Ok, so once again, not quite a TGO Challenge post, but it all counts towards the physical preparations.
The huge magnetic pull of Lakeland had me rolling up the A1 on Friday 16th September 2011 on what was to be a couple of brief forays onto the mountains culminating in the crowning of my best pal as a completer of the Wainwright summits.
Pulling in to the car park of the Co-Op in Keswick, a slightly built chap, going by the name of Dennis Taylor was sitting by his backpack having arrived on foot from Ulverston. His original plan to hike the Cumbria Way before meeting up with me had required a little alteration. Nature wasn't on its best behaviour; Hurricane Katia had a modicum of maelstrom left in her when she touched the UK and this resulted in a small catalogue of digital images of other people's tents bent double against the force of the winds.
Low pressure reigned supreme over the Westernmost coast of England, Scotland and Wales and it seemed that it was hell-bent on curtailing Den's first attempt on the relatively sedate Cumbrian long-distance path. The end of day two saw Den in Langdale, waiting for a day of better weather after having a rather moist and squelchy couple of outings. The day of better weather wouldn't manifest until four days later! He chose to sit it out in Langdale, rather than going over Stake Pass and on to Keswick via Langstrath.
This turned out to be a sound decision, as Den watched his peers' inferior shelters being ripped from the ground, tattered and torn, in spite of the gallant attempts of the staff at the ODG Camp-site, he wondered what might have been had he gone over the tops that day. His Vaude Ultralight 2 stood firm (well, it flexed a little) and kept the outside where it should be – outside.
I was completely without contact with him, there being no signal in Langdale, often a blessing, but on this occasion I did worry after not hearing from him for a couple of days. And then I got a text message:-
“Still stuck in Langdale. Took bus to Ambleside for food. 70mph over tops. Haven't slept for two nights. Have abandoned c.way this time. Walk or bus to Keswick for Fri.”
Sure enough, there he was, looking surprisingly fresh despite the battering. I packed his Berghaus C7 Bioflex into the boot, slammed the tailgate and pointed the car towards Borrowdale. We were bound for Den's penultimate Wainwright top – Rosthwaite Fell. He'd been up it before but an administrative anomaly (ahem), had him erroneously ticked off the peak before returning home and discovering that he'd missed the actual Wainwright summit at 612m. When he realised, he immediately resolved to go back and climb it again, making sure that he climbed to Wainwright's prescribed peak.
After parking down a tiny lane just out of Rosthwaite, we headed up the hill across open fell in the general direction of Tarn at Leaves, where we would turn right to our targetted top. This we did and after a bit of casting about in the mist we scrambled over the rocks to the highest point – Rosthwaite Fell. I then mentally ticked off my 152nd Wainwright and shook Den's hand as he hurried off the hill, to regain some visibility. We returned to my car inside of two hours, ready for the drive round to Eskdale.
We went on past our campsite at Boot, which had assumed a rather sodden appearance from the days of rain. A vehicular struggle up the hairpins of the Hardknott Pass, with as little wheel spin as possible, delivered us to the uppermost car parking spot for our 'dash' up the final summit of Den's journey through the Pictorial Guides.
When I write “dash” I actually mean to write “languid wander” for we took a slow walk over the waterlogged, yet still discernible path past the first, lower summit and over the brow until our goal came into view.
Hard Knott was chosen as Den's last when we were on Whin Rigg on an earlier outing. Appearing pyramidal, dark and forboding, Hard Knott struck a chord that would ring in his mind for the next, however many months and however many fells until, well, now.
The winds – which had been light until this moment – began to build, strengthen, in some kind of symbolic resistance. They ensured that we pay greater attention to our final steps toward the summit cairn. By the time we were within striking distance of my 153rd top the wind had become more than a light gale. Den was unperturbed and turned about – the gusts had caused his eyes to moisten, possibly – and gave me an hombre's embrace. I shed a tear, and reciprocated the hug before Den reeled and kissed Hard Knott's summit cairn.
His ten-year assault was completed.
Those of you who are more astute than myself, which amounts to probably all of you, may have noticed that there is an error in my assessment of the number of fells I had summited. For the height of Wainwright's Rosthwaite Fell (Bessyboot) is in fact 550 or possibly 551m above sea level. The highest point on the broader fell is at 612m and is not the summit to which Mr W refers. In my haste to agree with my good pal, I failed to spot that he had in fact climbed his 213th wainwright months earlier, and had no need to return to correct the 'error'. More irritatingly for me perhaps, I had just climbed to the wrong summit, meaning that I must return to climb it another day!
Let's make that 152 for me then, shall we?