Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Little Steps up a Big Mountain

One of my challenges for 2014 is to become more confident on steep, scrambly terrain. Developing vertigo on airy hillsides wasn't really something I was too happy with, or what I expected. In the past I've been a keen climber, caver and even dabbled with paragliding. So when I became nauseous on a climbing wall a few years ago I dismissed it. But then something in my head just wasn't right whenever I got on steep or exposed ground. I can't say I've ever been totally comfortable on that sort of terrain, but this was different. This was a sensation of something being out of my control and the ground beneath me moving too fast, a dizziness that just wasn't right. So, acknowledging this I have set a target to reduce the fear and take control.

approaching the craggy bit
The May bank holiday found us up in the Lake District as Tim was racing in the Coniston Fell Race, an English Champs counter. We then stayed overnight in Ennerdale so that he could recce some of the next championship race which starts in Ennerdale Bridge. Unfortunately we had a damp night, camping in the grounds of the YHA to the sound of rain pinging off the tent all night. On waking it was claggy but not raining...too much. But, this meant that our plans to recce a good section of the route were scuppered - no point only being able to see 10m on a hillside, we can practice navigation for that at home. So, making the best of our time there we chose to ascend Kirk Fell and just recce the descent off from the summit. Of course that meant getting up there - through a scrambly bit across and up Kirkfell Crags on the north-west aspect of the hill.

I could see from the map that it was really craggy, as you'd expect with a name like Kirkfell Crags. But, I told my inner-panicking-voice to shut up and got on with the easy part of the ascent, up a lovely hillside following Sail Beck and up to Black Sail Pass. There we turned left and into the steeper section, a bit scrambly, a bit rocky. And very damp. Visibility was reduced, which on reflection I'm sure helped with the exposed parts as I didn't have the long drops to see and contend with. That's the part which I feel really messes with my head and balance.

Looking down towards Black Sail Hut - this is when the clag cleared!

that's me....scrambling up the steep slippy section

carefully checking foot placements...the rock was really slippy
As we climbed out of the steep section is was evident that the clag wasn't going to lift. We'd got wet hands from the scramble and neither of us had our big-super-warm gloves with us (note to self...pack the big-super-warm gloves, whatever the forecast) tho we did have spares to put on. We'd been really sheltered up to that point, but once near the summit the wind chill soon took grip. A recce of a route in the clag is nigh on useless, but Tim had compass out and we found the highest point, the summit, and then turned heels and he superbly navigated us back to Kirkfell Crags and the way off.

Now here's where I did a lot of inner talking to myself. Ascending steep ground is so much easier than descending. I'd been more scared that I wouldn't get down on the way up, than I had been about going up. But, I got my fear-voice quietened and with Tim's wonderfully calming voice, clear directions on foot placements, his reassurance and pace that kept me moving, I successfully got down and back on the grassy slopes of Black Sail Pass.

And here I am enjoying the run off with a lovely waterfall behind. I say enjoying...on reflection I was, but the motivation to get moving was out of the need to get warmth in my feet and hands. It was still raining and we had another 7km or so to run still.

On the way back to Ennerdale YHA we passed lots of walkers just heading up the valley. Although the weather may have improved later in the day it was superb to have the hill to ourselves, that's one of the good things about making an early start. We were lucky to catch a glimpse of a deer crossing the track as well as lots of birds, maybe a goldcrest or two.

Overall we did 16km in about 2hrs 40, and ascended about 700m. More importantly I gained a heap of confidence from tackling this little scramble in damp conditions. If you need a guide on this sort of hill then Tim's your man.

Tim enjoying a well earned bacon, avocado, ham, cheese and chutney sandwich with a good fresh coffee.

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