We were in a regimented routine and getting better at it. Rucksacks, complete with water-filled bladder packs, were ready, as were we before breakfast. Our carry-on hold alls for the courier to collect were stationed by the front door. We could eat a three-course breakfast and then be held up only by waiting for the packed lunches to be issued. Malham issued monster-sized packed lunches which filled our rucksacks to capacity. The "Would you like an extra piece of fruit then, instead of crisps?" trick was still functioning perfectly, but on this occasion there was simply no further nook or cranny anywhere into which we could stuff the bonus oranges. I sheepishly handed them back and said my farewells.
Our route out of Malham began with a quarter of a mile of road walking, followed by level walk on a very good tourist path to Malham Cove. The full spectacle of Malham Cove never quite seemed fully available due to the amount of trees between all approaches and the cliff face. It was pleasant enough nonetheless, but we did not hang around to admire the view, keen to press on up the steep stairway to the left-hand side of the face. I managed to lead us slightly off course by not wanting to traverse the limestone pavement anywhere near the cliff edge. I was massively over-cautious, and Jimmy was less than impressed. Once we had picked our way across the limestone, we had a level walk through a very steep-sided dry valley known as Ing Scar. We were supposed to emerge at Water Sinks, where the run-off from Malham Tarn plunges beneath the ground only to emerge as the River Aire south of Malham. Some further poor navigation by yours truly meant that we took a slightly longer line following the bridleway up to the road and parking spot.
A short walk later, and we were upon Malham Tarn, a vast and tranquil expanse of water nestling between the rocks and hills. It was chilly, and threatening to rain, but we enjoyed the views and the relatively easy walking to be had here. Wandering around the shores of the tarn, the wind began to pick up, but its only effect on us at this stage was the increase of background noise as it rattled the leaves in the trees above. A slow and unchanging plod across increasingly soggy moorland led us up to a road, and the inevitability of the ensuing slog up Fountains Fell.
We met a family doing Pennine Way North to South, who confirmed that they had started from Horton-in-Ribblesdale that morning. I was stunned that they had already cleared both Pen-y-ghent and Fountains Fell before lunchtime. I chatted with them as much as I possibly could to slow them down, Don-style, but they were soon skipping away while Jimmy and I glanced ahead at the whaleback-shaped hill and darkening skies with matching gloom. We were both already very tired, but knew we still had two major Marilyn summits and many miles to walk. The walk was punctuated with many breaks to catch breath and take on a small energy-boosting snack or piece of fruit, but it seemed we would never get to the summit of Fountains Fell. And indeed we did not. We chose to give the true summit a miss and just remain on the Pennine Way which passes through a contour 18 metres vertically below it.
We set up the SOTA Beam by the cairn here, and then quickly squeezed ourselves and our rucksacks into our new 2-man bothy bag. We soon realised that these things were not designed to be spacious. After considerable pushing, pulling, cursing (me), whingeing (Jimmy) and moaning (Jimmy) the Yaesu FT-817 transceiver was out and connected to the "outdoor" SOTA Beam aerial with 3m of coaxial cable. All we had to do was press the PTT, put out a CQ call and the rest would take care of itself. Except that it wasn't that simple. We both worked well-known SOTA chaser and activator Mike G4BLH, who was actually parked down on the road between Fountains Fell and Pen-y-ghent, so that was a very easy contact. Ron M3VKR from Osmotherley was similarly easily worked, but then things went very quiet. After nearly five minutes of silence, Mike offered up a club callsign for which he is the licence holder to give us each a third contact. We then endured seven further minutes of silence before a couple of stations in South-West Cumbria wrapped up the points for us. The minutes of silence that we waited seemed like hours as we huddled uncomfortably together in the bothy bag as it was being battered by wind and rain. We packed up quickly, looking forward to descending on a familiar path and meeting a familiar face.
Thanks to the following stations all worked on 2m FM with 2.5 watts:
I chatted to Mike as I dropped off the shoulder of Fountains Fell, and he reported as to whether he thought he could see me or not. The encouragement was welcome, and we seemed to cover that mile fairly quickly. Down at the road, it was lashing down, so we hastily spread out our coats and bags in the back of Mike's car and dived in for a welcome sit down. Mike had the heater on full-blast to warm us up and offer a degree of drying to the coats. This was appreciated by us, even though it must have been somewhat uncomfortable for him! Drinks and snacks were also at the ready which meant a bit of body refuelling without having to rummage through the rucksacks.
