Day One Sun 26th Oct 2008Langdale to Wasdale - 11.5miles Altitude gain 2630ft
The ride was planned the wife was happy (being in Italy with her school) and the hostels were booked. All I needed was a break in the atrocious weather. I lay awake in the early hours of the morning of departure listening to the rain sheeting it down. Should I abandon or not? The Met. Office forecast was good for the following days!!! By the time I was up and ready there would be no chance of making the first Youth Hostel at Black Sail. So I phoned Wasdale Hall and they were only too obliged to change. So game on! I packed the car and headed off listening to the radio. The floods in the area had been really bad. The Karrimore Mountain Marathon, a two day event, had been cancelled and forty people were unaccounted for. Yikes!
I picked up the road to Kendal and it was closed due to flooding. Not a great start. I managed to work another route to the Old Dungeon Gill Hotel in Great Langdale, via Coniston, down a number of flooded roads. The guy at the hotel was brilliant and allowed me to leave the car there for two days at a nominal charge, which was half the day rate in the National Trust one!! I changed, checked kit, fired up the GPS and tucked the map in my pants. Here we go. This trip had the potential of being the best I had ever done or of being sheer lunacy and disaster. I hoped it was the former.
I made my way up the valley called Mickeldon. It was grey cold and very wet. The crags where the path went, towards the left of Rossett Gill, were looming large. It wove its precipitous way up between rocky outcrops as I pushed the bike as far as I could. Then the bike went on my back as I toiled up the side of this monster. In the back of my mind was, “Had I left enough time to get to my first hostel before darkness closed in?” I pushed on and passed some pleasantries with an Aussie hiker who took my photo. At the top of this monolith I gathered myself together taking a snack and some energy drink. I knew this was not the end so I pushed on to Angle Tarn. My cheeks stung as the huge gusts of wind battered hailstone into my face. At last I was back on the bike descending the technical (they’re all technical at this height!!) track which skirted Angle Tarn then off and up again. I knew there would soon be a respite from the pushing and carrying as the track crested and plummeted down towards Sprinkling Tarn. Wahey the fun was starting! The wind was in my face and the strong gusts just added to the downhill fun as I battled not only the terrain but the elements. I forded a small gill falling off the edge of the rocks as it made its way to Sprinkling Tarn. The wind was so strong that it blew this back up, a sight to behold! I got soaked in the reverse waterfall!!
The track continued to descend and Styhead Tarn loomed into view on the right. “Not long now,” I thought, as I dropped to Styhead. I took a breather at the Mountain Rescue box and nattered with a couple of German hikers. I left them and an amazing vista opened out before me. The valley surrounding Spouthead Gill was monstrous. Huge craggy rocks of Great End, Lingmell and Great Gable towered on either side with a shot of sunlight on the patterned brilliant green patchwork of walled fields in the valley bottom below. I stood and marvelled for a few minutes before dropping down an unbelievably rocky track called Moses’ Trod. I couldn’t ride some of it. Water poured down the hillside as numerous riverlets carried the past two days deluge into Spouthead Gill and from there plunged down the valley into Wastwater. I crossed these and flew down to Wasdale Head and along the flooded road to my first destination as the light was beginning to fade.
I entered the Youth Hostel and was greeted with, “Hello Andrew!!” I know I was expected but this was just amazing! Laura and Steve the hostel managers were fantastic and made every effort to make their guests welcome, nothing was too much and always done with a smile. Clothes in the drying room and showered I sat in the lounge with a nice hot brew waiting for dinner. I was famished. The meal was great and washed down with a nice pint of a local brew, Blue Bird Ale (I got one in Eric!!!). I chatted with a couple of young women who had stories of floods, washed away tents and collapsed bridges. I reckon I had got off lightly, so with heavy eyes I made by way to the dormitory and got into the bunk, replaying the day in my head as I lay there and soon dosed off to sleep.
Day Two Sun 27th Oct 2008Wasdale via Black Sail Pass and Scarth Gap Pass to Honister Hause – 11.7 miles Altitude gain 3452ft
I awoke in “the wee small hours” to sound of rain hammering down outside. It kept it up for hours and as I ate a good cooked breakfast it continued. Oh no I was going to get drenched and this was the leg of the jaunt I was a little worried about! It’s going to be tough. Finishing breakfast with numerous hot coffees, I glanced out the window to see it had stopped and there was blue sky over the head of the lake. Cool! I packed and said goodbye to two great hosts and headed along the road by Wastwater. The flooded road had somehow drained overnight! This looked good.
The track followed the dry stone wall and then opened out into the valley floor called Mosedale, flanked by Red Pike and Kirk Fell with the ominous Pillar at the head, all of whose summits were shrouded in cloud. It was an incredible place and as I made my way along the valley the track turned and climbed steeply alongside the swollen Gatherstone Beck. I crossed the beck and had to shoulder the bike up the steep zig zag track as it climbed up and up, levelling for a short while only to rise again as it crested the hause in the distance between Kirk Fell and Pillar. Why do the uphills look far better downhills than the downhills are?? I plodded on knowing there was no rush as I had the whole day. It was brilliant not having to clock watch or be somewhere at a certain time. Our lives are governed by deadlines and having to be somewhere at some time. Not today!!
