Matt comes and picks me up early morning and we head out, and both realise it’s the first time we’ve both been on an adventure with just two of us, which is a surprise. Last time we were in the mountains together it was years ago when a load of us hiked up Snowdon, and smashed a crazy amount of whisky. Which didn’t mix well with my pretty bad fear of heights at the time and the vertigo the hangover brought on! The weather on the drive to the lakes is nothing short of spectacular, so it’s hardly a surprise when as we get closer it get’s busier and busier. When we finally find a place to park in Ambleside we manage to conquer the queue to the pub and sit there having a pint, and while we are chatting away about what to do with the day Matt hires a motorboat, which would be super random if it wasn’t Matt. It’s all good though I’m always game for boat adventures, but as we get into the boat and sit down we are both disappointed as we realise that not only is the boat electric, but it’s also got a screwed in metal band across the accelerator to stop us driving it at the maximum speed. It also doesn’t stop me and Matt both taking turns at 360 turning the boat the moment we are in the middle of the lake! While we are in the progress of one veeeeery slow arc we can hear the motor struggling. It’s the most nerve wracking super slow thing I’ve done. It passes through my head this would be the stupidest thing to be rescued from a lake for, knackering what can only be described as an upscaled version of a remote control boat. Speed2 it is not.

Somehow I manage to bring the boat back into the dock without causing a load of shipwrecks, and as we both want to do a wild swim at least once while we are here, off we go to try and find some water shoes for Matt in a size 13 which we probably have more chance of finding a dodo just walking down the street. Unsurprisingly the wild swimming shop, something that’s definitely not out of place in the lake district doesn’t have water shoes in clown foot size. I’m thinking maybe we just buy a child’s wetsuit and tie strips of it around his feet.

We check into the national trust accommodation at Great Langdale, which is the Langdale bunkhouse. It’s about as basic as you can get but I have to admit it was a real struggle getting into anywhere at this point of summer after lockdown, nobody seems to be travelling abroad and everybody know seems to have become a hiker or a runner. In one sense I’m glad so many people have developed a love for the outdoors. In the other I wish wish they would piss off and stop crowding the summits, that so many of them litter and that I now avoid some of my old favourite places because they totally lose their magic when hundreds of people descend on them. Anyway, the bunkhouse is what you’d expect, really basic and when i say cozy I mean I can’t yawn and stretch without elbowing at least one wall. It’s also got a faint whiff of hikers feet but you block it out pretty quick. The price was good though and it’s always going to be better than a tent!

After dropping our gear off in the room everywhere on site appears to be closed for food so we end up buying a load of stuff from the shop. And it’s not long before we are sat on a picnic bench outside the place we are staying, boiling hot dogs and drinking Tequila and Gin. Which probably isn’t the best combo the night before a mountain climb. I moderate myself for once though, I know if I get a hangover I’ll get massive vertigo tomorrow, and that’s really the last thing I need when i’m hanging off the edge of a mountain by a rope. One thing I do instantly get which should probably not be so surprised by (being as I’ve managed to somehow survive to this age) is raging indigestion. As usual I hardly sleep, I rarely do the first night of being away.

Time For A Scramble

The next morning all my alarms go off and I’m headed off to find my instructor Bryan. I’m definitely not off to a good start as I get lost just finding the carpark Bryan is waiting for me in. A pretty spaced out lad in sandals points me in the direction of the carpark and tells me how he’s wildcamping out here and meditating to reset. I’m about to hoof myself up side of a mountain to achieve the same effect. I guess we all do things a little different. I finally find Bryan next to his van and we have a chat about what the plan for the day is. Bryan asks me what I’ve done before, and I say I’ve done grade one some grade two and indoor and outdoor climbing. I tell him I think I’ll only be comfortable up to grade two, and I say this because in my mind I don’t feel like I’d handle the exposure from Grade 3 scrambles. Remember that for later in the story.. As we discuss what I can do one of his leader mates pulls up and observes my as yet unused gear. ‘time to put some scratches on that’ he points out. I look down at his gear and realise there’s basically no paint on it at all. Theres probably plenty of you reading this who know what scrambling is, but for those who don’t it is: as described by the BMC (British Mountaineering Council) “the middle ground between walking and climbing” and scrambling grades range from 1 to 3. One being areas like Crib Goch on Snowdon which is really exposed but it’s essential walking with some section that require your hands and feet on the rock. Grade 2 tends to be scrambles that for some might have to involve a rope for safety and Grade 3 tens to be the closest to rock climbing where what’s referred to as ‘protection’ or climbing gear has to be placed into the rock to anchor the climbers to the mountain.

