(17th March 2013 – 17 miles)
At seventeen miles and with two mountain passes (each about 2000 feet high), Day 3 was always going to be a challenge. I had walked it before but not in one day and not with such a heavy pack. Even so, I thought that as long as the weather wasn’t too unkind, it would be OK. Tiring sure but OK. It was a blow then that instead of waking up to the usual rain, I pulled back the curtains at my B&B, blinked, shook my head and blinked again. It was snowing. (Not for the last time). It wasn’t meant to snow; snow hadn’t been forecast but yep, it most certainly was snowing.
Normally I love snow but a thin layer on the valley bottom would probably be deeper up on high. And so it proved – today would be the hardest of my walk across England (though others would come close).
After a fine cooked breakfast, I thanked the owner for her hospitality and said how much I had enjoyed my stay. “Yes, you’ve been OK too,” she replied. Faint praise or Cumbrian understatement? I like to think the latter but whatever, it made me laugh. Her concern at the weather, the distance and the climbs ahead of me was real enough.
Pat (the other Coast to Coaster who I was to meet the following night) completed this section by car. His B&B owner had warned against walking in these conditions. Had I received the same advice, I might have caught the bus.
But I doubt it. I had planned this trip months before and, short of recklessness, meant to complete it. Besides, the landscape looked stunning and anyway, how bad could it be? (Er … well … pretty bad actually).
From the village, the path follows Stonethwaite Beck toward Eagle Crag. Here I saw another red squirrel.
He was gone in a flash but I got a quick snap (if not a good one). I have now seen three; all in the Lake District but in different valleys: Ennerdale, Borrowdale and Grisedale. (If you see one in the Lakes, you can help preserve them by reporting your sighting on the Red Squirrel Northern England Society website).
That great slab of rock dead ahead is Eagle Crag (1706 feet) but thankfully the path skirts round it and up the valley on the left.
It was a Sunday morning but I didn’t see nor hear anyone; indeed I met no-one for several hours.
Even so, there were moments of total gridlock on the path.
As I climbed higher, the snow got deeper;
the going harder and slower (and running ahead to set up the self-timer on my camera was tiring too).
At the top of the initial climb is a shallow basin filled with more glacial drumlins. The snow was now deep enough to obscure the path and there were no footprints to follow.
From above and behind, Eagle Crag didn’t look as high nor impressive.
A second steep effort, up snow-hidden steps (which I mostly couldn’t find), brought me to the top of Lining Crag (1778 feet).
Visibility was pretty good and I began to hope that the cloud might clear. But shortly after I took this photo, the cloud closed in completely and falling snow reduced my world to a thirty yard radius. The rest of the climb to the top of Greenup Edge (2000 feet) isn’t so very straightforward in clear conditions – but the path was now completely smothered and the way forward uncertain.
My Trailblazer guidebook told me to follow a line of cairns … but was short on advice if these were practically invisible. I have hiked over Greenup Edge three times – and twice now in poor visibility when route-finding is bewildering. The map in my ‘book (a broken line on white with virtually no detail) was of no help. When a large rock formation loomed out of the mist, it was my Ordnance Survey map which told me that I had drifted too far to the South West. Using my compass, I regained the correct course – if not the actual path. This was a hairy time. I was searching for a “prominent fencepost on top of outcrop” but I failed. If you have walked to Grasmere in fine weather and with the village visible in the far distance, it is difficult to appreciate how tricky navigation can be up here.
It was slow, sapping work. Muttering and cursing, I waded knee-deep across snow-fields; backtracked to avoid steep-sided gullies and uncross-able streams. All the time peering into the white gloom for a glimpse of a feature (any feature would’ve been nice) with which to confirm my position. On and on it went and I just hoped I was en route.
I was. Eventually, mightily relieved, I reached the head of Easedale and the start of the descent to Grasmere. I hurried on.
After a detour into the village for supplies, I stomped back northwards towards the second climb of the day. Sadly, I didn’t have time to accept the above invitation. It was nearly 2 o’clock and I still had a long way to go.
I began to climb again: Grisedale Hause at 1929 feet, stood between me and my bed.
My spirits were low, as I wearily headed back into cloud.
Climbing steadily by Great Tongue, my breathless pauses became more frequent as the views closed in. And as I traversed the wide depression of Hause Moss, it began to snow. I was once more in a white-out with the path indiscernible and for the second time that day I became disoriented. I had thought the direction obvious, allowed my mind to wander and, idiotically, hadn’t bothered to use my compass. But then, I came across fresh footprints! Someone else was up here! Someone who probably knew where the hell they were going! Probably a proper walker and not some bumbling buffoon like me! Only slowly, as I walked beside them, did it dawn on me that I had somehow managed to complete a big circle and, Robinson Crusoe like, was now following my own footprints. Good grief, the idiocy! I swore at my stupidity and dug out my compass.
I was beat: sweaty, absolutely shattered and beginning to worry that I would never find the top of the pass. Following a compass heading, I floundered up an endless, thigh-deep and very steep snow bank. At the top, I almost wept. There at my feet was the tumble-down dry stone wall I had been searching for. I was at the top of the pass! Higher up to the right of the actual path but a sweet, cherished moment nonetheless. I have never been so very grateful to see a tumble-down dry stone wall. Have you? I almost kissed it.
Scrambling down the far side, I didn’t see Grisedale Tarn until I almost stepped on it.
As I rejoined the path and skirted the tarn, the visibility began to clear and I could see about me and get my bearings.
I began the descent into Grisedale. Unbelievably for a Sunday and on such a well used path (not only for the C2C) there were still no footprints.
The sun broke and lit up the way ahead. I had planned to include a climb of St Sunday Crag (2759 feet) today. Ha!
This mountain, which I had climbed the previous November, marched along on my right as I dropped down toward Patterdale.
Up at the pass, I had been totally immersed in snow, surrounded and hidden and hindered by snow. And yet now I could see how localised it had been – it didn’t even reach the valley floor.
At Ruthwaite Lodge climbing hut, I sat on a chunk of wood and ate half a pork pie and gulped mountain-cold water – my first rest since Grasmere.
It was getting dark as I reached my Bed and Breakfast at 5.45. I had been walking for almost ten hours but after a shower and change of clothes, guess what? I started to walk again. Using my headtorch in the dark, I walked the mile down to the White Lion pub in Patterdale.
I had completed the toughest day of my trip but was only too aware that tomorrow I had 16 miles to cover and a climb to the highest point of the walk: Kidsty Pike at 2559 feet.
It wasn’t, by any means, going to be a rest day.