Tales From the Nuthouse

5 03 2011

My original, first post ever (from my old forum) – just to show what I can be like on non-cowardly days!  And my Mum is just as daft!:-)

I originally wrote this for our University Walking club mag but it got banned as advertising bad practice! The title also got banned as being politically incorrect/offensive – it was meant to be funny! I’ll submit it ‘as is’… some of the photos were taken with an old ’70s Kodak Instamatic so not best quality…

Tales From The Nuthouse…

Madness is often hereditary… however, it isn’t always inherited downwards, i.e. from father to son, mother to daughter etc., sometimes daughter can apparently infect mother as seems to be the case with me and my mother. This is illustrated by the fact that my mother, when walking with my father or the family generally acts normally and rationally, but can be persuaded to do the silliest things when walking with me. I am also capable of doing the silliest things on my own. However, I’ve walked with a great many people over the years and found that there are many other walkers who are equally dotty!

It became customary, for a while, for me and my mother to have a walk on New Year’s Day. This was always in the Lake District. As I am a lazy so and so, and really don’t like to get out of bed in a morning, and as our other favourite pastime apart from walking, is to patronise teashops, on arrival in the Lakes we always first have to visit a tea-shop and eat lots of cakes. This made us quite late starting out on our walk. One particular New Year’s Day, there was thick and hard-frozen snow throughout the Lake District. Consequently, at 2pm, we found ourselves getting dropped off at the top of Dunmail Raise by a muttering father and brother as I’d had the bright idea of going up Seat Sandal via Raise Beck.

This would have been bad enough but, for some reason, although we were aware of the required necessary equipment, we elected to do the walk in what we’d brought with us, i.e. yellow wellies and waterproof jackets… no crampons or ice axes in sight! We set off up Raise Beck, being constantly passed by properly equipped descending (and also muttering) walkers. The path was hard-packed and severely frozen snow and, as Raise Beck descends in mainly waterfalls throughout its course, was very steep. Our yellow wellies weren’t terribly good at gripping in these conditions, but we found that our knitted woolly trousers had excellent grip and thereby proceeded to climb the mountain on our knees.


Snow,Raise Beck

We made pretty good time up Raise Beck and it soon opened out above the falls into the route between Seat Sandal and Dollywaggon Pike. It was nice to stand up again.


Snow,late St Sunday Crag

However, as we started off up the slopes of Seat Sandal, the snow became very deep, up to my knees and half way up my mother’s thighs. This made it very hard and slow going, especially for my mother who, being much older, wasn’t as fit as myself. Consequently, by the time we reached the summit of Seat Sandal, it was 4pm! Now remember, this is January – in January it drops dark at 4pm. My mother was dilly-dallying around taking photos of, and enthusing about, the moon over Grisedale Tarn.


Snow,night,St Sunday Crag

She really hadn’t realised what this meant until I pointed out to her that, moon = nightfall, and that we had never done the descent route back to Grasmere before so we would be doing a strange route in deep snow in the dark!

We had a pretty quick descent from Seat Sandal to the tarn, missed out the paddle as it was a bit cold and our feet were already wet with the snow dropping down the tops of our wellies, and set off down the gill to Grasmere. Luckily, with the snow, despite it being dark visibility was quite good really and we descended rapidly. Somehow my mother missed the ‘path’ at one point and ended up in a hugely deep snowdrift. It was so deep in fact, that both her arms and legs disappeared into it and her body was laid on top of it. She was struggling away there – each time she lifted an arm out, the other arm sunk deeper in, and the same was happening with her legs. From where I stood, on the path way above her, it looked rather like some kind of struggling beetle and I’m afraid I couldn’t assist her due to being weak with laughter! Luckily, she eventually extricated herself and clomped back up to join me on the path where – despite the darkness – I could see her stony glare.

We continued on down the gillside, more or less uneventfully and eventually reached a farm track contouring round the gill, which dropped way below us. The farm track was solid ice, the drop off it into the gill became frighteningly large (especially in the dark – it just looked like an abyss). By now it was nearly 6pm and we realised we were in danger of my father and brother calling out the mountain rescue so we decided to sing loudly in case they could hear us. What did we choose to sing? “We’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain When We Come!” We reached the road bang on 6pm and set off down the pavement, past the Travellers’ Rest pub, eventually being spotted by my father who had been driving the car up and down between Grasmere and Dunmail Raise more or less continuously since nightfall (this was before we all knew about Global Warming).

