This impromptu excursion happened when Neil Davies suggested meeting for a run, and left the route choice to me. My suggestion of an Abrahams Tea Round was met with a "Yep" (without the poor man quite knowing what he was agreeing to). Upon a little research, "Yep" turned to a cautious, "We can give it a try". Phht!!
Saturday morning’s 5am meet-up was delayed as my Garmin would not play ball and load the GPX file. While happy with a map and compass, a GPX on the watch would have been a lovely security blanket. That comfort not forthcoming, we headed off to Keswick with a tatty map and a marker pen. Parking at some ungodly hour is always a breeze, so it was now down to glugging a litre of coffee while hilltops were circled on the map and I faffed with what to pack. Whether he did it to hurry me up, or just to be kind, Neil took a fair bit of my kit on board too. Packing light is not my forte; offer me space in a 25L pack and, by golly, will it be filled!
Eventually I could faff no longer (unless you can fit an entire Toyota Yaris and its contents into a backpack) and we toddled down to George Fisher to begin the Round. An awkward (we'll never finish this so why are we taking it) selfie later, we set off in the direction of Portinscale. Turning out of town and into the forest, we hiked up Catbells. The sky was just turning pink and, after summiting, Neil turned to me - caution out of the window - and said, “I'm psyched, we are finishing this thing!”
Catbells was a nice climb, we quickly summited and dropped down, but headed left too soon (I was on nav, so no surprises there), missed Little Town and had to backtrack. The road section up past Newlands Church was a pain, Neil is faster so I struggled a bit. Thankfully we happened across a walker who struck up a conversation - breathing break! We chose to head up the valley to Robinson, not climbing up to the ridge. Unsure when to turn, I thought I spotted a trod, ignored Mr Wise's calls of caution, and ploughed up the hill. Snow-covered scree; every two steps up resulted in sliding at least one back down again. Stubborn as an ox, I insisted we continue and Neil patiently obliged (a Noble Peace Prize is warranted here). I was on all fours already but amused that some fell runners just behind us were following my appalling route up too! These inappropriately short-clad wonders asked where we were going; we ducked and dived a bit, until they said they were doing the ATR and we had to admit we were too, albeit at my slower pace.
Upon summiting Robinson, we were at a bit of a loss where to go. Neil politely encouraged me to check the map, I ignored this three times before complying, backtracking and descending to the right. The snow was deep. Running was attempted, but the snow under the surface was soft, allowing you to slide but the top layer was solid - whacking into your shins and stopping you dead in your tracks (this also involved some prize commentary, Neil was polite, I was not). We followed the fence down, dropped onto the road and then right at the top of the lake, an area I know well. A little disagreement about the route ensued at a roped shut gate, stubborn Miller stuck her Inov-8 clad heels in the ground and Neil, aware of how much longer he had to tolerate me for, loosened his Salomon Speedcross grip and let me go astray (which actually was on course! Whoop!).
Now, climbing High Stile on deep powdery snow-covered loose rock is an absolute never-ending soul-sapping slog. I huffed, puffed, crawled up on all fours, stuck bum in the air, buried face in the snow and exclaimed oh blimey more times than I can remember. Neil soldiered, on not breaking a sweat. Eventually we summited, meeting two men admiring the view. They said some other runners in shorts had passed a little earlier. I queried how much earlier, to which the response was "quite a bit".
Running from High Stile to Red Pike is my go-to place when I need to set the world to rights. Doing it in deep snow with a friend by my side, was really special. The descent off Red Pike was the stuff dreams are made of; steep with soft snow, we just dug in and dove off.
Crossing into Buttermere was a pain, the bridge had washed away, but soon we were climbing again. One map said we needed to summit Wandope, one didn't. Being overly neurotic, we did. The drop down to Hope Gill Head, running past lots of hikers in crampons, was liberating after so much slog. We trotted around to Grisedale Pike, Neil taking the lead down the snowy ridge line.
Grisedale Pike was quite a summit. The sun was setting, everything had a pink hue and we could see the tops we still needed to hit on our way back. It was all in hand; a few more manageable climbs and we would be done. The run back in the pink light was just magical, Eel Crag came and went, as did the descent all the way down to Rolling Edge. Then the light went, and so did our cognitive function. Sharing a half-frozen Mars Bar whilst taking a very ill-informed line down to Barrow (yes, I was on nav again), we got totally muddled and annoyed. I hated ViewRanger at that moment, begrudging taking my gloves off and phone out. It kept instructing us to contour further round, Neil kept telling me we had gone too far. In retrospect we could have taken any line down, hit the river, got wet and climbed up the other side, but we were tired and wanted the security of the path which we found eventually and breathed a big sigh of relief. The climb up to Barrow was surprisingly painless and quick. Dropping down to Braithwaite, I misjudged the road and took a spectacular slide on sheet ice.
Running back along the road jerked us out of the peace of the hills, and back to reality. Neil wasn't breaking a sweat, motoring along like he hadn't run a step all day, I was huffing and puffing 20 metres behind him - how we made it back to Keswick before the next day, I don't know. Up the main street, dodging the shoppers and party animals, and up to the shop where I promptly sat on my bottom on the window ledge. A quick selfie later (we looked very spaced out!), it was back to the car, a raid on Co-op and a big munch all the way back to Windermere.
An absolutely epic day out, a brilliant route and what a team at George Fisher and Abrahams Cafe. Thank you for coming up with this challenge, for the golden teacup I have by my side, for all the happy memories, and for the delicious cake and coffee we got 'on the house' next morning!
30-ish miles, 12,000ft ascent, one hell of a lot of nattering, just over 12 hours.