Monday, 7 June 2010

My First Hillwalking Experience - untempered disaster...

Lest I hold myself out as some expert (hence the title Journeyman Traveller rather than Master Traveller, or Really Rather Good Traveller), I am going to let you into a little secret - I really did not enjoy the entirety of my first experience hillwalking. I was not a lazy teenager, but it's safe to say I straddled the divide between geek and jock only because I could play football rather well. Some would say I was still a geek. That said, I was not fit. So when a friend of mine suggested we take in the sights in the Lake District, I ought perhaps to have been more circumspect in my response. I was 21 and University had not treated my belly kindly.

I strapped on my 60 litre Wynnster Rucksack (£30 from Millets and a rather military shade of green) and shoved into it all manner of cotton t-shirts, jeans, thick woollen socks, woollen jumpers - I could go on but you get the picture. We were going for 3 full days hillwalking and we were staying in Youth Hostels. I remember, at Ambleside YHA, chatting to some Aussies who were doing much the same as us with 35 litre daypacks - "nutters", I mused, in my Salomon trainers in the middle of autumn.

I cannot quite remember the route (the brain has a way of blurring horrific memories), but looking back now I would suspect we left Ambleside and headed for the Langdale Pikes. All I recall was that my Scout Leader mate (now a Doctor), often sprinted on ahead leaving me to my own devices, stumbling over rocky terrain and sinked knee deep in bogs (remember - Salomon trainers). What I do recall from that day was climbing so high we were above the clouds. Nothing can ever blur that memory from my addled brain and perhaps, even though I changed my sweaty cotton M&S T-shirt every 2-3 miles for a fresh one (which was then sweaty again in minutes), and even though I was soaked to the skin more often than I have ever been for any length of time in my life, sitting above those clouds, with my sweaty (noticing a theme here...?) feet out of their trainers and socks, resting on the damp moss underfoot, I was smitten. However, I was also shattered and begged for an easier day the next day. Little did I know.

Coming down from wherever we were, we decided that an ascent of the next peak the following day (some bugger known as Scafell-something-or-other) would require boots. So I duly went to Keswick on the only bus that day and hit the first outdoor shop I could find. Now, what it won't tell you on my profile, is that my feet are a size 12. To all you Europeans out there, that's a size 47. There aren't a hole host of boots available for us "canoe-feet" people and so I settled on a size 11 pair of Berghaus Storm boots. They fit, after a fashion, and I was all set for an ascent of Pafell Scike or whatever it was called. It'll be easy, I was assured. A pimple on the face of the Lakes. Nothing more.

Needless to say, I did not get to the summit. I collapsed from exhaustion (read: laziness) some 30m away. My Doctor friend, ever the master of bedside manner, continued on and "bagged it". We then descended a slope replete with Mini Cooper-sized boulders that were not in any way stable. We had a stove and sparked up to heat some noodles which gave me some much needed energy but when we finally got to Eskdale YHA (in the dark, I might add), I fairly mugged the poor sap behind the counter for the remaining three Snickers bars. Rustling up a Happy Shopper Vegetable Curry in the communal kitchen moments after a welcome (perhaps even divine) shower was one of the great moments on that walk. This particularly so as Dr Sadist assured me that the next day would be vastly easier. We just had a small hill to climb - indeed, it was so small someone had nicknamed it The Old Man. Somehow we survived and found ourselves at the Coniston Coppermines YHA. All in all, we took in some mean hills that, knowing what I know now, would have been much easier. What I regret most is not really knowing what route we took over those days but in the end, here I am, writing journalling my desire to lead others into the hills some day. Can't have been that bad, can it?

I don't know where my old friend is now - probably best for him as I know some powerful people...


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