Climbing Waterfalls

We start by hiking straight up an almost dried up waterfall, which is pretty fun, I think he’s probably trying to get an idea about how comfortable I am scrambling up stuff and he asks me if I know what he means by ‘smearing’which is where, lacking a solid foot hold, you stick your rubber clad foot against a surface and rely on pressure and the grippy rubber to hold you there long enough to stop you falling off. you really need to trust your approach / climbing shoes for this. Part way up the waterfall a white face peeks over the large boulder above us and it takes us a second to realise its a tiny sheep that just had a solid shearing and it’s looking down at us confused as hell as if it’s thinking ‘what the hell are these humans doing now?’

Further up we get to the top of the falls and head towards the foot of a crag in the distance we are going to be scrambling up. its at this point all the gear comes out and Bryan sets about reminding me how to lead belay. We practice setting up anchors and he shows me how to place passive and active gear in the rocks. And this helps because I guess i feel like I need to trust my life to these bits of metal wedged into the rock of the mountain, and that’s a lot of trust to put in a chunk of metal you’ve just violated a mountain with. Of course it’s not as simple as that, you have to choose a good crack to wedge your nuts in and give it a kick, inspect it, you don’t just chuck it in there in case the rock crumbles. Which is never good being as they are the thing holding you to the mountain if you fall…

After a bit of practice of using boulders as anchors and by that I mean ways of attaching us, the climbers to the climbing surface. After that we sit on a nearby boulder and look up and the route and Bryan attempts to get to me visual the route set out in the guide, I have to admit I can’t see it despite his best efforts. We head over to the foot of the cliff and Bryan gets me to put him on belay, not because he really needs me to but more as practice for me lead belaying. I tell him to ‘climb when ready’ and he responds ‘climbing’ and then he practically skips up the cliff face making it look easy. “This rocks red hot” he says, which considering the weather isn’t that surprising. I’ve never been in the lakes when it’s as hot as it is today. The weathers absolutely perfect for scrambling. As he climbs the rocks climbing gear on the rocks and on his harness rattle together like wind chimes. He keeps climbing, and puts a nut into the rock (I’m still talking about climbing gear, he loves mountains but probably not that much) and as he gets high up on the cliff face he disappears from sight behind a rocky outcrop, the only sign that he is still up there’s somewhere being the gentle sway off the rope and clinking of climbing gear. At this point I have to admit the sense of being alone on a cliff kicks in hard. I keep paying out the rope which keeps on moving so I know he’s still moving too. Eventually he shouts down he’s made it and he’s going to build an anchor. After a while the rope goes taut and he call’s down ‘Mark is that you?’ which means am I on the rope. So he’s checking to make sure he’s actually belaying me from above and the ropes not just caught on anything. I call back ‘thats me, climbing’ before heading up the narrow rock channel that turns out instantly not to be as easy as Bryan made it look. I’m smearing and bridging (feet spread between one rope surface and another) with my feet on either side until I reach the first nut he’s placed in the rock. I balance here, reaching nervously to the rear of my harness for my appropriately named ‘nutbuster’ ( a device used to scrape the gear back out of the crack in the rock) maybe it’s the adrenaline but it takes me a few sketchy attempts to hack the bit of gear free and then add it to my harness. That done I continue up the steep, chute like rock. The rock itself is far more grippy that it looks, criss crossed with the scars of erosion leaving lots of handholds, my heart is still in my mouth though because it’s still bloody high.

