It’s been a while since I’ve been able to write following Marc’s tragic passing.
I have received many messages asking me if I will write again? I have tried several times but haven’t been able to find my passion. I guess I always knew that being in the hills would be a struggle. I had an experience a few weeks back which I knew I would love to share with you all so here goes…
In the morning I had mixed emotions about heading up Wetherlam. I have tried to be up there recently and the last time I cried all night. There is no ‘manual’ for grief and how we deal with it but in my heart, I knew that if I found my favourite pass time to difficult to do anymore my life would be empty. I was desperate to feel the love I used to have for sleeping under the stars and taking photo’s (and sharing these experiences with you lovely people!). I had asked Sarah to join me but sadly she was working. I felt having company would be better.
As I pulled up in the Coppermine’s valley my eyes scanned the hills and I tried to predict the weather. The forecast was ok. A stiff westerly wind blew straight through me, Autumn was in full swing now and I needed to remind myself how much I loved the elements.
I had Marc’s poles with me as I broke mine the previous week – it was a good excuse to use them! They were brand new after all. I slipped my hands through the wrist straps knowing that the last hands in their were Marc’s; My eyes filled with tears as I set off up the track..
I turned my thought to the mines – my other big passion. I had been doing a lot of solo exploring of late as well as with friends. Tony H and David H had been my partners in crime and had been a great help. I had in the previous weeks soloed my nemesis. A massive and arduous undertaking called The Thriddle Shaft. I had transported 250 metres of rope plus all the hardwear alone. The first time I bottled if. I sat on the edge of this deep void listening to my heartbeat in my ears but I couldn’t summon the courage. I hid my ropes and then went back the next week. I again took a long time to lower myself onto the rope and start the long descent. The weight of the ropes dragged at my harness as I looked at the bolts and my knots wondering how on earth they could stand up to all the weight! Of course they are all fine but your mind plays tricks.. I was soon on my way. The rebelays are strenuous and with the extra weight I knew they would be difficult to pass. The first one proved to be a real bastard but after much swearing and cursing it was passed and I continued down. After much effort I reached my limit. I had descended as far as I dare go safely that day. I needed to return with the drill and a companion; still, I had dome the lion’s share of it. (400’). I started the long journey back to the surface. It had focussed my mind…
Mentally reliving my trip had got me to Levers Water! It was beautiful. And pretty quiet considering it was half term week. I decide to head up Black Sails as I knew this would be the quietest option and I was unlikely to see people. Marc and I had walked this way several times so there were a lot of memories here. I opened my heart up and let them come flooding in. I felt a deep sadness but also a calmness too. I messaged Malc (his dad). I always send him pictures of where I am. As I got higher up the wind chilled me and I decided to layer up a bit. Soon I was looking over to the Langdale Pikes. It was cool, and the air clarity was good. The cloud was fairly broken; I knew the morning forecast was better than the evening but I hoped it wouldn’t be clagged in.
I passed over the boggy ground to meet the main path to the summit. I could see a couple of people ahead of me, their packs liked ‘big’ for day walkers……
As I neared the summit the people I had seen were stopped on the western edge and I always stay on the East on my rocky platform. I decided to dump my pack where I sleep and head back to the small summit tarn to collect water, if they were staying it’s only fair to ask them if they would mind me being there too, after all they had arrived first and its courtesy if they want the summit to themselves. It was a father and son and they were camping. They were nice people and we chatted briefly. I wasn’t enthralled at the thought of sharing the summit but as it was windy, and time was cracking on I didn’t really fancy moving on! They were not fussed with my presence and to be honest we wouldn’t even be able to see each other.
I headed back to my favourite platform and sighed deeply as I sucked in the view. I sat for a short while with my memories. A tear rolled down my cheek at the same time as my tummy rumbled. Sad and hungry! Time to sort my bed out. The evenings were really drawing in now and I like to be organised. I decided to tuck right in tonight as the winds were gusting to 35 mph. I started to unpack – I hoped that I had everything with me as it’s been a while since I was out and I’m a little out of practice. Every time I leave the house I go through a mental checklist as I’m driving away in the car. On several occasions I have turned around at the road end where I live and driven back to collect my pillow, headtorch, Buffs, Dry socks, Food!! Etc. Today seemed ok, everything appeared to be there. As I leaned forward to move a rock to weigh down my groundsheet my back reminded me it was bad…Luckily I hadn’t forgotten my painkillers!
Soon the familiar sound of the Jetboil was on. I filtered the water with my Sawyer before boiling it as the little pool on the summit doesn’t look the cleanest – its standing water and is probably full of sheep wee!
I was looking forward to my brew as the temperature was now down to 5 Celsius and 0 in the wind. I cupped my coffee in my hands, the warmth was welcome on my cold fingers. I sat back against the rocks and watched as the light started to fail. Large clouds billowed over the Old Man and all the way along to Swirl How; I was glad I had come over to this side otherwise it would have been a damp and murky evening. I used the rest of my water to make my Wilderness Stew and rested it in my lap, again enjoying the heat from pouch. I was sporting my new Haglofs Primaloft Skirt. It’s great bit of kit. My dear friend Graham got it for me. It’s great for keeping your bum warm when it’s not quite Primaloft trouser weather!
