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Small is Beautiful

Small is Beautiful – 214 summits in 214 days

It was cold last night in my makeshift bed in the back of the van. I had to keep getting up to put extra clothes on, the summer duvet wasn’t warm enough, and the cold north easterly wind buffeted the van, finding it’s way through gaps in the door. 

I woke feeling the whole van moving violently from side to side. I looked at my watch, 4.45am. There must be a storm outside, yet there was no sound of rain on the roof. If anything, the van was swaying even more and I peeped outside into the early morning light. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The huge rear end of a big horse was rubbing itself against the side of the van! I opened the side door and two jet black horse heads peered in at me. 

Surreal, there were maybe 30 or 40 in total, some of them huge, most were black and brown, and the three next to the van kept me company whilst I made some strong coffee. I’d planned to get an early start, although not quite as early as my equine friends wake up call.

The wind had dropped, although it was still coming from the north, feeling cold. I changed into my running tights, thermal, wind top and beanie, put my cagoule in my backpack, and tied up the laces of my wet, smelly “slippers”. I had a meeting in Cockermouth before lunch, and my plan was to bag three more outlying Wainwrights to make the most of my long drive west. I set off, away before 6am, feeling slightly stiff and sore from yesterday.

I soon loosened up. It was easy running, the main difficulty with these minor peaks is in their remoteness. It made a lot of sense to tick them off whilst I was in this neck of the woods. Huge divots were carved out of the grassy ground on the first small descent, the horses had obviously been galloping down here when it was softer. 

The going was officially “soft” for me too, ploughing through wet bogs whilst climbing the first one, Lank Rigg. Cloud hanging over the bigger western fells and views towards the sinister sprawl of Sellafield on the coast.

Jogging down the well worn trod from the summit, then taking it easy up the lesser peak of Whoap. From here, another easy descent down to old sun bleached tree stumps, picking my way over a bridge over the dark, peaty mire, made of old fence posts. 

The sun broke through on the short climb to Crag Fell, and I took photos of my shadow as I was running along. Great panoramic views of Ennerdale Water, shining below, with the skyline in stark relief. My phone battery decided to pack up with the cold, so the best views remain only in my memory.

It wasn’t far to the next summit, Grike, an ugly mobile phone mast next to the footpath, keeping people connected, whatever that means. I soon reached the top, loving the grassy descent to a forest road, winding round to another small climb through cotton grass in flower.

As I neared my van, the alarm call of a male Stonechat, a chinking of pebbles, perched in front of me in some stunted gorse. I slowed to take in his bright features, admiring his white collar and orange red chest. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I caught sight of the female, then as another fluttered in amongst the bushes, I realised they were fledglings. Judging by the crash landings, probably making their first short flights. I counted four of them, a full clutch hatched out and making their way in the world.

I changed and had some breakfast back at the van, early morning commuters driving fast along the narrow lane. I made another coffee and sat outside, soaking up the views, reflecting on how Wainwright bagging makes you visit these out of the way places.

When it comes to summits, size isn’t everything, and small is beautiful.

3 Wainwright summits today, that’s 144 down, 70 to go.

© Graham Patten

May 2016 


Wild West Night Out

Wild West Night Out – 214 summits in 214 days

Late spring snow has hampered my Joss Naylor Challenge preparations, much of the higher route lying hidden under a white blanket for months. Now I’m nearing the end of my training and I still haven’t checked the route from Great End to Pillar. This evening, my final chance arrived. Finishing work early, I drove over to Wasdale Head.

I love nothing more than killing two birds with one stone, and I’d already planned a good route to Great End, first taking in Lingmell then Scafell Pike, bagging an extra two Wainwright summits.

Longer evenings mean setting off for a run in the mountains late in the day is such a liberating experience, as everyone else has gone home. It’s a steep climb out of the Wasdale valley to Lingmell. I followed a sheep trod, rounding a scree slope and joining the main path high up the ridge.

The summit was cloaked with cloud, and I needed a compass bearing to find the correct direction off towards the main path up Scafell Pike. 

