There are two kinds of climbers, those who climb because their heart sings when they’re in the mountains, and all the rest. – Alex Lowe
Sitting in a steppe above a tarn below Dollywagon Pike. Feet are in crocks, tea’s steeping, the alicoop is ready for my weary body. There’s just enough wind to keep the midges from finding my delicious O+. A few sheep bleet from various ledges. Not only is it stereophonic, but in a third dimension of altitude.
Today has been the most glorious day yet. But it did not start that way. Last night, a cool breeze moved in and cleaned the mist from Blencathra just as I began eating dinner. Clouds turning golden as the sun lazily set close to 11. All this was good news for the next day, as cooler air might push out the humidity and thunderstorms, as well as the view-destroying fog.
But late at night, it crept in settling right on the alicoop. I love sleeping with both vestibules open, but had to quickly close into the chrysalis for the remainder of the night.
And it stubbornly remained in my little dell by the beck when I awoke. I needed to wear both rain coat and pants to stay dry as I fixed my breakfast and rued the fact that this would be my last major peak climbed in a white out.
My plan was to crack up the gully and meet the meandering trail along the Dodds ending at the magnificent horseshoe-shaped Helvellyn, England’s second highest peak and highly recommended by Wainwright as the most thrilling ridges between St. Bees and Robin Hoods Bay. Yesterday was a bit of a disappointment with Blencathra in mist and tackling its Sharp Edge out of the question with the recent rain.
But the skies began to look like they were changing, so I packed up and started the day. The trail was not entirely obvious, just packed down in areas through sucking marsh. The English don’t bother with “spats” or gators. You pretty much have to make your peace with the fact that you will get wet. Rusty brown water oozed over the tops of my trainers as each step made a thwappy kind of sucking sound.
But what a reward to reach the ridge, a main trail like a super highway and to come this time not into mist but above the cloud shyly revealing the peaks I’d walked, first Blencathra, then Skiddaw in the distance. Ahead, the Dodds unfolded – Calfhow Pike, Great Dodd, Watson’s Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, and the Browncove Crags in sensual rolling curves easy to walk and filled with views becoming more apparent as the day warmed up.
Soon the long upward sloping angle of Helvellyn herself appeared and I counted myself exceedingly lucky to be granted the perfect day of little wind and full sunshine. As I mentioned, the fell is shaped like a horseshoe with the two craggy arms reaching down to a sparkling tarn. Beautiful enough from the top, I threw off my bag for a snack to take in the magnificent view. It was a catalog of the last week of hiking. Ennerdale Water in the far distance to the south, and each peak I’d climbed one after another: Pillar, Sca Fell, Great Gable – where Napes Needles positions herself at the base – Cat Bells, Skiddaw and Blencathra.
But what to do about the edges? On a day like today I simply had to be on them, but my pack wold make it awkward if not dangerous. It occurred to me that I could simply leave my pack at the top and do a little loop going down Swirral Edge, pass Red Tarn and shoot back up Striding Edge. And glory hallelujah, I have my mini daypack with me to take a few items like my camera and passport.
I can tell you after seven days of pushing all out up and down peaks, there was nothing like cruising without a pack. My breath is good, my strength is really up and my balance surprised me, especially on the exposed rocky portion where I skipped from rock to rock, truly feeling like I was striding.
I should mention here again that this portion of the hike has not been part of the official Coast-to-Coast trail, but even its creator, Alfred Wainwright suggests we all come up with our own path, so adding the three peaks over 3000 feet, plus some climbing and some spectacular ridges, I added maybe 50 more miles to the total hike, but have had the most incredible time. Carrying all my kit does slow me down, but it has made me far more nimble and free.
Helvellyn is an option for those doing the official C2C, so as of now, I am back on the trail. In a few days, I leave the Lakes, sated and happy. For now, it’s a possible dip in the tarn, some food and a long nap in the sunshine. In the words of e. e. cummings, “I thank thee god for most this amazing day.”