Braving the Elements: Hiking Solo in England’s Lake District
-by Tanya Oliver
A frosty summit in the Lake District of England
“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” –John Ruskin, Victorian period Lake District art critic
I have been hiking in the Lake District, otherwise known as “the Lakes,” for years. Located in northwest England just below the border with Scotland, the Lakes’ climate rules out fair-weather hikers with its high level of rainfall. This climate brings a bit of enchantment to the region; even on a wet and misty day, its eerie silence and shadowy mountains deliver a unique dimension. At first, I was intimidated by it. As time and experience accrued, I became braver. Through all of this, I have achieved experience in navigation and come to understand my limits.
My first solo walk in the Lakes was on a misty spring day. My destination was Easedale Tarn. I started from the village of Grasmere on my three-mile mission. As I finally approached the silent tarn, there was no movement anywhere other than the cascades gently falling over the rocks and plunging into a pool. The tarn surface was as still as glass and the tiny fish looked like ghosts beneath the surface. The delightful scene was made all the more special because I had achieved it on my own.
Since then, my confidence has increased. Braving various weather conditions during subsequent journeys in the Lakes, I have found myself on top of England’s second highest mountain (Scafell), which entailed a 3,000 feet climb in winter conditions. I reached the summit expecting to seek reprieve in the wind-shelter, only to find it full of snow. Despite the chill, the mountain looked beautiful with the winter elements swirling around it.
Another journey found me on top of Hartsop Dodd, at the tail end of Hurricane Katia. I could barely stand in the winds; it was so strong the rain felt like icicles hitting my face as I tried to look up the valley.
Seeing the Lake District from up high in different conditions reveals a new dimension of the area—a myriad of textures and sights I may never have seen otherwise. Take, for example, a hike that started with a thick cloud at ground level. I knew that if I could get above it I would literally be above the clouds. Though I could not see the top from the beginning, I disappeared into the cloud and persevered until I stood atop the mists below. It was quite possibly the most stunning hiking day of my life. A few years ago I would never have been brave enough to attempt such a hike into the unknown.
Hiking above the clouds
I have now stepped it up to the next level, hiking in conditions that require micro spikes on the soles of my shoes in order to grip the ice and snow on sloped hillsides. I have made my way up the Old Man of Coniston, which, without micro-spikes, would have been unachievable. The route was very rocky and steep with snow frozen into an icy surface that was difficult to grip. However, pulling on my micro-spikes over my walking boots, the tiny spikes crunched right into the snow, each step sounding like crunching cornflakes. Imposing dark crags cast dark shadows around me as I made my way up. Gaining the summit, I looked out over the layers of rolling wintery mountains and felt a sense of exhilaration at my achievement.
Although I have pushed myself to higher levels of risk, I do not take uncalculated chances. I realize that sometimes the bravest choice is turning around if the conditions are too threatening. It can be nearly soul-destroying to make that choice when the summit is within reach, but the mountains will still be there on another day. I want to make sure I am as well.
Braving a variety of conditions has given me a chance to challenge myself and experience the landscape transforming under the influence of inclement weather. For example, sunshine produces a golden glow to walks but eerie mists heighten and test your senses. Rain increases the vibrancy and power of waterfalls and cascades. Wind rushing across snowy mountains creates beautiful icy swirls mid-air; when sunshine catches the surface of that snow, it sparkles like scattered diamonds.
It feels amazing to see familiar mountains in unfamiliar conditions, like I am discovering them for the first time—every time. Sometimes even in the most “awful” conditions the clouds part for the briefest moment, giving you a glimpse at a magical view.
No such thing as bad weather? Maybe not entirely true, but there is beauty to be found in those off-days when the sun is not shining on your path. Take a step into the unknown and find it.
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Tanya is a freelance writer and author of “From High Heels to High Hills” on hiking in the English Lake District. She is keen to encourage more women to get into the outdoors by sharing her experiences. To find her online, visit her blog, find her on Facebookand chatting on Twitter.
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