Over the years, I thought I’d covered most parts of the Lake District until I discovered the Birketts tick list; 541 summits over 1,000 feet, and visiting these has taken me to corners I’ve never been to. Many friends described some of the tops as “pointless”, or “remote”, but for me, these obscure findings have added to my delight of list ticking.
I started the list with great gusto, plotting circular routes around the Shap Fells, a figure-of-eight covering the Skiddaw massif, and a linear route from Eskdale to Keswick, and had bagged 300 by August; I was feeling pretty happy with my progress.
At the end of August we’d nipped out for a late afternoon run, and the weather had turned dark. It was a hard push up the front of Mellbreak through the loose ground between what was left of the bleaberries and heather, my lungs felt like they could burst as I drew in the fresh air running along the soft ground of the two summits. I took a quick joyous photo of the summit cairns, then sped off towards the clouds circling the Buttermere valley and down to Scale Knott, the next Birkett. Running down the steep grass there was an audible crack, so loud that my husband asked what was that noise? By now I was screaming, I screamed a lot, then decided screaming wasn’t the best option, perhaps I could limp it off by trying to walk down backwards to the Knott. Not one of my brightest moves. Once there, I did think about how I was going to limp back to the car; realising that this was a very bad sprain, I re-routed us via the bridleway opposite the rocky lake shore. I stood in a stream, in vain hope that it might reduce the pain and swelling. It didn’t. It was a long, painful limp back. The outcome was an ankle fracture, six weeks out if I was lucky. In six weeks, I was due to be running in Corsica; that plan would have to be revised too.
After a splinted ankle for those weeks, walking boots felt great; wearing shoes just felt like my ankle might snap all over again. My Salomon Quest walking boots would become my best friends for the winter.
Everyone kept telling that most people would take some time out. Really? Did they not know I had a list? I just became more inventive with routes, and obviously every single cairn summit was a triumph. Around the back of Cogra Moss were Murton Fell, Low and High Pen, Godworth and Kelton Fell; all were baked in golden autumn light with a view into the Lakes or out to sea, why wouldn’t I push myself to get to this?
As the weeks went by, I discovered the pleasure of taking things slowly and the bonus of wearing boots. Dry feet while walking through bogs, lots of gentle little outcrops from boggy Birker Fell. Gradually I built it up; I went up the steep nose of Fleetwith Pike from Buttermere then onto Black Star, the autumn sunshine enticing me to extend my planned route and to take in Haystacks as an extra; it’s a long way down Scarth Gap Pass when you know you’ve overdone it! Good job I was carrying a head torch with me, but we just made it back without needing it. Finally, I started to feel like I was recovering, pushing myself on a beautiful day to get the two Kirk Fells, Great Gable, Green Gable, out to Base Brown, back to Brandreth and Grey Knott. Not a huge day out, but it felt like I was finally mending. There were many snowy days this winter, and again I was thankful of the support and protection from my boots.
Then spring arrived, and finally, I only had a few big days out to finish all 541 tops. The plan was two big days; one over Looking Stead, Pillar Rock, Pillar, Red Pike and the two Yewbarrows. The last planned day over Lingmell, Scar Fell, Pike, Broad and Ill; I had worked out I could leave Great End to be my last, a good and fitting end.
Some days never go to plan. One of the Birketts is Pillar Rock; a scramble, or is it an easy rock climb? Whatever it is, it’s exposed. It is very beautiful, standing overlooking Ennerdale, and we’d decided that once up we’d descend the route as it’s years since I’d abseiled. Standing looking at the rock in front of us, it just didn’t feel right, it was a long way down. It was an easy decision to turn away, I need to go climb a few times and then come back. That view is worth a second return. The following weekend, we ran the Scar Fells and Great End route, not my last Birkett but it was the 540th. Pillar Rock is waiting for me, another bit of the Lake District to be discovered. I can’t recommend the Birketts enough; look them up, they’re fantastic, plenty of new ground to be found, be inventive, pull a map out and get planning.
It took eight months for my ankle to feel strong again, shame I then wrecked my knee running down Grains Gill. It’s one thing after another… talking of which I do have another list…
Words and photos by Lisa Bergerud