March had been a quiet month for activity, a couple of days rock climbing in wet Lancashire quarries whilst keeping an eye out for any snowfall in the Lake District. There had been weather reports of a heavy snowfall last weekend, a week of freeze-thaw action should bring the gullies into reasonable condition, I had been hoping for good winter conditions before the season drew to a close. And a bit of training before Easter week in Glencoe would be highly desirable.
Sunday morning, just before ten o’clock and here I was, without any plans for the day, it just felt wrong, it just felt ridiculous. A respectable Spring day and I was about to waste an opportunity, and they are never in abundance. A high pressure was keeping the blue sky clear of any cloud, so at a beat of the heart, I packed my rucksack, crampons and ice axe. My thoughts were on a big snow route before the melting snows disappeared and Summer took hold. It felt like a last chance.
I said my goodbyes focusing on the journey to Patterdale, it was an hour and a half driving but if I got my skates on, I could be up and down before dark fell. With a following wind, I could be walking by just after 11am, I thought a couple of hours into Nethermost Cove and say an hour and a half up Nethermost Gully, that would see me on Helvellyn for a late lunch and back down Striding Edge before dark.
I knew the back lanes to Troutbeck, then onto Kirkstone Pass, I was virtually there. My heart filled with hope as I reached the snow line at the top of Kirkstone Pass, I always try and catch a glimpse of the obvious snow climb of Kilnshaw Chimneys, it leads directly to the summit of Red Screes and is easily surveyed from the road. Conditions looked good as I descended towards Brothers Water. My heart filled with apprehension, this was normal for me when I was going climbing, my heart, mind and inner-self tended to grapple with a mix of raw excitement and brutal reality. These tempering feelings kept my feet on the ground, I was never one to ‘conquer’ a climb, I felt privileged just to be there, it was ‘Nature’ that granted me was a day-pass who’s only demand was my respect and dedication. And I always tried my utmost to keep my side of that bargain, believing my efforts would bring reward, both physically and mentally. As I carefully descended Kirkstone Pass I caught glimpses of the snow-covered tops, the East facing crags of the Helvellyn range should be in good condition. Well I’ll soon find out.
I parked up in Patterdale. It didn’t take a moment to be on my way up Grisedale, the bridle-way becomes a track where a bridge crosses the beck. Over the beck I left the main track, well before Ruthwaite Lodge and followed a narrow track climbing into Nethermost Cove. Snow conditions were reasonable supporting every step. Steep ground followed as I pushed on, always conscious of my schedule. I made good time as the ground on my right shoulder steepened, from their lofty position, Bleaberry Crag and Striding Edge looked down over me.
Into the Cove and the ground eased a little, before me the huge Eastern face of the Helvellyn range. Snow covered crags towered above me, almost a thousand feet of what looks like a vertical wall intimidated me, but this place today was mine. A wry smile crossed my face. Nethermost Gully was obvious just to the side of Striding Edge; a long snow slope ascends to a division, the right hand branch climbs a steep pitch onto steeper ground for the final 200 feet, the gully may carry a big cornice. I had memorised the description in the guidebook but now it was no longer words on a page, this was real. Nethermost Cove looked dramatic in the sunshine, snow glistened and a big cornice clung to the highest edge. It was breathtaking, moments like these, alone in this vast empty arena, where the rules of nature were in command, such feelings remain within for a lifetime. But not only is it staggering visually, it’s the silence and then the waft of a breeze. It’s a quietness where only your breathing is heard and senses are sharpened filling your mind with wonder. This is not the everyday, I feel like a passenger on a journey and as I am carried along, the experiences will burn into my memory, and mine alone. No other being will know the meaning of these moments. My heart filled with hope because this, this journey was my adventure.