To Helvellyn and Back

Good evening, all! Thank you all for your kind words yesterday. I’m struggling to walk today but my typing fingers are fine, so I’m going to round up yesterday a little bit.

All of these walks I am doing, including the one yesterday, are to try and prepare for Ben Nevis in a few weeks. And really, they are more about mentally and emotionally conditioning myself to what it’s going to feel like to have to push myself that hard than it is about any physical adaptation. Ben Nevis is 1345m tall, the base of which is near enough at sea level, so it really truly is over 1300m. The most I’d done in March was Roseberry Topping, which is 320m above sea level but from where you’d park, it’s 200m. Meaning I had to make a decision to keep increasing the size of what I could do. In a brief history there is:

Roseberry Topping ~200m

Catbells ~350m

Skiddaw ~700m

Blencathra ~560m

Helvellyn ~1000m

These are all measures of actual elevation that I gained on my walks, not their heights above sea level.

I set off from home in New Marske a little before 6am, stopped for a toilet break and a decaf on the way, and parked up at the start of my path in near Ambleside just after 8am. It was raining when I parked up so I sat and finished my coffee for 10 minutes, I really enjoy the sound of rain on the car so I didn’t need much of an excuse to sit there for a bit. I couldn’t waste too much time, though, as there was a lightning storm forecasted for 1pm, meaning I had to get up and over to Helvellyn and off the summit before then.

The first fell I had to hit is Dollywagon Pike, sounds daft but it was formidable. I had to trek up a valley floor, which not only meant wind but because it had been pouring down before I got there a lot of the paths were now streams, and I had to cross a few streams and a river on the way.

It was a long hard, precise slog up through streams and into a boulder field at the top of the valley. I crested over the top of the ridge and into the natural bowl of a tarn there. A tarn is essentially a space made by glaciers and filled in with water making a big lake or pond.

I walked down the crater, around the tarn and then on up to Dollywagon Pike. Here I had to walk over a river that dropped off into a waterfall, I think.

This was when things started getting a bit ropey for me, not the river, but the sobering moment. The other walks I have done are just that, walks up predefined paths. When I crossed that river to the base of Dollywagon Pike I was wet, windswept, exhausted and above all quite scared. The fog was very thick so up on the hill visibility was quite poor, the rain was lashing in a little bit and the wind was picking up. I was really questioning if I had bitten off more than I could chew.

But if there’s one thing about me that I actually quite like it’s that I’ll push on first and worry about the consequences later, so I cracked on. That will bite me in the bum sooner or later.

I remember sitting down between 2 big rocks on the run up to the first summit and having a drink and something to eat, but I had to make up some lost time so I had to get a move on.

I got to the marker on Dollywagon, my GPS said that the geographical summit was actually 3 minutes further to my right off the path, but I didn’t have time to worry about technicalities, so picked up my obligatory small rock (I collect rocks from the summits of all of the fells I’ve walked) and marched on to the next fell, Nethermost Pike.

This was totally uneventful, a long, rocky, upward path bathed in fog. I was so intent on progress that when I checked my GPS I had actually walked straight past the Nethermost Pike summit as there was no marker. I grabbed a rock and marched on.

At this point I had seen the mist light up with sheet lightning, I’m still not sure if I had or if it was a bit of rain splashing my eye or what have you, but at that time thinking that the lightning had started I had a moment of real panic, and resolved myself that I was coming down the mountain. The path down was half way to Helvellyn so I had to keep going a little bit. It’s worth noting that in the 3 or 4 hours that I had been walking up until this point I had seen 3 people, and one of those might have just been a cardboard cut-out. The fact that there were no people made it all feel really foreboding and eerie.

I got to the path to come down and started seeing more and more people, families, with children and dogs and thought to myself “Fuck this” and started essentially jogging up the hill to the final summit, speaking to myself, growling.

I got up there and to my VERY welcome surprise there was a big cross shaped monolithic stone shelter there. I slumped into one of the stone benches, had some food and a drink of water, put my coat on and started back down the mountain. I think I reached the summit bang on 12, so it had taken my around 3 and a half hours to get there.

There’s not a lot to say about the descent aside from the fact that it’s such a beautiful place. Once I started coming out of the clouds and I could see more clearly, I was totally awe struck. Coming down is always the hardest on my legs. I’m still a very big guy, I weighed in at 289lb the morning I left, that’s a lot of person to carry up 3 mountains.

I got to the bottom of the mountain at bang on 2pm, sapped of all of my energy, legs totally destroyed but elated. Oh yeah, and I still had 3 miles to walk around the base of the mountain to get back to the car. Partly through woodland and partly on the road. My GPS took me a certain way, but when I got that way I found a locked gate. There was no chance of my actually being able to walk the mile and a half back to go another way so I climbed over the fence. I had to walk through a field, climb a fence, walk clean through a river, climb yet another fence and then walk 1.7 miles down the A591 back to my car at 3:30pm. And that is that, as they say. 7 hours, 10 miles and 1,000m of elevation.

I wear a fitness strap all the time, kind of like a fitbit but it doesn’t have a watch, all it does is take measurements. Each morning the app gives you a rating of how well recovered you are from the day before, after a heavy workout it’s at around 60%, after Blencathra it was between 20 and 30%, this morning it was 1%, no kidding, 1%. It took every little bit of energy I had left.

I’ll be dry and sore for the next week, but that’s how we pay for all of the achievements that we make, isn’t it?

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