I’d never been on this path before. The boulders worn smooth and polished from use, reminding me of Croagh Patrick in Ireland, where religious pilgrims climb the mountain path, many of them barefoot. Tonight, I had England’s highest mountain all to myself, alone amongst the clouds. Another compass bearing off, down a rocky scramble to the col, then a short climb to the shoulder of Broad Crag, boulder hopping, choosing the biggest and most stable ones as my stepping stones. 

I reached Great End, and the cloud started to lift, Sprinkling and Styhead Tarns sparkling down below. The descent looked suicidal. A sheer, vertical, boulder strewn drop, requiring nerves of steel and the athletic grace of a ballet dancer, not really skills a man of my age has anymore. It was a relief to find the final scree slope, then the more gentle grassy slope to Styhead Pass.

I ran back down the valley, the late evening sunshine filtering through, lighting up the patchwork of stone walls and green fields. I changed, then drove out to the Screes Inn at Nether Wasdale, for good food and good beer.

As there’s no mobile phone coverage in the valley and I knew the pub had WiFi. I could email home to let them know I was safe and sound.

I had an early night too, camping in the back of my van, parked up near to Joss’s farm at Greendale Bridge.

I cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast, and made a strong coffee. I hid my bike behind a stone wall near Greendale Bridge, and drove to Wasdale Head. It was early, just after 7am, clouds hung low and the westerly wind was tearing across the lake, making huge white caps. At Styhead Pass, I started the climb up the stone path to Great Gable, stopping in cloud near the summit to get out my map and compass. 

This is the final leg of the “Joss”. I would now find out what it was like to run it with tired legs. A good rehearsal for when my time comes. The wind was very strong on the summit, and the rocks had a sheen of moisture from the thick cloud, making them as slippery as ice. I took a bearing into the full force of the wind and soon found myself on steep scree slope, making the most of gravity. 

On to Kirk Fell, wandering off bearing slightly, cloud as thick as pea soup. Another scree run in the tight gully down to Black Sail Pass, then the long, long climb to Pillar. I got completely blown off my feet nearing the col at the bottom of the rocky descent, the wind at gale force in the compression zone. Stoat Fell, then Steeple were both in cloud, and I made good progress to Haycock.

Another mistake coming off the summit, getting pulled off my bearing by the sheer force of the wind, having to contour back around to get on the right track, then suddenly out of cloud and Seatallan clear in the distance. It was hard work on the final short, steep climb, before another descent to Greendale Tarn and the final climb to the summit of Middle Fell. 

I wondered what I’ll feel like when I get here in a week or two, when I do the whole 48 mile challenge. Joss’s farm looked very small way down below. It was a relief to finally stop running when I reached the bridge.

I found my bike, and cycled along the narrow lane back to Wasdale Head, the strong wind pushing me along, making it feel effortless. As I started the long drive home, the sun came out, and the cloud lifted off all the tops.

6 new Wainwright summits, that’s 138 down, 76 to go.

© Graham Patten

May 2016 


Late in the Langdales

Late in the Langdales – 214 summits in 214 days

Appalling weather over the Bank Holiday weekend forced us to make our way back home to Kendal earlier than planned. As the afternoon wore on, the rain finally stopped. I had an unplanned chance to make the most of it. 

I drove against the traffic into the heart of the Lakes, a steady stream of cars heading the other way. I reached the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale to find plenty of places to park, and headed off, contouring under the crags, jumping over all the puddles.

Water was streaming off the hillside, streams in full spate, from a combination of melting snow and the incessant rain. I crossed the footbridge and jogged up the steep path to Stickle Tarn, a single tent near the weir marking a great place for a wild camp.

The clouds were breaking up, blue sky was showing through. I’d hoped for clear tops, as I wanted to recce the Joss Naylor Challenge route from High Raise to Great End and this evening was perfect. 

I found a faint path next to a small, lively stream, making a bee line for Sergeant Man, great views of the Langdale valley opening up below, patches of old snow scattered about. The summit stuck out, an obvious rocky lump amongst an expanse of flat wetland and bog.

It was hard to believe the last time I was here was in a whiteout and I couldn’t even find the summit first time around. It was a short, more or less flat run on to the plateau of High Raise.

