I turned 30 last week. As I approached the end of my twenties, I decided I should have some sort of a bucket list of things to do before the big day arrived. Unfortunately, by the time I made this decision, I only had about six weeks left until my birthday. I had time for about one item.
I wanted something adventurous that would really challenge me, but would still be feasible for me to accomplish. I’ve been thinking about the outdoors a lot, so it seemed obvious to incorporate that. I pretty quickly landed on a hike in the Lake District. Walking is definitely within my realm of capability, but a decent ascent would challenge me. I decided, too, to hike solo, which would add another dimension to the experience. I haven’t done any solo hiking before, but reading about it online had me intrigued.
There are so many websites with walks in the Lake District. After a bit of searching, I came across this walk up Pike o’Stickle. I knew I would find the ascent tough, but 6.5 miles would be manageable. I had also heard that walking up the valley along Mickleden Beck is really lovely.
With my walk set, I just had to wait for a clear weekend day to head off. Unfortunately, it was a long time coming, and I had to wait until the Saturday right before my birthday to go.
I was absolutely correct when I assumed the hike would be a challenge. It’s very nearly a 2,000 foot ascent, and that isn’t something I do very often. The first portion of the walk along Mickleden Beck is very gentle – except that the Pike o’Stickle was staring down at me most of the time. I kept looking up and thinking that I wouldn’t make it. The people at the top were minuscule, and I couldn’t really imagine myself looking that way to someone below.
At the end of the valley I turned to go up the main ascent: Stakes Pass. I really huffed and puffed my way up, counting off 100 steps, then taking a short break, over and over. After what felt like a very long time, the path leveled out as I crossed Martcrag Moor, before I turned off to head towards Pike o’Stickle. The ground got boggy at this point, and the trail completely disappeared, to the point where I got my compass out, just to make sure I was heading the right way. A few steps later, I crested a small hill and I saw the trail start again. From there it was a clear path for the rest of the hike.
The summit was quite an experience. The trail leads to the bottom of the (for lack of a better word) big hump. There is a spur leading up to the top, but eventually it disappears and I had to scramble a bit to actually get to the cairn that meant I really was as high as I could get.
I still had about a third of the hike left to do at this point, but it was all down hill. In some ways, this was a relief, since I was no longer losing my breath. Downhill, however, is still hard work and I definitely felt it in my knees. It’s also really hard to enjoy the view when you have to look down all the time. However, I made it to the New Dungeon Ghyll pub after about an hour and fifteen minutes. After snarfing a burger and chips (which were delicious), I made it, victorious, back to the car.The entire walk took a little over four hours.
Notes on Solo Hiking
Carl asked me after I got home whether I would do anything like this again. I think I probably would, although I might pick a slightly easier walk to do on my own, just so that it is more restful. If I’m going to spend time away from my kids, I want to hear myself think over the sound of my huffing and puffing. Nevertheless, this was quite an experience for me, and I have lots of reflections on it.
- I am totally an extrovert. Even though I often crave time to think and reflect without distractions, I actually find my own company pretty dull. I get so much energy from being around other people, and while I would say that my walk was a good experience, I’ll probably try to share experiences as much as I can in the future.
- I now have even fewer excuses for not getting out. There is no way I could have climbed to the top of Pike o’Stickle carrying one of my children on by back. They are too heavy, I am not that fit, and it was too high. I simply couldn’t have made it. While this is legitimate, I think I often assume that this means I can’t ever go out hiking. Obviously, this isn’t true. I have a very supportive husband, who is a great dad and is very capable of caring for our children. I’m not going to head out every weekend, I would really miss my kids and Carl, but there really isn’t any reason to always stay at home and pine for the outdoors.
- Solo hiking is a mental challenge, as well as a physical challenge. There were spots where the trail absolutely disappeared. There were spots where everything looked like a trail and I had to decide which one to take. I had to use my map and compass to make sure I was on the right track. I had to work up the nerve to scramble to the very top of Pike o’Stickle. No one could hear my grumbling and commiserate with me. I had to encourage myself, challenge myself to take just 100 more steps to the top. It really took a ton of mental effort.
- I’m glad I went at the weekend, in a reasonably popular hiking spot. I wasn’t really nervous about being attacked or anything. I thought it was much more likely that I would twist my ankle or something similar, and not be able to get back to my car (phone reception is notoriously bad in the Lakes). By going at the weekend in a common walking spot, I regularly came across other people on my path – people who could have notified Mountain Rescue if I had needed help. The atmosphere among walkers in the Lake District is generally really positive and friendly, a good place to be if you are on your own.
With my bucket list completed (all one item of it), I happily entered my thirties. I’m hoping it will be a decade of adventures – a few on my own, but mostly with family and friends.