Leaving the Lake District on the best weather day, I convinced my wife that I should be able to attempt Skiddaw, a 10 pointer that towers over the town of Keswick. She decided against trying, and frankly I don’t blame her, so I left her in Keswick armed with nothing more than an Australian accent and a credit card.
I headed up to the Latrigg car park, the most common place to start the walk up Skiddaw. The road was in an interesting condition: it had small speed humps, but these were clearly superfluous, as the potholes provided more than enough deterrent to speeding, and if anything, the man-made humps were the smoothest part of the track. The car park opened up in front of me as I came around the corner and it wasn’t too busy. Only three other cars to speak of. A middle aged man set off as I pulled up, with his walking poles, and a lady about my age was hopping out with her dog, wondering aloud if she would be able to do the climb in a T-shirt. I shivered uncontrollably at that thought, and instead layered up.
The start of the walk is fairly easy, turning north to start to track up to the summit. I walked at my usual pace – I seem unable to walk slowly – and as I started the ascent, decided I was possibly quite mad. I had given myself about 3 hours, based on timings on other blogs and accounts of climbing Skiddaw. What I saw in front of me was easily the equivalent of the final ascent from VK3/VC-032, only stretching ahead for a kilometre or more in front of me. As I’d said to myself on VK3/VC-032, I wasn’t as youngish as I once was.
Halfway between the first and second gate, I overtook the middle-aged man and we swapped pleasantries. He was anticipating taking the whole day to get up to the top. I was anticipating a equivalently easy descent. We were both wrong. Indeed, by the time I reached the second gate, I was anticipating a heart attack half-way up. I stopped by the second gate, and had a drink and some Kendal Mint Cake, which was widely evangelised by Tom M1EYP, and now by me.
The rest helped me regain some energy, and I continued up the slope. I seemed to be able to go about 250 metres or so before having to stop, and occasionally I simply sat down on the track and took the weight of my pack off my back; a graphic demonstration of the adage I learnt many years prior in the Australian Air Force Cadets: “Never run when you can walk, never walk when you can stand, never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down.” At some point in between these breaks, I had the thought that I was pulse-width modulating my way up the mountain. 100% output on about a 40-50% duty cycle, then a nice break to regain energy.
I took a long break by the third gate just before the flat section leading behind Skiddaw Little Man. I had been overtaken repeatedly by younger, more lithe individuals, as well crossing paths with the crazy runners throwing themselves down the mountain by choice. Of course, there is a decent excuse to stop the whole way up, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains swathed in sunshine. The sun stayed out for most of the cloud, but when it went behind high cloud, the summit became enclosed in cloud as the air cooled.
I waited at the third gate as the cloud came in, watching people climb Skiddaw Little Man. I noticed the young lady and her dog were almost at the top of Little Man. After wondering how the dog was going, I set off again. The slope was much less severe by now, before actually flattening out. I covered in 15 minutes the same distance that had taken almost an hour. It was also the first view of the back of Skiddaw I’d had, which swept out towards Blencathra in the distance and down towards Skiddaw House. The cloud was still in the valley below, sweeping away as the sun came out again.
I stopped again at the fourth gate before the ascent to the Skiddaw summit ridge, taking photos of the snow that sat in small hollows on the lee side of the hill. The final ascent was of a similar grade to the first section, but it was nowhere near as long, and I reached the summit ridge just as cloud started to roll in. Without any knowledge of the summit from blogs, I may have felt the first section was the summit, but it continued on into a slight depression before I reached the top, complete with trig point and small rock shelter. The young lady with the dog was beginning her descent at that point and we exchanged pleasantries again.
The wind was unbelievable and the temperature was quite low, probably just above zero. I set up behind the rock shelter, struggling with the wind and the tripod. I strung out a counterpoise for 20m, then held the antenna up with one hand while trying to operate the radio with the other. I had the same SWR problems, before it dawned on me that I was actually watching infinite SWR suggesting an open circuit. The radio slipped and somehow the feedline was bumped, and to quote Paul Kelly, “the radio came alive”. The SWR wasn’t perfect, but it was enough.
I cranked the power a bit, and then put out a CQ call. The first person to come back was John G0TDM in Penrith down the road, who boomed in 59 on ground wave. I then worked OM1AX, DK8PX and qualified the summit with DJ5AV, giving me my first 10 pointer. I worked two more stations, DL3HXX and S56IHX, and tried to work out if I could get onto 40m somehow. The length of the counterpoise would mean I’d have to operate from outside the wind shelter, and the antenna was trying to work its way to Keswick via a rapid and direct descent.
By this time, I decided I would descend while I was still solvent; I had last seen my wife eyeing a pair of ceramic badgers at 80 Pounds each. The wind and the temperature were also major incentives. The wind had been strong, but was now stronger and gusting even more. The temperature, now I wasn’t being active, was penetrating. The point I knew I wasn’t operating 100% was when I was trying to respond to DL3HXX with the microphone the wrong way around. Despite talking into the wrong side, I still managed a 56 signal!
I packed up, and started my descent, after taking a summit panorama. I left the summit cold but exhilarated. I’d pushed myself hard to reach the top, and had achieved something I could be proud of. I had considered giving up and returning to the bottom when I was climbing, thinking I wouldn’t make my 3 hour deadline. I wasn’t going to make it, but I was only going to go over by perhaps 30 minutes, which was pretty good in my mind, given how much farting about I’d done with the antenna.
I had a big smile on descent and as I was greeted with a nice Cumbrian “Hey-yur” from those ascending, I responded with a nice Australian “G’day”. Whilst on the summit, one gentleman with a broad Yorkshire accent asked if I was working 2m, and we had a quick chat. I didn’t get his callsign, but he was keen to know if I’d made any contacts as I passed his group on descent. I was able to reply that I’d made owt rather than nowt. The view on descent was worth stopping as it was completely different. The sun had moved, when it popped out behind clouds, and different hills were illuminated or visible.
The descent itself was interesting. A steep slope up equals a steep slope down, and I could feel my calves breathing a sigh of relief and my quads suddenly demanding to know what I’d done to them. In many cases, it wasn’t so much of a descent as a controlled fall. Even the controlled part wasn’t always true. In the end, I used my tripod for the antenna as a walking stick, which helped, although I did bend the thin bottom telescopic part.
I messaged my wife at the first gate (final gate) on the way back, took a break and some photos of sheep and then powered back to the car. The young lady and her dog had just finished doing Latrigg. We chatted a bit about SOTA – she was into Wainwrights – and she was impressed I’d dragged a radio up to the top. Of all the reasons she’d heard to climb Skiddaw, that was the first time someone had said SOTA. Her dog, thinking I had food stashed in my bag, practically molested me by sniffing every part of my anatomy, and I was grateful when the dog was packed into the car and she left. I usually prefer dinner and a movie first before that sort of thing happens.
I returned to Keswick, found my wife, found her badger-less to my great surprise and relief, and we headed up to Edinburgh. A successful 10 pointer and my first. I’m setting myself a goal of 100 points by the end of the year, and that carried me to 41. As far as my wife is concerned, the goal is 75 points, but we’ll which we land closer to.
I realised halfway to Edinburgh that Mt Macedon is about 100m higher than Skiddaw, but a damn sight easier (and 4 points less). I’m sure if it was in VK1, it’d be a 1 pointer… 😉