Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Move any mountain

Last full day in the Lake District before heading back to London, so I suggest to Southern Man that we find somewhere great outdoors. We settle on Helvellyn, all 3100ft of it. It's a sunny day, but my parents insist we wear their bright red waterproof jackets (they have embraced primary colours since retiring). We grudgingly accept.

We park by Thirlmere reservoir (the source of Cockermouth floods, if you believe the conspiracy theories). In the days before mobiles and car crime, walkers would leave notes on the dashboards of their cars saying where they were heading to, just in case they took a tumble. Nowadays you just pray for a phone signal and hide everything in the boot.

It's been 8 years since I've attempted any fell walking and my thighs, knees and calves reminded me of this straight away. You don't get these sorts of gradients walking along Bond Street. But we power on for an hour, right until chunks of grit rain down on my face. Except it's not grit, it's sleet. And it doesn't stop. Still, we go on - higher and higher. The wind is fierce. I do 10 steps and catch my breath. Then another 10. And another. We meet three walkers coming the other way - they are in top-to-toe important-looking waterproofs and brandish walking poles and what appears to be a trainee mountain rescue dog. 'It's gettin' windy up there,' they say, looking at Southern Man's jeans and trainers and my sad face.

We persevere. Then we hit the snow. I am so scared that the wind will knock me off the side of the fell that I practically crawl along the ice-covered rocks. 'This is getting silly,' I say to SM, who is way up ahead. I have a vision of Mountain Rescue finding our bodies the next day. They will search through our rucksack and discover the half-eaten chorizo and rocket sandwich, the Cadbury's Button Easter egg and the rude-shaped piece of quartz I found on the way, and deduce we are fools. A small report will appear in the News and Star, talking of two daft city folk (they will forget my 18 years growing up in the county, I am convinced) who thought they could climb England's third highest peak without any brain power. This worries me more than the actual dying part.

'Just ten more minutes' effort and we'll be at the top,' he screams through the wind. 'Just follow my footprints in the snow for the safe route.' As he says this, he plunges waist-deep into a pile of snow and falls against a sharp rock.

We head back.

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