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Langdale/Borrowdale: 30 October-1 November 2004


Glaramara from Seathwaite Fell


My main intentions this weekend were to have some fun in the Lakes, both walking and in the tent, to see whether I would sleep any more comfortably if I used 2 self-inflating mattresses rather than 1 and to try out a pair of trail shoes with waterproof socks rather than the leather, 3 season boots I normally used for walking in mountainous areas. I was also hoping to take a look at potential camp sites above the Corridor Route, if there was time.

I decided to park in the National Trust carpark at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Great Langdale, and see how far I could get towards Sprinkling Tarn before I lost the light on Friday evening. There was just a little rain as I was getting my things together at the car, and so I set off in my waterproof jacket, just in case. However, the little bit of rain blew over very quickly, and soon I was able to return the waterproof to the top of my sack.

The light faded much more quickly than I'd anticipated, and it quickly became clear that there wasn't going to be time for me to get up Rossett Gill towards Angle Tarn before looking for a place to camp. That wasn't a problem, though, as the whole weekend lay ahead of me, and so as I walked I began to look around for a comfortable, flattish sort of spot as the head of the valley approached.

A short distance over to the left of the path, and near the foot of Rossett Gill, I noticed a series of low, table shaped hillocks - almost terraced in their appeararance - and it struck me that they would make an ideal camp site, and so I made my way across the Gill and climbed onto the top. The ground was wet and rather boggy, but that didn't seem to be a problem because my Akto's groundsheet is perfectly waterproof, so I took off my rucksack and looked around carefully for what seemed to be the flattest bit, and then whizzed the Akto out of its bag and began to put it up. I got a bit of a surprise when pegging out one of the guy lines to discover that the line had frayed and almost snapped - presumably it had happened on the Night From Hell near Sprinkling Tarn a few weeks earlier - but after a moment's confusion I got out my penknife to cut the line, re-tied it securely and carried on.

I've noticed that the light fades very quickly at this time of the year, and by the time the tent was up there was very little light left. I opened the rucksack and slung most of its contents into the main body of the tent, and then I put the sack with my flask, waterbottle and cooking gear on the grass in the porch. After that I inflated both of my mattresses, and filled the kettley thing with water so that I could make a large pot of tomato and basil soup. Yum!

I wasn't particularly hungry but the soup was welcome and comforting, and as I drank it I warmed my hands on the kettley thing and gazed through the open flysheet back down the track towards the Old Dungeon Ghyll. As I was doing so I became aware of some very bright lights travelling towards me from what looked like a couple of miles away. Initially I thought they must be car headlights travelling along the road to one of the hotels, but I later concluded that they must be torches carried by people walking along the track towards the head of the valley. Some 10 or 15 minutes after I first noticed them the lights disappeared. I expected them to reappear as the walkers passed some of the little hillocks sitting between me and the track, but they didn't, and I can only assume that the walkers must have decided to make camp.

After drinking my soup I began to tidy up the porch before settling down into my sleeping bag, but as I picked up my water bottle I thought I noticed some sort of movement in the reflection of my torch off the metal. I stopped for a closer look, and was immediately transfixed with horror when I realised that the water bottle was covered in a mass of tiny and almost transparent little worm-like creatures, squirming around all over the surface... My first instinct was to drop the bottle and run screaming from the tent, and my second instinct was exactly the same, but minus the scream. Almost immediately, though, I realised that it wouldn't be a smart move to leave all my kit behind, and so I stayed where I was and began to consider the situation. My flask of coffee was also sitting on the grass in the porch, and it occurred to me to check that too. I picked it up gingerly, by the top, and my suspicions turned out to be horribly true: the sides of the flask were also seething with squirming little worms.

At that stage I reached into the far corner of the porch, put the flask and water bottle down as far away from me as possible and started wiping my palms hard on my trousers. Suddenly it occurred to me that the wormy things may also have got onto the bottom of my gas cannister, which was now sitting inside the tent near my sleeping bag, and when I picked it up to check it turned out to be true! Then, and as I was reaching the gas into the corner of the porch with the flask and the water bottle, I remembered that I'd also put the kettley thing down on the grass as I was drinking my soup, and when I took a look I saw worms on the side of that as well... It was truly horrible...

