tagNon-EroticThe Sound of Muesli

The Sound of Muesli


The rain slanted down in a fine mist and made vision almost impossible. I had taken my glasses off because within seconds my vision was reduced to a fractured vista of small magnified and distorted images, the raindrops coated the lens'. My companion was about a foot away but almost totally invisible in the cloud we had walked into. We had set out in the dry hours earlier...

The English Lake District is notorious for its sudden shifts in weather, but even so it was early July and we had hoped for a better forecast. As we were given our co-ordinates for today, a weather warning had been broadcast, making us all stop talking and listen intently. Even the 'Newbies' stopped and listened quietly. Ray our Course Director, asked the leaders to report to him before we left. As we split into our two person groups, I saw Anna looking edgy. I touched her arm briefly and smiled, she nodded.

"You OK?"

"Yeah, just got a bad feeling about today, don't worry, it'll pass."

In the Briefing Room, Ray insisted that if any of our charges were to back out, that was perfectly OK. The Company had a twenty five year unblemished record, they'd like to keep it that way. We all nodded and he asked for us to check again when we left the briefing. He reminded us that along the route there would be waypoints, where a team member would check us over and agree to us continuing. We all smiled, feeling it was unnecessary but comforting. None of us thought we needed it.

As Team Leaders we were all experienced walkers with a minimum of at least five to seven twenty mile walks in the area under our belts that year. Another stipulation was that you couldn't repeat a walk within two years of doing it, it keeps the mind active finding new routes. Aged from late twenties to Mac at sixty, we were the seasoned veterans of the hill walking fraternity. Did we did believe we were brothers and sisters in arms, walking warriors, an elite? I think we did, which is a dangerous thing, pride coming before a fall as they say.

We would be setting a good pace to give our charges for a tough, but not exhausting walk in the hills. Anna and I checked our radio's, agreed callsigns had been given to us earlier in the season. We checked the batteries and that we each had at least two sets of spares, wrapped in waterproof carriers, stowed in our packs. We went through the litany of items in our kitbags. Laughing at the need to check each other. Anna and I had met on the hills many times over the last few years, but had only teamed up for a few walks this season.

At ten thirty we all assembled outside on the tarmac square in front of the Portacabins where the company was based. After Mac gave us our initial co-ordinates we huddled in our group, eight of us all kitted out in waterproofs and hats. Anna and I would be the head and tail of the column. The six others, Dawn, Dennis, Mike, Pete, Amy and Jo, who were from the Finance Department of a well known retail store, stood together, apprehensive, all joking and banter ceasing as they realised that this was it. I waited as Anna, voice strong and forceful laid out the ground rules again, just so no one was in any doubt about what we were doing and more importantly where we were going.

Talk over we herded our charges into the Landy, watching as they sat three each side on the rough bench seats, facing each other in the open back. They looked tired already, some had maybe had a few too many last night in the bar of the local pub. Now however they would be out in the open all day, exposed to the weather and the glory of the Fells and hillsides along the way.

Anna made a final check, and reminded everyone they had about eight minutes for any last minute trip to the only civilised sanitary ware for the next eight hours. The women laughed quietly, the guys raucously. OK time to go, Climbing into the cabin, I waited for the knock on the roof. Anna was sat feet out over the lowered tailboard, braced in the rear of the Landy. We bumped away, Anna's legs swinging with the force.

Three miles down the road we pulled over and Anna helped everyone out. We checked again, backpacks secure, no loose gear, everyone looked apprehensive. And so it begins. We crossed the road, over a stile into the small copse at the start of the journey. I watched each one over, then climbed up and over last. Thumping down onto the soft soil the other side I walked at the rear of the column. We came out of the wooded grove in a few minutes and stared at the view. Ahead the land rolled away in a gentle curve down towards a valley about ninety feet below us. To our right the path rose on the contour, disappearing about five hundred yards away into a small rock massif. Anna grinned and turned to the assembly , bringing her right arm round and pointing ahead.

