this morning”.
Hard going up Place Fell, with more walkers at the summit cairn. Down the steep grassy slopes to Boredale Hause. I follow a deer trod, contouring to the ridge line of Beda Fell. My final, and sixteenth summit of the morning. From here, I run down the lovely single track path, winding along the rocky ridge, all the way to Howegrain Beck. I couldn’t resist the cold water of the river. Wading in up to my knees, standing in the flow for a few minutes by the bridge. Soothing my tired legs, a natural spa.
Walking up the final tarmac lane to my van, my studs squelching and oozing water. I changed into dry clothes, and as soon as I fired up the engine, it started to rain. I drove off, heading to the farm cafe at Tebay Services, for good coffee and local food, not fancying a Shap lunch.
As I was eating, I gazed through the big windows of the cafe at the misty moorland outside. As I did so, a merlin flew past, almost touching the ground. Another first for me in the Lakes.
16 Wainwright summits today, that’s 86 down, 128 to go.
© Graham Patten
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