I’m not an experienced walker in the great scheme of things – I’ve only been hill walking for about 4 years now and I still have a lot to learn, but there are times when I look at others on the hills and I think it’s only a matter of time before you’re going to come unstuck old chum. Before you’re another story gleefully recounted in the press of “unprepared walker in helicopter rescue”, or becoming another hypothermia victim after spending the night on the hills in only a t-shirt and sandals.
I had this feeling last weekend as I was walking along the path from Longthwaite to Seathwaite with a friend.
About half a mile before we reached Seathwaite we met a group of six or seven young lads coming down the path towards us, one or two of them had day packs on and they were all chatting cheerfully and we let them come through a kissing gate in the wall ahead. They all said hello, which is unusual and they all hurried off towards Longthwaite. I didn’t give them much thought at the time.
20 minutes later though and we having a short break on a convenient rock by the path when the lads all trundled back the other way. They were spread out in a long line now though and the two at the front looked a little sheepish. “Ooops, wrong way!” said the leader as he recognised me from earlier; he was the one with what appeared to be a guide book in his hand. As the others passed I jokingly suggested they shoot the map reader.
One of the lads called over to us “How far is it to the top?”. Normally this is a question you would be asked at the foot of a particular climb but here we were surrounded by Lakeland fells. There was probably 50 Wainwrights within a 3 mile radius of where we were sitting and none of them were obviously “the top”.
I presumed he meant Base Brown or Glaramara, both of which were about a mile or so away from us, but I asked him where they were headed. “Scafell Pike” he responded, like I’d asked him the dumbest question in the history of the world “DUH!”. I was a little surprised and I think this may have showed through as my immediate reply was “You’re having a laugh aren’t you?”.
Here were half a dozen lads with a pack between them, with no visible signs of waterproofs and who had just walked a mile the wrong way out of Seathwaite- down the valley, away from the extremely obvious big hills, towards the lower ground – and they were planning on walking up England’s biggest mountain.
It was already 12:30 and they were still half a mile from Seathwaite; from where it’s about a six or seven hour round trip to the summit and back – I know because I’d looked at the route a couple of weeks previously. I tried to discourage them without sounding pompous. “You might just make it back before dark,” I said, “if you don’t get lost again.” I think the scepticism in my voice was lost on them as the comment seemed to cheer them up no end and off they went.
I listened for the helicopters for the rest of the day, but fortunately I never heard them.