“They look so cuddly,” Helen said to Rick as they drove along the main road from Ambleside to Keswick.
This was Helen’s first visit to the Lake District. A visit which Rick had been trying to get her to make for a long time. Ever since they had started going out together, at Christmas 1967, Rick had talked incessantly of the joys of camping – something which Helen had not been totally convinced of.
“Oh it’s wonderful to be lying beneath the stars with only a bit of canvas between you and the sky:” Rick had eulogised. He was on a hard sell, attempting to lure her into the romantic (or so he thought) experience of camping. Helen had not been convinced. But she was in love!
Rick had been given to her as a Christmas present by her best friend, Barbara, who had decided that Helen was far better suited to Rick than she was.
“He smokes,” she had complained. “And anyway I’m fed up with listening to Joan Baez.”
Secretly, Helen had been jealous of Barbara, when Rick had taken her to a live concert of Joan Baez. Barbara truly did not seem to appreciate what a gem she had in Rick. But something must have told her that actually, Helen would be much better for him. And so, one evening, she invited Helen to join them on a night out at the flicks. “A Man For All Seasons” was the film on offer that night, and, in the abandonment of the moment, Rick had taken the girls, one on each arm, delightedly to the cinema. Not that Helen was especially interested in the film. No, it would bore her out of her mind, but it was worth it to be near Rick, even though he belonged to Barbara. Not that Helen would have wanted to try to steal Rick from Barbara. No, that would never do!
It was obvious, on that evening out, that Helen got on with Rick far better than Barbara did, and so, on Christmas Eve, Barbara presented Rick to Helen as a Christmas present. There was no angst. Barbara declared that she had her eye on Stuart anyway, and was about to give Rick the push. Rick was delighted. He had had a growing affection for Helen, and so everyone was happy.
It was a true love affair between Helen and Rick, and soon they were married. Rick never stopped talking about how incredible camping was, and in the end, Helen, with feelings of misgiving, had given in. Her first night under canvas was quite a shock to her. All she could hear was cows mooing in the field next to the camp site, and the water running in the nearby brook. She had not contemplated just HOW close to nature they would be. But strangely, and to her surprise, she loved it.
And so it was that there they were, that day, driving along the road, with hills on either side. And yes, they DID look cuddly! Helen was intrigued by the walkers who were to be seen EVERYWHERE, clad in God knows what, looking as if they were about to climb Everest! And suddenly, this was something that she HAD to know about. Not only were the hills cuddly but they were mysterious. And so it was that one day found Helen and Rick climbing Helm Crag near Grasmere. But that was it! After that, Helen was hooked! Never one to miss out on a challenge, and being quite curious, Helen vowed that one day they would climb Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in the Lake District. Not exactly Everest, but that, in Helen’s mind, might be next on the list.
It was not really planned. They had looked at the various routes up Scafell Pike, one of which looked rather FORMIDABLE. But it was deemed to be the best route for spellbinding views. The walking was not said to be easy, but it WAS the quickest route up the mountain. Over and over again Helen imagined herself climbing it. What an achievement it would be if she could do it. But there were many warnings to be heeded. You had to have the right kind of gear, carry a whistle, and be generally prepared for trouble! But on this particular morning, in the beautiful Spring sunshine, Helen and Rick set off with a vague notion that they might that day climb Scafell Pike. They decided that they could set off, along the route, and just see how far they got. Helen had packed lunch, and their two dogs were raring to go.
True to what they had read, the going was rough, right from the very beginning. Walking certainly was not in it. It was climbing. Up a rugged terrain. Rocks on which there seemed to be no footholds. But they had been warned!
Eventually they reached a more comfortable, grassy climb, and there was no way now that they could give up. Exhausted, they came to the final push, which consisted of a boulderfield, where the huge boulders wobbled as they put their feet on them. Many a climber had sprained their ankles here, as they made their way up the mountain.
Helen began to think they would NEVER make it. But then they were there, with the summit cairn in view. With a vreat effort, they finally reached the top. They had conquered this seemingly formidable mountain. Helen felt as if she had climbed Everest. But now, they had to make their way all the way down again. It was almost worse going down than going up! Finally, they feached the bottom – it had taken eight hours there and back, in all! Four hours was what most people did it in, but inexperienced as they were, they took so much longer.
Helen became with a deep desire to take up mountaineering properly, and indeed, it was her intention to one day climb Everest. Sadly, it never happened. Her walking days were cut short by a severe and cruel cancer that took both her anility to walk, and her eyesight. Upon sharing her deepest desire with the chemo nurse, Helen was told, “THIS is your Everest now.” And indeed it was – and still is. Every bit as dangerous, and every bit as formidable as ANY mountain.