Almost two month have passed since committing to climb Kilimanjaro, so about time I tried a training walk! At 2,634 feet and being the twelfth most prominent mountain in the UK, The Old Man of Coniston seemed like a good place to start.
On a beautiful winters morning I set off up the miners track towards the youth hostel.
Not long after the slate mines I reached a frozen glacial tarn called “Low Waters”, at an altitude of 2,000 feet I could think of a more accurate name.
From Low Waters things got much tougher, the path winds round into the shade and gets steeper and icier. The party of climbers in front of me stopped to attach crampons leaving me feeling decidedly under equipped.
A short scrabble up an icy path later and I reach the ridge and the sunshine, with a brisk wind now blowing and the path steepening it seems to be getting tougher. Fortunately there are several other climbers struggling with the same route all of whom seem to be in agreement that they were glad they didn’t have to come down this route (unfortunately I was planning to descend this way).
But how to get down?
Shortly after dropping into the gully I began to wish I’d stuck to my original route, the gully was every bit as steep and icy but without any other climbers. In places the snow was deep and whilst the frozen crust held my weight most of the time occasionally a foot would slip through allowing snow into the top of my boots. I now understand the value of gaiters. Much slipping and sliding later the gradient shallowed and I reached the edge of (the very beautiful) Levers Water.
On the banks of tarn I met a fellow climber who asked me whether I recommended the path I had taken, I explained that I didn’t think it was the best I also pointed out his correct position (he thought he was at Low Waters!). From Levers Water it’s an easy ramble back past the copper mines and into the pretty village of Coniston.
So lessons learned. Firstly you need the right kit for the job, crampons and an ice axe would have been really handy. Secondly, it’s not a great idea to go alone, particularly when moving off the well beaten routes. Thirdly whilst hill walking is exhausting and can raise your heart rate very effectively, one always has the option to walk slower. In fact, observing the more experienced climbers (those that stopped to attach crampons) they set a very slow but very steady pace.
And what of the new boots? I’m happy to report not a single blister and other than the snow that made it over the top, completely dry!