So I’m in the Lake District for a week and it’s quite an important week for me. In two days it will be a year since I almost died up here. I’ve been limping out and about in the Yorkshire Dales, and made a couple of visits to the Lakes, but not made it out onto the fells. Last year’s date with gravity happened on the Monday of my week up here so my plans for blogging some routes went awry. In fact all my plans for the next year went awry. I’m excited to be here then, and anxious to get up and get something down in (digital) print – I’ve just joined Outdoor Bloggers and I’m hoping to make some new friends who share a sense of wonder. Yesterday, I had a quick whip up and round Barrow just to get warmed up. Today, I have the majestic (if knobbly) Causey Pike in my sights. I’ve some kit to put put through its paces and I want to see how fit I am for the longer walks.
It’s showery out and the wind looks a bit blustery. I’m trying out some Montane gear – the Extreme smock I reviewed earlier this year and Terra Guide pants – and a new pair of boots – Scarpa Rebel Lite (terrible name, great boot). The clothes are weatherproof but not waterproof and I’ve decided to see what their limits are in this pretty dismal weather. I’ve also got my MacPac Pitch rucksack with me this week, for its first real adventures after my accident. It bounced 30-40 metres down the mountainside with me and the only damage was a snapped buckle – a shame the same could not be said for me. At least the rucksack didn’t go on about it ad infinitum on Twitter.
I go south through Braithwaite village and take the Swinside road, turning off it and over the cattle grid for the farm track to Braithwaite Lodge. Behind the lodge, a path runs around the eastern flank of Barrow. A stand of commercial (it looks to me) pine affords me some shelter from the weather before I drop back down to the road. My right leg is stiff but reasonably co-operative and I have hopes that I’ll make it up over Causey Pike and down through Sail Pass to Barrow Door. I take the little bridge over Stoneycroft Gill and leave the road there. Heaving up through the bracken on a good track, I aim for Rowling End – the steep prow of Causey Pike.
If (for some reason) never-ending, gradual ascents are your thing then you can cut along the side of Rowling End toward Sleet Hause. You’re clearly wrong, of course, but who am I to judge? I barrel breathlessly up the side of the End, my feet stuttering on the wet slate. Or it could be shale. It’s metamorphic and built up in thin layers anyway. Whatever it is, it’s a bit slippery and a reminder that my fitness is not yet where it was. Soon, though, I’m looking at the Lone Tree of Causey Pike. It’s not the only tree on the Pike; there are dozens of them, but this one stands on the ridge, proud and lonesome and visible from the road. You have to admire its tenacity. I bet the other trees hate it.
From the top of Rowling End, the ridge runs long and level to the foot of the summit. The path is narrow and flanked by knee high bracken. My trousers have stood up to the wind driven showers reasonably well so far, but this is a bit much for them. The cold clasp of sodden ferns sees them off – 150 metres or so of soaking vegetation is just a bit much. So that answers that question then. The wind is a bit fearsome on this section, blowing straight from the south. This part of the ridge is a pretty broad and I’m pretty much in the middle of it – no cause for alarm so far, but the approach to the summit may be another matter.
At the foot of the summit ridge, I pause for coffee and cake. Since you ask, it was a Moroccan almond and orange cake. My mum made it. It was very good. Refreshed but slightly intimidated by the strengthening wind, I retrieve my trekking pole from my pack and sally forth and upwards. I’ve climbed perhaps 20 metres when a sudden gust rocks me sideways and I am forced to brace myself against the ground with the pole. For perhaps 20 seconds I hold position in the wind’s teeth until it slackens. Perhaps 15 years ago, I was forced to cling, with all four limbs, to Grisedale Pike in similar conditions. It was frightening then and it’s frightening now; at my fittest, I know I would be backing off from this. As I feel I’ve already imposed on Keswick MRT enough for one lifetime, I take the opportunity of the lull to turn back.
I love steep ascents and gradual descents – that’s why I’ve gone at the walk in this direction. Still, best laid plans and such…Downhill is my right leg’s least favourite thing and steep downhill even less so. At Sleet Hause, I drop off the side of the ridge to get out of the wind and start the big hobble down under the side of Rowling End. It’s less fun than I’d imagined it would be, and I’d imagined something fairly miserable. Still, pretty soon I’m back down at the bridge. Despite some pretty shocking weather, the smock has kept me comfortable (the hood is excellent) and although my legs are wet, they are warm. The boots have been really very good – just the right level of stiffness (given that they’ll take a crampon) and a great fit for my narrow feet. The only downside is that as the trousers are not waterproof, rain has run down the inside of them and into the boots. I squelch back along the road toward the Braithwaite Lodge path. As a bonus for the grimness, I see a mottled, brown shape sculling up from the bracken to my left: a woodcock (no laughing at the back) – only the third I’ve ever seen.
Ultimately, I knew that Causey Pike would be there another day (after all, it’s not the first time I’ve been up it) and it was the right decision to turn round. Whether I should have set off in the first place is a different question. I had a weather forecast before I set off so I knew that I was heading into some difficult conditions. I’d chosen a route I knew well so that navigation wouldn’t be a concern even if the cloud came right down, and I was well wrapped up. So yes, I think it was a reasonable decision to set off too. In less familiar surroundings, I’d have chosen a low level route. Or a pub.