I decided that the best I could do was to try to wipe the worms off the bottle, flask, cannister and kettley thing with bits of loo roll from my loo roll bag, but they turned out to be surprisingly robust for such flimsy looking creatures. They also seemed to bunch together into little clumps when I rubbed them with the tissue, and it seemed that no matter how careful I was the clumps inevitably ended up right next to the crack at the lid of my flask, and the stopper on my water bottle. I did the best I could, but it wasn't long before I was beginning to run low on loo roll, and I soon amassed a pile of little loo roll scraps in the porch of the tent, covered with hundreds of semi-squished but now invisible wormy things :-(

I decided that in the morning I would wash the contaminated kit thorougly in the stream, and in the meantime there was really nothing further I could do. There was clearly no way that I was going to be comfortable cooking anything in the kettley thing before it had been thoroughly cleansed, and so it seemed lucky that I'd now lost my appetite for what seemed likely to be the whole of the rest of my life... I put the bits and pieces back into the far corner of the porch, closed the flysheet, zipped up the inner and curled up tight in my sleeping bag with my book.

I didn't sleep too well at all that night, and by the time I woke up at about 7am it felt as though I'd been tossing and turning for days. I needed to get up for the loo, but at the same time I didn't want to stand on the grass in the porch. Eek!! It had to be done, though, and so I slipped into my trail shoes, leaned forward to zip open the fly and, by dint of an almost superhuman gymnastic contortion, managed to propel myself out of the tent without touching the grass with my hands on the way. The good news outside the tent was that it was an absolutely beautiful morning, and the path up the side of Rossett Gill was already sunny and welcoming.

I still didn't feel like eating breakfast, and so I decided to just pack up as soon as possible. Part of me was very tempted to write off the weekend, make my way straight back to the car and go home for a bath and to sterilise my kit, but I was a little concerned that that would be wimping out, and the part of me that really enjoys being out in the hills was afraid that if I did that then I might find excuses never to return. In the end I decided to press on to Borrowdale, but I resolved to make sure that I had plenty of time to choose a dry and worm-free campsite for Saturday night...

I got most things packed up into the rucksack fairly quickly, and then went back to pack up the tent. For obvious reasons I was a little apprehensive about what I might find under the groundsheet, so I didn't look too closely, but a quick glance did confirm the presence of lots more little wormy things. Later enquiries have suggested that these were probably nematodes of some description, and they were almost certainly harmless to humans. Obviously most of us would prefer not to invite them into the tent, though, and the main lesson I've learned from the experience is to try, wherever possible, not to pitch the tent on particuarly boggy ground.

Anyway... I rolled up the tent and got it into its bag with the minimum possible groundsheet contact, and then set off for the stream to wash my bits of kit. The sun was even brighter by now, and growing warm, and the lingering sense of horror began to dissipate. I washed my things, dried them off and got them into my bag, and then I set off up the path. In fact, I had to make my way back over the gill before I could get back to the path, and although the water wasn't particularly high, and the gill is not particularly deep, it took quite a long time for me to find a place where I could safely cross. This gave me an opportunity to try out my new waterproof socks, and in due course I felt my left foot turn suddenly cold where a flood of icy water must have sneaked into my trail shoe. My foot stayed dry, though, so that was good news!

I noticed a woman of approximately my age making her way up the path with a labrador not long before I got there. She was walking at a very leisurely pace, and so it wasn't long before I'd caught her up. We walked along together chatting for 10 minutes or so, and then she gradually dropped back and I settled into the remainder of the fairly steep pull up to the top of the hill. I got there in the end, though, and I certainly found it easier under foot than it had seemed when I was last there a few weeks earlier, in ill-fitting boots without decent inserts to hold my feet properly in place.

