Two days from Coniston
Another weekend adventure. Its a hard life pursuing logbook days for ML (summer). I had decided that it was summer and packed accordingly. My backpack weight had gone down several kilos to about 11kg, fully laden. I’d changed to a lighter sleeping bag, left out the waterproof trousers and gone as ultralight as possible on the cook kit. The weather forecast was for sunny days, with a gentle breeze -strengthening on the Sunday.
It had been a long week at work, an Ofsted inspection on the Wednesday and Thursday putting everything into overdrive. I was feeling very tired by Friday afternoon but had thankfully perked up when it came to depart. By 8.30 pm I was locking the car at the Walna Scar car park above Coniston. Shouldering my pack I set off along the old access track towards Blind Tarn, my home for the night. A few other people seemed not to have noticed the ‘no unauthorised vehicles beyond this point’ sign and had set up camp, caravans and all, a few hundred metres down the track. There was ample evidence of previous campers -fire rings could be spotted on the flat green borders to the road.
Before long I reached a large flat area which was bounded at the west by the hill up to Blind Tarn and to the north by Goats water and Dow Crag. After a brief search I found a sufficiently dry, flat patch for my tent. Within a couple of minutes the tent was pitched and I was moving in. The evening was still bright enough to see without a torch, despite it being heading for 9.30. Once I’d moved in I got out my tiny stove and heated some water for a hot chocolate. I had pitched the tent so that the porch opened away from the prevailing wind to shelter my stove. This also afforded me an excellent view of Blind Tarn Screes, my first stopping point for the next morning.
Naturally, the wind had completely reversed direction in the time between putting the first pegs in and unpacking my rucksack. I knew the wind wouldn’t get too strong and I couldn’t really be bothered to re-pitch the tent so I just left it. As the evening was so pleasant I took the opportunity to fiddle about with my camera, try to take some photographs using long exposures and remembering to use the mini-tripod I always carry and rarely use.
By half past ten I was tucked into my sleeping bag with the door of the tent closed against the breeze. By midnight I was awake again, feeling cold. I put on some clothes and fell back to sleep. By two thirty I was awake again. I really needed a thicker sleeping bag. I struggled with being chilly and dozed until about 5.30 when I decided that coffee and beginning the day was the best option. The moon shone brightly above the crags, no sign of the sun at this point.
By half past six everything was packed away and I set off, first to the stream to collect some water then on to find Blind Tarn -a small tarn not visible from below, with no outflowing streams. A short climb later and the tarn was in sight, as was a fellow wild camper -a small tent perched near the shore of the lake. I took a few photos before scrambling up the screes onto the ridge. I’ve long wanted to be the first person to the summit of a mountain one day. Today wasn’t it. Ahead of me three walkers, catching up with me a fell runner. The weather forecast was proving to be spot-on. Not a breath of wind, clear skies and not too chilly. I followed the ridge northwards over Dow Crag, occasionally peering off the edge down gullies and over cliffs. After Dow Crag there is a short descent to Goats Hause before climbing again to Coniston Old Man (Or the Old Man of Coniston, if you prefer). By 8.30 I was on the summit of the Old Man, not another soul there with me. On this exposed summit the wind had picked up so I sheltered behind the summit cairn and looked down into the copper mines valley below.
The path down to the copper mines was a manufactured zig zag. Good in terms of preventing erosion but not the most inspiring. About half way down there is the rusting evidence of the industrial past; a toppled pylon, corroded cables and pipes sticking up from the ground like petrified metal worms. A man with a confused face and apparently no map asked me which way the summit was. I showed him and said it would be about another hour to the top. There were more people wandering the various tracks and trails near to the Youth Hostel.
I didn’t have an exact target for the day, just a vague plan of where I wanted to go -towards crinkle crags. To this end I followed the paths which would take me to Levers water reservoir. I sat at the shore of the lake and enjoyed a snack, the view and refilled my water bottle. As I set off again I met a man hoping to fish in the lake. Due to the breeze he needed to go to the far side or else all he’d catch would be the grass behind him. Instead of the obvious path towards Black Sails and Wetherlam I made my own way up over a rocky rib parallel to the main path. It was quite hard work in some places but not technically challenging. I reached the top and turned north east towards the summit of Wetherlam. There were about a dozen people coming down from the summit and when I got there about another forty or so passing by or stopped for lunch.
After a brief, 25 minute, lunch stop I was off again. Heading north east along Wetherlam edge towards Birk Fell. I followed this ridge to the end before descending into the Greenburn Beck valley. My legs were getting a little tired now as they’d gone up and down over several mountains and into two valleys. Checking the map I considered my options. North west was towards Pike of Blisco and Crinkle Crags. West was back along another ridge which would eventually curve back towards Wetherlam. I decided to continue on towards the North. A short while later I was climbing again up onto the ridge which lead eventually to the unfairly named Hell Gill. Before reaching this scary sounding hill I turned and descended again to the Wrynose pass, crossing the road and climbing once more. By 4pm I was walking next to Red Tarn, under Pike of Blisco, looking for a place to set up camp.
By this point my knees had made it clear that they would not support any notion of carrying on to Crinkle Crags. The wind had picked up now and it was blowing directly along the valley which meant I needed to find a sheltered spot. If the ground was flat, it was probably exposed. If it wasn’t exposed it was a marsh. After about an hour of testing potential spots I found a place just big enough for the tent and not a marsh and not in the full force of the wind.
I set up my tent, moved in and made a coffee. I watched the final people descend from the valley and I was alone again. As I had such an early start I spent the evening dozing in my tent before cooking dinner -dehydrated chicken tikka and more coffee. The backpacking meal was tasty enough, hot and filling. For dessert an Alpen bar and a Mars bar. I spent most of my time inside the tent where it was sun-warmed and out of the wind.
Prepared for another cold night I slept fully clothed. It helped but wasn’t the most comfortable night I’ve spent in a tent. By five the next morning I was wide-awake. By five thirty I’d had my coffee and was onto the porridge -strictly speaking, hot Alpen. By six I’d packed and was off to find water. Below me I found two ladies out bivying. You’re never quite as alone as you think in the wilds!
Today I was taking a more direct route back to the car. Much less ascent, descent and fewer kilometres. Back to the Wrynose pass and on up to Hell Gill. The wind was strong on the ridge and cold. I was glad to have my windshirt which I fastened up tight. I was concerned I might lose my hat and so tightened up the chin strap as far as I could while maintaining the ability to breathe. Following the ridge south of Hell Gill I came across a memorial to the crew of a crashed WWII plane. A Halifax bomber. I didn’t linger long it was feeling really cold and I wanted to descend to the sheltered side of the hill where I could warm up again.
South of the memorial the path began to descend on the leeward side of the hill and almost instantly it became much warmer. I realised I’d not seen a single person since the two ladies near my camp site.
Carrying on towards Brim Fell and Goat’s Water I could see groups of other walkers heading for the Old Man. I descended to Goat’s Water where two men were preparing to climb something on Dow Crag. There is a mountain rescue box at the base of the crag containing emergency equipment and a stretcher. There are several of these across the Lake District. This was the second I’ve seen.
The path from Goat’s Water soon joined the Walna Scar path that I’d walked in on the Friday night. Before long I was back at the car, glad to get my boots off and ready for home.