Firstly an apology for a very late show from Dale Head, LD-020, on Saturday 12th September, the reasons will emerge shortly but firstly a word about the circumstances surrounding the activation.
As a member of the Mercian Mountaineering Club I try and get out on at least one Meet per month. This time we had booked the Carlyle CC Hut in the Newlands Valley. This delightfully isolated hut is reached by a drive of over 1.5 km along an unsurfaced track, a relic of the one time thriving mining industry in the valley. The hut has alpine accommodation, gas cooking and lighting, and a coke-fired pot belly stove which we got glowing a nice dull red in the evenings! A little primitive, perhaps, but a bargain at £6.50 pnpp, and you look out over the flank of the Hindscarfe ridge with High Spy behind you, Dale head shutting off the end of the valley and a glimpse of Skiddaw the other way. In a word, heaven!
Saturday morning was glorious, deep blue sky, no wind, nothing stirring except for sheep and about a hundred rooks! So, an English breakfast, butties and thermos’s of tea made and packed, and Pauline and I left the hut at 09.30 ready for a stroll up the valley and an ascent of Dale Head…only to find the world had stood on its head! There were crowds of people, cars, even a large campervan, dogs running everywhere, and a mournful horn blowing! The Blencathra hunt was working over the Newlands Valley! The spectacle of fifty two hounds running up, down and along the hillsides, scrambling up gullies and burrowing through bracken flushing out surprising numbers of sheep was quite fascinating…and not a horse or red jacket in sight, it was all done on foot by people who made us mountaineers look terminally unfit! Well, I’ve spent more days on the hill than I care to admit, but I had never been in the middle of a hunt before, and we stood and watched for a long time as they contoured around the valley and finally vanished behind the spoil heaps of the Pan Holes lead mine. Then we set off up the valley, realising that whilst we stood and stared the midges had been feasting on us and I now sported a collection of white itchy lumps…Hell!
The day was windless and the sun very hot, our progress up the valley got slower and slower until finally Pauline decided that this was a day for sunbathing by the stream and I could do the hill alone, so I headed off up the path that traverses below Eel Crags: my friends were thinking of climbing there on Sunday and wanted to know what they were like. They were awful! Loaded with vegetation and weeping water everywhere, fit only to be climbed in a drought! Eventually I passed above the waterfall and reached the col, which was like Brighton beach on a Bank Holiday…so much for solitude! At this point I made a poor decision: last time I was up here I continued past the tarn to climb from the Honister side, which wasn’t too bad. This time I joined the crocodile of people going up directly from the tarn on an inexpertly laid stone path: unrelentingly steep, often insecure and where the slabs were covered in scree, a little dangerous. And of course, you top out on the ridge only to find you still have a long way to go to the summit…but the views are to die for!
Eventually I reached the summit, and found a neat little steel fence post surrounded by a cairn. I appropriated this and enjoyed a late butty and tea whilst unpacking my gear, ignoring a sotto voce “breaker break” from a passer-by! I fixed the pole to the post with a couple of strips of duct tape and prepared to open the batting, noticing with amazement that it was already 1530 UTC! Well, one activation is much like another, I got a good pile-up, worked 27 contacts, all on FM, had seven summit to summit contacts, and still had callers when the battery died - I had inadvertantly left the power at 50 watts. My apologies to those who had not secured their six points when I had to close down at 1620.
As I stretched the kinks out of my muscles and looked around, I suddenly realised that I was alone on the summit! Brighton beach hell had morphed into heaven again, there is something totally exhilarating about mountain solitude. I packed, finished off my tea, and considered what to do next. Robinson was out of the question, although its green dome beckoned to me over the crags of Hindscarfe Edge the sun was getting low and there was no power for another activation. I couldn’t face returning the way I came, so I headed off the other way, over Hindscarfe Edge, and dropped down at the col - there was no path so this way gave a nice pioneering flavour to the descent! The route was no harder than I expected and I made good time as the shadows climbed up the flank of High Spy in front of me. Then things changed once again…
Suddenly I felt sick and was devoid of strength. I had to sit down and rest for half an hour as the light faded. Eventually I forced myself into motion but was now moving pitifully slowly. Pausing only for an attack of dry heaves, I crept down to the valley and slowly plodded along the track as night fell. Eventually I reached the hut, surprising my friends who were discussing whether to inform the Mountain Rescue and how to organise the search!
The guess is that I got a little too much sun on my head, I have been lucky enough to keep most of my hair but the carpet is getting a little theadbare in the middle now, and old Sol had been beating down on my exposed dome all day! By the end of the communal meal (a huge vat of chilli con carne!) I was back to normal, but a little thoughtful. After long experience I am reasonably competant and confident in the hills, well able to look after myself in a solo venture, but we are always at the mercy of accident and illness and that is definately no time to be alone in the hills. But what do you do, abandon your enjoyment of mountain solitude for the safety of mountain company, or do you accept the risks with your eyes open? I would still accept the risks, but am perhaps now more aware that the risks exist and are real.
So there you are, more an account of a day in the hills than an activation report, and I won’t even bother to describe the Sunday activation of Gummers How LD-050, reached eventually through hords of people milling about the “Great North Swim” event!