October 2017: The kindness of strangers / Lake District 3,000s

 

The idea: Climb three of the Lake District 3,000s (3,000ft mountains)
Location: The Lake District – Helvellyn, Skiddaw and Scafell Pike
Transport: Feet
Essential kit: Walking boots, waterproofs, loads of snacks
Less essential kit: Sleeping bags, roll mats, bivvy bags, firewood
Kit we wished we’d had: More walking poles

“Someone said that independence did not mean being alone, that travel could be a bridge to others. Our fierce little hearts knew the answer. At last, we set out boldly.”

– An extract from 'Manifesto of the Wanderer',
written by Daniel Crockett for Millican.

As our car pulled into the driveway, Bex stood at the window. She was silhouetted by the warm glow of kitchen light, illuminating the raindrops as they fell between us and her dry house. Despite having never met us before, Bex offered us her place to stay for the night. In saving us from a night spent cowering under bivvy bags in a soggy field, she became our new best friend.

We’ve invited many people on adventures over the course of the last two years, but Bex is the first stranger to take us up on the offer. She’s a designer for Millican, and we’d exchanged a few emails during a previous trip. When we decided to travel up to the Lake District in October to climb the 3,000s, we asked if she’d like to come along. Despite feeling a little unsure she could tackle three mountains in one weekend, she said she’d love to come along to see what we were all about.  

We were excited about bringing someone else into the gang, but as we filled her beautifully curated (think Wallpaper* x The White Company) house with muddy boots, wet coats and approximately 17,000 flies (bright lights + lakeside location + an open front door = a fucking disaster) we realised we were going to benefit from this partnership a lot more than she was. We had brought chaos to this peaceful, picturesque, part of the world, and it was unlikely to leave before us.

The First 3,000 – Helvellyn

The adventure began at the crack of dawn. Ullswater to the base of Helvellyn took just a few short minutes and our feet touched the side of the mountain with the first of the sun’s rays. Five hundred feet up, we stopped to take pictures of the lake below and gave each other a look which now feels familiar. The look that means, “are you finding this really fucking hard too?”

We were. Everyone was. Our legs were aching, our chests were burning, and the thought of climbing 8,500 feet more over the weekend seemed insane. We’ve become addicted to this feeling over the years, but having never climbed a mountain before, Bex had a brief panic. We explained the worst was over and, despite not really believing us, her panic eventually turned into determination. We pushed on as a team.

Weather conditions deteriorated above 2,000ft and we found ourselves upping the pace while reaching for our waterproofs. Thankfully (partly because we couldn’t see it until we were literally standing on top of it), the summit appeared much sooner than anticipated . We stayed just long enough for a quick round of high fives, then hurried back down to below cloud level. One down and we were on a roll. Nothing, not even the lack of views from the summit or now torrential rain, could dampen our enthusiasm, and Bex was sold.

The second 3,000 – Skiddaw

Skiddaw is a great training ground for fell runners. Good, straight, paths keep risk of injury low, and fairly consistent elevation makes it easier for some (super humans) to run the whole thing. Unfortunately, straight paths don’t make for particularly interesting hikes, and the views were pretty much non-existent. Gale force winds have a habit of spicing things up a bit though, so we felt lucky to have those.

Standing on the top of Skiddaw was similar, I imagine, to standing on a stage made of straw at the annual Mr Wolf convention and shouting, ‘give it your best shot!’ We cowered behind a stone wall on the summit to avoid being blown over the edge and took a breather. We felt proud to have completed the day’s climbing, and particularly proud of Bex who had simultaneously smashed her first and second mountain climbs ever, in spite of the conditions.

The Cave

Two mountains in one day wasn’t quite enough adventure for some, though. As appealing as getting a good night’s sleep in Bex’s warm house may have been, after 12 hours of hiking through soggy clouds, Jake, Nick and I decided to recreate one of our favourite adventures from last year and sleep in a cave. Not just any cave, but Millican Dalton’s cave – the place where the self styled ‘Professor of Adventure’ and Lake District legend lived for 50 years.

