Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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C2C Day 5 - Dicing With Death
Patterdale -> Shap

"Be prepared to feel very, very tired at the end of this 16-mile stage from Patterdale to Shap. It's not the climb up to Angletarn and Kidsty pikes that makes most walkers feel weary, nor the long haul around the western rim of the giant Haweswater Reservoir that has them begging for an end to the punishment. Rather, it's the gentle stretch over field and farmland at the very end of the day that, coming on top of all that has gone before, causes hikers to curse the name of Wainwright and regret the day they first donned a pair of walking boots."
         - Henry Stedman, Coast to Coast Path

     So was I previously complaining about sunlight slashing into the tent first thing in the morning? Heh. The fact is, we'd had shockingly good luck with weather our first few days. According to those in the know, it's very rare to get two sunny days to rub together in the Lake District. We got four. Well, so much for Day 5 – which was already slated to be the toughest day yet.
MF: Oh f&*% – it's dawn.
MP: And it's raining.
     There followed a mad sprint to break camp before the tents got soaked. (Amongst all the other reasons you don't want your gear wet is that water is heavy.) Although, with Mark shipping his bag again, Darby and I were racing to offload all the heavy items we could jam into his. (Like both tents). We dropped this bloated monstrosity of a bag outside the barn; and, just like that we were climbing again.

The views were lovely; but the climb started literally right behind the farm – no buildup or delay at all, just boom. Moreover, we very soon found ourselves approaching the cloudline. Also, as noted, it was raining. Fairly gently – at first.

MF: I'm just a teenage dirtbag, baby / Listen to Iron Maiden, maybe – AARGGH, why won't this song get out of my head?!
     Spectacularly strangely, this cute little anthem of teenage angst by Wheatus had been playing in the pub last night. The three of us then started a little skirmish – trying to inflict song viruses on one another. Mark got hit – and declared it was time to get out "the mental Saltine": The Police's Roxanne. Following that, we taught Darby the three easy steps to singing like Sting.

All this goofiness was almost certainly to distract ourselves from the fact that we were now heading into the clouds proper. It began to rain more in earnest, so we paused to gear up against it. Darby busted out with her waterproof pack cover. For some reason, I decided to wait. Bad idea, Indy.

Still, now all Gore-tex'd up and watertight, I was reminded of Richard Adams's suggestion that, while many people claim to enjoy the winter, what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it.

We passed (or rather, were passed by) a lone female hiker. She looked pretty bad. She was up there in the heights and rain by herself. She was making good time. As she overtook us, I used my traditional ironic greeting on such occasions:

MF: Nice day for it!
LFH: Sure is. Last time I came through here the wind was blowing in the other direction.
     As she left us in her vapor trail, I realised we did have a tailwind. Small blessings.

We reached Angle Tarn. We passed Angle Tarn. We paused for a photo op on Angle Tarn.

Mark brought up the rear while Darby started getting ahead again. You didn't have to string out very far before you lost visual contact. Please don't forget that – aside from being rained on and mugged in cottony cloud – we were also climbing precipitously. Did I mention the blasting wind?

I suggested very strongly to the others that this was the precise place on the trip not to get hurt. If it happened, the injured person would get wrapped in a sleeping bag and shoved behind a rock; one would stay with; and the third would be trekking several miles back to call out the mountain rescue team.

As well, we couldn't afford to get lost up here. Miles from any town, isolated up in the peaks, hemmed in by weather . . . we could end up doing circles, or heading off in some wrong direction, until we succumbed to the weather and exhaustion. Accordingly, we were pausing very often to check the maps, take bearings, and reach consensus on where we should be going. Needless to say, making out landmarks was challenging at best. It was all, frankly, a little tense.

MF: I think we'll know something about ourselves before the end of today.
     Did I mention sections were quite boggy? It was also extraordinarily isolated: with the LFH gone, we seemed to have the whole area to ourselves. Darby continued to take the lead – except when I darted out ahead to get shots of the two of them.
DK: I think you would be keeping more distance from the edge of those ravines if you could actually see how far down it is.
     Mark didn't quite have the rain gear Darby and I did; we were feeling for him. His trousers were soaked; and his bare hands must have been hating life. (I very nearly didn't bring gloves at all; I reflected today that I had narrowly dodged the mistake of a lifetime.) Even the lone pair of sheep up here looked miserable. And still we climbed, further up into the heights, further away from help of any sort – and further into worsening weather. We tried to remember that Alfred Wainwright didn't have Gore-tex – it hadn't been invented yet.

Finally we reached the cairn that marked the summit of Kidsty Pike. As we paused to take our bearings, I asked Darby to report on how soaked my pack was. "Completely," she answered. Crikey. I decided to belatedly get my pack cover in place. I hunkered down in the rain, wind, and cold, dug it out, and started stretching it over. Darby instructed me that I needed to cinch it, or it would blow right off. We then had a very Jack-London-To-Build-A-Fire moment: As I tried to cinch the elastic, it came off the stop and slithered up inside the sleeve! With Darby in support, I tried to inch it back out with rapidly numbing fingers. After making painstaking progress on one end, with Darby holding the other, I shifted jerkily to re-adjust my grip – and knocked the other end out of Darby's hand – which promptly disappeared! We were done for. I put the cover away and trudged on, rather colder and wetter than when I started.

