The day we decided to climb Skiddaw dawned and it was blanketed in cloud. Ever the optimists we sallied forth, threw our packs in the cars and set off. We were heading towards the ridge that has beguiled me for many years - Longside Edge....
I have wanted to climb Skiddaw this way since I first visited my best friend (who wakes up every morning and looks out the back of her house at the mighty mountain) many years ago. I was beyond excited. Not only was I finally climbing Skiddaw, but I was with my oldest and greatest friend. Someone who really knows the real 'me', not the person I pretend to be in my job, or the person I have struggled to be because I so desperately want to be liked. I had a whole day of just being me and this was liberating.
It wasn't long until the backs of our calves were biting as the steep incline started to extend before us. However, as is often the way, having a good natter and gossip as you walk soon whiles away the time.
As we rose, the cloud cover drifted in and then out giving us tantalising glimpses of the stunning view over Bassenthwaite Lake, Derwent Water and through towards Borrowdale. My optimism was so embedded that all I could do was gaze and take in the intense atmosphere that was being created by the dramatic landscape coupled with the equally dramatic weather. Nothing was going to get me down today!
We saw few people on the ridge except one lone walker from Yorkshire who, like me, had always wanted to tackle this ridge. The three of us stood, in companionable silence at the top of Ullock Pike at our first rest stop. One of the things I love about being in the hills is that there are no barriers between people, when you are up there, we are just hill walkers regardless of the trappings we all carry in our everyday lives.
The cloud cover lifted briefly and then as we walked on towards Carl Side the cloud came down and wind picked up. My friend has recently had two children and this was her first big walk since their arrival and I really wanted her to have a great day so at this point I offered for us to double back and head down through Dodd Wood. But, she knew what this meant to me and as we took in the path up to the summit we just smiled at each other and said 'let's do it'. We knew there would be no view, but that wasn't important. What was important was that I would have achieved an ambition and she would have climbed her first big hill since having her children with her best friend. This day meant a lot to us both.
So, we spied what we thought was the path up the hulking mass that is Skiddaw and set off. Whoops. First and only mistake of the day - we didn't check the map. Now, it was clearly a path to the summit, we had checked the map enough to know that, but in our haste we had taken a smaller, steeper track as opposed to the official path and boy that made for a challenging ascent
However, this at times terrifying climb allowed us the most stunning top out on to the summit. As we rose we could see the slate standing to attention like small gravestones and it was incredibly ethereal and emotional. Making it to the summit was exhilarating. We were alone for a brief moment in time and the silence was immense. I silently placed the stone I had carried from the base on the cairn and we breathed in the feeling of achievement. We had done it, together and it was epic.
As we sat eating lunch, my friend suddenly said 'is that bike breaks?' as we heard a spooky squeaking noise, 'don't be daft' I replied thinking there wasn't a chance in hell that anyone would have biked up Skiddaw on such a cloudy day. Well, I soon had to eat my words as true enough a mountain bike came pedalling out of the mist towards us. With tyres that wouldn't look out of place on a moon landing vehicle the vision in orange approached. We were then joined by the rider for lunch who was up from Kendal for the day and had indeed pedalled up from Keswick. I was in awe!
The walk down was my favourite part of the walk, we took a bearing and headed off the mountain towards Bakestall and Dash Falls. This was when we were truly alone and it was one of the most profound and special moments in my life. One I will never forget. We dropped out of the cloud on Skiddaw in to a landscape that was wild, immense and stunningly beautiful. The silence enveloped us like a blanket and even as the drizzle set in the views were spectacular.
The icing on the cake was when we finally made it back to the car for there waiting for us was a red squirrel. Literally right in front of us. It seemed to look at us, take us in slowly and then bounced off along the hedge line. To say I was smiling from ear to ear at this point was an understatement. However, it didn't take long for the total exhaustion to hit in, but you know what, I even loved that feeling and the Chinese take away that evening which finished the day off to perfection.