New territory for me from here. I’d not been on this section of the “Joss” through to Rosset Pike, and a thin brown trod line marked the route, winding in and out of gullies. It was fast running, and I was soon at Stake Pass, then along the ridge with Mickleden stretched out below, watched over by the near vertical Langdale Pikes.

Someone’s been busy. Small cairns marked the route up to Bowfell, a mixture of steep sheep trods and scree, the views making the tough hands on knees effort worthwhile. It seemed to go on much further than I remembered from all my training runs for the “Bob” last year.

A scramble over the final summit rocks, the jagged Scafells outlined clearly. Familiar territory through to Esk Pike, following the ramp of horizontal rock jutting out of the hillside, a natural road.

Great End was shrouded in cloud, so at the col of Esk Hause, I decided to give this a miss, and veered off right to bag the small summit of Allen Crags. 

 

More dark cloud was gathering now and looking ominous above the higher peaks. I made good time on the descent to Angle Tarn, short cutting the stone path zig zagging alongside Rossett Gill, taking the steep grassy option instead. I ran alongside the path, weaving in and out of small rocks, jumping over streams. 

A flash of a small brown bird from under my feet, and I stopped, finding the Meadow Pipit’s nest hidden under dead bracken stalks. Four olive brown eggs in the tiny cup lined with dried grass.

Along the side of Mickleden beck a half remembered bird call. A sandpiper? Could they be back from Africa already? I slowed down, thinking I must be imagining things, then caught sight of two common sandpiper, already staking out their nesting territory. 

Huge hailstones pelted me on the final section, urging me to run faster back to my van, then the clouds parted again and sunshine streamed through.

I changed into warm dry clothes and set off for home, feeling an enormous sense of gratitude for being able to live in such a fantastic part of the world. I saw no-one on my evening run and had the mountains to myself. The roads were quiet too all the way back to Kendal, one of the bonuses of setting off to Langdale late in the day.

My little boy Ash had just gone to bed, although he was still awake, so there was still time for another bedtime story. 

4 Wainwright summits today, that’s 132 down, 82 to go.

© Graham Patten

May 2016


Breakfast Run

Breakfast Run – 214 Summits in 214 Days  

I had no appetite when I got up. It was so early. A strong coffee, and I was off, driving away in the darkness. Breakfast could wait until after my run. 

This morning I was heading to Wasdale, making the most of my day off work. The plan being to run over the final leg of the Joss Naylor Challenge route. The fields were white with frost. A bright half moon in the clear sky overhead, although there was a lot of cloud about. An osprey at the estuary near Greenod, labouring for lift whilst clutching it’s catch. A nice surprise at this early hour.

I took the short cut over Corney Fell, the single track lane over the moor busy with traffic, everyone driving like lunatics, flashing their lights, overtaking on blind bends, oblivious to the ice on the road. It was only as I crested the hill and saw the bulk of Sellafield in the distance that the penny dropped. They must be on the early morning shift, racing to get to work on time.

Sunrise was dramatic through the clouds. Soon I was heading off on foot, leaving my van near Joss’s house, close to Greendale bridge. My legs already tired from a heavy training schedule. The higher peaks were blanketed in thick cloud. So I reverted to plan B, a new route taking in the lower peaks and a complete circuit of the lake.

The woodland track from Greendale bridge along the stream was edged with primroses, in the far distance the call of a cuckoo. I crossed an ancient packhorse bridge, and started the steep climb to Whin Rigg, views of the famous Wasdale screes opening up as I gained height.  

A snow flurry near the summit, the first of many throughout the morning. The ground was dry, and the cold northerly breeze was refreshing to run in, although I was well wrapped up. Glimpses of the lake between snow showers, soon reaching the summit of Illgill Head. My legs were loosening up, and I was enjoying myself, making good time on the descent to the National Trust car park at the head of the lake. Gorse was in flower, bright yellow, and suddenly the sun came out.

Up the steep climb of Yewbarrow, familiar from last year’s Bob Graham, the sky now bright blue. My technique here is simply not to look up until I’ve counted 500 double steps. By this time, I’m nearing the summit.

Another brief snow shower along the ridge, then I contoured around the rocky slopes of Stirrup Crag to the col at Dore Head, the rocks icy and dangerous.

