We reluctantly left the comforts of the Old Dungeon Ghyll and headed out to the highest day of our portion of the Cumbrian Way. There are higher passes on the complete way, but they are beyond Keswick where dad and I stopped. We ate our hearty English breakfast and picked up our packed lunch at the hotel. There is no civilization at all on this leg until near the end and no stores near the hotel, so we were happy for the packed lunch. The day was not super long distance wise like our first day, but the trails were a bit rocky on either side of the mountain and… oh yeah, we climbed a mountain; up and then straight back down the other side.
Climbing Stake Pass
The most prominent feature of this leg is Stake Pass. The pass goes up over a ridge of mountains and crests at 480m(1500ft) high. The Old Dungeon Ghyll side is marked by a big piece of slate with arrows. On this side, switchbacks go up the sleep side of the mountain alongside a river. These are rocky in nature and have been crafted into steps in places. It took us nearly an hour to reach the lip at the top, though we stopped to rest frequently and marvel how high off the valley floor we were.
Once you achieve the ridgetop, the landscape changes. This whole area is glacially formed. The flat area on top of the pass definitely looked it with little humps. These area is also a big boggy as the slight bowl and dense grass hold water runoff from the surrounding peaks and must feed the rivers we walked by. We stopped for a snack and then pushed onward, knowing “down” was coming soon. The ridge top is not very wide, maybe a 10minute walk and the ultimate height of the pass is marked with a stone cairn.
Standing at the cairn and looking down the path into the valley we needed to reach was daunting. This side too is switchbacks, but more manmade. Humps of dirt hold gravel paths that swing back and forth across the hill. The paths are steep narrow and have no steps. They are maybe easy to climb, but going down I often felt as if the gravel would shift and tip me over the side. This of course didn’t happen, but it was a worry. Again due to the careful nature of how we walked, it took us nearly an hour to descend to the valley, even excluding the time we stopped near the bottom on a rock to eat our lunch.
Overall the mountain was time consuming and exhausting due to the strain on the knees and ankles, but it provided some great views and one of the most concentrated feelings of accomplishment of the trip. “That time we climbed over a mountain,” kind of thing.
We had begun our day with the idea that despite the mountain in the middle, the stretch was only 7 miles, so we should make good time. It didn’t fully work out. The trails leading up to the mountain and away from it were primarily rocky. To me they look like dry stream beds, but definitely when you look from above they are manmade and not laid down by nature.
The mix of grapefruit sized rocks and smaller pebbles made footing difficult for us novices. We made progress, but it was slow. All the more surprising to see other couples and their dogs just rocket past us. I am curious of their secret.
Throughout the walk, dad and I did definitely see people. It wasn’t the constant stream I had somehow expected, but as of this leg we were plenty aware of others walking this trail or one of the numerous fellclimbs or other trails in the area. We are also very aware how much faster everyone else seemed to be.
It was common to see a pair of hikers in the distance behind us (especially as we were climbing the mountain) and have them pass us. Then within a few minutes go over another hill in front and never be seen again. This on the steep climbing trails as well as the rocky streambeds. It was uncanny.
Most had walking sticks and seemed very comfortable in the environment. Several we talked to in a pub one evening were going on larger loops using out destination for the day as their halfway point. Another guy we met near 3pm was out to climb a local peak for a few pictures and back before dinner. Here are his pictures of Eagle Crag. Maybe the hike wasn’t actually that bad, but pointing up at the crag was impressive. So it was a good reminder that dad and I are novice hikers.
Rosthwaite in Borrowdale Valley
Crossing the pass you leave Great Langdale Valley and head down into Borrowdale Valley. Climbing a mountain definitely meant great views. This is from the top looking down through Borrowdale. Rosthwaite (our destination for the day) is around the end of the visible valley.
The end of this leg is the town of Rosthwaite. It is small with only a handful of buildings and a couple of small hotels. According to the info from our trekking company, pretty much our only choice for dinner was the pub attached to our hotel. (There is a restaurant, but fancy clothing requirement and day hiking don’t mix for us.) It was pretty nice to sit in and although I wasn’t super thrilled with my chicken burger, I did enjoy the toffee pudding and beer.
Wifi didn’t really work in our room, squirreled back in the maze of hallways, so I sat on a bench at reception for a bit to catch up on email and talk to Ali. I also happened to put down my camera and forget to pick it up. I didn’t notice this until the next morning starting to pack I couldn’t find it. I had a small panic attack, and rushed down to reception. Thankfully it was there and I didn’t lose anything. Although dad had taken plenty of pictures, I wanted my own.
Learnings of the Day
- Mountains are not to be trifled with
- Switchbacks help but make for a longer track
- We are seriously novice hikers compared to so many others we met
- The walking stick definitely helped dad
7 1/2 miles
480 meters was the top of the pass
9:30- 4:30 : 7 hours
Brought 1.5 liters of water and finished it
Read the last Day : Rosthwaite to Keswick
Photo Credits: All of the pictures with a person in them came from my dad, as well as the rocky path picture.