Skiddaw - starting out in sunChecking the map, walking to the Lake District summit of “Skiddaw” (931m) via the bridleway from Keswick looked like a fairly straightforward undertaking.

My husband was booked on a mountain bike guiding course in the area and we’d decided to make the most of a couple of days away.

Having lost my normal partner in crime, I’d decided to don my big girl pants and have a go at bagging my first solo mountain summit.

Getting started…

I knew there would be plenty of daylight if I set out straight after breakfast and besides, I figured that turning round and retracing my steps back to a cosy cafe in Keswick was always an option if things started to feel too daunting.

Finding my way out of the town centre went smoothly and the conditions were bright, with plenty of blue sky. The mountain summits had fluffy white cloud blowing over them, but I was hopeful it would burn off by the time I reached that height.

As the terrain ramped steeply upwards, I missed my walking poles. They only get used when I’m in the mountains (to help both my knees and endurance on long walks) and right then I wished that they weren’t sitting in my spare bedroom back home. I dug deep and slowly meandered up the track, amusing myself by considering how I would fare up here on my mountain bike.

Navigation was pretty simple, so I took the opportunity to practice my skills and keep note of exactly where I was. By the time I reached a fork in the path, I was glad I’d been paying attention.

Walking into the cloud line

The left fork was not marked on the map and with visibility becoming poor, I was tempted to turn back. Spending a little time, I worked out that it was a detour to go over the summit of “Little Man” (865m) and would rejoin the main bridleway further on.

Deciding on a summit bid of Little Man, I continued upwards into strengthening wind and rain. There looked to be a steep drop on one side and the strong winds/foggy conditions were giving me a healthy spike of fear. Thankful that the wind was blowing me away from the steep edge, I pushed on towards the summit cairn, made a quick celebratory circle and carried onwards, battling the wind to rejoin the main bridleway.

Foggy pathOnce there, I had a decision. Weather conditions were pretty foul – foggy, cold and wet with strong winds – and it was only likely to get worse with the higher elevation of Skiddaw.

However, the bridleway so far had been well defined and having already done most of the hard work to gain height I decided to give into summit fever and go for the trig point at the top.

By now, I was using the marker cairns emerging out of the fog one by one to boost my confidence and confirm I was on track. As the wind increased in strength, I realised I’d made the wide ridge of the summit plateau.

Struggling to stay upright without my walking poles to help, I came close to abandoning my quest. Then, I saw a runner and his 4 legged friend coming towards me, not long after passing the other way. I knew that the summit must have been close (either that or he had turned around in worsening weather).

Making the summit

As the trig point came into view, the feeling of elation (and relief) is something which will stay with me for a long time.

Skiddaw summit photoDespite the appalling conditions, I wanted a photograph. It was my first solo mountain above 900m and I’d ticked off two Wainwrights in the process.

Needing a rest and some food, I hunkered down in the summit shelter with some fellow walkers. Scarfing down a quick snack, it wasn’t long before I made a move, needing to get warm.

The original plan had been to do a circular walk by taking an alternative path off the summit. However, with the fog hampering my view, making navigation tougher, I decided that safety was the better part of adventure and chose to retrace my steps.

It was a good decision. The cloud was at a much lower elevation by now, but my choice of return route meant a stress free walk back down the mountain.

Staying safe

During the descent, I was stopped by 3 different parties asking for help with their location. Worryingly, only 1 had a map with any kind of idea where they were.

Particularly alarming was a mother with 2 children who told me that someone in their group had a map but left them to walk ahead – they’d been about to veer off the bridleway onto the summit of Little Man by accident.

Skiddaw - finishing the day in mistSkiddaw seems to be considered an easy option mountain, with parking right next to a bridleway going directly to the summit. Perhaps it is relatively easy on a clear sunny day in summer. However, particularly in early Spring, conditions on the summit are vastly different to conditions in the valley. I was lucky not to encounter snow, but a couple of inches were forecast on the summit the next day which would have made it a completely different undertaking.

Despite the layers of technical clothing (and waterproof over trousers) I’d worn, it still felt freezing cold on the summit. Sitting next to me in the summit shelter had been a guy wearing jeans – he was shivering with a jacket spread over his legs in an attempt to warm up, commenting that perhaps his jeans had been a bad idea.

For a gentle walk in the valley, it would have been fine – but up on a mountain summit in conditions like that, it could have been downright dangerous, leading to hypothermia. Worryingly, there were plenty of other people walking up in fashion leggings and hoodies looking less than comfortable.

No wonder Mountain Rescue organisations are reporting increasing call-outs in mountains.

I’m no expert mountaineer (remind me to tell you the story of one foggy circular walk ending up in a different valley miles away and off the edge of the map) and I’m all for people enjoying/challenging themselves in the outdoors.

However, when increasing accessibility through such things as mobile phone GPS mapping, convenient car parking and route signage, should we also do more to help develop a better understanding and appreciation of mountain environments?

I’ll leave that thought open…..

General Information

Map: OS 1:25,000 (OL4 Lake District North Western)
Cafe: Keswick, lots of choice – Little Chamonix has great cakes
Pub: Keswick, take your pick!
Supermarket: Booths, Keswick
Parking: Limited parking behind Latrigg NY280253 (or start from Keswick)
Public Transport: Bus to Keswick
Accommodation: Choice of B&B, hotels and holiday cottages in Keswick.  We stayed at Woodside B&B which had fabulous home made Greek yoghurt for breakfast!


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