Walking in the footsteps of a man who gave up his job as an Insurance Clerk to devote himself entirely to a simpler life felt like a kind of pilgrimage. Tramping over fields in the dead of night, along a similar path to the one he would have taken (I say similar and not exact because we got horribly lost for hours), felt good. We saw what he would have seen – fields, a stream and woodland, hardly changed since Dalton’s day.

Roomies

Our romanticised ‘back to basics’ hopes for our little trip were shattered, however, when we discovered cans of Special Brew and White Lightning outside the cave. Cautiously we ventured on towards the rock between the path and the entrance, which was illuminated by a flickering orange light. As we got closer, we heard men’s voices – mainly raised, mainly saying “fuck off”.

“Is this Millican Dalton’s cave?” we asked, as we approached the 15-strong group that was sitting around an enormous fire. “You what?” they replied. It was clear that these men weren’t actually fellow adventure seekers on a quaint pilgrimage or a group of rebel DofE students with cheap taste in alcohol. “There’s plenty of booze boys – do you want some whisky?” one man said as he held back his growling wolf-dog, and “bllleeerruuugggh” was the response from another, as he writhed around on the floor. “Thanks, but we’re just going to check out the cave first,” we said and backed towards the nearest exit.

As we returned back to Bex’s, we felt dejected. On any other night, with any other roomies, that cave would have made the perfect sleeping spot. Large, dry and flat, it was a far cry from the cave we slept in in the Peaks, and easy to see why Millican Dalton chose it as his home. Still, it felt good to be reunited with Faye and Bex and we consoled ourselves with the thought of getting a good night’s sleep before attempting to climb Scafell Pike the next morning.

The third 3,000 – Scafell Pike

There are two main routes up Scafell Pike. One starts from Seathwaite – steep and direct – and the other starts from Wasdale Head – longer but safer. Given that we had the whole day and conditions were bad, we chose to start from Wasdale Head. The start of the climb was more interesting than Skiddaw, with a rockier, more uneven path to negotiate and a raging waterfall to our right. It wasn’t long before we were in the clouds, but with two mountains conquered under similar conditions, we knew there was nothing for it but to plod on.

About halfway up, we heard several blasts on a whistle and a voice shouting something that sounded like ‘help’. We ran towards the noise, expecting to find somebody in distress needing emergency assistance (which we’d miraculously work out how to give on arrival), but found Mountain Rescue instead. “We were shouting ‘hello’”, they said, “we’re looking for a man with a black beard, who came up here last night wearing a t-shirt and jeans and hasn’t been seen since”.

As England’s highest mountain (3209ft or 978 metres), it’s unsurprising that Scafell Pike is a big draw for the near 17 million tourists who descend on the Lakes each year. It’s also perhaps unsurprising that so many people take it on under-prepared. The conditions for our climb weren’t ideal, but we felt ready for them with waterproofs, a change of clothing, litres of water and lots of snacks packed in our backpacks. It’s an easy enough climb, but mountains should never be under-estimated.

We celebrated conquering our third and final Lake District 3,000 with sandwiches on the summit, huddled together out of the freezing wind and rain. We had planned to attempt the traverse to Sca Fell – the only other 3,000ft mountain in the Lake District – but conditions were too bad. Instead, we hurried down the mountain for the now-obligatory, post-mountain climbing dip in a waterfall.

9,000ft

All in all, the weekend had been a huge success. We’d ticked off the The Lake District and the biggest mountains in England from our bucket list, and made a new friend. Everyday Adventure has always been about shared experiences, and we all gained so much by having Bex as part of the gang. So much more than a fantastic host, her enthusiasm was infectious and seeing somebody else find enjoyment in completing one of the arbitrary challenges we so often set ourselves felt good. Next time, she might even join us for the swim, too. ▲