The car shook under the impact of north westerly winds and driving rain that raced up the pass. We peered through the windscreen; there wasn’t much to see. It was like looking through frosted glass. Mark switched on the windscreen wipers, but they gave us only a brief glimpse what was outside. It is 8am.
“Let’s get a cup of tea,” I suggest. We make a quick dash to the Sky-High Cafe on Honister Pass. It takes only a few seconds, but we are soaked by the time we get inside. I glance upwards, to where the hills should be, but they are hidden behind dank, grey cloud. Weatherline had informed us that the south westerly slopes would receive the worst of the weather – they were right, again.
My idea – now completely abandoned for another day – was to do a linear traverse from Honister, over Dale Head to Robinson, then double back to High Spy and finish on Cat Bells, before descending down Hause Gate to get the bus back to Seatoller. It would have been better to catch the Honister Rambler, but the timetable informed us that the 77a service didn’t start until 4th April. Imagine our surprise as we watching it pass us! Who writes these timetables?
Mark suggests we do the ‘Via Ferrata’ instead of walking over the fell, but the prospect of being stuck on the side of the crag for three hours in driving rain and gale force winds doesn’t really appeal. That germ of an idea takes root though, and we decide it would be a great way to tick of Fleetwith Pike on Hannah’s birthday next month. Not by walking, but via the alpine ascent of the Ferrata. We have the tickets. I hope the weather improves.
The cafe is warm and comfortable. We sip tea and hot chocolate as the rain blasts the windows; it reminds me of being in an Alpine hut. “The rain is due to stop at 9am,” I say. “It’s on the weather forecast.” Mark looks at his watch, it is 9.30am. The rain and the wind look set for the day. Obviously they haven’t heard the forecast.
After a while, once we had discovered everything about the cafe and Honister Mines, I know that it is time to make the decision. I am not one for peak-bagging, unless absolutely necessary. One of the Honister staff commented, as he watched us peer through the window. “It’s not too bad if this stuff starts when you’re out on the hill, but it takes a bit of effort to walk into it.” We continued to stare optimistically at the rain. I wasn’t too keen on going back to Kendal when we had got up so early and come all this way. “Let’s just do Dale Head,” I suggest, trying to look convincing. I smiled, they didn’t.
We brought our gear into the cafe and put on all the waterproofs that we could find. Then opened the door, and bravely stepped out into the gale force wind. We got soaked just crossing the road. The path to the summit is easy: straight up for 1300 foot, and then straight back down for 1300 foot – that was the plan. What could happen? It is only water.
The wind buffeted us as we headed northeast. Then the whistling noise came. We stopped and listened, seconds before it smacked straight into our faces with the force of an express train. We turned away, and huddled close to the ground until it passed by.
Later, I heard that one of Weatherline’s assessors on Helvellyn had laid on the ground while taking the windspeed readings. He hadn’t reached the summit, the wind was too strong. He recorded it as gusting at 80mph, probably more!
Whistling in the wind
We weren’t the only ‘crazies’ on the hill. Three people followed us up the fell. I think they were fell runners. I hope so, because they were wearing shorts. They laughed as they passed us, “At least we’re not the only ones daft enough to come up here today.” We watched them disappear into the mist. Then another whistle. We stopped, braced ourselves, and then smack. Hannah fell over. I know she is safe; there is nowhere for her to go. She isn’t happy, and is convinced that the best way is down.
In conditions like these, there is always a psychological barrier. It is usually fear, and an awareness of your own vulnerability. Today’s conditions are certainly extreme and life-threatening. So it is always important to know the limitations of the people in the group. I knew Hannah, and also knew that it was important for her to overcome these fears. Later, looking back on her experiences, she will be better prepared for the times when she is out on the mountain, probably hours from safety, and the weather changes into what we are experiencing today. I didn’t push her, but encouraged her to make her own decision about whether to continue or not. She told me that she wanted to go on, so on we went.
The gradient begins to ease off, and I know that we are not far from the summit. Through the mist the large cairn looms into view. It is built on the lip of Hindscarth Edge. I walk toward the rim, then stop. There is nothing to see, we are in thick cloud with driving rain and gale force winds blowing us across the hillside. This isn’t a good idea and I quickly pull back, bringing Hannah with me. The consequences of peering over the edge and being smacked in the back by 80mph winds doesn’t bear thinking about.
We quickly take pictures and head back down. I am completely soaked. My waterproof trousers aren’t waterproof. Water is running down my legs and gradually filling up my boots. Hannah is okay, so far. Mark is beginning to get wet. We romp down the hill, telling Hannah that it is only 30 minutes back to the car. There has been no lunch stop; the wind chill is too severe for that. Weatherline had reported it as -16C.
Still, we have another Wainwright, number 31. We will return to it. I would like to see the views, because we have seen nothing all day. Water has been driven under my jacket by the wind. My feet are soaked, and as I sit in the car, eating my sandwiches, puddles of cold water well around my heels.
We are all shivering as we drive home to Kendal. The wet clothing and our damp bodies chilled after the exertions of walking. Eventually, the car’s heater warms us up. We reach Staveley and Mark suggests a visit to the pub. Total agreement.
A pint by the fire
The Eagle and Child has a log fire and great beer. The seats are vacant. I go to the bar as Mark and Hannah grab the seats. A perfect end to a dismal day. Beer never tastes so good as when earned. A large basket of chips for Hannah, she’s deserved them, and two pints for us. Warm at last.