Post 44: ‘I do suffer from headaches when I’m tense.’ said Alf.
He was looking tired and I concluded this long day was getting to him. He may have been getting uptight about the prospect of going over Stake Pass, at 1576 feet, in worsening weather conditions, with four miles still to walk and with packs. I was certainly starting to get anxious.
However, we had already made our youth hostel booking and therefore stuffed Alf with headache pills to the maximum permissable dosage. As usual I was the fifth emergency service and carried the first aid kit, with pills.
Up-date – I have since learned that de-hydration can cause headaches and indeed much worse. When, some years later, Dan was walking the West Highland Way he collapsed and bumped his head on a rock. The most likely cause was de-hydration caused by not drinking enough water. That is why a platypus water container with tube is useful so that you can take sips of water whilst walking. If you have to stop and get a bottle out of your rucksack when tired you probably won’t bother and then will de-hydrate. Dan survived and it is to be hoped the bang on the head has knocked some sense into him and he now has a platypus; but I wouldn’t bet on it.
We carried on along Great Langdale as the scenery became more and more dramatic and imposing mountains started to encircle us. We arrived at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel known as the ODG, where the hiker’s bar is best described as basic, but when full of walkers and climbers is atmospheric. I finished off my flask of soup, then we proceeded along Mickleden towards Stake Pass. The valley came to an abrupt halt as Bowfell, The Band, Rossett Crag, Black Craggs and the Langdale Pikes seemed to hem us in.
However, a clear path led off right, ascending steeply towards Stake Pass. Alf had made a remarkable recovery and shot up the pass, I struggled up with tired muscles screaming out in protest. Meanwhile Gary who has an aversion to hills followed some way behind, stopping from time to time to look up whilst letting out cursing sounds in my direction. On reaching the top of the pass, his legs had turned to jelly so that he went headlong horizontal to within six inches of the edge of the path. Beyond it he would have rolled down non-stop 1500 feet to the bottom of Langstrath. He would have become one of the four hundred accidents to be reported in the Lake District each year.
‘You must get some new boots’, I said reminding him that his treads were well past their sell by date.’
‘Oh shut up,’ he retorted.
‘Don’t worry, it’s all down hill for the remainder of the day. At least it will be if I can find the path down to the valley.’
We wandered around in thick mist desperately trying to find the path off the crest.
‘Which way now?’ Gary said impatiently, putting more pressure on me. Tempers start to flair when tiredness creeps in. Decisions can be rushed and mistakes made.
‘If I knew I would be hell for leather down it,’ I said trying to keep calm. Eventually a clear path emerged out of the mist. As we descended I breathed a sigh of relief for the mist cleared to reveal the whole of Langstrath before us.
The walk would have been all downhill if the rain hadn’t been so bad that the streams running down the valley sides were now raging torrents. This meant that the only way to cross them was to ascend the hillside to find an easier crossing. On seeing a fallen tree across one such stream, Gary decided to take a short cut across it. Getting half-way across on all fours horizontal he suddenly realised that with a full-pack his centre of gravity was about two feet higher than normal, so that at anytime he would suddenly turn completely upside down to end up on his back in the water like a dieing crocodile. Instead, like a puma, he stealthily moved backwards until he got back on land to breath a sigh of relief. I was mightily disappointed as I had my camera poised to catch the almighty splash.
On reaching Longthwaite Youth Hostel at 5.30pm, the sun came out for the first time; it was sign that this was Alf’s last day. He had to leave us in the morning to return to work. (Update – he was starting to get a reputation for never finishing a long-distance walk and this has continued ever since).
There are fewer, if any, more beautiful places on earth than Borrowdale in sunshine. The days labours were well rewarded as we were now in the ‘Golden Mile’ of the Lake District. We were also at a point where Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk crossed our route and memories came flooding back.