Finally, we began heading down the other side – and I can tell you it felt awfully good to be descending out of this rather than climbing further up into it. Haweswater Reservoir came into view below us, as the air started to clear. We found a bit of shelter – the lee of a rocky bank – and stoppd to get some food into us. I for one really needed some fortification. We then began the incredibly steep, yet still incredibly welcome, descent to the lake below. I made an attempt to clean the condensation from my camera lens – with results that may be judged for themselves. (Actually, I kind of like the dreamy effect it created.)

Was this descent really "incredibly" steep? Well, as we neared the bottom, Darby waited for me to catch her up; then the two of us waited for Mark to catch us up. When he appeared, he was bleeding. He related to us that he had just taken a theatrical, head-first tumble – coming to rest with his head against a boulder – and we had missed the whole show. All that was left for us to do was to bust out with the first aid kit and disinfect and wrap up his minor wounds. We were worried about a concussion, but Mark assured us the boulder he hit with his head was nice and mossy, and he wasn't going fast by that point at all. He seemed okay – his sense of humour was certainly intact.

Reaching the very bottom, we paused for lunch proper inside an enclosure of stones. Also, to wring ourselves out. Also to enjoy having survived (some more intact than others). I personally decided that this was as close to mountain climbing as I ever wanted to get.

MF: Great, so now my socks and gloves are completely soaked – not to mention everything in my pack – and we've got a ten-mile hike ahead of us.
     And so we geared up for our traverse of the western rim of the reservoir. Inevitably, it involved a climb – though we had to admit that it was lovely. And, in any case, it was a hell of a lot more agreeable than being up in the weather on Kidsty Pike. Now it was my turn to participate in the sock-drying ritual. Darby, as usual, was in the lead – with Mark bringing up the rear.

And so once we left the water behind, it was simply a matter of tromping around through miles and miles of sheep and cow enclosures – lost half the time, trying to follow faint paths, find turnstiles in fences, follow ordinal directions, dodge the shit with which the ground was blanketed. I instructed Darby that – as I'd stepped solidly in shit three times to date – if I did it a fourth time, I'd like her to stab me through the neck with one of her trekking poles. It was about two minutes later when I did it again, trying to reference the guidebook on a stretch of bridleway track that was more dung than dirt.

MF: Ohhh, sons of BITCHES!! Where am I even supposed to stand?!
     The rest of the day's walk can be summed up verbatim from my notes: "completely flailed, wet, exhausted, lost, stumbling through endless pastures." Here's how grim it was: I managed to rouse myself to take only one picture in like 8 miles. Bon apetit. The only real variation from the cows and sheep was the one enclosure marked on my map as "Beware of Bull!" As we got in the vicinity, a fearsome snorting noise floated over the hill. Crikey! Though Mark seemed sanguine:
MP: Don't worry, if the bull comes after us, the banjo music will start up and we'll all begin running at twice our normal speed until we dive over the fence. That's how it always works.
     During the last few miles, by the way, we figured nightfall was hot on our heels. (Recall we had no watch – and the sky was a completely undifferentiated slate grey.) So we were pushing ourselves hard (albeit, half the time in the wrong direction), fearful of getting caught out in the dark. When we finally stumbled into Shap, we had to check two clocks because we figured the first one was wrong. It was only 3:30. The walk had just felt like 14 hours.

We debated treating ourselves to a stay in a B&B. However, we went first to the Bulls Head pub, where Mark's bag would be waiting. We got such a warm reception – in addition to a sweet pub matron, there was a roaring fire, couches, and a pooch – we decided to camp there. In the backyard of the pub. How cool is that? There was also a general store (an open one!) nearly right next door. After setting up camp, we sat down for drinks to ease our pain, and fire to dry us out.

MF: My legs hate me.
MP: My legs hate you, too.
     Being able to drink, eat, and collapse into our sleeping bags without walking more than 10 yards was just exactly the ticket. Darby came out later, after a night carousing with the locals, now friends with everyone and totally conversant with all the local gossip. Duncan, a soused 60-year-old Scotsman, had been plying her with drinks. She'd also arranged for whomever had the key to the public loo to leave it open for us; and for the cleaning woman to carry Mark's bag inside in the morning. Finally, she related the story of how, some years ago, for a charity event, 14 Marines once did the C2C in 7 days. Carrying a telephone pole.

Even without the telephone pole, I decided – in the last seconds before sleep smothered me – that this was the hardest thing I've ever done in a single day.

Tomorrow: Day 6 - Shap to Kirkby Stephen (21 miles! Bastards!)

  coast-to-coast walk     camping     danger     dargbles     hiking     mountains     photography     pitely     walking  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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