Testing The Fear Out

Soon, after a few hairy moments I reach the next ledge where Bryan in waiting, having set a few camping devices into a crack running up the rock face. I clove hitch myself into the gear to make myself safe and Bryan sets off again, this time stating thatches done this part so many times he won’t need a belay. So off he goes leaving me on the small grassy ledge. I’ve been in this precarious position before but this time it’s way higher than I’ve previously been. The climbing might be easier but this time we are relying on gear we have put in the rocks ourselves. As I look up at the cams Bryan’s set in the rock, it dawns on me I should step back towards the cliff edge to load them correctly, though this sounds like the last thing anyone would want to do. I grab the slings and yank on them as if to confirm they won’t magically pop out the rock and let me tumble to my death, leaving a stain down the rock like a fly spread over a car windscreen. You think I’d be put off as only a few weeks ago I was getting shown pictures of brutal head injuries by our outdoor first aid instructor, but nope. I take a deep breath and lean back with my heart rate rising, to feel the reassuring resistance of the equipment, holding me to the rock face.cAt this point Bryan is nowhere to be seen so I decide to test my fear and see if I can I turn round and look down for an extended period without proper freaking out like I used to when I first started climbing. So, I look down over my shoulder at at the rocks, poking through the grass about twenty metres below me like crooked teeth. I almost panic, adrenaline surging for a second, then it just subsides because its a really decent view and it’s a really nice sunny day. I guess that answers that question, I’m clearly much more used to this now, because that really wasn’t that bad, in fact it was a nice buzz. I hear Bryan shout from above, I pull myself back fully on to the rock race, remove my safety knot and begin to climb again, with more confidence. When I reach the next ledge we repeat the same again and Bryan shouts down to climb again, only thing is as I unclip myself I haven’t actually remembered to tell Bryan to take in the slack in the rope, so if I fall it’ll be about a meter before he catches me. I try not to think of this as I shake the rope and nervously shout up to him ask him to take it in!

Just below the top of the route, we stop on a ledge just below the top of the crag and have a chat. This is the point Bryan casually mentions that what we’ve just done was actually a grade three scramble. I’m actually pretty surprised that I’ve managed that but also really stoked that I’m capable of more than I thought. As I look down far below us at the small black dots of walkers on the trail, like ants off to raid a picnic I realise that I’m now either way more desensitised to this stuff now that I thought, or just a lot more confident than I was. It’s a far cry from when I was a student years ago and I could barely climb up an indoor bouldering wall without having a freakout. And I’m feeling pretty proud of having tackled that fear head on over the years.

Harrison Stickle

When we reach the top of the crag Bryan asks if I’m up for doing more routes and I am, the day is pretty young. So we head down towards Stickle tarn. It’s a really hot summers day so there’s quite a few people swimming in it. I almost ask Bryan if he wants to jack it in for the day and just go and float about in the cool water. It feels like an oven out here at the moment, like when you open the door and you nearly lose your eyebrows kind of thing checking on a pizza. Bryan tells me the mountain we are heading for the foot of is called ‘Harrison Stickle’ which sounds like some sort of 70’s rock band. It’s a bit more gnarly in places than we’ve already experienced today. We get some interested looks from passing hikers as we flake the rope out and then start going straight up the side of it.

Part way off and the views are amazing, it’s brilliant blue sky and part way up I stop for a minute just to appreciate how high up we are, looking across to the other mountain summit with it’s steep sides and scree slopes in the distance. I keep moving and I guess the thing here is because we are heading for the summit it just feels far more exposed, in places the scrambling sections are pretty easy achievable but they appear to jut out over near sheer drops, which means there’s more than one occasion, on in particular almost at the summit, where the scrambling section is about half metre above a sheer drop to the valley below, where Bryan can hear me swearing my head off talking to myself like an mad person below him ‘Shit, shit, no don’t put your foot there! Breathe!’ however I eventually reach the summit, buzzing but with super sweaty palms.

Before even getting half way down, the flow of water coming out of my hydration pack comes to a sudden gurgling stop, and I cringe as the last drop of hot rubbery water passes my lips. We are still going to be out here at least another two hours, but there’s nothing either of us can really do at this point. This just means I’m going to be super uncomfortable and dehydrated for a while. We eventually make it down the mountain and through dungeon Ghyll which is a proper hazard as Bryan points out, the sides of the Ghyll are severely sloped and if you feel into it you’d be very lucky to survive. Funnily enough as he is pointing this out almost as if they have heard him, a Mountain Rescue helicopter flies in and starts doing a training exercise just on top of the peak above the Ghyll.