I was fed and watered. I felt ok. I was surprised, I had expected to be in floods of tears by now, but I was alright. Even when I looked up and saw our star – Vega, I felt sad but I wasn’t in hysterics as had previously happened. I walked to the summit cairn, I had my wine in hand as I watched the very last light disappear. Sunset had been atmospheric though not dramatic. It was what I was expecting really. Sunrise was promising to be a good one.
The mountains took on their familiar silhouettes against the night sky and the stars slowly pricked the night sky with their cold light. It was beautiful. The wind had dropped a little and all was dark. I hadn’t seen the campers at all apart from one distant wave so I felt alone.. I was ok.
I went back to my bed and poured some more wine – it had been warming in my Jetboil. I chatted to Marc for a while. It sounds odd talking to the dark, but it can help, or I think it can, though it’s a good job the bloke and his lad didn’t come over or they would have thought I was a right loony!! It was soon time to get in bed. I made a hot chocolate and had a mini fudge bar for supper before cleaning the fangs and having a wash. It felt good to be getting in my bag. It had dropped to 3 degrees and -3 in the wind. I wriggled around and got comfy.. I was so pleased I had packed the Western bag and not the MHW.I would have been cold! Soon I was tucked up and listening to the wind whistling through the rocks. I covered my face with my buff and stared into the blanket of stars. I saw 3 satellites as I lay there. It was only 9.30 but I was soon drifting off..
I woke a couple of times through the night, once to the stars and once to low cloud. I fell back to sleep fairly quickly both times. No night terrors or night mares like the last time. The last time I woke I looked at my phone and it was 5.45. It was still dark though the fine line of red was just appearing on the eastern horizon. Venus was huge and was amazing to see. I sat up and rested on my elbow to fill the Jetboil. It was brew time.
A gazed across to the ever-lightening sky, it is such an amazing experience watching the sun rise. A real treat. I thought of Marc and the sunrises we had seen together. At that moment I caught something out of the corner of my eye. It was a beautiful fox. I think it was a vixen as she was quite small. She looked amazing. She was curious. I slowly reached for my phone. I hadn’t got the camera with me which was a shame, but I did manage a few snaps! She stayed for a good few minutes and was only 2-3 meters from me.. Wonderful! She walked off in the direction of the tent. She was attracted by the smell of food. I got out of my bag and quietly made my way over. The man was up and came straight over, he too had seen her. We were both really chuffed. We chatted for five minutes and I jokingly said that I should get back in case she nicks my food bag… As I got back to the bivvy I bent down to put the stove on again.. I reached for my food bag which had my coffee sachets in and it wasn’t there! It was then that I realised that in the 5 minutes I had been away the sly little fox had done a 360 and headed straight back to my camp and made off with the bag! I was a little worried as it had my rubbish in a grip seal bag in there but little else! I decided to go and look for it. About 300 m from the bivvy I found it; minus the rubbish bag! I looked around but it was nowhere to be seen.. I took my bag and headed back to camp. I had no sooner got the stove on but she appeared again. This time a little further away. She watched me again for a short while and then trotted off. What a lovely experience. One I won’t forget.
It was soon time to pack up. The sun was rising, and the stars had all gone. There wasn’t a breath of wind and I was looking forward to the walk down. I packed up and took my LNT picture and headed of. I waved goodbye to the man and his son and went on my way. On the way down, I took photos at the tarns near the top of Steel Edge, they were so still. The reflections were perfect, like a mirror.
I decided to take a strange way down as I had always wanted to check out a deep clefted gully that heads steeply in Red Dell. I wondered if there were any old mine workings in there. I approached it via a sheep trod. Sadly there was nothing to be found and it turned into an exercise of practicing descending on very steep ground! When I got down to the valley I checked out a small promontory that I have wanted to look at for a while with a view to bivvying on it. I thought it would be good for a post work hit as it would be a short walk in. The top of it was perfect! I will definitely be back there in the snow at some point. It ndwas also home to an OMM checkpoint. I had passed another couple of these on the walk up. My friend’s Ste and Paul would be running that weekend. The forecast looked poor for them on Saturday sadly. I had got the best day. (for the record they did very well and finished. Well done guys!).
I descended the miners track down the side of the beck. The water sparkled and glistened in the sunshine, it looked inviting… Before I knew it I was stripping of and was slowly immersing myself in the icy water. It was like an ice cold jacuzzi! The word ‘invigorating’ sprung to mind. BRRRRRRRRR. I stayed in the water for quite some time. It was lovely. It was usually very quiet in Red Dell, so I didn’t expect to see anyone… Seconds after I got dressed a man appeared! I was lucky. He nearly got more than he bargained for on his morning hill walk! We had a chat and I told him where some of the interesting surface areas were. He was very grateful for the local knowledge and toddled off with his map.
I was soon throwing my stuff in the car and heading home. I’m pleased I went. It wasn’t as painful as I expected it to be… I only hope it lasts.