We were back in the Lake District for the Christmas break and decided that it would not be a bad idea to get any serious hiking done sooner rather than later, preferably before the real rain arrived, so we set off on the Sunday morning to climb The Old Man Of Coniston because it was the nearest Wainwright to us, plus it was in the Pathfinder guide book and despite my performance in Point To Point, which you can read about here, Debbie did not trust my navigational skills without there being a guide book to back them up.
We drove to the pay and display car park in Coniston, which you can very handily pay for online within 48 hours of using, and I changed into my Scarpa ZG-10 GTX boots. I was going to be hiking today, not tabbing, so although I was going to be carrying all my kit from Point To Point in my bergen as practice for the Winter Fan Dance with Avalanche Endurance Events, I was not going to be wearing my Ako Pilgrim tabbing boots. Anyway, we were going up a proper mountain, The Old Man Of Coniston, so everything I was carrying in my bergen was potentially essential and added up to 35lbs plus 2 litres of water. Unfortunately, I had forgotten something, but we shall get to that just a little later.
The weather was overcast and dry as we set off, walking through the village and across the bridge, turning right to the Sun Hotel and following a sign to The Old Man Of Coniston and Levers Water which followed the line of the Church Beck river. We came to the bridge at the start of Coppermines Valley and kept left along a narrower path which steadily made its way uphill as we left a panorama from the films of the Lord Of The Rings below us.
The path was obvious and firm despite being wet. Just like last year, the Lake District seemed pretty saturated, and while there had just been a wet mist in the air up to this point, now a light rain had started to fall on us. We stopped for food and disaster struck as we discovered that I had ‘forgotten’ to bring any Go Ahead bars, despite not having been asked to bring any with me. Wine gums made an adequate replacement.
We kept climbing regardless, moving steeply through increasingly rough terrain, although the track stayed good and obvious, and just past a path off to our left we followed the track round to the right, climbing up on stone steps.
Soon we came on to a slate path and into the spoil of quarrying, piles of slate, rusted machinery, and defunct, broken down buildings, all of which I found fascinating. I could have spent so much more time looking around it all but the rain was beginning to fall properly, the mist was coming down, and we needed to push on.
At the top of the rise the path bends left and then right, but before taking the bend to the right we continued ahead to find a vast cavern created by the quarrymen and a huge piece of machinery.
We returned to the main path and continued climbing to reach Low Water, although I was only convinced we had reached Low Water once I had walked right to the very edge and could see clearly that it was water, because the mist made it impossible to see anything from a distance. It was ghostly and we were left with the thought that we needed to come back in the summer to see Low Water in its full glory.
We pushed on, following a rough and steep path zigzagging up from Low Water. I had been wearing my Rab Vapour-rise Lite Alpine jacket up to this point and with the rain falling harder as we climbed higher it was getting very wet, as were the inner gloves I was wearing, and in turn I was getting wet and cold. My bergen was beginning to feel very heavy on my back. I had been drinking water as we had climbed but I had not eaten anything. I need to learn these lessons. I kept going, and when Debbie asked how I was I told her I would put on more layers once we got to the summit. She made me eat some wine gums but was still pulling ahead as we continued along the track and I finally realised I had to do something now, so I got my Mountain Equipment Fitzroy jacket out of my bergen and put it on straight over everything else, then changed into dry gloves. I felt better instantly. A group coming down from the summit told us we were still 15 minutes away from the top and with the weather getting worse with each step I decided to stow the bergen among some rocks so it was not slowing me down. The wind had really picked up to go with the rain and the mist and as we inched higher it became a gale. The final push was hard work and then we turned right at the top and on the other side of a massive cairn was the trig pillar.
I stayed only long enough to take one very quick photo because I could not see a thing in terms of a view from the top and the gale conditions were making it hard to stand upright. We had reached 803 metres and it definitely felt like it. We had options for the route back but I allowed caution and common sense to take over, so we came back the same way we had taken to get here. Or at least we thought that we were, because we managed to walk straight to my bergen, even though I had left it away from the track we had been walking along as we came up. The weather did not ease up until we were almost at the bottom again but I was feeling so much better with just another layer on top, which is knowledge I will take forward with me to the Winter Fan Dance. We stopped off in the town to buy some food to take back to the house we were staying in, and by the time we got back to the car we had been out for just under 4 hours and 20 minutes. We had hiked 6.4 miles, climbed 3,835 feet, got absolutely soaked through, and come away with a real sense of achievement for having climbed The Old Man Of Coniston in less than perfect conditions.
You can see more photographs from the day here.