It was a chilly evening and after hours in a local pub outside Grange over Sands, where a few students huddled for warmth in the chill autumn night air. The locals were out in force again and were amused by the visitors, insisting on joining the frivolities. Our university field trip had us out in some pretty miserable weather all day on the granite escarpments measuring rain water acidity, and hard science could build up quite a thirst.
As friend and I were recounting our less than thrilling day, a local by the name of John decided to help out and offer a little relief from the boredom. Having found a common love of walking, climbing and hiking he suggested a little excursion for the following day to take in a light climb and show us the best of what the Lake District had to offer. We formed a plan to meet at 6am the following morning to get cracking on a guided mystery tour.
We made our excuses, bribed our research team to cover for us, and set off bright and early to meet up and find out our fate for the day. We were somewhat ill prepared for the task ahead as walking and climbing had not really figured too highly when doing the last minute packing. I had my trusty Merrell intercept shoes which I was sure would be up for the job, and Chris had an old beaten up pair of trainers which were woefully inadequate. We arrived at this John's village house in pitch blackness and were welcomed with carbs, coffee and were filled in on the day's plan.
As if he had a sixth sense, he had already prepared kit for the three of us, having had far more experience of what the North West weather. Whilst we were expecting glorious sunshine, he had a much more pessimistic outlook and loaded us up with his spare kit. He had put together a quite considerable collection of gear which we thought surely over the top for an autumn stroll in Lake District countryside. However then he announced that we would be taking on Black Crag.
Black Crag sounded a little ominous, and no doubt was the reason for the excessive kit. Our expected day trip was to be a little more extreme than envisaged. We were told that it was only a small climb of around 200 metres, which allayed our fears a little and we set off. As soon as Black Crag came into sight however it became apparent that 30M of the trek would be a near vertical ascent. I had a hazy recollection from the night before of boasting of my new found climbing wall prowess, and John was about to put my skills to the test.
The trek up to the climb was a good warm up, and as the climb got us closer the rock face, the 30M ascent loomed ahead. A real rock face presented a rather a different challenge, having to take into account the lack of heating, cold air, damp rock and loose handholds. It has to be said, that whilst Merrell shoes are pretty robust and serve as a good all round shoe, they are not ideally suited to vertical ascents. Fortunately John had already issued his spare climbing shoes which made pretty light work of the climb, and two lowly southern students managed to conquer Black Crag, albeit with the help of ropes, crampons and the occasional tug from above.
Despite the name, Black Crag offers a relatively straightforward climb better suited to novice climbers, and with the help of our experienced and helpful guide cum climbing instructor, it was challenging but not too much so. We got our reward at the top with a breathtaking view, a nip of whisky from the hip flask, and a rest before taking the much more leisurely long route down.
The impromptu taming of Black Crag completed, we returned to the pub for a much needed pint of local bitter and recalled the day's events to one and all. Of course by the time the fieldwork team came back from the cliffs the story had been embellished somewhat.
The next day the rain water was still acidic, the experiments still tedious, however made much better for our Lake District climbing adventure, and for meeting some of the friendliest and nicest people we have ever encountered. It is a memory which has seen me return to the Lake District time and again to appreciate the stunning scenery, challenging hikes and climbs and enjoy the crisp clean fresh air.
Not having to rely on locals to supply kit is obviously a better preparation, however with a good quality pair of walking boots and some waterproof gear, the peaks are there to be conquered and warm friendly locals there to welcome you back and hear the tales of the day's events. For a walking holiday in Britain, I am sure there are few better places to go.