Summer Walk – 2022
Location: Langdale, Lake District, UK
Date: June 17th - 19th, 2022
Maggie Beazley, Jo Bradwell, Connie Clarke, Sarah Clarke, John Delamere, Maggie Beazley, Tim Harvey, Kelsey Joyce, Kyle Pattinson, and Will Trender.
By Dr Kelsey Joyce and Prof Jo Bradwell
6:30 am; John Delamere, Jo Bradwell and I left Birmingham for the BMRES Summer Walk. A quick three hours up the M6, they figured. Annoyingly, the expected journey turned into a 5½-hour slog on the hottest June day on record.
After finally arriving at the car park in Ambleside, we put on our Nonins (wrist-worn finger pulse oximeters) to assess them for the upcoming expedition in Annapurna. Would they be reliable during the day on hot, sweaty climbs? They were integral to our planned studies on hypoxia – fingers crossed for good results. By midday we were off into the heat with sandwiches and water. The planned route was 11 miles around the Fairfield horseshoe, a breezy walk above lake Windermere, with a projected time of 6½ hours, according to the OS Maps app. Needless-to-say, we expected to finish well before that despite the impending rain and wind that was due around 3 pm. Above us, black clouds loomed.
The first half hour was hot in the afternoon sun, but we soon rose into the gathering gloom. The hill tops were covered in cloud which quickly descended as we climbed the dank, misty path. We paused in light drizzle to put on cagoules and continued. Jo suggested we should consider returning because of the ill-tempered weather; John mocked his timidity. “I’ll not be first to wimp-out” Jo retorted. Around 2:30 pm, as the rain intensified, we hid behind a dry-stone wall for sandwiches. Bear in mind, by this time, it had been eight hours since I had eaten, and I had only drunk 500 ml of water since 5 am.
After another hour or so of steady uphill plodding in cold clouds and driving rain, Jo wondered why I was at the back rather than at the front chatting. An unusual occurrence, but they knew I hadn’t slept well the night before so, they figured it was just a little bit of old-fashioned fatigue. Nothing a few Werthers and some water couldn’t fix, so we briefly paused again.
Continuing on, Jo and John outpaced me again and noticed I had grown very quiet. ‘This can’t be right’, the pair thought. By this time, I had become aware that I was struggling while my legs had become rather cold. Also, my pinky, ring and index fingers on my left hand had become white and slightly numb – although some sensation remained. Nothing totally out of the ordinary, I thought.
Not too long after my self-reassurance, I realised my legs were becoming quite stiff and I was also losing coordination walking over the loose rocks where I typically excel. In particular, I was wobbly on the downward sections of the path. Something was not right. I had been fatigued before, but not like this.
Coming to a similar realisation, Jo and John quizzed me. ‘What is the matter?’. Are you tired or hungry?’ ‘Perhaps we should stop for some food?’
As we approached the summit of Fairfield, with barely 20 meters of visibility in the gusting rain, it became imperative that we stopped for food and water. We sat, cringing from the wind in the summit shelter as Jo offered food and water. Clearly, I was very cold which only got worse during our 10-minute stop. My left hand by now was quite numb and my legs so cold that I could hardly stand up. Jo helped me to my feet but I needed support. It was then that we all realised I was hypothermic and in real trouble. Descent was paramount – we must escape quickly from the driving rain to the safety of the valley.
We started down-hill, but I could barely walk. Jo checked my clothing. My old cagoule was wet through having lost all its water proofing years ago and I was only wearing a t-shirt underneath. My thin trousers were soaking despite being quick dry and moisture wicking. I managed a few more steps but my legs had lost control. I had become ataxic and had lost all sensation in my left hand with the numbness spreading up my arm. Jo checked for any feeling but I had no awareness of him touching me. This was becoming very serious.
Thankfully, John had a spare woolly fleece in his backpack. Too numb to move my hands, they removed my cagoule and put on the fleece as quickly as possible in the driving rain and replaced my soaked cagoule. Jo dug out his last half of a sandwich and 200 ml of juice for me. Then down as quickly as possible or it would be a call to the mountain rescue service.
I don’t remember much of the descent because I was in a daze. Jo held by left arm tightly to both steady my walking and prevent a fall. We walked in lockstep down the interminable rocky path and steep slopes. He kept me mobile which was impossible on my own and he stopped many a stumble. The nightmare descent improved as the rain abated and the summit blocked the fierce winds. Sensation in my arms slowly returned, right side first then my numb left arm and hand and I started shivering. My muscles had been too cold even to shiver. For two hours Jo supported me down the never-ending path into the relative warmth of Fairfield’s lower slopes and recovery. Together with some internal heat from walking and the rain stopping, I felt much better.
It had been a close-run thing. If I had been alone the fierce wind and rain on Fairfield’s summit could have been a disaster, even on the hottest day of the year.
Back in the hotel, warm but exhausted, I almost missed dinner then slept for 12 hours. Phew!
Saturday’s walk was led by John Delamere with this walk being far more enjoyable and less eventful than Friday.
Photo credit: Kyle Pattinson.