The sun, moon and stars – a wonderful autumn wildcamp on High Raise

A last minute flit to the Lakes

For the last two years I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit the Lake District around this time of year, but this time no such trip had been planned. So a quick Facebook message to Matt (@hillplodder) established that he too was getting itchy feet and so a last minute visit was planned, this time to include a fell I’ve been wanting to go up for the last two years, the fabulously phallic Pike O’ Stickle. A camp was proposed at Stickle Tarn, or at a higher location TBC if the weather was suitable, or if the shores of the tarn turned out to be like Piccadilly Station at rush hour. Weather forecasts were nervously scanned all week but when Friday came all seemed to be calm and agreeable, without so much as a puff of wind. I couldn’t get away from work quick enough on Friday afternoon and hot footed it to Crewe to catch the Windermere train. I was staying at the YHA Butharlyp Howe in Grasmere & Matt was to camp on their lawn, but I felt that if a wildcamp was on the cards for Saturday night I’d quite like a kip in a bunk and a proper breakfast first.

On arrival I booked in, bolted some pasta & sauce and threw my gladrags on, for I was due to meet Lakeland lovelies Gina & Dave Pennington (@cumbrianblondie & @kendalskintcake) at Tweedies Bar in Grasmere for a pint. I abstemiously quaffed third of a pint selection samples which Dave matched with pint measures. Then Matt arrived from London, with a raging thirst on after pitching his tent in the dark and legging it down the hill to meet us. He proceeded to neck several pints of dubiously strong dark ale in quick succession, on an empty stomach.

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Testing the ale in Tweedies bar in Grasmere

The next morning saw the inevitable happen, and with Matt clutching his midriff and necking dioralyte I seriously doubted that we’d get very far up the fells today. However he miraculously recovered in time to demolish his YHA fry up, so we set off up Easedale Road towards the first of our conquests.

On the ascent to Helm Crag

On the ascent to Helm Crag

Atop Helm Crag

Atop Helm Crag

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Helm Crag- The Howitzer

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Looking back towards Helm Crag

We went up Helm Crag, followed in quick (ish) succession by Gibson Knott and Calf Crag. Then to Codale Head with all its wonderful small tarns, many and disparate but well known enough to feature in Volume 2 of the Nuttalls iconic book of Lakeland Tarns.

Looking down on some of the small tarns scattered around Codale Head

Looking down on some of the small tarns scattered around Codale Head

A final steady plod found us up on High Raise, our intended camp spot for the night.

Pike O'Stickle from High Raise

Pike O’Stickle from High Raise

A wildcamp on High Raise

As the evening sunlight turned slowly to gold, our shadows lengthened and from the warmth and calm of the day a chilly breeze sprang up to ruffle the dying moss and grass on the fell top. Almost imperceptibly day slid into night and the sun, a great red pulsating ball was slowly enveloped by the cold grey fingers of cloud that clawed at the fells to the west. At the same time in the east, the pale moon floated from her soft bed of purple cloud and set sail on her nightly voyage across the Lakeland sky.

Sunset over High Raise

Sunset over High Raise

Cotton wool clouds

Cotton wool clouds

Henry and Matilda at sunset

Henry and Matilda at sunset

Henry on High Raise

Henry on High Raise

Sunset

Sunset

Dusk fell quickly now and enveloped the fell top in cold darkness and shadows. Lights went on in tents, and then off again as the moon sailed higher and cast her cold light across the pale rocks that littered the summit, and through the thin tent walls to cast an eerie glow within. Above our heads pale pinpricks of starlight glittered in the sky but tonight they were no match for the moonlight. I longed to sit outside and watch the story of the changing skies unfold above me but the wind was stronger now, and it seemed to chill my very bones with each gust. I snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag and listened to the rhythmic sound of the wind as it stirred the sides of my tent. At one point we saw lights and heard voices, not late night revellers it seemed but a group of walkers looking for somewhere to pitch up for the night, but they soon departed, leaving me to enjoy the sounds of solitude as I drifted off to sleep.

With the autumn night drawing to its end, the wind that had relentlessly buffeted the tents dropped as the tired horses of Selene ended their long journey across the sky. In the east the clouds started to glow a little brighter and just after 7am an exclamation from my companion alerted me to the imminent sunrise. I struggled from the warmth of tent and sleeping bag to stand outside and witness the sun’s golden orb emerging over High Street to once again bathe the Lakeland fells with his warmth and light.

Morning light on High Raise

Morning light on High Raise

The blue yonder

The blue yonder

A scramble up Pike O’ Stickle, my favourite phallic fell

The huge crows we’d noticed the night before (common Ravens?) had returned, keenly circling above us and looking hungrier than ever. It was decided that now was a good time to depart, before we discovered if a diet of hikers that had lingered too long over the views was the key to their immense size.

Tarn at Thunacar Knott

Tarn at Thunacar Knott

Morning mist

Morning mist

All packed up and ready for just after 9 we set off for a reprise of my visit to Thunacar Knott almost two years ago. I remember at the time being wowed by the views and the fell, but although it was good to stand by its rocky cairn again I couldn’t help thinking somewhat smugly that I’d seen more imposing views already today.

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Cairn on Harrison Stickle

If Harrison Stickle was hard to get up I can’t remember, because there loomed the challenge of Pike O’ Stickle, a fell that I desperately wanted to climb but that apparently involved some ‘scrambling’ to get to the top.

My phallic friend Pike O'Stickle

My phallic friend Pike O’Stickle

.. and from behind...

.. and from behind…

I’m a walker, not a climber so the notion of scrambling anything other than an egg fills me with some trepidation. However I could see that to get anywhere near the head of the Pike’s domed phallus that hands, feet and a healthy dose of gumption would be required. Then Matt had a flash of inspiration, to dump our heavy packs by some rocks at the base and shin up there as best we could with no weight on our backs, and hands free to clutch at any available handholds. Being a seasoned Wainwrighter (all 214) he’d been up before of course, but I could tell he was wondering how on earth he was going to get me up there without the aid of a crane and pulley system. But go up I did, pausing only briefly to declare I was stuck before taking a left fork ¾ of the way up, and miraculously finding an easier way to the summit. What a wonderful feeling, after all this time to sit atop what is arguably the rudest looking fell in the whole of Lakeland.

At last! (thanks to Matt for the photo)

At last! (thanks to Matt for the photo)

After the adrenaline highs of Pike O’ Stickle it was time to come down both mentally and physically, via Loft Crag and Thorn Crag to Langdale, as I had a bus to catch.

Small tarn below Loft Crag

Small tarn below Loft Crag

Matt had booked the day off on Monday and was camping up Red Screes later. I had not, and the Sunday afternoon spectre of work the following day rose up to haunt me as we descended. I’m never overjoyed at this prospect but I knew I needed to get back as with every jarring step down the steep descent by Dungeon Ghyll Force my knees protested ever louder. Eventually I made it down to the place of homage that is the New Dungeon Ghyll, where we sat sipping chilly beverages and reflecting on the adventures of the last couple of days.

Stickle Tarn

Stickle Tarn

In terms of weather we couldn’t have wished for anything better. The scenery is stunning in this part of the lakes and I’ve climbed up Pike O’ Stickle, something that I’ve been wanting to tackle for ages. The camp on High Raise was incredible and sets an impossibly high expectation for any future camps. I’m not actually sure it would be possible to better it, but I suppose it would be rude not to try.

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