The #PrepForPeru continues as the dates moves ever close to the big Machu Picchu trip. With that in mind it means my level of training has to continue to be increased if I am going to be one of the leaders of the group for the trek. It’s been a while since I’ve managed to get up to the Lake District, which I believe was back in July when we tackled Great Gable as a group. This one I wanted to tackle on my own. The task ahead was to conquer Old Man of Coniston.
Old Man of Coniston sits 802m above sea level, these are the kinds of challenges I’ll be taking on much more frequently now. Although the work on the stepmill is useful, nothing can really compare to being out there in the mountains with a backpack on your back having to tackle the multiple different types of terrain and gradients that come your way.
I’d been toying with heading up to the Lake District on the Sunday all week, I talked myself out of it a few times because I had a lot of work on. Although Sunday is meant to be my only day off, I often find myself updating client’s programmes as it sometimes the only time I’ve got to do it. It got to Saturday night and whilst scrolling Instagram I was stopped in my tracks when I saw a post from a former client. They had tackled Old Man of Coniston and the pictures were nothing short of stunning. I came to the decision instantly that I needed to experience it for myself. I unlocked my phone, and proceeded to check the weather app. Not because I wanted to find an excuse, but to find out how I needed to prepare for the trip ahead and I was praying that it would be another clear day up there so that I could experience views similar to that of my former client Hannah.
When the alarm sounded in the morning, I didn’t have to think twice about getting out of bed. I had my mission that I was excited to conquer. Of course, coffee was enjoyed, as it is every morning and I proceeded to pack my bag. I decided I’d be carrying a backpack of around 5kg because I’ll be carrying that when trekking to Machu Picchu. I made sure I had enough layers due combat the cold wearing skins both on my legs and my upper body. I packed a thick coat as well as a t-shirt and ¼ zip top.
I managed to set off from home around 08:30, a tad later that I’d planned but well… Coffee. Once I’d set off disappointment hit me initially as I could barely see 50 yards in front as fog covered everything around me. This left me questioning whether I’d be able to experience such amazing views as seen on pictures from the day before. As I ploughed on down the motorway however I was met by something truly beautiful. All of a sudden the sun began to rise up directly behind me, it’s rays gleaming into my rear view mirror. Now I was ready for what I knew was going to be a truly memorable day.
However the mist continued to hamper my vision especially in the valleys where the sun’s rays were blocked by the tall fells and mountains either side of me. At this point the doubt crept back in, “will I be able to see anything from the top?” I asked myself.
The drive from Preston to Coniston and specifically to Walna Scar Car Park is about ninety minutes. The drive up to the car park can only be described as a path is and it’s incredibly steep as you begin to rise above the village below. It does explain why most people have 4×4 cars in the countryside. The car park is protected by a closed gate of which you must get out of your car, open, drive through and close behind you – countryside etiquette at it’s finest. The car park is incredibly uneven and bumpy again proving why 4×4’s are the way, my car, being very low, wasn’t ideal.
However I managed to find a space no problem and the second I got out of the car with Nala itching to get out also, I took a second to take in the beautiful surroundings. I could see no fog now, just the fells covering The Old Man on Coniston in front of me and behind me I could just see mist covering the lake with the rising sun just above beaming back at me without a cloud in the sky. There was something quite tranquil and beautiful about it. I thought to myself, today was going to be a good day.
The walk began up a steady well made out path directly from the car park, as I started to gradually make progress on the steady gradient I couldn’t stop myself looking back over the mist covering the lake, the day was set up perfectly for a fantastic walk.
The path splits soon after, I opted to go to the right knowing that I’d be coming down later on from the left path, it’s always nice to make it a circular route. Whilst walking with the main fells to the left and the misty lake to your right, I’d only just remembered to activate my watch to track my hike on Strava. Nonetheless, I soon arrived overlooking Levers Water Tarn. Once more I was stopped in my tracks because what was in front of me was simply beautiful and it seemed almost that Nala felt that energy too, as she too, stopped in her tracks to seem to take it all in. In front of us was the Tarn with the light shining so perfectly into the water that the reflection of the cliffs could be seen so vividly.
At this point you are provided with two options once more, you can go to the right and take the longer yet steadier route which takes you to the right hand side of the tarn and over the 802m summit of Swirl How whilst walking across the ridge to Brim Fell and then to Old Man on Coniston which is one of the finer walks in the entire Lake District. This was the obvious option, but me being me, I wanted a challenge. I wanted to see if I could create my own route up the mountain by tackling the steep slope to the left cutting our Swirl How.
I certainly underestimated and slightly misjudged the severity of the task ahead. I began with my back to the tarn and Brim Fell up above me, well quite a long way above me. Nala relished the challenge and seemed to clamber up the beginning no problem. There was a decision to make over whether I’d use the grass or the rocks to climb on, I quickly realised the rocks were incredibly slippery due to the cold weather so the grass it was. I quickly realised how steep this climb was and also why there was no path, because well, nobody should be climbing up this bit.
