Whernside - The second ascent
Posted on November 14, 2018
The Second Ascent
The path neglected to follow the internationally recognised rules of T junctions and went straight ahead, just a dirt track lead the way running parallel to the grand stone bridge that occupied our field of view. There was calmness in the air that I embraced with large inhale and a soothing sigh before turning my attention to what was ahead of us now. My recollections of the ascent of Whernside told me that it was a very long and very constant climb. There were no steep sections of rocks to scramble up which made me less concerned about Runi’s wellbeing, it was more of a three hour staircase to the top, because of this it is said to be at a difficulty level of ‘easy’ - a blatant lie begging a firm kick in the goolies for the creator. For the moment there was only a steady rise in the ground up to the level of the bridge, the path flattened out after that and stayed relatively level for some time while running parallel to the train track that merged onto land from the bridge. A perfect opportunity to strike up a conversation with Matin.
I didn’t socialise with Matin as much as I would have liked. I learnt some interesting facts about him over our conversation; he is another firm enthusiast for charity work and told me how he was already participating in the Great Yorkshire Run for another charity based in Kenya and how he is very much an active individual. Unfortunately it seemed like he was much better suited to the company of Josh who could strike up conversations about football, Spanish, Brazilian even some French names were passed about nonchalantly all of them hard to pronounce, impossible to spell but so casually discussed. I’ve never been one for football and probably never will be but I do have respect for the amount of passion that people have for it. I spoke to Matin mostly about superheroes, much more my area of expertise. I was pleased to see that Matin was equally enthusiastic. We talked about the latest Avengers film, the dramatic ending and the inevitable post credits scene that people still don’t stay for (clearly not true-believers), we moved onto the new Venom film yet to be release at the time, and debated Tom Hardy’s acting prowess in other roles such as Bane in the Dark Knight Rises. Our conversation progressively thinned as I ran out of movies to talk about, Josh came to my rescue throwing me a safety net of sports trivia. With little interest in sports I powered on ahead, breathing in the country air, taking in the sights and ignoring that persistent need for a lavatory.
The climb started so gently that I didn’t even realise I’d started going up. My legs sent a telegram to inform me of a dull aching sensation, I think it was lost somewhere around the bladder but eventually reached my brain, I was too busy enjoying the views to worry about a little aching in my legs. While I was daydreaming of sunny weather my gaze lolled off to the left and graced me with an image that perfectly represented the countryside’s natural beauty. A flowing waterfall, raging down a natural ravine before hurling itself off a ridge, tumbling down and shifting into a pure white spray that showered on the eroded rocks below. Of course I can’t imagine that it could hold a light to falls such as Niagara or Angel but I have never seen these two famous falls and this one in front of me had its own unique beauty that I had to be appreciated. The air was filled with a soothing sound of crashing water and somehow made the atmosphere feel fresh and cleansed. My admiration for the cascading water lasted up until a dull rumble echoed in my tummy; I pulled an apple out of my bag and munched away, leaving the wonderful waterfall behind me, I regret not capturing the sight in a photograph, it was a gorgeous view second only to the humongous plate of fish and chips I enjoyed in the evening.
I scoffed the apple in a matter of moments I chucked the core in with the remains of the banana skin, half of which was still rubbing against my right leg like a moisturiser infested with lumps of mould. I could see David and Sarah as two distant dots, one with a cap on and the other in shorts, they were ahead of us by a good distance. I could feel the climb beginning to drag the energy down and out of my legs and my feet felt hot, damp and worryingly blistered. In that moment, trudging upwards with slow and definite steps, looking up at the leaders of our hike in the distance I was overcome with a competitiveness that surprised even me. Fuelling my muscles, numbing my nerve endings and spurring me onwards with renewed vigour, I felt nigh on unstoppable! I left Josh and Matin to discuss the complexities of the off-side rule and surged on ahead, gaining little by little on my newly established adversaries.
It took me around three minutes to burn through the glorious influx of energy I was bestowed with and a further twenty minutes to catch up to Sarah and David, the adrenalin born from my competitive nature wore off but my determined did not waiver, ignoring the pain and the bubbling up of and occasional burst of a blister. Despite all my best efforts Josh casually closed the gap I had so wilfully put between us. He jogged over to me after finishing his conversation with Matin and, when I knew he was in earshot, I whimpered aloud at his flagrant disregard for the laws of anaerobic exercise. “How’re you doing Pete” he said, not even out of breath, “This is dead easy” I said unconvincingly, “I bet it’s like a walk in the park for you pal” he said rubbing salt into my already battered and bruised ego, “Sure, I love twelve hour walks in parks ridden with absurdly large hills, nothing beats it” I remarked, “except for a pint”, I added with just a touch of enthusiasm. He laughed, probably out of pity, and we continued to walk in a silence rhythmically broken by my Darth Vader esque panting. Silence was soon interrupted by Paul Simon’s ‘Call Me Al’.
