Day the First:

The Day We Didn’t Sleep

On a chilly Winter day (Friday the 17th of December to be precise), thirteen Fellwanderers gathered for the Lake District Winter Tour, blissfully unaware of the epic three days that awaited them. It didn’t take long for things to start going wrong. Our intrepid President, Sir Jim Carr, blighted by a horrific cough, could not leave his London residence, so we left the union at 5pm with one less voice to sing along to the 5 CDs of Christmas music we had stockpiled.

As it was Christmas we stopped at a Tesco which was about the size of Norway and decided to buy, as well as Secret Santa gifts, a fully-fledged Christmas dinner for Sunday night. Rumours of frozen pipes at the destination persuaded us to buy bottles and bottles of water. Despite the attempts of our new first-in-command James Allan to reassure us that the pipes wouldn’t freeze, we collectively decided that it was better to be prepared, than to die of thirst.

Bad luck struck us again as we trundled along the M6; traffic began to form and the minibus began to lose speed. As we slowed concerns over our progress were raised. And raised with just cause, before very long we were ‘driving’ at about walking pace. At 11.30pm the traffic stopped completely. It was snowing quite heavily and the cars, lorries and national express buses stuck with us didn’t seem to be too happy about the halt. Needless to say we Fellwanderers stayed true to joy and happiness and listened to Radio 4’s rendition of The Lord of the Rings. Others talked, read, or in my case, rolled over and went to sleep.

On waking some indeterminate time later (Radio 4 told me that the Hobbits had reached Mordor) I realised that some intrepid explorers had left the minibus stronghold to hear rumours of when we would move again, how bad the crash ahead was and, in Alex the Grey’s case, to walk up the M6 to attempt to see the beginning of the queue. Returning as Alex the White (covered in snow), he hadn’t seen the end. This, and the fact someone highlighted the problem that none of us had crampons, made me roll over and go back to sleep on that very white and spooky M6. I woke to an even whiter M6 (Lord of the Rings had finally ended), and rumours of movement were circulating. It was 3.45am. We had been stationary for 4 hours. Finally, at 4.30am, on Saturday the 18th of December, we started to move and there was much rejoicing. For the lorry in front of us, there was more concern than rejoicing, as the driver had lost his keys in the snow. Phil Power manoeuvred the bus around the lorry and after 5 hours spent staring at the back of it, burning the logo into our brains, we were happy to be rid of it.

Day the Second (technically):

The Entrance To The Hut

All I know about the rest of the journey to the hut is that Phil was the first to fall from our company, and there was much rejoicing (because he was staying with another group, not because we don’t like him).

Upon reaching the hut we dumped the shopping, our bags, and debated the choice that faced us: to sleep or to walk. As it was 7 in the morning, we had the compulsory porridge, and as the sweet oats reached our stomach we experienced a surge of energy and decided to go for a refreshing morning walked. The route was decided, walk-able straight from the hut, and thus we left for the fell called High Spy at 9.30 am, sugar replacing sleep.

After the initial ascent, we found ‘The Mine of Darkness’. The long, winding corridor with water dripping on our heads led to a large opening; a dome of stone reaching high over our heads in the pitch black. A sudden irrational fear of goblins struck us and we retreated. Soon after, we discovered ‘The Cave of Wonder’. Full of huge icicles, the cave reached high above us and ice engulfed every surface. The slippery floor, covered in Moomins (icicle stalagmites), and the ice-adorned walls were quietly beautiful. After slipping around and taking photos, we finished the ascent to a cloudy, windy peak and stopped for lunch. It was bitterly cold, so lunch was brief and we made our descent, slowed by slippery mud, rocks and puddles. But as we descended, the cloud lifted, unveiling rolling ridges and steep hills and a gorgeous lake scene below making up for the bruises that we suffered.

On returning to the hut, we relaxed with some tasty vegetable stew and a few ales. We were hit with more bad news however: the pipes had frozen.

Day the Third:

Great Gable

Sunday morning was marked by cat-like screeching, or as Joe and Alex liked to call it, singing. No wonder then, despite the freezing cold and lack of running water, we were up and ready so quickly.

We took the minibus to the town of Buttermere and made the very wise decision of a field route, via the icy ascent, to a lake. After skating and walking on the lake (the thrill of the thick ice clouding any concerns), we needed to make a route decision. The sun shone over Scarfell Pike on the south slope of the mountain Great Gable, to show us a route which could simply not be ignored, and there was much rejoicing.

The warm, steep ascent lead us to a beautiful scene of crystal clear skies to the west, where we could see the coast and the mountains around to the north. The lower layer of cloud sinking below us, with the sun glancing off it, made us feel on top of the world. We ate and took some obligatory photos, and began our descent when damned bad luck had us again. We took the wrong route down. With great care (and ice axes) we ensured our survival on the shear slope – at times one just had to hope that a foot that slipped would miraculously find another rock. But the amazing views stayed with us and kept our spirits high as we all made it safely to the bottom.

On returning to the hut, a glorious Christmas dinner was had, with two types of gravy and enough stuffing for 5,000. The Secret Santa gifts followed and all were appreciated, especially the shoes, ale, cheesecake and selection of cream buns. All warmed with the roaring fire and after a second application of books and ale, we went to bed.

Day the Fourth:

Amazing Blencathra Views

The last day was perhaps the most enjoyable. We woke early and made our way to one of the most northerly Lake District mountains – Blencathra. We ascented the peak steadily and the spectacular views were complimented serendipitously by the rising sun. At the summit the clear skies allowed us 360° views of the surrounding landscape; it was breathtakingly beautiful.

We made our quick descent, walking along snow-covered fields back to the bus. Looking back at the heights that we had conquered, it was generally agreed that it had been a successful Fellwanderers Trip.

Fellwanderers run regular weekend trips to the spectacular mountain ranges across Britain, catering for all abilities. To get involved just email us at jc1908@ic.ac.uk for information on the next trip!