By Red Pike, there was a sprinkling of snow on the ground. Rocks now patterned with green lichens and white snow flakes.

There were dramatic views from Scoat Fell, the northern grassy slopes crusted with snow and ice, rock glazed with a veneer of frost.

Cloud was building up on the arrete to Steeple. Another shower of snow flakes on the fast descent towards Haycock, the summit cloud playing games.

Now you see me, now you don’t. Ennerdale glimmering in the distance.

Caw Fell sticks out, a lonely summit at the end of the ridge, overlooking the sprawl of Sellafield. The Isle of Man clearly outlined out to sea on the horizon. I was thirsty, so descended, taking a contouring route amongst boulder fields around Gowder Crag. Coming up trumps with clean, clear springs, the water cool and refreshing.

There’s a great fast downhill trod towards Seatallan through the tussocks, I caught a toe on a hidden rock, almost face planting, although my momentum saved me, first speeding up then staggering back upright from a near horizontal running position. 

A steep, grassy line down avoiding the eroded trod, Greendale Tarn a shining level down below. Two walkers were at the summit of Middle Fell as I jogged up the final climb to the summit cairn. “Go on, how long did it take you to run up here then?” I looked at my watch – “Over four hours”, I replied, “Although I went the long way round!”

Buckbarrow was my final summit of the morning and I couldn’t resist running down to the small cairn perched on the crag itself, overlooking the valley.

I found a route around the crags, taking care down the steep slope amongst the gorse, admiring the many stone wall sculptures, testament to the living legend of Joss Naylor.  

A frenzy of small birds were making a racket in the garden by the farm. I stopped and waited, and a sleepy tawny owl flew across the road, chased by a noisy mob of blue tits, chaffinches and blackbirds. 

What a morning run – now I was ready for breakfast.

11 Wainwright summits today, that’s 120 down, 94 to go.

© Graham Patten


Long Run Home

Long Run Home – 214 Summits in 214 Days 

I was the only one on the bus. Understandable really, as it left Kendal bus station at 5.45am. It was surprising that I was actually on it myself. A rare night out with Claire, drinking far too much white wine with our meal. Then “one for the road” at Burgundy’s Wine Bar. This turned into another bottle of red with friends we hadn’t seen for years, ending up a very late night. 

Remembering a vague plan to catch the early morning bus. With a sore head, I thought I’d spend some time power napping on the way. The friendly bus driver had other ideas, keeping up a constant stream of chatter, with me in full view of his mirror, sitting in the back.

Amazing to see how much engineering work had been done already around Thirlmere, since the devastation by Storm Desmond. I couldn’t believe the scale of the landslides on the east side of the lake.

My new friend dropped me off at the footpath near the dam. Jogging up the steep climb through the forest, many trees fallen over like skittles. It was a gorgeous morning. There was a cold, northerly breeze. Blue skies and hardly a cloud in the sky. 

Sunlight filtered through the trees, the air having an Alpine feel. As I neared the summit of Raven Crag, there were new wooden steps and a boardwalk, frosted white. The view down towards Thirlmere was breathtaking.  

On the switch backs, preferring the rough, underfoot conditions of the steep woodland, to the monotony of the graded forest road.

I run through the quiet campsite of Shoulthwaite. Crossing the deserted A591, I follow an ancient trail around the corrugated mound of High Rigg.

Veering off the trail, climbing steeply through snow flattened orange-brown bracken stalks. 

Reaching the summit, with spectacular view of Blencathra and Skiddaw. I run down to St Johns in the Vale church, taking photos of the daffodils in the pretty graveyard.

I find a path meandering down to St Johns Beck. A dipper flying out from under the new footbridge. It’s domed nest crammed full of youngsters, balanced on the new steel bars underneath.

Skylarks serenaded me along the Old Coach Road to the climb of Clough Head. The last time I was here was during my Bob Graham Round last May, when it was pitch dark.

This morning the ground was white with frost. Leaning into the steep climb, pushing on my thighs to keep up momentum.

From the summit, a lovely run down towards Calfhow Pike. The ground rock hard up to Great Dodd. Clumps of grass, white with frost near the summit. 

