By Andy North1 | Foot Notes by Debbie
Blencathra had always been one of those mountains we’d driven past on the A66 and looked at longingly, but had just never quite got round to climbing it. In truth, I did make an attempt to go up it in the mid ‘90s via Souther Fell. I had a plan that included Sharp Edge. The weather had other ideas. The wind was absolutely howling and as a group we ended up laying down at one point just to have a conversation. The stand out moment though was when the wind took hold of a strap on my rucksack and it thwacked him in the face with a good hard slap.
So when Jonathan Smith2 of where2walk.co.uk came and said he thought there was a way to the top with Debs in the TerrainHopper, I felt a mixture of excitement and dread. After all, the summit’s at 868m and we’d never taken the all-terrain wheelchair (ATW) that high.3 We’d skirted around Blease Fell when we trekked Back o’ Skiddaw and we’d looked across at Blencathra from The Old Coach Road in 2015 when we travelling coast to coast. But we’d never really allowed ourselves to dream and scream about the possibility of getting to the summit.
It was September 19th 2016 when we decided to give it a go. We parked near the Blencathra Field Centre with the plan being to wander towards Threlkeld before picking up a path that cut across the fell and then headed up Blease Fell. I felt that mix of excitement and terror – but I have to say it’s the usual feeling when we’re going out on something that’s a little out of the ordinary. And taking an ATW up Blencathra can, I think, be classed as a little out of the ordinary.4
The early going was straight-forward and the main problem was not getting too out of breath alongside Jonathan ‘The Terminator’ Smith. He has, for those of you need to know, a habit of whipping out a camera and trying to get a picture of you when you’re at your most knackered, face red, lungs bursting. Be warned. He’s not all gentleman.5
As we climbed up, the views opened up quickly – across Derwent Water and down St John’s-in-the-Vale. It was an ideal day. Not too hot and not too cold and plenty of views to give you an excuse to stop and take a photograph whilst you caught your breath.6
The journey up Blease Fell was steep but the track was ideal for the TerrainHopper.7 We had by that time got a pretty good idea of what it was capable of and as long as it didn’t get too steep, we’d be laughing. After we’d got our breath back, of course. At no point on the climb was there any worry. I think as a group we all pretty much knew we were going to get to the summit once we passed a tricky section a little lower down.
The first views of Knowe Crag bursting into view were a special moment. The overriding sensation every single time we get to do something like this is difficult to describe. To give something back to Debs that she – that we – thought would never happen again is always a touching moment.8 And so the rugged mountain view brought about that sense of excitement and an overriding sense of humility which has been born from the support we’ve had from so many marvellous people over the years.
If I have any safety concerns at all, I’ll walk alongside Debs (assuming I can keep up) in the ATW to pick a way through sections or to steady the buggy if we’re on a cambered section. The level of planning we go into and the preparations we make put 99.9% of hikers into the shade.9 So to the sanctimonious, uneducated ones out there who say we “shouldn’t be doing that” – back off. We know what we’re doing and we’d never put anyone in any danger. As it was, I had no concerns here and was more than happy for Debs to whip around the mountain as we climbed it.
At the time of this trek, we still lived in Lincolnshire and so days like this were always tinged with a little regret that we’d be travelling back to flatlands a few days later.
- AKA: Side Kick Andy, Husband and best friend
- Jonathan has been a cornerstone to all that we have achieved in the mountains.
- We did travel Coast to Coast in 2015, which was an amazing journey. Now I was wanting to climb higher and push the boundaries of accessibility.
- Jonathan used to think I was crackers…. Now he knows it!
- And he is Newcastle supporter – poor fellow.
- First tear shed.
- Referred to as ‘A serious bit of Kit
- More tears.
- Oh we plan… we have even written a blog post about it.
- More tissues needed…
- I did it! I bloody well did it!
- In a TerrainHopper
- Here’s to the next adventure