Ten minutes later at the rock face, they could see it was about twenty feet in height, we passed into it through a narrow cleft and began the scramble up. At the top the path moved over the higher ground at a forty five degree angle to our right. snaking upwards slowly. A gentle pull for about a mile, heartened by the ease of our entry the group broke into smiles moving off after Anna at pace. I noticed one figure steadily passed by the others, until she was level with me. I recognised Dawn, the oldest of our group. She was about forty five I guessed, carrying a few pounds extra. She puffed as she walked, I grinned at her.


She raised her thumb, but didn't talk, saving her breath for the climb. We walked on as I spaced myself about two feet to her right, keeping pace as the others opened a gap of about twenty feet. Anna, ahead, looked back and adjusted her pace slightly, we ambled on and the gap closed a little. The others were chatting and laughing, enjoying the great outdoors. I smiled at Dawn and she grinned back.

Twenty minutes later as we topped the rise, the view opened before us, about a hundred and fifty feet below us the ground ran for two or three miles across a low wide valley, criss crossed with the lines of dry stone walls. In larger fields a few sheep were dotted about. Where we stood was grassy ground, ten feet away it dropped in a series of sharp jagged rocks towards the valley below. Camera's clicked as the sun lit up the valley, showing the various shades of green in the fields. Anna found me and we held a whispered conversation. I watched her green eyes flick over our charges, taking stock, evaluating them.

Agreed on the way forward, we faced the group, Anna once again leading the way forward. We walked along the line of the edge until we began a slow descent down into the valley below. it was steep and the rocks were loose under foot. Not like the usual scree on mountains, this was a muddy, rock strewn path down the hillside. Anna picked a careful way down and shouted exhortations to those behind her to walk slowly, with small steps.

If a large stone or rock came away the more experienced would yell 'below' as a warning. Finally we reached level ground in a field, climbing the stile we joined a metaled track and passed through a farmyard. Anna and I waved to Malcom the farmer as he appeared from the tractor shed. He waved back and called Mindy, his collie to heel. Out of the farm over a cattle grid, (always a chance for a blunder and a broken ankle) we moved into the fields and tromped for about two hours, crossing stiles, a small beck with two flat stones in it, to the opposite side of the valley.

Anna halted and we had a drink break, Dennis and Pete walking behind trees to sniggers from the rest. Refreshed, Anna took us over a stile, looking briefly at her map and then up a track following a long shallow rise on the hillside. As we crested the top, a wave of cold air hit us. The rise out of the sparsely wooded hillside into the face of a strong wind was enough to silence the group again. During the climb I hung back with Dawn who was taking it slowly, conserving her energy. Reaching the top we also felt the blast of the colder air hit us.

Anna waited then turned the group through ninety degrees and set off briskly directly into the wind. I heard the zip of jackets being closed up as the colder air bit. Dawn hunched down into her shoulders and trudged on. Thirty minutes later a heavy squal caught us on the open hillside and hoods came up and over, swiftly tied or tagged tight. It passed and we unbuttoned.

Anna halted and explained we were now at a critical point, just ahead was the first waypoint, if anyone wanted out, they could wait there with the checker and they would be taken back by Landy to the centre. There were nods, but I knew this was too early, even Dawn wouldn't back out here. Sure enough fifteen minutes later we saw the small bivouac and Dave waiting, he sat inside the flap, radio and teamsheets to hand. He checked us in and radioed base. OK'ed us to go on and sat back with a flask and a crossword puzzle book.

From the waypoint we crossed a metaled road and across a fast flowing beck via a small wooden bridge. A wall ran across our path, but to our right a section had collapsed, so we piled through. Anna followed the curve of the wall to our left, which kept some of the wind off us. After about a mile, she came to a stile and we all went over, back into the teeth of the wind. The ground dipped slightly and a further wall opposite us shadowed the path of the one we left. This created a green road between the two walls, rising slightly and curving left. We trudged on in silence.

Anna stopped after fifteen minutes, explaining that on the right the wall had broken down and we used the place as a loo. For preference, the ladies went first, then the boys. She, Dawn, Amy and Jo went into the gap. There were calls and giggles and the guys milled around. Presently Anna, Dawn, Jo and Amy reappeared and we changed places. Behind the wall we stood in line unzipped and hosed the wall. Rejoining the ladies and grinning for no good reason, we readied to move on.

