Today I am really excited to welcome Sarah, a friend I met when Miss L and Sarah’s son Legoboy were babies. You might remember she organised the cycle route for Team Honk Nottingham’s Sport Relief cycle? Sarah is a real inspiration – she has done what I am desperate to do with my kids, since I climbed Snowdon – get children to climb mountains!
We’ve returned from a great break staying at Ambleside in the Lake District. The Lakes have been our special place for twenty years since Andrew and I first went there together with a group of friends from University. It was then that I discovered the addiction of mountain climbing, or ’bagging peaks’ as we call it.
My family were keen walkers but in a more sedate fashion that involved gardens, tea shops and a view. The satisfaction and sense of achievement when a summit or a number of summits on a ridge are attained was exhilarating. Over the next few years we returned to Lakes many times and armed with our copy of Pouchers’s Lakeland Peaks we climbed the mountains and ticked them off the list.
I have always loved maps and landscapes which was a key factor in my decision to study Geography at University. I spend hours pouring over the maps and looking for the advantages of different ascents or approaches. I like to know where I am and how I got there and what I can see around me.
It gives me a thrill to know each of the summits by name as I take in the panoramic views – and our memories of the struggles or jokes attached to each attempt to conquer.
We took a hiatus from our climbing when LegoBoy was born in 2006. We still holidayed in the Lakes and gazed at the mountains while we pushed a pram around busy Lakeland towns with the tourists, eating tea and cake. The grandparents were kind and let us out for a walk but it wasn’t the same – the freedom was gone as half our thoughts were still in the valley worrying if LegoBoy was having a good day.
At three years old we introduced LegoBoy to his first mountain. Wanfell is an easily accessible fell from Ambleside or Troutbeck and a mere 486.9 metres. It started badly as LegoBoy thought we were off into town to the toy shop. We cajoled our toddler up the road, knowing that if we could just get him over the stile onto the track his keen imagination and interest in the world would take over.
Before long we were climbing mountains while feeding bananas (tough grasses) to black slugs on the path up to the top. It was fantastic to reach the summit. The descent was interesting – toddlers can move fast when motivated by a toy shop at the bottom of the hill. My adult knees were feeling the strain as I chased him down the hillside!
We ticked off a couple of peaks a year later. Pike O’Blisco in the Langdale valley was renamed ‘Pike O’Haribro’ after the sweets that got us to the top. On that ascent we were all dinosaurs to the amusement of the other walkers.
Last year we had Skittle Hill (Loughrigg Fell)
and Gummy Bear mountain (Helm Crag).
Secret Agent Dave Orange gummy bear came all the way up Helm Crag and even did a spot of sunbathing on the snow. Near the top he disappeared and LegoBoy informed me, ’he got sticky so I ate him’. Priceless moments.
This year we decided we were ready for a new challenge – Helvellyn. Andrew and I have climbed Helvellyn many times from all directions. The view from the flat grassy plateau at the summit is breathtaking. The name probably means ‘yellow moor’ in Cumbrian but to me the name conjures up images of Norse gods and a Wagner soundtrack.
At 950 metres Helvellyn is the second highest peak in the Lakes after Scafell Pike. Could I ask LegoBoy to do this? But I was reminded of our toddler on Wansfell and decided the only limits on our children are what we impose ourselves. Let’s give it a go!
We have a favourite accent to Helvellyn that starts in Glenridding but goes over the ridge, passing Lanty’s Tarn and ascending from Patterdale. Lanty’s Tarn is a magical place which reminds me of the ‘Wood between the Worlds’ in the Narnia story ‘The Magicians Nephew’ by C.S.Lewis. It’s a peaceful tarn surrounded by shady woods.
The climb up to ’Hole in the Wall’ is gruelling. You can see where you need to go and the people ahead are mere specks on the horizon. Not for the faint hearted. The joy of reaching Hole in the Wall is that the worst if the climbing is over and the traverse of Striding Edge is next followed by a scramble up the gulley to the plateau summit.
Striding Edge is a famous scramble along a razor sharp arête looking down to the glassy black depths of Red Tarn. Sadly on this occasion there was a bitterly cold north westerly wind blowing with some strong gusts that on the forecast was supposed to have abated.
Visibility was great with clear skies and sunshine, but we thought it foolhardy to make the attempt across Striding Edge with LegoBoy and risk getting cold and exhausted. We headed back down to Glenridding via Mirebeck and had our picnic when we were once more sheltered from the wind.
We were so proud of LegoBoy. That morning on the way down the Kiskstone pass he had exclaimed ‘it’s so beautiful!’. I couldn’t agree more and we will be back again to conquer Helvellyn together.
Sarah’s top tips when taking kids mountain climbing
1. Proper equipment – to venture into the mountains you need to be equipped with walking boots, waterproofs and warm layered clothing. Most walking centres have a good range of shops that have discounts or sales. The weather can change very quickly and you need to be prepared.
2. Plan your day – look at the maps and read the guidebooks/reviews of the various routes. Sometimes the tourist route up to the top is not the best. 1 mile on a map might not seem far but when it up to 500 metres in accent plus scrambling on rocks it could be too much.
3. Take plenty of snacks – sweets are a great distraction but can also provide instant sugar. However, don’t rely on sweets and take complex carbohydrates like flapjack, muesli bars and bananas.
4. Check the weather forecast – there are specific forecasts for certain popular routes. It takes a certain kind of dedication to walk all day in the cold and rain and it might put off your children for life!
5. Play a game – distract your children from how far it is to the top with games. Parents will be very familiar with this strategy!
LegoBoy’s recommendation is a cable car to the top where there is a ice cream van!
Have you managed to get children to climb mountains yet? Sarah inspired our first fell climb in the Lakes, we even renamed it in the spirit of getting kids to climb mountains!