Are you adventure smart?
It’s bank holiday weekend. The perfect opportunity for many of us to head to the hills. The weather’s turning out to be half decent too!
On a recent walk around Lake Windermere, I endured some more typical bank holiday weather conditions. It chucked it down all day. I saw no other walkers; I was the only mug stupid enough to brave the conditions. And I bloody loved it.
As long as you are adventure smart, there’s no reason for the rain to stop you. But sometimes there’s a fine line between feeling prepared and being prepared, as I found out on a similar wet and windy day…
I’d not been out in the hills for years. A stressful corporate job meant any spare energy I had at weekends was used to psyche myself up to return on Monday morning.
So by the time I’d sorted my work/life balance, I was craving a proper mountain experience. I wanted big hills with bigger views and settled on a round of Base Brown, Green Gable and Great Gable to ease me back into the habit of climbing mountains.
Autumn had officially begun and I imagined idyllic vistas awash with reds, oranges and browns. Crisp air and bright sunshine. I was so confident that I barely checked the forecast and relied on the previous day’s weather in Yorkshire (where the sun always shines). Schoolboy error number one.
The scene couldn’t have been more different as I arrived in Seathwaite at the crack of dawn. Horizontal rain, driving winds and a thick misty soup were set in. Sourmilk Gill was in full flow – a warning that the mountains were ready to bite the unwary that day.
After some minor scrambling, I passed through a gate and soon decided to follow the recommended diversion in Wainwright’s guide to the summit of Base Brown via the Hanging Stone. With hindsight, I should have stayed on the more defined track towards Green Gable and had a more enjoyable time of it. But I wanted to test myself and followed bearings through the mist to the crags beneath the Hanging Stone.
I skirted around the crags to meet a steep scree slope running down the mountain. Wainwright suggests this ascent as an alternative and it seemed logical in the mist. I headed straight up to a ridge before turning left to the summit.
By now, the wind was relentless and visibility was terrible at best. It wasn’t a place to linger. I had a decision to make: continue along the summit ridge to Green Gable; or retrace my steps to the scree and descend that way.
The lure of the warm car proved too inviting and I decided to return the way I’d come.
Time to come down
Here’s where it started getting a little hairy. Although I’d confidently reached the summit on bearings, I hadn’t made a mental note of distances covered and it was a featureless landscape in the mist.
I located the scree slope and started to descend. I was relying on hitting the obvious horizontal path to guide me down the safe route beneath the hanging stone. But, in my eagerness to get out of the miserable conditions, I overshot it and couldn’t find a safe route through.
I was on a slippery scree slope, gingerly looking for a way out. The map showed me there were steep crags to avoid. But whichever way I went, I was faced with one of these relentless drops. Not good.
To make matters worse, my 17 year old boots had lost a lot of their previously-impressive grip. The rug was pulled from under me at one point and a razor-sharp rock broke my fall, cutting open my palm. It could have been worse and I patched it up with my meagre first aid kit but my right hand was now less effective.
Make a plan
The fall was a wake up call. I gathered my thoughts and thought about the situation. I knew (roughly) where I was. I had plenty of food, water and clothing. I just needed a plan and some patience – rather than blindly scurrying up and down a scree slope hoping to stumble across the way through the crags.
I spotted a wall on the map which ran along the open fell below me back to the top of Sourmilk Gill. The contour lines were less aggressive here and reason taught me that humans must have been there at some point to lay the wall. Here was my safe route off the mountain.
I carefully descended the slope until, sure enough, I found the wall. I turned left and followed it easily along the base of the crags until I reached the welcome sight of the gate to the waterfall. Clearly the right decision, given the number of skeletons from less-fortunate sheep traversing the crags above!
Back in Keswick, safe, but with my pride a little dented, I reflected whether I’d been adventure smart over a sausage roll:
- Although I thought I’d checked the weather, I should have checked a proper mountain forecast and planned my route accordingly. So desperate was I to summit a mountain that I picked the forecast I liked best and convinced myself the sun would come out.
- Although I had the right kit, it was a little tired and not up to the job. Boots no longer fit for purpose. First aid kit was a little sparse. Waterproof trousers old and letting water in. Time to go shopping.
- Although my navigation ended up being spot on, I took my eye off the ball a couple of times which knocked my confidence. No matter how sharp your skills, there’s always room for improvement and you never stop learning.
So it’s this experience which probably made my walk around Lake Windermere in the pouring rain such a pleasant one. New boots (properly worn in), decent waterproof trousers, a well-stocked first aid kit, the fantastic OS Locate app installed for reassurance, and map and compass skills refreshed meant I could splash in puddles to my heart’s content and reap the rewards of being outside.
If you are venturing out this weekend, don’t get complacent. Be adventure smart by following the advice from www.adventuresmart.uk