In early May, when covid travel restrictions had eased sufficiently to permit it, my friend Rob and I headed for the Lake District, with the intention to have a weekend there before Rob headed home and I continued, perhaps on into Scotland. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and things didn’t quite proceed as planned.
After an uneventful drive, we parked on the Honister pass at the slate mine, loaded our packs and started off up the path from the rear of the car park that is signposted for Haystacks and Great Gable. I had not carried a pack for quite a long time and wasn’t feeling too fit, so frequent ‘photograph’ stops were required! I was also slightly disorientated as I thought this was the path going southbound shown on the maps but soon realised it wasn’t and we were heading west directly towards Haystacks. Not that this was an issue as we had no particular route in mind and were enjoying the clear, albeit cold, weather and spectacular views.
Soon we arrived at the Mountain Bothy Association “Dubs Hut”. We had a look around inside, not realising just how important said hut would be to us and other walkers the next day. It is a well maintained bothy, that we presumed used to be a slate miners hut. A picture on the noticeboard from around 1860 suggests it is well built to withstand the weather! Fresh water runs directly outside and it would be a nice place to stay, although not really that remote as it’s only 1.5km from where we had parked the car.
A short walk and a river crossing later and we came to Blackbeck tarn, where two people were setting up tents. It turns out we would meet them the next day. As we followed the craggy path up to the summit of Haystacks, we had spectacular views down into Buttermere.
Soon we came to Innominate tarn, which is only a short distance from the summit of Haystacks and presents some good wild camping opportunities. With the mountains in the background it looked truly spectacular.
We reached the summit of Haystacks and enjoyed some great views of High Crag, down into Buttermere and Wastwater and out to the Isle of Man, whilst looking for suitable options to pitch our tents. For a modest hill of just 597 metres the views really are special. We were joined at the summit by a few other wild campers, one of whom we spoke to who said they were going to camp at Innominate tarn and promptly set off back down the hill. After surveying our options we felt this was also our best bet, but found a spot a respectful distance away from him to pitch.
I pitched my Hilleberg Enan and then an Alpkit Rig 7 tarp in a lean-to configuration so we could sit out of the breeze whilst cooking our dinner and enjoying a spot of whisky. Although a little bit chilly, the winds were light and it was clear and the views were amazing. We climbed a small rocky outcrop near to where we had pitched to survey the views further.
After a lovely evening watching the sun go down and putting the world to rights, we turned in and went to sleep. The tent was barely moving and it was a peaceful first half of the night. By 3am however, the first gusts of wind started to come through. We knew the weather would turn on Saturday, but it had been forecast from lunchtime. By 4am the tent was really shaking quite violently, with strong gusts coming through and I was beginning to regret our exposed campsite. The tents however appeared to be holding so initially we stayed put. By 5.30 am I heard Rob moving about and starting to make some tea in his tent. By now hail was coming down and it was probably gusting 30 – 40mph. At that point disaster struck. A particularly strong gust lifted the front two pegs of his tent out of the soft ground and the tent collapsed onto his lit stove. He had the presence of mind to get the gas off immediately, but the still hot stove made contact with his sleeping bag in the ensuing chaos, burning a hole into it.
Once he had got the tent back up and had completed an emergency patch of the sleeping bag, we decided it was just getting too windy to stay put. With each hour that had passed the winds had become much stronger and we decided to break camp. We noticed that the other person who had been at Innominate tarn had already gone. Once we’d broken camp the winds really were quite ridiculous. We decided to head for the bothy to have breakfast and sort out our kit. Hail was stinging our faces and eyes and in the winds we realised just how precarious the path is. Some sections have quite steep drops to one side that were fine in good weather, but not so pleasant in strong winds when the rocks are wet and slippery. I didn’t take any pictures of this bit, because it was just too wild and we were struggling just to stand up. After around half an hour we made it back to the bothy, breathed a sigh of relief and started making breakfast and sorting out kit.
After a coffee and some hot crumpets prepared on the Primus toaster we repacked our bags and decided that we would head back to the car and then on to Keswick, where we would have a mobile signal, could check the weather and decide what to do. The walk back was only 1.5km but it was arduous walking. The car was a welcome sight, but it was completely caked in ice.
We drove to Keswick. The forecast really wasn’t going to improve significantly and we decided to cut our losses and travel home. This wasn’t quite the weekend we had hoped for, and it was a long way to go for an overnight, but it was an adventure nonetheless and after all the lockdowns one for which I am grateful!
I used the excellent Harvey Maps British mountain map of the Lake District for this trip.