What an episode!!!!
Last weekend the weather was pretty rough. Not really thinking about it, I planned to go up to Winter Hill and Albert decided to join me. Man it was rough, so rough that we re-thought our route and after a brief visit to the top of Winter Hill we headed down in to the Gardens and around Lever Park. The wind and rain was horrendous. However it did make me recall one of my first proper fell running experiences and I thought it was worth sharing with everyone.
I hadn’t been running on the hills that long and was still very green about all aspects of being in the hills. Chris decided it was time for a good trip to the Lakes for me. Looking back I wouldn’t say I was unprepared ‘but’ I had no map or compass, no whistle, no waterproof leg cover, a pair of fell shoes a size too small and absolutely no idea where I was going. I was TOTALLY dependent upon my best friend!!
We parked in Coniston and Chris had decided we would go and cover the Coniston Fell race route. The route starts in Consiton and loops up to the top of Wetherlam, then heads west and heads to Swirl How before heading south over to the Old Man of Coniston. A route of 9 miles and 3500ft. Of course I didn’t know this at the time.
We headed off and all was well, Chris said he knew where he was going so I just followed. The morning started off ok and as I recall I don’t think it was raining at that point. We headed up the first climb which was a bit of a shock as it’s quite steep. Then Chris told me that we should head up “this path” beside the quarry. This was the first of a couple of navigation errors. It wasn’t too bad it just meant we took a slightly longer route. Within about 4-5 minutes Chris had realised his error and instead of turning around we decided to continue on and go round.
Soon enough we were back on the path up towards Wetherlam but the rain was threatening us and as we climbed we eventually climbed into the mist. By the time we reached the top of Wetherlam the rain had started and there was a little wind to accompany it but things were deteriorating more and more as time passed.
Being new to all this I was just a little worried. I’ve never covered ground fast and then I was even slower than I am now. My legs were tired by now and the weather was worrying me. I like to know where I’m going and I didn’t plus not being able to see more than about 50 metres didn’t help my confidence. I think I’d already had enough. We ran down towards Swirl Hause before the climb to Swirl How, I remember hoping that Chris was going to call it off and take me on a direct route down. This path here looked like a good option, not that I knew where it took me I just wanted to go down! No such luck, Chris ploughed on and up Prison band towards Swirl How.
The climb up over Prison Band to Swirl How isn’t too long but it’s rockier than anything we’d covered so far. Before long though we’d made it up to the top of Swirl How and said hello to the first people we’d seen all day. We stopped here for a break. I don’t recall what I had brought with me but it wasn’t much and it didn’t last long. We ended up moving just to get out of the wind but the rain was still hitting us. Chris was smiling and seemed to think this was all fun, I wasn’t as impressed
Standing up there with the elements testing us I had had enough. After a quick stop we headed off, Chris leading and me following like a little lost dog. After a few minutes of running, the wind trying to blow us sideways Chris stopped and said “We’re going the wrong way!!”. “How do you know?” I said,
”The wind is blowing in the wrong direction!” ??
When we’d left the car the wind had been blowing from the south apparently and the route from Swirl How to the Old man of Coniston takes a southerly direction. Chris had determined that because the wind was blowing sideways across us that we must be travelling the wrong way. In hindsight I would have used a compass but I didn’t actually have one.
We returned to the top of Swirl How from the direction of Great Carrs and this time headed off into the wind towards the Old Man. My confidence in Chris’ abilities to navigate me safely had plummeted by this point and I just wanted to go back to the car, I mean who navigates on the wind?? On the way down two walkers were heading back up in the opposite direction to us. They stopped us to ask for help. One walker pointed in the direction up the slope we had just come down and said “Is this the way to the Old Man?”. Well that was it, no more, I trusted Chris’ directions no longer but what could I do. No map, no compass, no idea! All I could do was carry on following Chris despite my doubts.
Chris convinced me and the two walkers that they were travelling in the wrong direction and we were in fact travelling in the right direction and we headed onwards.
We’d started now on the incline towards the Old Man but I had no idea how far it was and little confidence and low energy by this point. The wind and the rain were battering us and I had a major low. At one point I crouched down behind a cairn to get out of the wind and told Chris I was just going to stay there for a bit. “I know it’s awful” he said “but the quickest way off this mountain right now is to carry on, it can’t be that far”. Pulling my self up from behind that tiny pile of stones I carried on. I warned Chris that if we got back to the car I was going to punch him!!
As we carried on I noticed another walker on a parallel path, always good to know you’re not alone, and about 400m-500m later we came upon the summit of the Old Man. 3 fools up here in this gale, I thought, until of course I walked around the back of a large boulder that sits at the top. As I rounded the boulder I saw what I think was about 15-20 people hiding out of the wind chatting away and smiling drinking tea and coffee.
Surely there must be a cable car somewhere???
After a moment to catch a breather we headed off on the final descent back to Coniston. The path drops down through the old copper mines and past Low Water. The wet stone and the Adidas swoops didn’t get on very well and I lost a lot of confidence in these shoes that day (in fact I don’t think I wore them again after that).
It’s amazing how quickly your situation can change in the lakes. One minute I was huddling down behind a cairn wanting to die and the next we were out of the mist, wind and rain heading down towards Coniston and feeling much happier.
On returning to the car I needed food. I punched Chris first although not as hard as I should have, then went for the apple. When your tired and zapped of energy your body must make food taste nicer. That apple was the tastiest apple I have ever, ever had. Chris admitted at that point that he had (at that time) never been out in weather as awful as that before.
I’m not sure why this experience didn’t turn me off running in the mountains but I’m glad it didn’t!!