Something for the weekend

I’m a little behind on updates – it’s been a hectic few months and there have been no audaxes. There has, however, been adventure.

I’d been rethinking what makes me love ultra distance cycling and the inimitable Darren Franks offered the type of wisdom only he can: less badges, more fun. It’s never been about chasing achievements, but I’d lost sight of what the rides represent – the escape, the adventure, the freedom. Starting to feel trapped by thoughts like ‘if I skip this audax, will I still get my super randonneur for the year?’ was crippling my motivation.

I’m on lower mileage than any recent year, but feeling much more motivated and enjoying just throwing some belongings on a bike and heading off for a micro adventure at the weekend.

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Bored of London, and seeking adventure, we looked up the snow conditions in the Lakes, booked a train and found a free room to crash in with a lovely couple in Ambleside. From idea to adventure in less than a week!

I’ve done some easy hiking in recent years, but nothing this ambitious, so new kit was called for. With so little time spent planning, I was pretty limited to grabbing what I could on Amazon and searching the loft for passable gear – at least there was no risk of being that guy with all the gear and no idea! (none of the gear and no idea is clearly better!)

As we were limited to bikes and public transport, we chose an ascent from the Old Dungeon Ghyll, up Mickelden Valley and past Angle Tarn and Great End. Weather reports were suggesting it might be a bit daft to head up Scafell, so we chose an out and back route to avoid getting to the top safely, but failing to get down an un-tested route. A little boring perhaps, but I doubt Mountain Rescue would have had any sympathy if we’d taken unnecessary risks.

We set off to a cloudy, but mild day. The O.D.G. carpark was teeming and there were plenty heading out along our route and the adjacent path. We were briefly overtaken by a small group while Alex stopped to fill her back with rocks, but quickly caught them back up in our excitement to get going.

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We stopped a few times to adjust packs, take in the views and generally enjoy the morning. We had limited visibility of the hills, but could see the snow line tantalisingly close and before long there was the crunch of ice underfoot. The intensity of the crunching increased as the views were lost to the clouds and before we knew it we were in deep snow and beginning to slip and slide.

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It seemed like a sensible time to crack out the crampons. I was finding it tough to balance with just a day pack – Alex’s must have been 15-20kg and from behind she looked almost drunk stumbling through the snow. My ‘crampons’ (rubber grips with some vicious spikes) immediately solved my issues, but Alex’s wire-wrapped rubber grips were having no effect and she had to upgrade to her proper mountaineering boots and crampons.

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All the while, a large group behind us (mostly comprised of kids) was haring up the mountain – most without bags or supplies, all without crampons or safety kit. Part of me was impressed, although mostly I couldn’t believe anyone was irresponsible enough to have organised such a trip. Without packs, they weren’t slipping and sliding anywhere near as badly as Alex and I had, but why risk it? I don’t expect everyone to chuck on a SPOT tracker, but carry some basics at least!

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As we pushed up above the cloud level, everything became white and the crowds thinned out. We had only the footprints ahead of us to guide us and saw the occasional hiker struggling with a map in the gloom. I’d thought ahead and bought my Elemnt – sure it’s not really made for hiking, but all the trails are marked and the accuracy is astounding. Best of all – no compass or reference points needed for navigation!

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With a few stops on the way up and Alex’s heavy pack, we took around 4.5 hours to reach the summit. Not bad, but we’d need to hurry back down to catch our bus back to Ambleside. We enjoyed a quick sandwich and JD & Coke at the Summit, sent a video of the rocks being unloaded to Alex’s coaches and then began making our way down.

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While my ‘crampons’ had been great on the way up, they were a little less grippy on the way down. The descent off the summit was incredibly steep and I suddenly found myself hurtling down on my backside, accelerating toward some rocks… and the ledge. The first rock I kicked out against went flying down the slope, but luckily the second resisted me and I came to a stop.

With the ‘crampons’ not up to the task, I decided the best bet was to slide down on my backside. Between the trekking pole and digging in a boot’s worth of ‘crampons’, I was able to arrest each slide and made it down without too much bother. With my novel approach to descending and Alex’s much lighter pack, we were very quickly back down to Angle Tarn.

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We continued to pick up pace, stopping only briefly to take in some views. We’d already passed a couple of the groups behind us on the way up and were about halfway down within an hour or so of setting off.

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As we made it past the last technical section of the descent, it became clear reaching the bus in time would be close run. We picked up the pace, walking faster and faster until we eventually broke into a run for the final KM or so… only to miss the bus by a matter of minutes.

With our weekend ethos of relying on the kindness of strangers, we thought we’d start walking back toward Ambleside and see if we could hitch a lift on the way. We set off into the approaching twilight and stuck our thumbs out at the occasional drivers heading our way. Each time, you could hear the revs increase as the driver accelerated to avoid having to make eye contact with us for any longer than absolutely necessary.

Just as we were giving up hope, a white Land Rover stopped and offered us a lift. One of the passengers had been in the same position as us previously and made the driver stop – what luck! We chatted with them all the way back, Alex telling them all about Everest and how to follow her adventures and them telling us about their friend also attempting Everest.

Something a little different to my usual adventures, but just as fun. There’s no real achievement, no real purpose… just an incredible weekend away.

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