Matt’s Off On Some Mad Adventure Alone…..

We make it to the carpark and I say goodbye to Bryan and tell him I’ll definitely book him again to keep working on my scrambling skills, he’s been brilliant, and with that I head off and try to find Matt. The first thing I do however is head straight to the National Trust Restaurant called ‘The Stickle Barn’ because at this point I’m really suffering from lack of water in this heat and I haven’t eaten much. I order a pint of coke and a beer and drink them like someone that’s just escaped a desert. I get concerned looks when my beer vanishes like a magic trick. I grab some food as well and try and get hold of Matt by sending out a message from my GPS. He still doesn’t turn up for hours and being in training for my Mountain Leader award my first thought is ‘has he gone into the mountains alone?’ it’s also been an unusually hot and sunny day here in the lakes and is he hasn’t taken enough water with him he could get into trouble. I was prepared today with 2 litres of water and that wasn’t even enough. I end up finding the one tiny spot in the site with a signal and text his girlfriend Marta to see if she’s spoken to him. Luckily she has and hours later he comes and meets me. He sits down with a beer and gives me this smile that instantly makes me know he’s done exactly what I thought he’s got and done. He’s only gone up into the mountains alone without a map of compass, the nutcase. I am pretty relieved he is ok though and I can tell he’s proper proud of himself for going on an adventure alone. From what I’ve got from him he’s managed to make his way up Bowfell and luckily has been picked up by a bunch of other hikers on the way there. At 902m it’s pretty high for Matts first mountain on his own. We have a few beers and Matt heads back to the bunkhouse room, I decide to stay out and message Vix on the satellite phone to let her know that I’m ok and didn’t get lost. She texts my satellite phone back saying ‘if in doubt follow the stars x’ and I wish she was here with me to watch the sky. She’s been unwell for ages, and we haven’t been able to see each other through the last lockdown. I wonder when I’m going to get the chance to see her, and hope she’s going to get better at some point. I feel a little bad still going out mountaineering when she is stuck at home ill, but due to covid we haven’t been able to see each other anyway which is utterly depressing. The upside is all the adrenaline rushes I’ve had today took my mind off things even if just for half a day.

Kayaks and Swimming on the Loch

We get up early and grab breakfast from the pub next to the bunkhouse and it is a great day to be alive. Tiny birds chirp in the trees and the early morning sun warms us while we sink coffee and munch on sausage baps. Neither of us want to do anything too exerting today as we are both a bit tired, plus we are here for a few days before we then head off to the Yorkshire Peaks to hike a few of those. We decide to have a chilled out day swimming and canoeing so we head to Coniston to hire a two person open canoe. Coniston is the 5th largest of the lakes and still a decent distance at 5 miles long, and you can see Helvellyn and the Eastern fells from the Lake. Interestingly its also the lake that Sir Malcolm Campbell set a water speed record at 141 miles and hour back in 1939. You can see why on he’d chose here as the water is super calm today and would be perfect for some crazy speeds. Later his son Donald would break this record at over 300 miles an hour. During the attempt however on the 4th January 1967 the craft named ‘Bluebird’ that Donald was piloting shot up into the air and crashed, and was claimed by the 184 ft deep waters of the lake along with Donald himself. Bluebird was not found until the 8th March 2001 when it was raised from the lake bed, and Donalds body was recovered finally on the 28th of May.

Today the lakeside is really busy with people enjoying the water and the unusually hot weather. Children run around the lake screaming like they are being murdered and pasty white people lie in the sun until they turn into human pork scratchings. Matt vanishes and appears with a few cans of cold cider and water and then we jump into our kayak and head out into the tranquil waters of Coniston. I stop the canoe almost at the middle of the lake and take a load of photos for Vix to show her how beautiful the place is. Despite saying we were going to chill out I decide to play viking themed music on my phone and we paddle at full speed past bemused looking paddleboarders. We stop, have a cold cider and decide to paddle back and go and have a wild swim, which is something Matt hasn’t really done before. The water is actually almost like tepid bath water, it must have been pretty warm up here most of the week and I smash out a mile or so swimming round the late keeping an occasional eye to make sure Matt isn’t drowning or mistaken for a buoy.


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