We followed the green road for another two miles steadily rising until the wall on our left curved away to the left and the one on our right did a sharp right, A strand of small shrubs ahead hid the view. Anna walked on heading into the trees, however within sixty feet we emerged into a broad panorama of a hillside rising above us. Anna and I agreed this would be a longer rest break, we had a small outcrop to hunker down on,

"Guys, twenty minutes OK? We move off in twenty minutes. Sit down, relax, have a small drink, eat something if you need too. The next stage is a constant uphill climb. The flank of the hill you're looking at, rises some six hundred feet, to a smaller rise of about two hundred and fifty feet. After that there's a hundred foot scramble, so take it slowly, no prizes for the first to the top, which will be me, by the way."

They all nodded grinning. Dawn and the other two girls sat chatting, sharing a bar of Kendall Mint Cake, a solid bar of of sugar with an infusion of mint. Famous in the area as a quick means to a sugar boost. One variety even had a chocolate coating. However in harsh conditions it could be a lifesaver. I shrugged off my sack and sat next to Anna, pulling out my thermos we shared a cup of tea. Anna blew across the rim of the lid/cup and sipped slowly.

"What do you think?" She asked.

"OK so far, Dawn is going to be the one to struggle, couple of the guys, Mike and Pete, may not be as fit as they think."

"Yeah, Dennis is a bit of a lad, but I think he'll pull through. Still overall not a bad group to be out with."

"True, you OK?"

"Absolutely, maybe I was wrong earlier. How about you?"

"I'm still good thanks, I like the pace you've set, it works pretty well for this group. OK, we should start to get them rounded up."

I looked round, the group had split into two sections, the lads standing and joshing each other, the girls had sat down, packs off chatting. We got them together and checked everyone was OK, then Anna started up the fell side. We trudged single file behind her. I heard one or two comments sneak back on the wind, concerning the tightness of Anna's leggings and the snug way they fitted her bottom. Fine use it as a distraction boys, but she could out run, out climb, out walk, hell! Out practically anything they could do.

I'd seen her fix a broken down Landy once, Stood on the bumper, head in the bonnet, shouting instructions as she tinkered with the engine. Backing out she'd looked triumphant as the engine roared into life. Anna was, well just Anna, her own woman, never seen her with a companion, just a woman with a zest for life and adventure. She did these days out to pay for her outdoor lifestyle.

She was a competent fell runner, a triathlete and she was honed to perfection, all this in a five foot six package. Her upper body strength was phenomenal, she's benched 210 lb's before and held it easily according to the rumours at the Centre. Her marathon record is just over two and a half hours, I know she finished just behind me on the Mountain Run. Wiry, slim with a washboard flat stomach, Anna's a total bundle of dynamite. Oh and with a legendary temper too, never ever cross Anna, she doesn't take prisoners.

Many a man has attempted to best her, I'd not seen one do it in the seven years we'd worked together on and off. I never tried too, from the off she made it clear, she was the boss and I am happy to accommodate that, I accepted her leadership. Which doesn't mean she was autocratic, far from it, we'd spend a lot of time looking at routes, then scoping them out, it was a team effort, however, Anna made the final decisions based on our discussions. I always enjoyed our rambles to find new routes, so did she, she spent a lot of time smiling. That is until we encountered a snag, then she would stop smiling, bite her lip and look and think and we'd discuss the options. I thought we worked well together and made a good team. Despite her reputation I found she was easy to talk to and discuss the routes, working and perfecting ways to show the teams just how good they were. Great days!

We moved off as the the weather moving from sunny, to cloudy, to rain. We walked up the steep slope following her tiny figure in fluorescent orange. As we breasted the grass slope, the real hillside showed itself, a long steep rock strewn shoulder, a few scree slopes to avoid, unless you wanted to finished lower than you started. We moved off with the cloud lowering down, until we found ourselves with no reference points, apart from the vague shape climbing just above us.

We slowly moved up until we reached the next point. Anna counted us in and touched everyone's arm in a 'well done' gesture, we hi- fived and Anna turned to move on up. The rockface was now slippery with the rain/mist and we made sure everyone gave each other space, but still stayed in blurry contact.