An easy run to Watson’s Dodd. Along the ridge, visiting Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, Whiteside and Helvellyn Lower Man.

The mesmerising ridge line of Helvellyn, edged with snow, getting ever closer.

Old snow marked the descent down Swirral Edge. Crouching down, skiing the short, steep slope on my studs, using my hands as brakes. 

The haphazard, broken rocks were scored by winter crampons. I run along trying to bring life to my freezing cold hands. From the small cairn on Catstycam, a steep grassy descent down to Red Tarn.

Suddenly I’m spreadeagled on the ground, sprawled amongst rocks, bleeding from my hand. I pick myself up, my toes bruised and sore, my fingers red with blood.

I take a great route off Birkhouse Moor, straight off The Nab, amongst steep rock, picking my way down through the rough terrain. Eventually meeting the rocky path near Mires Beck. 

Refuelling at the Helvellyn Country Kitchen Cafe, with a late brunch, a full cooked breakfast, with a flat white coffee.

I found out they’d only recently re-opened after the floods. Michelle, the owner, showed me photos on her iPad, with flood water one metre deep inside the cafe.

Missing the bus to Ambleside by a few minutes, I find out the next one is nearly two hours away. I look at my map, seeing a line from Hartsop, climbing up to Thornthwaite Crag, and along my favourite ridge, Froswick, Ill Bell and Yoke. 

I shouldered my pack, and set off on my long run home.

7 Wainwright summits today, that’s 109 down, 105 to go.

© Graham Patten


Sweet Sixteen

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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Scale and Polish

Scale and Polish – 214 summits in 214 days

I had my first appointment today with my dentist and long time running friend, Brian Clough, in Windermere. I always choose his earliest 8.30am slot, so there’s no waiting if he’s running late. I get whisked in first as soon as he’s ready. I’ve been seeing too much of Brian in the last couple of years, professionally at least. It was some relief to hear I would only need a scale and polish.

My day had started much earlier, before 5am. I’m always an early riser, waking up like clockwork around the same ungodly hour each morning. It really is the best time of the day. I love having the house all to myself before the family wakes. I can get through a lot of work in my office without any interruptions.

A second appointment of the morning was with the Wainwrights around Coniston Old Man. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. As I’ve got such an understanding employer, me, I can be super flexible with my working hours.

The drive from Windermere, through Ambleside and along the road to Coniston was spectacular. I had to pinch myself that soon I’d be up high in the snowy hills on a ‘normal’ working day. I parked at the Walna Scar Car park, jogging the bridleway to the quarry road. Now the steep climb up the little worn trod that winds to the summit.

I’ve been up this route many, many times. Coniston Old Man is one of my favourite launch sites for flying my paraglider, especially on those long summer evenings. Today the trod soon disappeared under snow, and my rhythm was shot to pieces by superb views. I just had to capture them with my camera.

This snow was perfect. Frozen hard so I didn’t sink. The surface giving just enough for my studs to grip. A light north easterly breeze made the air cold. I made good progress. The Old Man trig point was half buried in a windblown cornice. The summit ridge another world of snow and ice, under a blue, blue sky. In the distance, the Isle of Man hung above the sea.

The shapely domed cairn on Brim Fell is only a few minutes from the Old Man. My route from here was going to take me down the steep snow slope to the col, then up the climb of Dow Crag.

Bounding strides were the way forward. Enough to make deep prints, braking my speed.

I was soon at the col, making the climb through snow and rock. Hard snow had filled gaps around the summit rocks, making it easier than usual to reach the top.

I contoured round Brim Fell, grateful that someone else had broken the trail yesterday, compacting the snow and helping with my own progress. Spindrift had filled in some of the foot steps in places, so they suddenly disappeared for a few metres, starting again on the other side.

I was confident crossing some steep snow slopes that plummeted down over crags, although I didn’t look down until I was safely across. Near the col, lovely sculptures in the snow, made by the wind, a mini Alpine world. A jet black raven flew overhead, so close I could see the glint in it’s eye.

A short climb to the cairn on Grey Friar, with dramatic views of Scafell.

Downhill through softer snow and another short climb to Great Carrs, passing the memorial to the crashed aircraft from the second world war.

