As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’m on course to complete twenty Quality Mountain Days (QMDs) sometime this decade, so that I can book myself on a a Mountain Leader course. On this occasion, and for the first time, I took our 12 year-old son Ben with me to the Lake District.
By way of context, inspired by the film School of Rock, our family has a saying that we trot out, usually with a wink or a glint in our eye: “You’re not hardcore, unless you live hardcore.” It’s our way of encouraging one another. What Ben completed today was impressive for a boy of his age. I didn’t take him over Striding Edge, despite his pleas, because people die on there and, well, that’s for another trip (not his first!)
A few days earlier we had planned our 17km route together using map OS4 and a HB pencil. I also booked us into Ambleside YHA, which is one of my favourites in the Lake District. As it was Bank Holiday weekend, the prices were all over the place, and it turned out to be cheaper for us to get a 3-person private room that for both of us to stay in men’s dorms. Crazy.
Before going, we transferred the route we’d drawn out on paper onto the OS Maps app on my phone, and then logged into my account on a computer to view the fly-through. The initial ascent looked quite steep and, indeed, it proved to be just that. At one point I thought it was raining, but it was just the sweat dripping from my head!
Thankfully, it was an almost-perfect day for walking. Not too cold, not too sunny, and virtually no wind. We did had the world’s most gentle hail at one point, which was almost laughable.
Further on, I remember looking up at Grisedale Pike after coming down Fairfield and saying to Ben that it looked like entering Mordor. He smiled and, a few steps later, I realised that he’s never watched The Lord of the Rings films. Note to self: fix that Dad fail right away!
At about this point, Ben was tempted by a shortcut, but I convinced him to stick to our plan. After sliding on the scree down Grisedale Pike and Ben falling over three times (yes, I counted), we decided to walk around the right-hand side of the tarn instead of the left. This was mainly because we wanted to go across the stepping-stones, next to which we stopped and had a snack there.
The way up Dollywaggon Pike was perhaps the most arduous section of the walk. It was at this point I taught Ben about what to do if one of us got hurt, how to use the whistle to make short blasts, when to use his mobile phone, and how to keep injured person warm. I’m not sure how much went in, as we were trying to ensure a bald guy with a dog didn’t overtake us. (Ben’s quite competitive, a trait he must have inherited from his mother…)
Once we got up Dollywaggon Pike, the walk across to High Crag and Nethermost Pike was easy. We avoided the mountain biker coming down Helvellyn, and had lunch at the top. It was a bit smelly as I think someone into the joys of public urination had marked their territory. We also got talking to some people who delighted in telling us that part of the route that Ben was proud to be achieving had been completed by their sons when they were five. Some people just make you 🙄
As I’ve already mentioned, we had already decided not to do Striding Edge this time around, and instead came down Swirral Edge. This seemed like particularly hard work, which makes sense after reading this article on the ten most dangerous British mountains:
[T]he most dangerous part of the mountain [Helvellyn] is actually the short descent onto the start of Swirral Edge which, particularly in winter conditions, can be lethally slippery.
After seeing no-one for the first part of our walk, this section was a lot busier. I noticed that a lot of people didn’t seem very prepared for a mountain walk, wearing pretty flimsy trainers. No wonder they were going so slowly!
The route back was pretty straightforward, although I did find it hilarious the number of times Ben adjusted his estimates of when we would get back. Now, fair enough, we did get back earlier than I thought we would, but his first guess was way off. The optimism of youth!
In the end, after tracking it on my GPS-enabled watch, it took us 5 hours 37 minutes to walk 17.58km. To his credit, Ben didn’t slow me down at all — in fact, I had to ask him to wait for me a couple of times! I’ll be taking him again.
Things I learned:
- Despite our preparations, we forgot gaiters, towels, and hayfever tablets. We didn’t need the gaiters, thankfully, and I managed to hire towels and buy the tablets.
- There was no place to park where I’d planned, which added a bit extra onto the walk (which we actually reclaimed via the shortcut around the tarn).
- We wasted 30 minutes driving back, as I went the wrong way. There was no signal and I’m used to using Google Maps. I should think and plan more about that.