Partway up the ascent I met a group of four hikers. One took my photo and others made comments as to my psychological stability in taking on such a ride!! At the top was a wonderful valley at the head of Ennerdale with Black Sail Hut nestling in the sunshine between the towering peaks of High Crag, Haystacks, Brandreth, Green Gable, Great Gable and Pillar. This Youth Hostel is about as remote as it gets. What a shame I couldn’t stay here. I was rather anxious as to what the descent would be like. Nick Crane had done this particular ride for a TV programme and had to lower his bike down some rocks, in true Nick Crane style, with a piece of washing line!!! (I had packed mine!!) Consequently I took it steadily down the insanely steep track which went over rock outcrops. I had to get off for these and seek alternative routes which allowed me to carry my bike down safely. I eventually got to the rideable section without the washing line!
And so I arrived at Black Sail Hut having been told I would be able to get a cup of tea there. Alas it was all locked up so I ate my cheese buttie in the sun amid the mountain grandeur of that wonderful place. I then set my sights on the climb up towards Scarth Gap and the next valley below. After a toil of about thirty minutes I was there looking down on the beautiful valley with the twin lakes of Buttermere and Crummock Water. Down I went on the treacherously steep and rocky Scarth Gap Pass toward a shimmering lake in the warm autumn sun. There were a few folk out for a days hiking who expressed dismay at seeing a bike here, others politely said hello and didn’t bat an eyelid!
The descent was brilliant and led to the head of the lake. One more climb to go but I had opted to take the tarmac up Honister Pass to the hostel at the hause. I have to confess I walked the last part. It was the steepest piece of tarmac I have ridden, it was 25% whatever that means!?
So I arrived at Honister Hause Youth hostel at 1:30pm dreaming of a hot shower and a nice hot brew. It was shut?! Not to open until 5:00pm. So I sat in the porch and waited. Fortunately the kind manager allowed me in and I sat and read walking mags until my bunk room was ready. Eventually I got a shower some food, a pint of Cumberland Ale (see another one Eric!!) and excellent company with Dave who was from Norfolk on his annual hiking pilgrimage to the Lakes. He was an interesting guy who was also a cyclist but a roadie. He’d watched Le Tour de France after riding some of the mountain peaks the day before. Respect!!
So the end of another amazing day and some incredible scenery. I felt good even if I was shattered. The bunk was calling so I crashed early.
Day Three Tue 28th Oct 2008
It was a freezing cold night and I woke to see frost on the ground and brilliant sunshine. I had breakfast said goodbye and headed down the tarmac to Seatoller and then to Stonethwaite. I then picked up the bridal path which followed Stonethwaite Beck which became Greenup Gill as it gained altitude. The main climb was slap bang in front of me.
A monstrous toil up to Greenup Edge but the views back down to Borrowdale were stupendous as the autumn colours glowed in the morning sunshine. This was amazing. The features of the land gradually changed as I climbed and the vegetation changed to coarse moorland grass and mounds which I can only assume were some kind of moraines from an ice age long gone. As I reached the base of Greenup Edge the weather was closing in and there were the odd flecks of snow in the stiffening icy breeze. I knew the next section was going to be steep but I hadn’t anticipated rock climbing! If my wife knew what I got up to!!??
There was no alternative. The bike went on my back and with my left hand free I wrestled with the rocks. They were damp and some were covered in green algae making for a treacherous ascent. I was very concerned about my footing as my boots hadn’t the best of grips in these conditions. I determine to get this done as quickly as possible and in any case I just couldn’t stop as it would be too dangerous with a bike perched on my back. So with head down I went for it. The top revealed a desolate moorland environment with peat bogs and views across to other mountains, which were snow capped by now. Onwards and upward I went over the boggy terrain past Birks until at the top of a hause leading down into Moor Moss. The name should have been a dead give away. It was like a mud bath as I slip and slided down unable to ride between muddy marshes and boulders. It wasn’t much fun at all especially after all the rain we had had.
On I went and then the whole thing suddenly changed at a little raise. A great technical downhill which was ridable. It was really challenging and great fun. This went on, it seemed, for ever and then ran into the small village of Grasmere. There I stocked up with provisions and headed out for Langdale by road. It was almost over. I arrived at the car and went into the hotel to tell them that I had arrived back safely. The guy was great and we chatted. He said that if I was up again to look him up and if he was free he’d come out with me.
Well that was it. Three days, 38.2 miles, 8,800 ft of ascent. Over all too soon and off home I went for a hot bath, a Chinese take away and a glass or two of wine. What an adventure. I slept well that night! Now lets plan the next one!