Note: I’m near to completing the twenty Quality Mountain Days (QMDs) required to book myself on a a Mountain Leader course.


I’m sitting writing this in our garden in the blazing sunshine. In front of me, my tent, which I only put up again to dry out about 10 minutes ago, is ready to be put away.

A day only counts as a QMD if you do something that takes you out of your comfort zone a bit. So, if you go up the same mountain by the same route a couple of times, it only counts as one QMD. This time, I thought I’d throw some camping into the mix.

I haven’t been camping by myself before, ever. To ease myself in gently, I thought I’d camp outside a hostel, although to add a bit of spice I thought I’d make it Skiddaw House, the highest hostel in Britain.

As a result, I had to carry my tent, sleeping bag, and other equipment I’d need for an overnight stay, to the hostel. I planned my routes accordingly:

QMD 17

On the first day, I’d planned to walk up from the public car park next to the Blencathra Field Centre, leave my large rucksack, and then do a circular route around Helvellyn while carrying my smaller rucksack. On the second, I planned to walk to High Pike, come back to Skiddaw House and pack up my tent, and then head back down to the car.

Setting off towards Skiddaw House

Neither went as planned, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, unlike Santa Claus, when I make a list I have a habit of forgetting to check it twice. As a result, I didn’t take my gaiters or walking poles. Second, the routes I’d planned weren’t really long enough.

View from near the top of Skiddaw

As a result, on the first day, after ascending Sale How and Skiddaw, I amended my route to also head up Little Calva and Great Calva. After a very steep ascent up Dry Gill, a few spots of rain turned into a downpour and, despite putting on my waterproofs, I got absolutely soaking. Trudging down through the heather back to Skiddaw House wasn’t an enjoyable experience.

The rain coming in as I ascended Great Calva

Although I tracked my route using my smartwatch, I kept forgetting to press ‘continue’ after any short rests or breaks. As a result, I’ve only got the first four hours of data for the QMD 17, but I was definitely out for over five hours in total!

Altitude over the first four hours of QMD 17

That night, after pitching my tent on wet ground in the rain, I went inside and spent a very enjoyable evening making dinner, conversing with those staying in the hostel itself, and drinking whisky.

Skiddaw House

When I reluctantly headed out to my tent, it rained until midnight, but according to my stats, I did manage to get some deep sleep in before waking at 05:30.

QMD 18

The next morning, I went into the hostel for breakfast and to get changed. Given how wet my tent was, I left it up to dry out as best it could, made some lunch, and started striding out towards High Pike.

Heading out for QMD 18

My boots gave me some problems on this trip. They’re about 12 years old, and so had many pairs of insoles. Unfortunately, while the most recent gel insoles I’d purchases are comfortable, the bottom of them have lost all stickiness, meaning they roll around my boot. I kept having to stop to sort them out and, indeed, I’ve got a few blisters.

Walking along a river

Towards the end of last year, I gave up drinking coffee as part of my daily routine. I discovered that it was correlated with me getting migraines. What I had found, however, was that Lucozade, coffee, and other caffeine-based stimulants, seemed fine when I was doing any kind of exercise (like walking).

High Pike

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case this time around. After dragging myself up High Pike, I decided to head towards Carrock Fell, as we’d talked about the remnants of an Iron Age hill fort there the previous evening. It was extremely windy. I was struggling a bit. A fell runner nonchalantly ran past me.

Carrock Fell

I kept on plugging away when the tell-tale signs of migraine started to appear; that little coloured shimmer that appears in the corner of your eye and starts working its way over. I took one of my Rizatriptan tablets and drank plenty of water. I made it to the top of Carrock Fell, and flopped into a little circular shelter made of stones.

Sheltering at the top of Carrock Fell

By this point, I knew that this was going to be a longer walk than I’d planned, so I tried to shave some time off by traversing the side of Carrock Fell and making my way down to the path. In my migrainey state, I tripped and fell a couple of times, but only into the bracken and long grass.

Walking back to Skiddaw House

Once I made my way to the path back to Skiddaw House, I once again took off my boots, sorted out the insoles, and removed my waterproofs. The 5km from there back to the hostel was entirely on autopilot. I felt like a broken man.

Back at Skiddaw House

Back at the hostel (finally!) I sat down for a minute, then set to work packing up the tent. It was still a bit wet, and I didn’t have the energy to take it down properly, so I stuffed it in its bag, and packed everything inside the larger rucksack that I’d left inside the hostel.

Almost back to the car

The walk down from the hostel to the car was another 5km, but this time with my large rucksack on my back. It felt like double that. I would have collapsed at the boot of my car, to be honest, had there not been a group of schoolchildren listening to their teacher pontificating.

Conclusion

As I’ve mentioned before, every time I go on a walk I have a music track that ends up playing on repeat in my head. This isn’t something I choose, it’s just something that happens. Quite appropriately, this time around it was Got To Keep On by The Chemical Brothers. The lyrics are simple but were oh-so-appropriate:

Gotta keep on, gotta keep on
Gotta keep on, gotta keep on

[…]

And the rain comes down
Like tears, like tears
And the rain comes down
Like tears, like tears

There are many things I learned about myself and about spending time in the mountains during this trip. These include:

  • Camping isn’t such a big deal when you’re staying next to a hostel
  • Double-check equipment lists before leaving
  • Don’t drink coffee, even when doing exercise

I’ve only got a couple of QMDs left to do now, and I plan to do at least one of them with one other person. Although yesterday in particular was hard-going, I’m really glad I did it, and can definitely see why this is a requirement of getting on the Mountain Leader course!