A week at the Leeds hut in Dunnerdale, July 1984

22/7/84 Coniston Old Man from Dunnerdale

Route: From the Leeds University mountaineering club hut at Dale Head in the Duddon valley, up Grey Friar, Swirl How, Coniston Old Man, Dow Crag, Brown Pike and back to the Leeds hut. 12 miles, 7 hours. Alone. 

A huge assault on Grey Friar straight from the Leeds Hut brought me to the summit, drenched in perspiration, after 54 minutes. The weather, as on this hike one year previously (the hike that opens this account) improved as I moved round to Swirl How.  I passed a cross and the remains of the undercarriage of a WWII fighter aircraft. Looking back I could see people in Grey Friar; I moved on. Both Coniston Water and Windermere were visible, though photography was out – too hazy. I stayed the pangs on Brim Fell with a cup of tea and a Mars bar [10/1/21 did I take a flask in summer?] Noon saw me on the summit of the Old Man, which was crowded with both people and biting insects. “Bobby” G, and Laurie, and Matt arrived on the summit some ten minutes after me, followed shortly by J. Rivett and Claire G. [All of these people in the sixth form in my year or the years above or below me.] 

We all remained on the summit for a while before Bobby G and Laurie set off to do a route on Dow Crag. Rivett, Matt, Claire G and I followed at a leisurely pace to Dow Crag. [10/1/21 I remember this walk for a snippet of conversation, Rivett saying to Claire “…and that’s why you’re doing Combined Studies at Mickleover” (Mickleover being one of the campuses that became the University of Derby years later)]. At Dow I found myself alone again as those three trod the path for Seathwaite Tarn, whilst I stayed on the ridge down to the Walna Scar pass.  

Very slowly, for there was no hurry, I dropped down into the Duddon valley, enjoying some pleasant navigation work across the valley floor farmland. I passed Birks Bridge and found Rivett and Matt swimming in the pools there, so I joined them for a refreshing swim at the end of a rather enjoyable day. 

23/7/84 To Three Tarns from Dunnerdale

Route: From the Leeds University mountaineering club hut at Dale Head in the Duddon valley, up to Cockley Beck Farm (the junction with the Wrynose road) then up Red Howf/Little Stand, onto Adam-a-cove, Crinkle Crags, Shelter Crag, Three Tarns, down Lingcomb Beck to Mosedale, then Yew Bank, Hard Knott, and back to the Leeds hut. 13km 8 hrs. Alone.

In shorts and cut-offs, I proceeded under clear blue skies to the Red Howff. There was no path to this summit. I went straight up through gulleys, bracken and rocky bits. It was a wet, boggy summit. From here, a short walk to Adam-a-cove, one of my most visited tops. Butties here, before moving on.  I felt just a twinge in my heels as I passed the next crags. At Three Tarns, I decided, rather than pressing on up Bow Fell, to drop down into the valley of Lingcomb Beck. 

It was a long, hard and hot descent. Three Tarns disappeared and I found myself in a huge green amphitheatre. The sun was without mercy. I continued downwards and had a very refreshing swim at a small hole in the riverbed. The valley was deserted.  

I moved along the valley and then up to the head of Mosedale. The entire horseshoe of mountain ridge was visible behind me – a splendid view, if spoilt slightly by the hazy summer atmosphere. I thought I’d end the day on a top with a truly magnificent view, so I moved onto the summit of Hard Knott, above the pass of the same name. On a clear winter’s day the view from here would be worthy of a 360 degree panorama.  

I dropped off this top into the valley well satisfied, realising that the most famous hills and the highest tops don’t necessarily offer the greatest reward. W. H Murray, a hero of mine, said that the mountains “reward those who turn aside from commonsense routine”. 