I have mentioned my random bouts of song previously and this was one such moment. Much to my surprise, delight and slight unease I found that next to me Josh had joined in. The sight of two men climbing slowly up a hill in North Yorkshire singing a Paul Simon classic may have looked rather peculiar but it was without a doubt my favourite part of the entire trek. Walking in the country certainly looks like freedom but belting your favourite tune out at the top of your lungs while you’re out there is freedom. We made it all the way to the third verse before I had to replace the lyrics with a random assortment of vowels. The moment fizzled away… “That will never happen ever again” I said laughing, and it never did. I have no doubt that this was one of those moments that I will remember when I’m old and retired, sat on a rocking chair in my dressing gown watching a sit com based on Donald Trump’s presidency, I’ll be munching loudly on a scone caked in jam when the memory randomly pops into my head and brings a smile to my face, I’ll call up Josh and laugh at it all over again. (We later found out that the day we did this challenge was the 9 year anniversary of our friendship – talk about coincidences!). From that moment forward I begin singing numerous songs all the way around Whernside and Ingleborough, from Abba to Zeppelin and everything in between.
Josh dropped back again to Matin after we had talked a little more about having warm showers, greasy meals and the joys of sitting down. I put my head down and powered on, still determined to catch up to David and Sarah. The path remained ever upwards but had not yet broken into steps, there was an enormous peak to our left which I later established was Whernside. The path led us past the peak and then back around, up the tail end for the main climb; from there you walk along the top for a while before finally reaching the Trig Point/ Selfie spot number 2.
I caught up with Sarah and David and was now overcome with self-satisfaction at achieving my thirty minute goal. I realised the only reason I had caught up so quickly was because Sarah was suffering with crippling pain in her hip forcing her to limp along. She told me on the way down Pen-Y-Ghent that she injured her hip and knees during a dancing session when she was in school, at the time it never occurred to me that it would cause her problems on the trek and I admit as a typical man I never expected damage caused by dancing could be so severe and lasting. Now that I had arrived David asked if I would mind staying with Sarah while he, Josh and Matin went on ahead, I was more than happy to oblige now that I knew her as an exemplary walking companion; so began my second haul of hiking with Sarah.
We had made it to the rear of Whernside before long and were travelling back on ourselves, nearing the final ascent (despite this sounding like we were close to the top we were in fact at least two hours from the summit). The weather remained dry for the most part, a soothing cool breeze occasionally found its way through my t-shirt like and made me feel like I’d just opened the door to a walk in freezer. We were not quite into the clouds yet but we were close. The path finally broke out into steps exactly how I remember them. Having to climb the steps played havoc with Sarah’s hip, lifting herself up each one on the same leg every time must have been agonising but the only tell-tale sign of pain was a slight and infrequent wince pulling through her face, sorry that’s a lie, I do recall a few occasions where-in she was less subtle, shouting “MY HIP HURTS!!” did give me an inkling as to how bad it was. Irregardless of this it was impressive watching her power through it all, though I couldn’t help but worry that she wouldn’t make it all the way around and, if she did what kind of further damage might she suffer as a result. At that time we still had about six or seven hours of walking to go and another, steeper and more imposing incline was still to come.
We started taking frequent rests for her to take the strain of her hip; I tried to talk about anything and everything in an effort to keep her mind off the pain, dogs for example. We discussed dogs in great detail, big ones like Alsatians; great for a bit of rough and tumble and a perfect deterrent to door to door sales men, I’d be much more inclined to deliberate the purchase of self-cleaning quadruple glazed windows at only £11.99 per square centimetre if I had Rocky the Alsatian making a breakfast out of their butt cheeks while I did it. The topic of Small dogs inevitably followed, the Chihuahua, for people who always wanted a pet with an Eye-to-Body ratio to rival that of the Vampire squid without the immeasurable faff of catching such a beast. One thing that does make sense about Chihuahua’s is that, as most people I have personally encountered that own these little canines tend to keep them in their purse it rules out any ‘clean up’ while out and about, I wouldn’t personally purchase a Gucci brand litter bag but who am I to judge.
