After having food poisoning last week and being in a pretty bad way I wanted to do something after to start to feel human again. I was keen to go with Mike, Ross and Dean to the Lakes as I had missed out on the Peaks earlier this year due to flu.
So a nice gentle stroll after being knocked senseless by a microbe? Nah, a 25km (16 mile) walk with 2000m (6000ft) elevation gain should do it!
I’d not climbed Blencathra or Skiddaw before and was keen to do so because the latter completes my top 10 peaks in England – something I probably should have done ages ago, but oh well!
Originally I had intended to go up Hall’s Fell, but there were warnings of gale force and storm force winds throughout the day so I took us up Doddick Fell instead – a less severe spur to the East.
A stiff climb up a steep, loose path took us to the start of the spur and any other day it would have been very straight forward, but we were constantly having to find hand holds to stop being blown in the valley below. We ended up scrambling more than you need to on this route just to keep away from the wind as best we could. We got there and before we knew it were at the top of Blencathra and heading back to the valley below and the Cumbria Way which we would take to Skiddaw House and Skiddaw.
We stopped at Skiddaw House for lunch before the ascent up Skiddaw. This is a remote YHA hostel which would be a good base for a weekend hiking, but location is pretty poor for anything else!
We walked up the steep, boggy path to Sale How and beyond and the wind, really picking up now, was driving us back down again. The weakness from the food poisoning combined with this wind made this a tough little nut, but we got to the col between Little Man and Skiddaw. I’d watched some hikers walking on the Eastern slopes of Skiddaw which I couldn’t work out because the path is on the top. However, they had been unable to get to the summit and were using the hill to shield the wind on the way back. They advised us that is was too dangerous because of extremely high wind.
We were not deterred.
Starting to the summit proper the wind was noticeable and I had got my trekking pole out to add support and this quickly became a anchor to the earth. The wind was absolutely howling and the low cloud was moving at a rate of nots East to West over the summit the likes of which I have never witnessed. It was no longer possible to walk normally and I adapted the use of my trekking pole to a sort of ice axe. I was pushing it into the ground and holding on with both hands bringing myself toward it. Rinse and repeat. At times I had to go to ground to avoid the gusts or just hunch and brace. I inched along and got to the summit after what seemed an eternity. I’ve hiked for about 25 years and this was definitely the highest wind and I think the highest risk I’ve ever experienced. I sat on using the trig point to shelter me, but was being blown away from it. I took a few frantic photos of the summit and made way back. The wind was worse now and I got staggered over once and then completely blown over, being briefly airborne before landing on my knee. My reaction to this was to laugh, vaguely maniacally, and swear at the hill before getting to a shelter for a few moments. I gathered myself and walked the remainder to the distance to the col where we were warned. I’d been gone 45 minutes! 45 minutes to walk about 1400 metres or so! That would normally take about 10. Mike had turned back much earlier as he didn’t have a trekking pole to help and had curled up in a ball on the floor to wait for me! He was very cold.
We hiked through the wind to Keswick, both of us dealing with knee pain, but glad to be heading down. Once we got down below 300m or so the wind was just gusty and passed without event.
Later on I looked up the windspeeds using a weather station that’s east of Skiddaw – where it says Cross Fell on the map. At the time I was on the summit of Skiddaw the wind speeds were recorded as 90 to 95 kph(55-60mph)! That would explain the difficulty in walking in it.