Hurdles of drifting snow up to Swirl How, then a joyful descent on compacted hard snow, padded down by walkers, with views of Levens Water glistening below. 

Wetherlam was the morning’s final summit, and the toughest climb of all. The midday sun now softening the snow, my feet going down to shin level on every step.

This made the descent great fun, and it was with some sadness that I left the snow line behind. Reaching partly frozen bog near the tarn, I ran along easy familiar trails back to my van.

I drove to Ambleside for a late lunch at the Apple Pie Bakery, bumping into my friend Aled Butler and his little boy Charlie. He told me he’s been enjoying the Wainwright posts, a good enough reason as any for a name check. I was home in good time to pick my own son Ash up from school.

7 Wainwright summits today, that’s 70 down, 144 to go.

© Graham Patten

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Three before Tea

Three Before Tea – 214 summits in 214 days

A family day. Swimming at Holgates near Silverdale in the morning, Claire watching from the pool side, full of cold. We’d had our fancy coffee and lunch together. Now we were back home. It was still early. The consensus was to get the wood burner fired up, then watch the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory video again this afternoon. We’d all watched it together only yesterday. 

Spring sunlight and shadows highlighting the snowy mountain tops. I decided to skip the video re-run and nip out for a couple of hours or so. Enjoy this remarkable weather. I changed into my running gear, put my bike in the back of the van, and drove towards Ambleside.

One of the great things about living in the Lakes is that everything is on your doorstep. Afternoons on a sunny weekend are a great time to head out into the honey pots. Most of the tourists are down off the hills, enjoying a well earned cream tea or a pint or two. 

I parked up in a little lay by on the back road to Red Bank, just beyond Loughrigg Tarn, jumped on my bike, and free wheeled down to Elterwater. Up the pot holed back road towards the Drunken Duck pub, leaving my bike behind a big stone wall, next to the start of the footpath up Black Fell.

The trail first winds through lovely old oak trees, up into dark plantation conifers. Then clubs a rough, rocky path, more like a stream bed, through open bracken, juniper and larch trees. It’s one of the smallest of the Wainwrights. My son Ash climbed it when he was just four years old. Yet the views as you reach the summit are tremendous. 

On a day like today, I was lost for words. Taking photo after photo. Every direction was a perfect spring Lakeland scene, with snow capped summits, blue sky, fluffy cumulus clouds and pristine light. 

Within half an hour I was back at my bike, stepping on the pedals, climbing to the Drunken Duck pub. I counted seven personal registration plates amongst all the flash cars parked haphazardly on the verge outside.

Memories flooded back. I first cycled this back road just after I’d moved to Kendal, when foot and mouth disease closed down all the footpaths. I’d recently joined Ambleside AC, and as we couldn’t run on the hills, we all simply got on our bikes instead. Great rides exploring these little known lanes that wind their way all over the Lake District. 

Today, I wanted to ride past Tarn Hows. I knew the views from there would be stunning. I left my bike near the disabled car park and jogged round to a favourite rocky ridge to take some photos.

From Coniston village, I cycled along the main road back towards Ambleside, leaving my bike behind a wall at the far end of Yew Tree Tarn. Another scenic woodland start to the climb of another “toddler” peak, Holme Fell, already ticked off by my son Ash. It took less than fifteen minutes to run to the summit, including all the stops for photos. 

The reward for such a small amount of effort? 

Views to rival anything in the Alps, with a backdrop of the Coniston and Langdale fells.

Now it was late afternoon and if anything, the light was getting even better, the views totally inspiring. Full of energy from the amazing scenery I was soon making the final climb on the road to my van. I put the bike in the back, jogging up the road, before turning right. Up the steep path that follows the most direct line to the summit of Loughrigg. 

Half way up I stopped to look behind me. Everything was picture postcard perfect. I reached for my camera in my jacket pocket. It wasn’t there! I must have left it behind in my haste to get going. I thought about going back down to the van to get it, then decided the clouds were over developing, and the views at the top wouldn’t be up to much anyway.

