Our previous mission to hike over Crinkle Crags in the Lake District had been a bit of a fail, so a return trip was always going to be on the cards. Our love affair with winter walking had only just begun at that point, and we’d been under-equipped for the early winter conditions that we’d faced. Now armed with warmer clothing, several extra pairs of gloves, and some micro-crampons, we considered ourselves ready for anything.
Once again, we pitched up at the National Trust-owned Great Langdale campsite, which is perfectly positioned for the hike we wanted to do. I’m pleased to report that the journey up was blessedly free of terrifying detours on this occasion, (see previous post for our never-to-be-repeated experience of driving over Blea Tarn). In order to stay as warm as possible, we kept the pop top roof of the van down, burrowed into single sleeping bags, and then wriggled into our double sleeping bag. Toasty!
The next morning, Ciaron was itching to go. Hot drinks downed, breakfast scoffed, I took one last wistful glance at the big pile of sleeping bags, and we were off.
A snowy start
It was a grey day, but as I stomped along the path breathing in the cold, fresh air, memories of sleeping bags and pyjamas rapidly faded. We eyed the Crinkles in the distance, they looked like they’d had a decent dusting of the white stuff.
The first part of the walk passed quickly, after a flat trek through the valley, we headed up and up and up, until we saw Great Knott looming. We fuelled as fast as we could, (it was freezing), and set off again. As we navigated over Great Knott and onto the Crinkles, we encountered snow on the ground, and there was a thick layer of rime ice on the rocks. We gleefully popped our micro-crampons on over the soles of our boots, and what a difference they made!
The (not so) bad step
It was pretty deserted on the whole, but we did have some company on the Crinkles. There was a group of three chaps from Southport, who seemed to be having a lot of fun, despite slipping and sliding all over the place. Or maybe, they were having fun because they were slipping and sliding all over the place! There was also a guy on his own, who we met as we approached what is known as the ‘bad step’. He was looking at it with suspicion. This ‘step’ is actually a small rock section which requires a bit of easy climbing, but you can take an alternative, easier route. I asked whether he was going up it, and after giving it one last look, he said ‘no’. A pause. ‘Are you?’ Although it looked a bit treacherous because of the ice, we weren’t phased, so I told him yes. And wouldn’t you know it, he changed his mind.
At first glance, it does look a bit intimidating, but the hand and footholds are plentiful, and for me personally, it didn’t feel too exposed. The ice certainly added a bit of spice, but mostly, it just required more care. We love a bit of hands-on stuff, so we made our way over with relish, and waited for the other chap to get over safely.
It was going so well…
Then the fog rolled in. We quickly lost the bloke after the bad step in the mist, but bumped into the Southport trio again…and again…and again. They told us that they suspected they’d walked in circles a few times. Or was it us that had done that? In the poor visibility, things were starting to get very confusing.
Eventually, we located the tarn at which we should turn to take us down off the Crinkles. The lower we got, the better the visibility, and as we found the path becoming ever more vague, it became really apparent that we were, in fact, incredibly lost.
Hmm. How had this happened? And where were we now? We consulted the map. In all honesty, neither of us are particularly good at the whole navigation thing, especially in poor visibility, mainly due to lack of experience. We found ourselves descending a steep, ankle-breaking scree slope, which was loose, tentative, and if you slipped, you’d be very uncomfortable for quite some time. Did I mention it was getting late?
Perched on the scree, we calculated that there was about an hour of daylight left, so we redoubled our efforts to move at pace. Our ankles were screaming, and after what felt like an age, I was much relieved to find that we’d tracked onto a valley path of some sort. Ciaron was convinced that we were going in the right general direction, but it was still unclear as to where we were exactly, or how far we still had to go! It was a bit, let’s say, tense, and more than once, I thought about the two head torches we’d accidentally left in the van.
Bad news / good news
As dusk crept in, we met a guy coming towards us. Seizing the opportunity to ask him if we were on the right path for Great Langdale, he looked amused, ‘I’ve been asked that more than once today,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately, you’re not. Great Langdale is…’ he paused to scan the horizon, (not a good sign), and then pointed over yonder, ‘it’s in the next valley over there.’ To further emphasise how wrong we’d got it, he announced, ‘this is Eskdale’.
‘THE NEXT VALLEY? ESKDALE?’ (screamed my brain). I think I must’ve visibly deflated as I tried to process this fresh news. My legs were so tired, it was almost dark, I’d eaten the emergency peanut butter sandwich and was in serious danger of getting hungry. The man was encouraging though. He told us we weren’t too far from the road, we just needed to follow this path for a few miles, and we’d hit Hardknott Pass. From there, we could head towards Boot, where there are pubs in which to take haven. Having ridden road bikes around this particular part of the world, we were familiar with the pass, as well as the pubs, and this did wonders to pep up two tired travellers.
We thanked him, and marched on. We knew that the pass we were heading for was narrow, lacking both pavements and streetlights, so we went as fast as we could; it’d be a shame to get squished by a car at this point in the journey. Along the way, we talked about the cold beers we’d have when we got to the pub, and how much food we’d trough. This boosted morale no end, and before we knew it, we’d hit the tarmac of the pass. We still had a few miles to go by road, but it was, at least, blessedly level. Upon finally glimpsing the welcoming lights of the Woolpack Inn, we practically ran the last section and in through the door.
As we entered, the pub was almost deserted, but we were greeted by a chorus of loud exclamations. It was the trio from Southport, and it turned out, that they had done the exact same thing! We instantly felt a bit better about our huge navigation error, it wasn’t just us! They’d parked right next to our campsite, so we agreed that the best thing to do, would be to get a taxi back together. The landlord booked us a minibus, and informed us that it would cost one hundred English pounds. I silently thanked our lucky stars that they’d made the same mistake, otherwise the whole lot would’ve come out of our pocket.
Apparently the taxi couldn’t make it for a couple of hours, so we were forced to sit it out in the pub. Together with the Southport trio, we tried to dissect the journey, and understand what had gone wrong, but we couldn’t for the life of us work out how we’d managed it. It didn’t matter now, we were in a warm, safe place, we had food and beer, and a taxi was going to deliver us back to our van. All’s well that ends well!
Great Langdale Campsite has top views, and is superbly located for getting into the hills. We’ve stayed here before (see previous post), and nothing’s changed since then, except that they’re now in the process of upgrading the facilities. This didn’t disrupt our stay may I add, and I would happily return.
Thoughts on the trip
We got a bit more excitement on this weekender than we bargained for, to say the least. So much for returning to ‘conquer the Crinkles’! I’m not even sure how many of the Crinkles we actually made it over in the end. Anyway, thank goodness we reached the pub when we did, as minutes later, it started raining heavily, and then refused to stop all evening. Until that bloke came along and told us where we actually were, Ciaron had been scouting possible places to bivvy for the night. I’m so very relieved it didn’t come to that!
Despite things going a bit wrong, and leaving with much lighter wallets than intended, this was another cracking weekend of adventure in the van. It’s lovely when things do go smoothly, but it doesn’t hurt to get lost once in a while, does it? Just don’t forget your head torches 🙂