We covered a fair amount of distance, mostly with me talking while she nurtured her hip with various drugs. The more I talked with Sarah the more I came to realise that she is an exceptional person, the clincher to this decision came about while we took a breather and let a few faster walkers get past us. Sarah turned to me and said two glorious words, words that filled my face with light, massaged my soul, made my tongue tingle and salivate with sweet anticipation! “Jelly beans?” I tried to play it cool as if it was no big deal but I couldn’t stop a grin to rival that of the Cheshire cat from creeping across my face. A single tear born of pure joy stroked the length of my cheek “Sarah…you just made my day”.
If the reader has not yet established, I am rather fond of jelly beans, the cheaper the better. I often frequent supermarkets offering bargain deals, 5 packs for £1.00 - I usually leave deep in my overdraft and deeper in caloric surplus. Eating that first jelly bean made me feel like I could run the Yorkshire three peaks in record time. Sarah, who assured me that there were plenty more Jelly beans (and various other sweet delights within her bag), had earnt herself my eternal gratitude. I was the three eyed, green, squeaky alien toy to her Mr Potato head (if that reference is lost on you, stop reading and watch Toy Story immediately).
Well rested and high on sugar we continued, now way up in clouds the wind was growing stronger, ushering us towards the steep and dangerous drop lingering ominously in our peripherals like the shadow that stalks you after watching a horror film. We made steady progress with regular ‘Jelly bean’ pit stops every minute or so. Our conversation was whittled down by exhaustion to the point where the only communication between us was my occasional “BANANA SKIN!” declaration and my rhythmic “we’re nearly at the top now Sarah”. I didn’t actually have a clue how far away we were but I knew if I said it enough I’d be right sooner or later.
Some one hundred and fifty minutes of climbing (give or take) from the start of the incline and ground finally gave way into a plateau. We were walking along the spine of the peak, the mist all around us rubbed out any hope of beautiful Yorkshire landscapes; instead we endured a fluffy, white and uncomfortably moist atmosphere whipped about by winds raging full speed into us. It was a never ending barrage with all the force of a hurricane, you had to be up-wind of anybody you wanted to converse with and shout with every vocal cord just to make a sarcastic comment about the weather. We suffered a further twenty minutes walking in these harsh conditions before David came jogging into view; he was a sight for sore, wind battered and very weary eyes I can assure you. Cowered under a waist high wall to our right he told us we were minutes away from the trig point (David was ever brief and straight to the point) Sarah, upon hearing the news that the peak was nearly summited, sprung up immediately and power walked ahead, finishing strong, David marched on behind her and I stuffed three more jelly beans in my mouth before tootling gleefully along behind them.
The Top of Whernside
We finally reached the trig point, exhausted, hungry and still desperate for the loo. Josh and Matin sat against a stone wall keeping out of the wind while chowing down on various sandwiches, a capital idea that I was quite taken with, I immediately flopped down next to josh and dug through my bag for something to eat. I had prepared a chicken and cheese ciabatta along with some more fruit and a chocolate bar, none of which I could find quick enough. I grasped my ciabatta and bit out a chunk the size of my fist, I savoured the taste as long as I could, trying to appreciate more after feeling deprived of food for so long. I would have been appreciating my sandwich a lot more had I not been ushered into a second trig point selfie. I was much less inclined this time since I had just sat down. I pulled myself back up into the vicious wind, followed everybody else through a gap in the stone wall and huddled around the rock that marked a height of 736 metres. Rather than saying cheese I elected to eat it, sustenance was higher on my list of priorities than smiling, evidently (as grumpy as I look the sandwich was very tasty).
I wish there were more I could say about the top of Whernside; I would love to describe far reaching views of green hills, countryside villages, roaming sheep and sleeping cows, but I’m afraid I couldn’t see more than 5 metres in front of me; my hands were cold, my clothes still damp from hours before. My legs felt ready to retire to a little chalet in the south of France, even my shoulders were beginning to whisper aches behind my back. We had made it to the top of Whernside with a quarter of our team an unknown distance behind us, an injured walker and some of the most miserable weather imaginable; motivation ran thin to say the least. I sat back against the wall, the blazing currents of air roaring over me, I took a sip of some wind chilled Lucozade and a bite of my chocolate bar, slouched down and waited for a desperately needed sugar rush to kick in.
I considered my situation and tried to give myself a bit of a pep talk, ‘the second peak is defeated’ I told myself, ‘There’s no chance I’m stopping here; I’m gunning for Ingleborough’s summit, just as soon as I finish my KitKat’.
Watch this space for Peak 3 – Ingleborough the Tall
Check out Vision Africa’s website to see who we raised money for and why we embarked on this great Yorkshire challenge - https://www.vision-africa.org/