“24? Really?” I mused, “and he’s on his 25th?”
I had been reading an article in November’s issue of Lakeland Walker and was deep in thought over it as I clambered the steep sides of Whiteside assisted by a very helpful stiff breeze at my back. The writer was commenting about a chap that he had met on Esk Pike. The chap had done all 214 Wainwrights 24 times and was now in the middle of his next round. I couldn’t think of any mountain that I’d climbed that many times, except maybe Coniston Old Man. I think Snowdon is the next one, possibly half that number. Not sure. It was a while back but featured as a regular climb during one summer of working in an outdoor centre in North Wales. But 24. I couldn’t even envisage that level of mountain intimacy.
I stood on the summit and, gazing at the ridge before me, said to the wind
“Oh, I have so much to do!”
The breeze, at that point, took my words and disappeared with them, leaving me with an unexpected stillness and unveiling views. It was perfect timing as the change refocused my thinking to the hills I was now in and I paused, revelling in the here and now and watching the sun and clouds playing peekaboo.
I was only on my third ascent of Whiteside and the ridge that runs along to Hopegill Head and it has become a favourite walk with a short but sharp ascent from the car and then a delightful path where the land falls steeply away either side. Grasmoor rises dramatically from Gasgale Gill below and the area is invariably quiet, tucked away as it is from the more easily accessible peaks nearby. I had the place to myself too and the solitude was refreshing. As was the wind which reappeared when I reached Coledale Hause.
I had expected the wind to increase and then be a bit of an issue on the summit ridge but it had unexpectedly stayed out of the way on the high places. The hause, lower down, acted as a natural wind tunnel, drawing the wind up from the Buttermere valley and hurling it eastwards below Grisedale Pike to Braithwaite and beyond. It also collected the breeze whirling up through Rannerdale and I walked headlong into this for a while before finding the path onto Grasmoor.
“Windy up there,” one descender commented as we passed.
“You’re the eighth person I’ve seen today,” I said to another on his way down.
“Eight more than yesterday,” he threw back, not breaking stride. He had a point. Yesterday had been wet and wild.
I continued climbing. It’s a straightforward path up but I was still unsure as to what conditions I would find by the summit shelter. Would it be a substantial battle with the breeze across the plateau?
Again the wind had oddly eased and the clouds that had been skimming Grasmoor’s broad top lifted slightly. Just high enough to be touched. I had the place to myself so I did.
And I fell a little more in love with this great lump of a hill as a result.
The mountain is not of glamorous gabbro or granite construction or even water carved sandstone or limestone. Mudstone and siltstone make up this enormous monolith but it is no Cinderella. Grasmoor sits above Crummock Water, guarding the entrance to Buttermere from Lorton and, rising directly from the lake, it dominates the skyline, a rounded pink grey mass with a few Eiger-like crags thrown in along her northern flanks. In afternoon light she simply glows.
Part of my reason for returning to the hill had been as a result of seeing the Lad Hows route from Whiteless Pike a few months previously. It had looked an interesting descent option and I had added it to my ‘to do’ list. However, it was also on the edge of that stiff breeze of earlier and I did wonder if, even with a heavy pack, the wind was likely to whip me off my feet on what is quite an exposed path. With poles out, I decided to explore the first section and then retreat if necessary.
Again the gale dropped, Grasmoor’s shoulder deflecting the maelstrom to swirl elsewhere. The hide and seek sun had been dropping route reminders all day, torch beams highlighting my path ahead. It was now sat low, subtly high cloud veiled but clearly illuminating the track. I walked wind unassailed into a silver grey landscape where, instead, the breeze crafted a changing panorama for me, pushing clouds across the central fells. Dropping quickly down Lad Hows into Rannerdale I came alongside Cinderdale Beck where my walk rate then took a significant hit.
The stream was in spate and I forgot the path in my fascination with the beck. Every water course has a voice. To be fair, they are relatively similar. The rush and hum of full rivers and the tinkle of small rills are familiar sounds. But occasionally there is a delicate, almost missed, melody to some. This was one of those days. Cinderdale Beck was running whiter than a washing powder; something I have rarely seen. After rainfall, mountain streams usually run grubby with silt, sediment, peat or mud. This beck was pristine. Snow white. Luminous. And, despite the heavy flow, the water spoke with a light softness above the rush; tiny bubbles lifting air into an exquisite song. I found it hard to leave.
But that was the problem I’d had on my last visit.
“Good day?” I asked the chap grappling with boots by his Nissan’s open tailgate. He looked up and nodded as I opened my car nearby.
“Yes, bit windy,” he replied.
I returned the nod.
“Where did you walk?” I asked, beginning my own boot grappling process.
“Up there,” he pointed at the crags sitting below Grasmoor End.
“Oh, I wondered where that path went,” I exclaimed. It heads off at right angles from the access track I had used earlier onto Whiteside.
“Well,” sensing my interest, tailgate man went on, “see the light path up the scree? It leads onto a track that weaves around the rocks.”
I followed his pointing finger and spotted the route he had taken.
“It’s a Wainwright route if you want to follow it up,” he advised, slamming the boot shut.
“Mmm, thanks,” I said thoughtfully.
I did as he said and checked Wainwrights’ North Western Fells Guide.
Looks like I now have another reason to return.
Just need 20 more.