The next stage was the crown of the fell, but no views today. It was a short hundred foot climb over loose rock and shale, unpleasant in fine weather, treacherous in bad. Anna and I held a brief confab. It was a given we had to go on as going back was now equally dangerous. We called the group together on the edge of the climb.

Anna asked that we go slow and steadily, watch for loose scree and larger rocks moving. Footfall was key, a careless step could mean a twisted ankle or worse. A loose rock falling below could be a head wound or far worse. Everyone nodded. The cold and damp had seeped into their bones. They wanted this done, but not at any cost.

Anna moved off, the first two Dennis and Pete then followed her, Mike paused, then started as the shapes above began to merge into the mist. Jo and Amy worked their way up side by side, leaving Dawn. I let her move off and then began the climb behind her. I heard a shout of 'Below' and a rock crashed off nearby. I heard Anna's 'Steady' echo over the fell side. There must have been a pause, because we saw the shapes appearing ahead and above. Then the steady stamp of people walking up the loose rock echoed around. Twenty minutes later, the top appeared, as two shapes stood by the edge and helped the others up the last few feet. I heard Dawn sob above me as Mike and Pete hauled her up and over the top.

In daylight and fine weather you would then see a flattish area about two hundred yards long, strewn with rock outcrops and muddy puddles. Across the far side the fell dropped away with a long scree strewn slope down to a lake or tarn as they call them locally. Then your eyes would be drawn to another scree slope opposite, rising up several hundred feet higher than we were, ending in a massive uplift towards a pointed cone of bleak bare rock.

Today however you could barely see the centre of the plateau we stood on. Nearby was a cairn and stone shelter, which we gladly moved into, out of the wind and drizzle. The shelter was large consisting of four stone walls radiating out, on top of them was a slate roofed cover. Dividing roughly into four sections it was designed so at least one area would be out of the rain or wind. Sheltering in the low roofed section facing away from the wind, we huddled together, Anna calling lunch break. I saw packs opened and sandwiches and pasties and pies being devoured. They had obviously worked off breakfast as I watched them wolf done their meal. I grinned and squeezed in next to Anna.

"Worse than we anticipated," Anna looked at me.

"Well we can go down Sour Milk Ghyll or across to the Flatstone and down to Forest End?"

"Yes good points, I'll check in with base."

Anna took her radio out and maneuvered herself out into the open. I saw her talking, sweeping a hand through her long hair, tied in the standard ponytail. She talked for a while, then clicked off, beckoning me to come outside. I slalomed out between backpacks and legs. Outside I stood, at six three I was one of the taller guys and the shelter, whilst cozy, was a test of endurance, since, inside I was practically doubled over in order to fit. Welcoming the chance to stretch, I walked to Anna. She faced away from the shelter, I leaned in and listened to her report.

"OK, well it's ten tenths cloud down below, squally up her and most of the other teams are now committing to getting down ASAP. There's a fresh low moving in and the outlook is heavy rain and stronger winds. Seems the meteorology report has changed rapidly. We need to get these guys down safely now, so let's finish lunch, then as you suggest, we'll go down via the Flatstone route. It's longer, but less work than down the Ghyll route, which will get steadily worse with the weather."

I nodded, it was going to be a long afternoon. Anna was already back and hunkered down explaining the situation. Surprisingly no one seemed phased by this, accepting the change and nodding in agreement. No fear, no tears, or protestations. Seems everyone was up for a warm bath and a cup of hot chocolate in the late afternoon. At that point a flash and low rumble echoed across the landscape. Fuck, thunder and lightening. Anna looked at me.

"We stay put for now, no one outside the shelter, keep inside and wait this out."

I pushed myself in and sat on the floor between the legs and packs. Another flash and rumble, I heard a squawk and saw Dawn put an arm round Amy. One of the guys, Mike, had turned distinctly white and I could see his eyes darting about. I flicked an eye at Anna and swiveled them to where Mike sat. She followed and an imperceptible nod showed she had him. With slow movements she managed to slip in next to him, placing her hand in his and squeezing. He looked and smiled gripping her hand. Pete put an arm round him and grinned. I saw from the corner of my eye Dennis put an arm round the Jo, who moved into the crook of his arm. Dennis was nearest the outside, looking eagerly about awaiting the next flash and boom. It takes all sorts I reasoned.

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