I stopped to rest on a large boulder to the right of the path on the way down to Angle Tarn. By now I was thirsty and hungry, and so I had to decide whether I was going to drink the coffee that I'd brought up the day before in my camping flask. I'd thoroughly washed the lid earlier on, and I knew there was no way that any nasty creatures had actually penetrated to the inside of the flask, so it was merely fear and loathing which stood between me and a welcome (if slightly tepid) drink... I decided I'd better drink it, and it turned out to be still quite hot, and pretty yummy. I then dug out my bag of trail mix (salted peanuts, organic raisins and dried cherries and a sprinkling of Smarties), and immediately felt much happier than I had an hour or so earlier :-)

I pressed on about 20 minutes later, and began the steepish climb away from Angle Tarn towards the little cruciform shelter not far from Esk Hause. I stopped on the way up to refill my water bottle, and just to be sure I added a couple of Puritabs. I didn't bother to stop at the shelter, but simply pressed on along the path towards Sprinkling Tarn, and no more than about 15 minutes later I was there.

Sprinkling Tarn, with Great and Green Gable in the background

Sprinkling Tarn, with Great Gable and Green Gable in the background, separated by Aaron Slack

Conditions were totally calm, and the surface of the tarn was absolutely still. I decided to spend a couple of hours exploring Seathwaite Fell and searching out a really good camping spot for that night, and so I headed round the far side of the tarn and followed it back towards the fell.

At the back of the tarn I turned round for a picture of Great End.

Great End rising above Sprinkling Tarn

Great End rising above Sprinkling Tarn

The map shows another small tarn on Seathwaite Fell not far behind Sprinkling Tarn, and I soon found it easily enough.

Nameless tarn on Seathwaite Fell

Nameless tarn on Seathwaite Fell

The fell turned out to be interesting, and dotted with a number of small pools of water. From the far end there were attractive views down into Borrowdale, and over Ruddy Gill towards Glaramara.

Glaramara from Seathwaite Fell

Glaramara from Seathwaite Fell

I spent an hour and a half or so just wandering around the fell and looking for somewhere to camp. There were a couple of likely looking spots towards the far end, on the side overlooking Glaramara, but since I had plenty of time to choose my spot I was extremely picky, and nothing looked quite dry and flat enough. I therefore made my way back towards Sprinkling Tarn, and as I got to the little craggy bit that overlooks the tarn I more or less stumbled across a beautiful little platform: flat, dry and just big enough to accommodate my Akto!


Looking down to Sprinkling Tarn from my camping spot

Looking down from above, it's easy to see the little promontory that normally accommodates a tent on Friday and Saturday nights during the walking and camping season. On previous visits to the tarn I'd often wanted to camp there, but someone had always been there before me. A month before this visit I'd finally found it unoccupied, but had been disappointed and a little surprised, upon close inspection, to find the ground extremely boggy, and so I wasn't planning to put the tent there today.

Anyway, I took off my rucksack and started looking around for the best way to pitch the Akto. By now it was about 3.00pm, and I wasn't planning to settle down in the tent for the rest of the day, but I didn't want to run the risk that someone else would come along and bag my lovely campsite while I was away walking, so I decided to put up the tent, make myself a drink and decide what I would do for the rest of the day.

Camp overlooking Sprinking Tarn

My tent looked so cozy once it was up that I took a picture of the inside, showing my mattresses, stove and kettley thing lending an air of sophistication and luxury to the little crag.


Luxury above Sprinkling Tarn

Then I got inside and boiled some water for a large mug of hot chocolate. This was less about taking lots of piccies and having a self-indulgent lunch than about attempting to exorcise the memory of my scary, nematodenous experience the night before, and attempting to re-establish the idea that camping is normally fun...

Boiling water for hot chocolate

Boiling water for hot chocolate in the tent


Looking over towards Glaramara

As I drank my hot chocolate I wondered about where to go next. It occurred to me that I'd not been up Great Gable for quite some time, and as the weather was beautiful and the day still young I decided that this was a perfect opportunity. After washing up, then, I got a few bits together (map, compass (well, you never know...), camera and gloves), zipped up the tent and set off for Styhead Pass at the bottom of the hill.