Another winter, again complete with snow on the Lakeland fells, we decided to do part of the eastern arm of the Kentmere Horseshoe. We were again quite late setting off – I really do hate mornings – but this time we had time to get the walk done before dark. This time we left my father at home so as not to stress him out. As the snow wasn’t right down to the valley but probably started around 1000 feet up, and we were only ascending Shipman Knotts and then Kentmere Pike, which is pretty much a rounded grassy lump, we again didn’t have ice axes or crampons but we did have walking boots this time.

Things were pretty uneventful up Shipman Knotts and the long walk across to where the climb up Kentmere Pike starts, but then, once again the snow started to become very deep. This was several years later and my mother had become much less fit and had put on quite a bit of weight. As the snow got deeper and deeper, even reaching part-way up my thighs (and I am pretty tall), my mother got slower and slower and looked more and more knackered, to the point where I started to worry about her. On the final steep pull to the summit, I really thought she might have a heart-attack. I watched her struggle on valiantly until she joined me at the summit cairn and I waited for her to flop down exhausted. I was about to reassure her that it was all over and that she could rest and then we could descend when she looked at the long ridge stretching to Mardale Harter Fell and said impatiently, “Come on then, let’s get going over there.” For a second I was ‘gobsmacked’, then for once me being the sane and normal one said “No we bloody are not! We’re going back down now. Come on.” There had been me, thinking she was about to die of a heart-attack, and she was wanting to do the whole Kentmere Round before tea-time!


Snow-Lingmell End


Icy Wall,Kentmere Pike

As I led off down the mountain, the descent was fairly uneventful except for, every 10 minutes or so, I’d hear a ‘whumpf’ and look around to see a pair of legs sticking out of yet another snowdrift. They’d wave around feebly for a minute and then my upside-down mother would slowly extricate herself and continue on after me. Still, she thoroughly enjoyed her day.

Dramatic Light leaving Kentmere Pike(Mum)
My Mum took this photo of me descending in front of her

My penchant for exceedingly late-in-the-day walking has nearly got me into trouble quite a few times when walking on my own. Once, I determined to do Wetherlam via the Black Sails ridge, again starting out at 2pm in mid-winter snow. This time, luckily, I had my ice axe, but didn’t have crampons. I knew that, fitness-wise, I could get over Wetherlam and back to the Coppermines road by dark at 4pm if I went flat out. The plan went quite well until I found that the mountain was basically divided into 3 parts on this particular day… the lower third was tracks and grass, the top third was nice, grippy snow about 6 inches deep. However, the middle third was shot-ice! The only way I could get up to the snowline through the icy bit was to keep hooking my ice-axe around rocks (of which there are very many on the Black Sails ridge), and physically dragging myself uphill. Luckily the snow was very good going and the descent down the Lad Hows ridge wasn’t as icy so I got some great photos from the summit and made it back to the Coppermines just as darkness fell.


Snow-Wetherlam summit

Another time was mid-summer while staying at Bryn Gwynant Youth Hostel in Snowdonia. I’d had my tea and it got to 8pm when I suddenly got the urge for one of my late-evening walks. However, my idea of an evening stroll on this particular evening was, as I hadn’t done it before, to go up Y Lliwedd. For those who don’t know the mountain, it is a 2,900 foot satellite of Snowdon. And don’t forget, Youth Hostels lock you out at 11pm!

I set off like the clappers (my usual method of walking) and didn’t slow down until I was half-way up the Watkin Path. This is pretty steep and quite hard and so I probably slowed considerably – I was certainly feeling the climb. However, I managed to get onto the summit at 10pm and it was so nice up there, and I’d enjoyed the climb so much, and there was no-one else around, so I did one of my characteristic loopy little dances on the top. If noone sees you don’t get certified!;-)

At ten past ten, it slowly dawned on me I had 50 minutes to get back down the mountain before getting locked out for the night. It was a lovely evening but I could tell it was going to be quite cold. So, I set off down the mountain in a bee-line for the hostel. I was merrily running down the side of the mountain and had got a good way down when I suddenly was brought up short by a huge, gaping void in front of me! I looked and realised it was a mine-shaft. I’d seen that there were copper-mines marked on the map but thought they were down by the river in the valley between Y Lliwedd and Gallt Y Wenallt. Not so! I looked around me at my descent route and saw I’d literally descended between a very many mine-shafts either side of my route already and at great speed! The mountainside was littered with them! Of course, this meant that the safest thing to do was go back up to the summit and go the long way round and use the proper route from the col just before Gallt Y Wenallt. I made it back at five to eleven!

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