At the summit, the views were the most fabulous I’d ever seen. Ever. The clouds had subsided in the cooling air. Light was filtering through to all the peaks, picking out the contours. Lakes and tarns shining silver. 

They say the best photographs are the ones you never take, and this was one of those. A magical end to an afternoon that wasn’t planned. I jogged back down and drove home to Kendal for tea, stopping to pick some daffodils for Claire which were growing wild by the side of the road. 

3 Wainwright summits today, that’s 63 down, 151 to go.

© Graham Patten

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High on Helvellyn – 214 in 214

It took an age to get to Grasmere. I kept on having to stop and get out to take photos of the sunrise, the sky lit up red, not a breath of wind on the lakes.

High on Helvellyn 1

My pack was reassuringly heavy as I jogged up the verge by the deserted road to Dunmail Raise. today I’d remembered my micro spikes. I took a vertical line up Seat Sandal, marvelling at the changing view, the sun casting shadows on the surrounding snow capped peaks. It was going to be an amazing morning and I was going to make the most of it.

High on Helvellyn 2

Hard snow patches surrounded the rocky summit cairn. I headed north east, knowing this was where any lingering snow would be. Micro spikes are a great invention, although they probably encourage people like me to take more unnecessary risk. I was looking for a steep snow slope to have some fun, and came up trumps. A ribbon of white dropped down towards frozen Grisedale Tarn. My technique is simply to lean forward and take big strides and go as fast as possible, making a lot of whooping noise. Absolutely exhilarating, especially at this early hour with no one else around.

High on Helvellyn 3

Climbing the steep, frozen, grassy slope of Dollywagon Pike, I made it more difficult for myself by stopping to take photos every few minutes. The views were stunning. At the top, a huge spectacular cornice meandered it’s way to Helvellyn in the distance.

High on Helvellyn 4

I ran along the ridge, over Nethermost Pike and soon I was standing at the summit cairn, marvelling at the criss crosses of ice on Red Tarn way down below. I was going well and my ankle was holding up, so decided to extend my planned run and make the most of the good weather and being up so high.

High on Helvellyn 5

Dark cloud was building up in the east, and the wind seemed to be getting a bit stronger, or maybe it was just more exposed here. The next three summits were a roller coaster of joy. Hard snow with patchy ice in the shade on the way down, then frozen grassy ground in the sunshine on the way up. I’d taken the spikes off after Seat Sandal, and enjoyed the skittering and sliding in my studs on some of the snowy sections.

High on Helvellyn 6

In quick succession, I ticked off White Side, Raise, then Stybarrow Dodd. The ski tow on Raise was working, although I could only see two people using the slope, then again, it’s still quite early in the morning, especially as the skiers need to hike in to use this particular ski resort.

High on Helvellyn 7

Wainwright must have had some time to kill when he included the next summit, Hart Side. It’s some way off the main Helvellyn ridge, although an easy run on a well defined trod around the steep upper reaches of Deep Dale. 

High on Helvellyn 8

Further on, contouring round Green Side, a pair of Ravens were waiting for me on a rocky outcrop, as though willing me to take their photo. They gave me a deep croak as a pre flight warning and took off, tumbling in the air like show offs, even coming back for another fly past.

High on Helvellyn 9

This is most likely their territory. They probably have eggs in a nest on one of the nearby crags, and I remember they’re one of our earliest nesting birds. Their eggs hatch just in time to feed their young the protein rich afterbirth from new born lambs.

High on Helvellyn 10

Sheffield Pike is one of my favourite hills. The views towards Ullswater and back to Helvellyn are sensational, although it’s the ridge line I love the most. The narrow path winds down steeply  through the heather inviting you to hop around tight cambers and skip over rocks, a balancing act between watching where you’re putting your feet and getting in a quick glance at the views. 

High on Helvellyn 11

Finally Glenridding Dodd really is a doddle when you’ve made this descent, being a short climb through heather to the summit cairn, perched on the edge of the ridge overlooking the lake. 

Max the van was waiting in the main car park of Glenridding village, where I’d left it two days ago. I changed into my freezing cold, spare clothes and drove back to Kendal for a well deserved lunch.