I quite enjoy carrying my rucksack, but there's no doubt that it's an exhilarating joy to be out in the hills on a beautiful day with nothing to carry but myself, and it took me hardly any time at all to get down to Styhead Pass. I made my way over to the stretcher box at the foot of the path up Great Gable, and was very soon on my way up. I stopped several times to take pictures...

Styhead Tarn and Seathwaite Fell

Styhead Tarn and Seathwaite Fell from half way up Great Gable


Seathwaite Fell from Great Gable, with Sprinkling Tarn to the right and small pools of water dotted around the top

...and eventually I reached the top as the sun was beginning to set.

Wast Water from Great Gable

Wast Water from the top of Great Gable


Kirk Fell from Great Gable

Kirk Fell from the top of Great Gable

As I was taking piccies from the top of the fell two other walkers arrived from the direction of Green Gable, and we chatted for 15 minutes or so in the setting sun. They told me that they'd just renewed their winter walking gear, and had taken this opportunity to test it out. Since the weather had been so beautiful, though, they'd found themselves much too warm. Still, it's always fun to try out new kit, and apart from the heat they were very happy with it.

The walkers were in no particular hurry to get back to where they were staying. They had head torches and everything else they needed, and hadn't yet decided where they were going next. They got out sandwiches and a flask, and kindly offered me a hot drink, but I'd already decided it was time to make my way back to the tent, and so we said goodbye and I set off down the hill. It didn't take me too long to get down to Styhead Pass again, and from there I had no problem walking back up the gill to Sprinkling Tarn. I stopped on the way for a drink from the stream, but not long afterwards I was back at Sprinkling Tarn, and turned left to make my way back up to my little eyrie in the crags :-)

By now there was a tent on the promontory, and there was another on the flat, low ground at the back of the tarn. Two blokes were sitting outside that one watching the water, and they both stared in surprise when I first appeared, and then watched curiously as I made my way past them and starting climbing up the side of the fell. I confess to feeling just a little smug at the knowledge of my little tent hidden from view on the ledge above :-)

Akto hidden in crags

Can you spot the Akto in the crags?

I got into the tent, but the evening was still and dry and so I zipped both the flysheet and the inner open, and sat for a little while looking out over the tarn and the tents below. The tent on the promontory was also an Akto, and as I watched a bloke suddenly appeared along the side of the tarn, made his way over to the tent and got in. Soon I grew hungry, though, and so I dug out the stove and my gas in preparation for cooking dinner. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get the stove to work. I wasn't sure that the problem was, because I could feel the fuel slopping around in the bottom of the cannister, but even though I unscrewed and re-attached the stove a number of times I couldn't get any gas to emerge when I turned the screw. (Having discussed it since, I understand that some cannister designs are more efficient than others when it comes to using up all of the fuel. I was using Coleman at the time, but I'm now trying MSR, and hopefully it won't happen again.)

At least that had the benefit of simplifying my dinner decision - it would have to be trail mix and water - and there wasn't going to be any washing up to do :-) I wasn't terribly disappointed, and I settled down into my sleeping bag quite happily with my book (Lance Armstrong's 'It's Not About the Bike').

As I read my mind also began to run on what I might do in the morning. I'd intended to go straight back to the car the way I'd walked in, but the weather was so beautiful that it seemed a real pity not to take advantage of it, and so I dug out the map and then decided that I'd walk back down to Styhead Pass, up Scafell Pike via the Corridor Route and then back to Langdale via Esk Hause.

Using two self-inflating mattresses was more comfortable than using one, but I still found my hip bones rubbing against the ground, and so I spent yet another night in the tent turning at regular intervals in my attempts to get comfortable. I did sleep, though, and when I woke up about 7.15am everything was quiet outside the tent. I lay still for a couple of minutes, thinking about my plan for the day, and then I sat up and unzipped the flysheet to get an idea of what was waiting for me outside. Unfortunately, what was waiting was thick, blanket fog - it was impossible to see anything at all. I crawled back and snuggled back down into the sleeping bag to consider the situation, and reluctantly decided that I'd have to leave Scafell Pike for another day, since I didn't want to stay late enough to get stuck in the worst of the M6 traffic if there wasn't going to be anything for me to see.

