Towards the end of Autumn, hikes become difficult because of the 3 p.m. sunset and ever-changing temperatures. These mountains don’t appear treacherous from afar, but when combined with frequent rainstorms and constant haze they can be just as dangerous as Everest.
The night before our journey, as if almost on a drunken whim, my friend Alex and I decided we’d venture out to the Lake District early in the morning. “How hard can it be, who needs preparing when we can have another drink!”, we laughed, ordering another round of Strongbow’s from the bartender.
The morning sun arose faster than expected, as the train barreled through the English countryside to our destination. I struggled to keep my eyes open as the train pulled in and out of various stops along the way, making sure we didn’t miss ours. My hangover finally subsided – well at least for a moment, as we pulled into a station at Oxenholme.
Rubbing the crust out of my eyes we decided almost at random, which bus could take us in the general vicinity of Helvellyn (the second highest peak in England). After a long wait in the cold, a bus finally arrived at the station. We found our seat on the top deck as our transportation zigged and zagged down tiny roads, churning the remnants of last night in my stomach again.
It was not a moment too soon when the bus came to a halting stop as the mountain came into view and we both agreed that this trail “looked good enough.” The bus pulled away and Helvellyn came into view, almost giving off the feeling of being on Extreme Home Makeover.
There it stood, with it’s snow-capped summit hidden behind white puffy clouds, and a thick haze. Brooks babbled down the mountain as they separated and rejoined different points towards the accent, and to our backs a massive lake that cut through the mountains creating a deep gorge. We stood there shadowed by the peak, with light windbreakers, a tripod, wool hats, and discount-brand ham sandwiches.
We weren’t prepared enough to embark on a hike, but we pressed on towards the impeding danger.
With limited time before the sun set in the early afternoon it’d be best not to fart around aimlessly at the base of the mountain, but it happened anyways. We were off to a slow start climbing upwards as we made frequent stops to take pictures along the way.
Rain is always a common occurrence in England, which created less than optimal climbing conditions as our boots were quickly caked in mud. The streams that we could see from the base began rolling as cascading waterfalls, and as water crashed into rocks – it created an increasingly unstable footing.
After about an hour of hiking we took a break to admire the view, but as we sat next to a cliff’s edge I gazed down into the valley below. Doing my duty as a “photojournalist”, I grasped on tightly to my Nikon D300 as Alex did the same to my legs so I could lean over the edge to get a shot of the vertical drop. After dancing with enough disaster, we packed up and made our way to the summit.
This was no easy task though, passing through the fluffy cloudline we were out of the rain, but it quickly turned into snow. Of course, the lack of waterproof clothing was a glaring problem that wasn’t even an afterthought in the beginning of our hike.
The midday sun served as a welcome respite regularly breaking through the atmospheric clouds, which I became so accustomed to. While the sun had a slightly warming effect, every time an icy wind would whip up – it’d hit like a truck, and slowly I began to lose feeling in my face.
At one point, I turned around to take a break from the winds, and a truly breathtaking scene appeared.
Clouds rolled towards the mountain like waves from a distant sea, some crashed against the peaks, while others rolled under and disappeared into the depths below. Even further in the distance I could see the Celtic Sea, a beautiful scene, that made me want to walk backwards until we reached the top of the mountain.
The summit of the mountain came with much opposition – squalls picked up and wind tore through our light jackets (I thought they were supposed to break the wind). The summit marker flashed in and out of view as the snow picked up. We couldn’t see three feet ahead of us, if we weren’t lost now I had a feeling we soon would be.
After three grueling hours of hiking through the terrible conditions with little or no equipment we claimed the summit as our own, and with minimal frostbite as well. Quickly we set the tripod up in rapid haste and got a picture of our accomplishment. There really is no feeling that can equal summiting a mountain – the rush of adrenaline is incomparable to anything.
After snapping a few photos, and continuous high fives, we decided that it’d be a good idea to set off back down to the base with the sun racing against us. Though instead of going back down the vertical drop we originally faced, which was most likely more treacherous, we headed off down another trail always keeping the Atlantic to the East.
Walking along the ridge line we entered into a bowl in the mountain. The snow stopped and the breeze turned calm, and I was finally given a decent view of the summit we climbed up to. The sun was perfectly positioned in the middle of the sky, a simply picturesque sight, like something Bob Ross would paint.
I stood in a complete stupor admiring the majesty of the mountain.
Walking a little further down towards the base and we were under the cloud line again. Everything was calmer than before the haze cleared, and the breeze became non-existent, a perfect time to relax and eat lunch. Sitting among the crags of volcanic rocks, we dug into our ham and cheese sandwiches. Conversing, I noticed something was strange about our lunch spot, I gave a quick, “shhhh” to my hiking comrade. What could be heard was an absence of all the sound. The crag blocked the wind it was utterly silent around our improtu lunch spot. Hours could be spent in such a calming and relaxing moment, as minutes melted away and we basked in the silence.
This meditative state was quelled when I looked down at my watch: “It’s almost 2 o’clock!”, I shouted, and with a long hike ahead of us to go, we were certain our adventure would not end well. We raced at an otherworldly pace down the mountainside, jumping like Billy Goats along crags, and splashing in the once tranquil streams.
After about an hour or so the terrain flattened, houses appeared, and finally the main road came into sight, and not a moment too soon. Walking down the road we flagged down a bus to get us back to the train station. The sun set to our backs, my cheeks (which were nearly frostbitten) warmed to the heaters of the bus, and we were on our way home.