Nature’s backstage pass

I rolled over and looked at my watch: ’05:10′.

My alarm was not due to ring for another 20 minutes, but the the creeping morning light was already causing the inside of my tent to glow. Turning to look at my canine companion, Togo, I saw him sat bolt upright and staring at the door, barely batting an eyelid as I moved. I wondered how long he’d been sat like that. He isn’t the best at relaxing in a new environment!

I groggily opened the doors and allowed him to jump out and explore our ‘estate’ for the night. Lingmell is an unobtrusive summit, overshadowed by the hulking figure of Scafell Pike and its sabre-toothed neighbour Sca Fell (as an aside, I do find this contrast amusing, with the latter a far more satisfying-looking contender for England’s highest peak). Still, it has a number of crags and outcrops that make it very worthy of a visit. Yesterday afternoon, we hiked in from Seathwaite, enjoying a stunning display of light, shadow and colour as the sun crept across the sky, throwing reliefs of the mountains across their neighbouring peaks.

Rivers and pools shone near-perfect reflections of the landscape back at us; natural mirrors repeating the wonders above. The climax to this was close to the summit of Lingmell, where we looked across to Great Gable over a natural infinity pool, perfectly reflecting the sky and a passing plane. The waning sun cast shadows across Great Gable’s many crags, it’s scree slopes standing out like stubble on a weather-worn face.

Despite the warm forecast, the night was brisk, so I had carried in a few extra layers (even a liner, which I certainly did not need). As the new day dawned and I clambered out the tent, I was glad for the spare layers: it was bitingly cold, with a fresh breeze.

The morning looked as expected: Pastel blue sky, golden glow. Perfect. Moving around the tent, I walked towards the edge of the fell, where it drops precipitously down to Piers Gill – and had my breath taken away.

Nowhere in the forecast had I seen any hint of a cloud inversion. But there it was, stretched out in front of me, extending the view to an infinite horizon to…how far could that be? Layer after layer of mountains rippled across the low cloud, the dawn light magnifying their granduer.

Inversions are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Though, I have to wonder, why? What is it that makes them special for me?

As I busied myself with taking photos and standing agog in every which way I looked, I pondered on that question for a time. For me, temperature inversions are like a backstage pass to your favourite band’s gig: You have been offered this incredible unique vantage on something you already love, but that sense of privilege and unique insight heightens the magic.

Standing there, above the cloud, with not a soul in sight, I had been given a backstage pass to one of the most wondrous places. While the world lay sleepily in a mist-clad valley, with dew hanging from every blade and leaf, and those awake remarking how drab a day it was, I was atop a mountain with a view people can scarcely imagine being just above their heads.

Inversions, as odd as it sounds, bring me closer to the landscape I am in. It becomes a companion of sorts. It and I are above these clouds together, silent and still, soaking up those first rays of sunshine and the views across their fellow mountains.

My only thought was how nice it would have been to hear more. These landscapes are quieter now, save for the occasional bleat of sheep or the chirping of a skylark. I always wonder how much more life could be in them if we allowed nature to take a greater hold of its landscape.

After a coffee overlooking the sea of clouds, I felt the first real breath of warmth at 06.30. After just 30 minutes, it was warm enough to shed the down jacket; an hour after that, I’d be down to a base layer.

Togo and I made our way down the fell towards Wasdale, packing away the tent and descending into the cloud which filled the valley. By the end of the day, we’d have walked 25km and ascended nearly 2000m. As the day wore on, the heat would climb and, while my legs felt fine for most of those 25km, my body was struggling to adapt to a temperature it had forgotten after a winter spent outside.

Despite that, though, we had an incredible day. It is hard not to when it starts like that.

Published by Ross Brannigan

“It is worth ascending unexiting heights if for nothing else than to see the big ones from nearer their own level.” - Nan Shepherd

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