It seemed as though I’d made some progress but the top of the slope didn’t seem to look like it was any closer to us. I got to the point where I’d have to think about each step, with the tarn right behind me and a steep drop, I’d need to concentrate because one wrong step could end in disaster. I was getting tired and I did in fact make a little missed step which I managed to regain balance from. I stopped. I was breathing heavily, it was incredibly tough and pretty dangerous, especially holding a dog lead whilst doing so. It was at this point I realised though, I couldn’t think of anything else, I was truly present in the moment. I wasn’t thinking about work, home or anything, I couldn’t, because I had to focus. I had to stop for a minute to appreciate how it felt to be in the moment, in nature, because I do feel that in this day and age, this feeling is rare. If only you could bottle that.
I looked back once more at the progress I’d made, the tarn seemed a long way away but so did the top of the slope. We ploughed on some more but it did get to a point where I’d take a few steps, I’d need a rest and this happened for the majority of the last 50% of the scramble up this slope. As I finally saw the top of the slope, I felt that sigh of relief, I knew the ridge at the top was a beautiful walk – I’d done it before. As I took the last few steps and saw on the brow of the hill, I quickly realised once more why this wasn’t a normal route… I wasn’t at the top. I was in fact in a valley between this slope and Brim Fell which still towered above me. I looked back at where I’d come from, proud of myself but then it was bittersweet because what I saw ahead of me I initially thought I couldn’t do.
As I looked at the challenge in front of me, I doubted myself for a little while. I couldn’t see what I deemed to be an obvious way up. I had to get up thought because there’s no way I could get down the slope I’d just climbed safely. I moved closer to the challenge ahead, I still couldn’t actually see the peak of Old Man of Coniston, I was still well underneath Brim Fell. At this point I was absolutely sweating, I realised I really didn’t need the big coat I’d brought, especially after the crazy climb I’d just done. Here we go again though, I’d decided on my route. This time though, I was taking the rocky route, in fact I think this was the only route. Nala isn’t as keen on the rocks as of course they move, they are unstable and she doesn’t have the same grip as when on grass which really is the same for me. Nonetheless it was the only way, we started our climb. As we did I noticed something, something that lightened my spirits once more, I noticed the sun peering out over the loose rocks we were climbing on. At the very time I noticed this, Nala stood tall on one of the big rocks almost recreating that famous Lion King moment on Pride Rock. I just had to get a photo of this.
Buoyant and full of energy now we ploughed on and although the task seemed both dangerous and impossible we eventually made it to the top. As I took those final steps onto level ground I felt a huge sense of relief, pride and achievement. I’d done it. We’d done it. The task that seemed impossible twice, I’d made possible. Now as we progressed to the summit of Brim Fell we could see panoramic views of sheer beauty but the job wasn’t done just yet. In front of us was the wonderful ridge walk to Old Man of Coniston which just to the left of the beaming sun I could see in the distance.
A short time later me and the hound arrived at the summit, it had been pretty quiet most of the day, we’d barely seen anyone the whole way up, partly due to the fact I chose to go a completely different way from the usual track. However there were a few groups of people taking in the stunning views at the summit. I managed to get a couple of fantastic panoramic photos as the sun continued to shine brightly in the sky.
Of course I had to ask someone to get a picture of me and Nala which was shortly followed by Nala getting the usual “she’s so cute,” treatment. I took a minute to perch on the edge of a tall rock and take in the views with Nala beside me, she seemed again to do the same.
I decided I wanted to keep the intensity fairly high so didn’t rest for much more than ten minutes. I made good progress down the mountain quickly arriving at the old slate mine where I stopped to take a couple of photos.
Then as you zigzag down you arrive at Low Water Tarn. This was another magical moment on the hike. Again I stopped for a moment to enjoy it. The tarn lied in the corner of the fells with the sun perfectly positioned to shine on the tarn. The beaming sunlight shimmered off the surface of the tarn in a wonderful orange tinted colour.
It was now a pleasurable steady walk back to the car park of which you could see in the distance. When I eventually arrived, I took another moment to appreciate the last few hours, I took another look over at the sun, the mist of the lake and then the fells in front of me feeling very grateful for the experience before getting back in the car for the journey home.
With Nala passed out asleep in the back of the car, I stopped for a coffee at Newby Bridge service on the way home and just felt a wonderful feeling of content, but also excitement for the next hike ahead.
I felt a sincere gratitude to the mountain and to the sun for providing me with the best Sunday I’ve had in a long time.
The #PrepForPeru is well underway. Machu Picchu, I’m coming for you.
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