Following on from the Saturday's glorious sunshine, breathtaking views and agonising blister, Day two of my Ennerdale Challenge promised less of the former and more of the latter. Bearing in mind the utterly grim weather forecast I resolved to leave Honister YH no later than 7:30am. Low cloud, heavy rain and strong wind was expected from mid morning until mid afternoon (again unerringly accurate), therefore, I hoped the early start would get me at least a little further on before the soaking. Also, I was aware that today would be much tougher than the day before -15 miles and a ton of ascent and descent - and I needed to get to the car at a reasonable time.
So, off I went at 7:30am. Honister Crag highlighted where the cloud line was and represented the best view I had all day. A few bedraggled sheep were grazing along the fence by the path as I trooped up the increasingly steep ascent to Grey Knotts. Dozy moment of the day No.1. Left the compass in the hostel. Fair enough, need that! Back down and up again probably wasting 20 minutes in all. Oh well.
The ascent up to Grey Knotts is straight forward for most of the way. Just follow the fence and the rough path. It is possible to get a bit disorientated when you reached the fence around Grey Knotts, especially in bad visibility, so trust your compass (more of this later). By now I was in cloud with about 10 metres visibility. The light drizzle was becoming persistent rain and the wind was picking up.
I reached Grey Knotts by 8:50am and Brandreth shortly after 9:00am. Two Wainwrights done and dusted. From Brandreth to Green Gable I took care with compass bearing as I'd never walked here, could see nowt and the path initially was unclear. Soon I was able to make it out and trudged on to Green Gable only realising I had reached it when I stumbled upon the summit.
The path is clear down Green Gable to Windy Gap (surprisingly no wind) as it is up Great Gable. At the summit cairn the wind was very strong and cold, coupled with the rain made stopping and taking bearings on the map something of an ordeal. Dozy moment of the day No.2. Incorrect bearing with rubbish visibility and uncertainty of the terrain and path resulted in me veering away from my intended route down the NW spur of Gable and instead taking an interestingly steep gully route alongside White Napes. The location I only realised later. If I had been able to see the drops around White Napes I would have had second, third and fourth thoughts. I knew that I was off route and decided to head down to the traverse path and then up to Beck Head. It is easy to become disorientated in this kind of weather. Against my instincts I put my faith in my compass (I've had unreliable compass' before) and eventually and with a fair amount of relief found the tarn at Beck Head. I'd wasted 40 minutes but it was still only 10:45am so I cracked on up Kirk Fell.
The ascent is a rocky path and its not long until you reach the first summit (Hewitt). Gate posts helpfully guide you to both summits. Whilst I was checking the map, a laborious process of taking off soaking glove with back to the wind and rain, I got a shock as this giant black form charged towards me. Turned out to be a black labrador. It was so bleak and windswept, hell, I thought it was 'The Hound'! At the main summit I found a good shelter and changed coat and top layers. The descent from Kirk Fell down to the Black Sail Pass involved going down Kirkfell Crags. This is another steep scree gully. Not technically hard but I needed to focus in the conditions. In fact, one of the successes of the walk was that I kept on eating jelly babies and drinking water. From past experience I know if I don't eat and drink I get tired and lose concentration. I also become a bit of a grump but as I was on my know no one else suffered.
The weather was now relentless 50mph side on wind with heavy rain (soon it hailed). I had a choice to head down Sail Beck and continued through the valley and along the lake. It was that or a hard walk up Pillar and along the ridge exposed to the elements. However, I'd walked the valley before and knew how mind-inducingly numbing it could be, so it was a slog up Pillar as the lesser of two evils.
Inevitably Pillar and the remaining ridge summits were tough with no reward of view. Fortunately navigation is easier once you reached the drystone wall which can be followed for the next 6 miles or so to the plantation before Crag Fell. Despite the adverse conditions, my raw blister and the compensation injury in my left knee, it was still enjoyable being out in the elements, cold, wet, bleak, unknown terrain hidden in the cloud. I would have liked a better waterproof jacket granted. I was literally soaked to the skin by the end.
It's a steep, rocky descent from Pillar to Wind Gap (lived up to its name). Steep up to Black Crag (Hewitt) and then Little Scoat Fell. I considered Steeple too dangerous, what with the gale, and anyway wanted something to come back for on a nicer day. Haycock and Caw Fell came and went and finally the gradually descent to Iron Crag. Now I reached the wet boggy land before the plantation. Through the wet woods and on to the bridleway towards Grike.
The path to Grike was wet but clear. A true out and back as I returned along the path to Crag Fell. Suddenly, Lo! the clouds parted and I saw Crag Fell! Briefly. Crag Fell was the eleventh and final Wainwright of the day. A surprisingly steep yet clear path down across Ben Gill and through the woods towards Crag Farm House. At 4:20pm the sun appeared bang on cue as I hobbled into the car park.
All in all, a great weekend of walking. It's fine when the weather is clear and navigation simply involves looking to the next peak but there's a lot of satisfaction and important experience to gain from adverse weather and when things go wrong and you right them.
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