Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Hiking, paddling & forgetting the steep bits

I looked up at the path ahead of me. And up. And up. It looked very steep. I hadn’t climbed this path for three years (almost to the day) and all I had remembered was a joyful skip across high summits. The steep ascent of High Crag had been blocked from my mind. Maybe I should just call it a day and wander back down to Buttermere....

Beside the lake
My fabulous hiking day had started two hours earlier at around 7.30am from Buttermere. My aim was Haystacks, High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike. I walked along the lakeshore with the fells and clouds reflecting in the glassy water and lambs skipping nearby. Idyllic. Ahead of me lay Haystacks and it was a good two miles or so before the start of the ascent so I kept up a good pace, passing through the sleepy awakenings of a large group of people in tents who had been part of the weekend’s paragliding event. There was also an unusual hiking sound – that of empty beer bottles being put in bin-liners after the evening revelries. Clearly a good night was had!

I reached the farm at Gatesgarth, the landmark where the proper route up Haystacks begins. Other early starters were parking, chatting and deciding their routes. I had the path through the valley to the foot of the slopes to myself though. The dark crags of Haystacks loomed imposingly ahead of me and the blue lakes of Buttermere and Crummock Water winked at me in the glimpses of sunshine behind.
View down the valley

It was an easy climb up the path along Warnscale Bottom to the ridge (notwithstanding the need for a few view stops – but what a view down the valley!) I took the less popular path on the right as it was closer to the crags and before long was admiring the grander fells of Great Gable, Pillar and even glimpses of the Scafells from the ridge. There was still cloud about in that direction (Great Gable has its own cloud factory on the summit in my experience) but it was warm and beautiful.

Innominate Tarn
The summit of Haystacks is just lovely – rocky ridges and silent tarns. The inky-looking Blackbeck Tarn came into sight and beyond that the pretty Innominate Tarn. Each nestled amongst intimate crags and watched over by towering neighbours. There are several unnamed tarns as well all with their own charm. The only drawback I could see is Haystacks has more false summits from that direction than any fell I have climbed. Each time I got to the top of a crag I thought “ah – this must be it” only to see a higher one just a bit further on. On the actual summit there are also three cairns that all look as though they could be the summit cairn. I traipsed to all three but am glad I did as it is a lovely area to explore and the views are better from nearer the edge.
The steep ascent at Gamlin End

I headed off in the direction of my next challenge – High Crag. The path was rocky and care was needed to avoid twisting an ankle but the views to Ennerdale and Buttermere were superb as the cloud slowly cleared from Pillar. The route lay over a crag called Seat and it was from the summit of Seat that I first properly took in the challenge of Gamlin End on High Crag. Each step I took towards it, the path looked steeper. And steeper still. Nothing about it looked inviting. Should I climb it or just go back down to Buttermere valley that was so tantalisingly close?

Either determination or stubbornness kicked in so I took a deep breath and started the ascent. With an outstanding view of Pillar Rock to take my mind off the steepness, I made progress quickly. The stone-pitched path made the going a lot easier on the calf muscles and the breeze whispering around my ears was welcome. When the path ended and it was just scree underfoot it was tougher but the top was within touching distance by then and on reaching it I was delighted I had kept going. Stretching out before me were miles and miles of undulating fells. The clouds cast dark patchy shadows over them and the sun highlighted crags and crevices like a patchwork quilt. All the high fells were in view – from Skiddaw and Blencathra in the north to the Scafells and Coniston range in the south, Pillar and Kirk Fell in the west and Helvellyn in the east. Spectacular.
The horse/camel

Beautiful views from the summits
This then was what I had remembered - these stunning views and ahead of me a ridge route without any hard work over two further summits. I may have forgotten all about the steep parts but I definitely remembered being on top of the world and almost strolling between summits. It took no time at all to reach High Stile but I did catch a glimpse of what looked like either a horse or a camel on the slopes of Fleetwith Pike behind (or perhaps I had been in the sun too long!) It just goes to show it is as important to look back at the views behind as it is the ones in front when you are hiking.
Red Pike is well named. It is very pointed and as the sun caught the rust-red rocks I was reminded in a way of Ayres Rock in Australia when I saw the sunset over it many years ago. It is how I imagine burning gold looks. 

The highlight of the path to Red Pike though is Bleaberry Tarn. A beautiful oasis below the ridge, amongst the red rocks and surrounded by dark crags. Having almost given up on the slopes of High Crag, on the summit of Red Pike I toyed with the idea of heading off to Starling Dodd. The appeal of lunch at Bleaberry Tarn was too great though and I headed down the badly eroded path which has turned into a scree slope over time, using any point of contact I felt appropriate whilst also conscious that the rocks were very red and I wanted to keep my trousers green!
Appropriately named Red Pike

I reached the tarn without any greater incident than my hands turning an Oompa-Loompa orange. I walked all the way around the tarn and then found a good spot to eat lunch and more importantly paddle. Oh what bliss it was putting my hot tired feet into the cold clear water. As I waggled my feet in the tarn and looked in turn at the surrounding crags and to the more distant fells, it was hard to believe there could be a more beautiful place on earth. Magical.

Bleaberry Tarn
It was an unkind and steep trek back to Buttermere shore with my feet already tired (and protesting significantly at having boots back on) but once back at lake level it was just a stroll back to the village.

A perfect walk on a perfect day (see – already forgotten the steep bit again!) and demonstrating the natural combination of hiking with paddling in a tarn.

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