Sunday morning

Sunday morning...

I had another go at lighting the stove, but without success, and so I began to get my things together and was ready to leave by not long after 8.30am. I could hear voices from the tents below, although there was nothing to be seen from the crag. I set off down towards where I knew the tarn to be, and as I got down to level ground I was finally able to make out the blokes in the two person tent. I waved across, but they didn't see me and I didn't like to shout, so I walked on.

Although at that stage I can't have been more than 50m from the tarn, within less than a minute it became clear I was now moving in the wrong direction, and for a brief time I was completely disorientated. It really is amazing just how easy it is to get lost on even very familiar ground in almost zero visibility! I stopped to take stock before I could go even more wrong, and just as I was deciding which direction to try next a gust of wind suddenly blew up from Styhead below, and chased the mist right away from the surface of the tarn, revealing my position.

Wind blowing mist away

The wind blowing the mist away from the surface of Sprinkling Tarn

The walk back to Langdale was now straightforward, as I could clearly see where I was going, and as I walked I listened to my minidisc and looked forward to catching a bit of The Archers on the car radio if I got back to the carpark in time. Quite suddenly, though, and as I approached the stream at the outlet of Angle Tarn, I was jolted out of my reverie by what appeared to be a very small bird, or possibly even a bat, fluttering accidentally into a low recess at the back of the stream. I stopped and looked down, wondering whether I'd imagined it, but sure enough there was another sudden flutter of movement and a small, brown bird flew up towards me, turned to its left and darted about 20 feet along the stream, disappearing into another little cave-like recess at ground level. I thought it must be a wren, as I couldn't think of another little brown bird quite small enough, but I'd only seen it for a couple of seconds, and not long enough to be sure that it had the wren's stubbily angled little tail.

Keeping my eye on the place in the bank where the little bird had disappeard from view I carefully removed my camera from its pouch, turned it on and made my way over. I could hardly believe that the bird would just sit still and allow me to take its photograph, but at the same time I'd not seen it fly out again. Some 30 seconds later I arrived carefully at the recess, held up the camera and peered cautiously in, and, almost incredibly, there was the little bird sitting on the floor and peering straight back out at me! I took its photo - although unfortunately it's barely visible as a little brown blob in the centre of the picture - and it immediately flew out again, this time swerving to its right and dipping fast and low along the stream until it disappeared from sight.

Little bird - a small brown blob in the centre

I continued down to Langdale, pausing along the way to photograph a bank of thick mist that suddenly came pouring down into the valley along Stake Gill, from the Stake Pass high above.

Mist swirling down Stake Gill into Langdale

Mist swirling down Stake Gill into Langdale

As I approached the end of the descent I also paused for a photograph of the nematodenous terrace where I'd camped on Friday night...

Nematodenous terraces...

...and after that I made my way back to the carpark at the Old Dungeon Ghyll.

It probably took no more than 25 minutes for me to get back to the car, where I found other people arriving for a day in the hills as I was packing up for home. I was surprised but delighted to find the Archers still playing on R4: I hadn't realised at that stage that the clocks had actually gone back the night before, and that I was atually an hour earlier than I'd imagined :-)

I made my way lazily back to Ambleside in the car, and stopped there to buy a drink and a couple of delicious take-away sandwiches at the Apple Pie Eating House before enjoying a look around the rucksacks and camping mattresses in the lovely Climbers' Shop. There I found the Exped Down Air Mattress standing anonymously in a corner. This mattress works on an entirely different principle to the much thinner ThermaRest and Insul Mat self-inflating mattresses that I'd been using. I simply can't sleep properly on the thinner mattresses, no matter how luxurious they claim to be, and so I was excited by my find, and decided to look it up carefully on the internet when I got home. After a browse around the clothing and digital mapping departments on the first floor I returned to the car, and after that I drove home...



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