24/7/84 Scafell Horseshoe

Route: Scafell Horseshoe: Three Shires Stone – Adam-a-cove – Crinkle Crag – Shelter Crag – Bow Fell – Ore Gap – Esk Pike – Esk Hause – Broad Crag – Scafell Pike – Mickledore – the Lords Rake – Scafell – Slight Side – Quarigg  Moss – Eskdale (the Woolpack). 14 miles, 8.5 hours 

Four of us, along with Ian H and his six-year old son John, were given a lift to the top of Wrynose by RS. It was a bright blue morning – shades weather – but somewhat hazy. I was fit; this was the third day of walking. I led at what I considered to be a restrained and controlled pace, and Chris and Claire kept up, although they said afterwards that the first mile was done at a “ferocious pace”. Ian and his son John were left far behind, and the long haul up to Adam-a-cove opened up the usual scenic splendour. Eventually I stretched myself a little and burned up onto the summit, where some preventative first aid was required for my feet which were getting tender after three days hard hill-walking.  

Ian arrived, gasping for breath, with his six-year old son John blond and unconcerned, not even breathing heavily. [15/1/21: Ian I recall was a school-teacher with six kids. He had worked in Afghanistan, where he had heard it said in some villages that young boys were “not considered men until they had killed a white man”…we may assume by “white man” they meant Soviet Russians. This was in the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.] 

Together we moved on, sighting RS running down to Three Tarns as we laboured up Bow Fell. RS, as a hard Alpinist had already done everything up to and including a summer ascent of the North face of the Eiger.  Seeking new endeavour, he had become a fell runner. As such, he decided to run the horseshoe! I resolved to beat him to the top of Bow Fell; I underestimated myself and beat him by about five minutes. We all collected for lunch on the summit of Bow Fell. RS took some chemical drink (referred to as “reconstituted sweat” by Ian) and burned off. Claire G, as a red-head, was already looking sunburnt.  

Up to Esk Pike – no great difficulties there. Onwards under glorious blue skies to Esk Hause and Broad Crag, then descending the boulder field to the foot of the climb to Scafell Pike. By the simple expedient of following a lady wearing pink shorts, the ascent of Scafell Pike seemed to pass in but an instant.  

From Scafell Pike we twisted and turned over the boulder fields down to the green notch of Mickledore.  On the left, a sharp descent down into the hanging valley that flows eventually into upper Eskdale. Ahead, Broad Stand, the direct route to the summit of Scafell, involving a short rock climb, the first move of which slopes outwards and is quite tricky after generations of boot nails have worn the rock smooth as marble.  On the right, another steep rocky descent down scree, to the Lords Rake. At the foot of the Lords Rake you can see Wastwater far below. This is tremendous rock scenery, a barren place surrounded by magnificent cliffs. The Lords Rake looks worse than it is; from a distance, rather like Aaron Slack on Great Gable, it can look vertical. It isn’t. It’s just scree and loose rock.  

Nonetheless Claire was shaken. At the top, the path goes down, then up, then down, and then up the Lords Rake (part II). Claire was very much not happy about going up this. Ian found an alternative for her, going over solid rock, so we all turned left prematurely, past an ancient and illegible noticeboard. What did it say? It said – DANGER – NO ROUTE TO SUMMIT. 

We moved upwards, and gained views of Wasdale, Mosedale, and Pillar, Haycock and Steeple. Claire was happier now despite sunburn. The boy John scrambled along as fast as any of us, obviously tired but able to draw on great reserves of youthful strength. Ian disappeared into a gully to the right, dislodging rocks, but had to withdraw. The way ahead, such as it was, lay across steep but easy to climb rock faces. Ian suggested withdrawing – there is, ostensibly, no route to the summit this way for walkers. But little John continued up the rock without noting any difficulty, and soon the summit lay before us.  

On the summit we could see the whole of the horseshoe route before us. We could see Wasdale, Mosedale, Ennerdale, the Burnmoor Tarn, Pillar etc. A worthwhile effort it is, getting to the summit of Scafell Pike’s shorter but harder to climb brother.  

As we moved on from the summit, there was a short moment when by chance every person in the party happened to be in front of the little boy John. He burst into tears, saying that we were all going to leave him behind. It was interesting to see the effects of exposure and tiredness even on a very hot day. His dad Ian succoured him, and I took care thereafter to ensure I was always behind him.  

We dropped down to Slight Side, and from there onto Quarigg Moss. We noted what was clearly a dried up lake on our left down in upper Eskdale. Eventually we made it down to the road in Eskdale, through fields of bracken, and once on the road, swiftly to the Woolpack for a much deserved pint. A superb, long day on the hill.