I couldn’t actually find the boulders. I walked back and forth along the same stretch of grassy ridge looking at the boulders scattered around me, trying to find one that matched the photos in my new guidebook. If I could find the Ridge Stone boulder, then I could orientate myself and get on the right track. But in the mist it wasn’t easy to work out which rock was which. I felt certain I’d missed the path to Boulder Valley shown in the guidebook, and so had ended up walking too far up the ridge. The Ridge Stone was shown in the guidebook’s map as being after the start of the path I wanted. I reasoned that if I found the Ridge Stone, I would know for sure I had gone too far. I looked again at a tall boulder sitting just to the side of the path, trying to work out if its shape matched that of the boulder shown in my book. The whole situation felt ridiculous. I felt ridiculous. I was walking about in the mist, on the first day of a bouldering trip to the Lake District, unable to find the boulders I’d come all this way to climb.
This was a trip I’d been looking forward to for a while. A new guidebook to bouldering in the Lake District had come out a few months ago after years in development. It contained 3,000 boulder problems over 70 venues. I’d spent a fair bit of time studying this guidebook, working out where I wanted to climb, planning, and getting excited about going to places I’d not climbed before. As my trip got closer and closer, I was also delighted to see the weather forecast was for sun and clear skies for the first few days I’d be away.
By the time I parked at the rough car park on the slopes of the Old Man of Coniston on my first day of climbing, the cloud was low and it was lightly raining. The forecast said it would clear up later, and so I was optimistic of a good day as I headed out for Boulder Valley. The guidebook showed Boulder Valley as a spread-out boulder field in the Coniston Coppermines Valley, in the shadow of the Old Man of Coniston. The mountain setting, with a good selection of lower grade problems, made it look great as a first day venue.
I’d followed the instructions and map in the guidebook past the Pudding Stone (which would have been hard to miss as it’s as big as a house) and across a stream by a bridge that I could only just squeeze across with a bouldering pad on my back. Now, I was on the low ridge on the other side of the bridge, and beginning to feel less puzzled. The cloud began to break-up, and I got more and bigger glimpses of Boulder Valley below me. I walked around the tall boulder, and studied my guidebook. I decided that this was the Ridge Stone, and that the dotted line marked in the guidebook didn’t necessarily mean an actual path on the ground. I went back towards the bridge, and then headed off in the direction I thought the path would take. The faintest of sheep tracks then got me close enough to see what the guidebook called Boulder 1.
Boulder Valley turned out to be the most peaceful and relaxing place I’ve ever climbed. It was still and quiet, apart for the sound of a waterfall. The only people about were infrequent walkers who passed by on the ridge I had been wandering around on. To find somewhere that tranquil on a popular mountain in the Lake District, in the week of the August Bank Holiday, was pretty amazing.
The rock was surprisingly rough, with a mix of small holds, rounded edges and occasional cracks. I found the climbing fairly technical. I like technical climbing and did a few really enjoyable problems. I also found the climbing pretty hard, and gave up on a couple of problems as I simply couldn’t work out how to do them. That might have been because it was a rock type I’d not climbed on in a while, or because it was the first day of the holiday and I wasn’t in the swing of things yet. I was certainly climbing better by the end of the trip.
The sun also did come out in the end, and I enjoyed great views of the Old Man of Coniston and Brim Fell.
The first day of my Lake District climbing trip ended up being a strange mix of weather, as well as frustration and tranquillity, but ultimately a good day of climbing.