10 Wainwright summits today, that’s 47 down, 167 to go.

© Graham Patten

February 2016

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Foolishly Fabulous – 214 in 214

It was a stupid idea really. I’d badly sprained my ankle only a few days ago, and hadn’t even managed a run since. The forecast looked great for a day in the hills though. After a bout of man flu, then half term family holiday, three weeks have gone by and I’d not done any Wainwright bagging. I was getting way behind my schedule. So, in a way, I’d no choice really. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Going over on my ankle again? OK – then I’ll strap it up.  

Driving over Kirkstone Pass to Glenridding after lunch, I could see grey clouds building up, the early morning blue sky and sunshine had disappeared. I was a bit surprised by how much snow there was on the tops after I’d gone over Kirkstone Pass. 

Foolishly fabulous 1

I parked the van in the National Park car park, signs telling me it’s free. Maybe an attempt to encourage people to the deserted village that took such a battering from the floods? First I strapped up my ankle with gaffa tape. I tried to remember who it was that put me onto gaffa tape for ankle strapping.

Foolishly fabulous 2

Definitely someone from my old fell running club Pudsey and Bramley. Rupert maybe? Or was that the Super Glue for blisters, or Araldite for cracked skin? Anyway, I remember strapping my ankle before a fell race with some expensive, zinc oxide tape when someone said gaffa tape would do the job just as well. A few weeks later I tried it and haven’t used anything else for almost twenty years.

Foolishly fabulous 10

Setting off along the road to Patterdale, I cut across the football pitch to start the climb to Arnison Crag. The ground was frozen, and I was wary about my foot plant. Soon I found a rhythm up the climb, using my poles and making good progress. From the summit, I took a contouring trod around the spur and then a big, steep climb to the summit of Birks.

Foolishly fabulous 5

All around the views were impressive. A big cornice snaked along the whole length of the Helvellyn ridge. Higher up on my route, St Sunday Crag was white. I started up the slope, picking my way along frozen snow to the top. 

Foolishly fabulous 6

Ahead lay Fairfield, and as I started the climb up the arete in the snow, I remembered I’d taken my micro spikes out of my running pack before going on holiday. Ah well, I probably won’t need them. Higher up, the snow became hard and frozen. Fortunately there were some snow steps filled with spindrift and it was easy to kick steps into the holes. Nearing the summit, above me there was a bank of 50-60m of flattened cornice. I started up the steep slope, first kicking into old steps. The snow now became as hard as iron, frozen solid. 

Foolishly fabulous 7

There were only the imprints from crampons, and now I was half way up and committed. I couldn’t kick steps into the rock hard snow, so instead I used my poles, picking away at the snow until I had a small ledge. As it got steeper, I found a small hole in the snow, obviously from an ice axe. By taking my glove off, I found I could insert the forefinger of my right hand into the hole – it was even curved down slightly. It gave me some reassurance in case I lost my footing. 

Foolishly fabulous 7

Working my way upwards, I kept chipping away with my poles, and finding the small hole from the ice axe with my finger. The most difficult bit was just after the steepest section of the cornice. Suddenly, the hole from the ice axe had disappeared. Whoever had been up before me had simply used crampons on this flatter section having no further need of their ice axe. Yet I had nothing to hold on to anymore, and felt foolish for getting into such a situation and extremely vulnerable. One slip, and I was a gonna.

Foolishly fabulous 8

On the frozen, iced up, rock before the summit, I realised I’d made it and let out a whoop of delight. I was amazed to find it had taken me more than 45 minutes to overcome the snow slope. Running off the summit of Fairfield was interesting. The snow had thawed and refrozen, and the descent was treacherous with ice. Up Great Rigg, then dropping out of the snow line to Stone Arthur, before contouring round the valley and climbing to Heron Pike. The final easy descent to Nab Scar, trying to be as careful as possible on the frozen rock. 

Foolishly fabulous 4

Reaching the bus stop, I found I’d missed the bus by just 3 minutes. I had a cup of tea and a date slice at the Rydal Hall Cafe, then walked the last section along the bridleway to Ambleside to catch the 555 bus home to Kendal. Fabulous!

8 Wainwright summits today, that’s 37 down, 177 to go.

© Graham Patten

Thursday 25th February 2016

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