For those not in the know, the Wainwrights are the 214 fells featured in Alfred Wainwright’s seven-volume pictorial guide to the Lake District fells, which were published between 1955 and 1966. Many walkers are keen to ‘bag’ or climb the hills, often with the objective being to climb as many of the 214 as they can, but not many take them all on in a calendar year. Meindl’s Heather is one of the few. Here’s her story of a year bagging Wainwrights…
After a year of planning and training for my Lands End to John O’Groats cycle trip, I’d missed the hills. I’m lucky enough to see them from the office window, so that was just the motivation needed to start climbing again. Glad to be on two feet instead of two wheels, the itinerary was pretty fluid and training started on the job – we just got fitter as the year went on.
We wanted to get out as often as we could and include as many people as possible. Family and friends joined us from one walk to another, whether that was an afternoon trip to one iconic mountain top, or epic weekends of hiking when the weather was kind. We used a book called Walking the Wainwrights by Stuart Marshall which helped us to link the peaks together (although I admit we were a little too ambitious with peak joining at times). Of course, the plan was spurred on, or off, by the infamous Lake District weather.
We’re used to ‘4 seasons in one day’ here and that’s exactly what many of the mountains threw at us. Glorious sunshine, rain, high winds and a lot of bogs for my boots to stand up to.
There were a few surprises too, particularly the amount of snow we faced and the number of times we donned full waterproofs. Two tricky moments stick with me; first, a blizzard in May on Great Gable meant we had to turn back. Even those with furry paws were in agreement on that one. The second was a similar situation but on Starling Dodd in June when the winds were so high they near enough knocked us off our feet (mountain climbing can be tough, but see my top tips below for keeping safe on the fells).
The Lake District can compete with anywhere in the world when it’s basked in sunshine and that’s exactly what happened on some of our big weekend adventures. We were on a mission to get as close as possible to the number 214 on August Bank Holiday weekend. Determination, good weather and a LOT of cake led to bagging 31 peaks in 4 days. That was a huge achievement. Our next big weekend was in the home of England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, in September.
I couldn’t write this without mentioning the furry pals I made along the way; Burt, Lily, Charlie and Eddie. All love to run on four paws and for that reason, they probably bagged some of the mountains twice on the same day – pretty impressive guys.
Wow, we finished…
Two months early! Before our deadline, in early October. The day was also a friend’s birthday so we doubled the celebrations and partied at the top – of the Langdale Pikes – and at the bottom – in the pub. A very well deserved pint.
My favourite moments from the year
My all-time favourite hill is Great Gable. That’s because it’s so central in the Lakes and the views are incredible. Majestic would be the one word I’d use to describe it. My best walk of the year though was the traverse of the Helvellyn ridge. We started at Dollywagon – the most southern peak on this ridge, and hiked along to Clough Head, bagging us 10 Wainwrights on a single summer’s day.
I should say there’s a few which I vowed never to go up – or even mention again. Either because we didn’t find a path, or it was very wet underfoot.
I wore Meindl XO shoes which were lightweight and super comfortable. They survived a lot of bog hopping. For serious winter weather conditions, I wore Meindl Vakuum GTX boots. My go-to backpack for hiking is a Widepac 2L hydration unit.
If you’re thinking of trying some, or even all of the Wainwrights, I should say that it’s really important to plan ahead and carry the right equipment. Top tips include; checking the weather beforehand and planning your route;carrying a map, compass,food and drink; dressing appropriately. That means looking after your feet with some sturdy boots suitable for the type of terrain you’re covering.
We used the Lake District Weatherline website during the winter months. It’s a local short-term forecast and the team advise on the conditions underfoot and what equipment you’d need for the day. The information comes directly from one of their Fell Top Assessors. And their job is pretty amazing and tough – to walk Helvellyn every single day.