At this point, I was quite content for us to cheat. Mike could have driven us to Horton-in-Ribblesdale giving us a half-day rest and relief from the worsening weather. I looked up at Pen-y-ghent through the heavy rain and swirling cloud and decided that I could quite easily live without it. Jimmy said "No". OK then, one for, one against. Surely Mike would back me up with a sensible casting vote? Not a bit of it, he immediately agreed with Jimmy and told me I should "maintain the integrity of the walk". Well perhaps then he could just drive us down the road to where the Pennine Way leaves it to head towards Pen-y-ghent? Same story. Jimmy and Mike ganged up on me once again, making me feel a right wimp and in need of some serious encouragement.
Fortunately, the encouragement was on its way, and a rather pleasant surprise it was too. I expected Jimmy to continue his nagging and blinkered, self-centred tone as I trudged fearfully towards the sharp end of Pen-y-ghent. But I was wrong. He seemed to sense my concern, which, for once, he read accurately. Jimmy explained that he knew that I was nervous about continuing in the poor weather because of my responsibility to him. He confidently assured me that he was fine, had enough energy left and knew we would complete the day's full walk. Jim also knew that I was experiencing a little "fear of the unknown" ahead of the steep part-scramble up this side of Pen-y-ghent. We had always used the path from the other side on our previous visits to this summit, deliberately avoiding the steep south face with its reputation for striking deathly fear into vertigo sufferers. "I know you can do it Dad", he gently insisted. Whether this was genuine team-play and empathy, or a desperate and ruthless technique to ensure he got to do his scramble up Pen-y-ghent I could not tell, but it mattered not. Jimmy's words and change of tone were enough inspiration for me to press on, and once on the zigzag path up the steep scree I was progressing with determination and purpose once more.
With the time pressing on and the rain pouring down, we decided to activate the summit using hand-portable radios only. We were both in good spirits though, having ended all ascent for the day and with just a familiar straight-forward albeit long work to Horton-in-Ribblesdale to see through. This time the radio activation was easy, with plenty of stations able to hear us without difficulty. For Mike G4BLH, it was four-out-of-four in terms of the Pennine Way summits he had worked us on. Many thanks to the following stations, all worked on 2m FM with 2.5 watts:
Things seemed to be getting better. The rain had stopped where we were, although we could see it swirling around the valley below under dark heavy cloud. It was a spectacular sight. As we descended the couple of short steep stony sections, we took care not to trip late in the day. The skies brightened up and remained dry. Once we got to the wall and gate close to Hunt Pot, we knew we had really got this one "in the bag", so we treated ourselves to a sit down, rest and "afternoon tea", polishing off the remaining pasties and fruit from today's packed lunches. Jimmy and I enjoyed a relaxed chat, now with a sense of triumph as we reflected on the challenging day. I telephoned the Crown Hotel from Jimmy's mobile to advise of our ETA - and make sure that there would be food available!
The remainder of the walled track to Horton was very familiar to us, this being our fifth walk along it. The Pen-y-ghent Cafe was closed when we reached it, but at around 6.30pm, this was not a surprise. Oh well, one Pennine Way signing-in book that got away. We pressed on to the Crown, checked in and hauled the rucksacks and hold-alls up about six flights of very narrow stairs to our room. Not what we would have chosen for the end-of-day activity, but at least there was a good en-suite shower waiting for us in the room.
Suitably refreshed and in clean dry clothes (the main benefit of baggage couriers) we returned downstairs to the bar where we met Kevin and Janet again. This time I was prepared, and had brought down the Wainwright book with me for them to sign. They also offered a generous sponsorship to Jimmy's fundraising which was gratefully accepted. We enjoyed a pint and a chat with Kevin and Janet before they adjourned to the guest house where they were staying. Jimmy and I relocated to the dining room for pheasant & port pie and lamb & apricot pie respectively, in my case washed down with pints of Theakston Old Peculiar. Another excellent night's sleep awaited.