Series 2 – 19: 1986 and All That – Part 2


In contrast, September offered perfect weather, long days of sunshine, skies of blue with little more than picturesque white cloud, a guarantee of uninterrupted walking, and a promise I fulfilled. For the first time – indeed, for the first of only two such occasions – I walked every day. And in a single week, I bagged fifteen new summits.
True, two of those days – the day of my arrival and the day of transition to Keswick – I only collected a single top, low and easy fells, each a couple of hours gentle walking rewarded out of all proportion to the effort with beautiful views of lake and valley and surrounding fells.
First order of serious walks was unfinished business: under a September sun I was straight back to the North Rake, this time progressing uninterruptedly to the summit of Pavey Ark – maybe a mere hundred feet from where I’d retreated in April. But I was alive to find out.
A clean sweep of the Langdale Pikes was the plan, but first this meant a long, low walk away from the turrets at the valley edge, across a wide plateau to an undistinguished curve that was yet a summit in its own right (and of which Pavey, geographically speaking, was only a feature: not that there is anything ‘only’ about Pavey Ark). From here, a similarly uninteresting trudge back to Harrison Stickle, the highest Pike.
After lunch, I crossed the little hollow between the three main Pikes, coming to the head of the now-scraped-bare scree-run from the base of Pike O’Stickle into Mickleden, long since stripped of the Stone Age axeheads ‘manufactured’ under the lea of the Pike.
Pike O’Stickle demands a hands-and-feet scramble up its back – another Cam Spout, another I’d rather go up twice in a day than down once. Between that almost fear, and the tight, confined top, I couldn’t enjoy the view as much as I wished, especially of Rossett Gill, across the valley, and the still-distinguishable lines of the old Pony Route.
But after Loft Crag, on the long diagonal descent into the valley, a problem developed. A month earlier, I’d ‘run’ in the Piccadilly Marathon, conned into it against my will, with insufficient time to train up for 26 miles. I’d got up to 12, four weeks ahead, before my right knee, the stronger knee, blew up on me with fluid. Despite the subsequent break from training, I’d managed twelve miles. Now, the knee had again blown up with fluid, and would stay that way all week.
It didn’t stop me. Amazingly, except if I were stepping downhill sideways, it didn’t even affect me on the fells, but I couldn’t walk properly on the streets.
The next serious expedition was once again into my favoured North Western Fells. It started as a simple circuit of Gasgale Gill, the ‘other end’ of Coledale Pass. I would ascend Whiteside, on soaring, open paths, take an elevated ridge route to Hopegill Head – a year to the day after I’d ascended it from the opposite direction, from Grisedale Pike – and then down via Coledale Pass and following Gasgale Gill to its shallow head in a low, flat upland between the backs of Eel Crag and Grasmoor.
The walking had been good, too good,and it was too early in the afternoon to settle for the final fell and home, not when there was time and energy to go up and down the uncomplicated back of Eel Crag. And, on returning, walking a few hundred feet across the cropped turf to the peak of Wandope, less than fifty feet above the plain and a bagger’s easy target.
Then I could walk calmly up Grasmoor, enjoy its sprawling, almost empty top, and finally plan a return.
Originally, I’d intended to descend the north ridge, but the sight of it from Whiteside had firmly shut down that option. So I skirted, none too closely, the rim of the northern crags, picked my way directly down to Coledale Pass, and returned down the narrow channel of Gasgale Gill to the car.
I was sweaty and sticky and I’d used up my drinks. I emptied the contents of my flask down my throat, checked the time, and decided that I would just about have time to get to Cockermouth before the supermarket shut. It was just after 5.30pm.
I never got there.
The picture is of the lower part of Gasgale Gill, showing my morning ascent, Whiteside, forming its massive left flank.

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