I’ve had Carl Side Tarn in the back of my mind for a while now. A longish walk in for a tarn barely a millimetre long on the map. I really wanted to get it done – mostly just to get it out of the way to be honest – so this morning when Ben said he wanted to do something it was the first thing I thought of. We didn’t set off until about 12.30 and we stopped in Penrith on the way, so it was well into the afternoon before we got started. The cloud was very low, a misty, grey day with only the odd shaft of sunlight piercing through. Even most of the lower summits were in cloud and we knew that we would be walking up into it.
The path up Carl Side is steep. Very, very steep. It’s pretty straight and very well marked (after Carl Side it goes up onto Skiddaw) which was lucky as once we were in the mist we could see very little. On the lower slopes we had amazing views across the flood plain to Derwent Water and the fells surrounding it (at least their lower slopes!) but we were soon surrounded by mist. It was quite eerie and surreal, making our way up the path which rose before us into the cloud. We could only see for a fairly short distance around us, the bright autumnal colours of the bracken and heather on either side bisected by the path cutting straight through them, up and up, and walls of grey closing in this tiny circle of the world. The cloud cut out all sound from the world around us, the crunch of our footsteps on the gravel path the only sound we could hear. Summits are almost always hard to gauge as you approach them, false summits and lowering gradients fooling you into thinking you are nearer than you are but in this thick mist it was impossible. We only saw the cairn marking it when we were very close to it and even then we had to look carefully around to be sure that was what it was. But the path dropped again and brought is within a couple of minutes to the tarn.
Carl Side Tarn is a very small patch of water, one of the smallest I’ve done (although not the smallest) and the water is just black. I walked to the far end and started to paddle into it. The water was painfully cold and so black that I couldn’t see my feet or even my legs just below the surface. We were still surrounded by a thick mist and the whole thing felt very surreal. The tarn, as it turned out, was another one far too shallow to swim. The water never even came close to my knees and although the bottom was not as rocky as Launchy Tarn it was still pretty stoney and I decided just to paddle. From experience I know that trying to submerge myself and drag myself crocodile-crawling along in tarns like this just results in banged knees, something I was not keen to suffer in this cold. The underwater selfie was basically just me sticking my face in the water. I had to do it several times. The water was so dark that for the first few you just can’t see my face at all. In the end I had to hold the camera very close, so I ended up with a picture of one eye. I don’t know why the water was so opaque – I stirred up mud from the bottom as I walked but even before I’d walked in a spot the water was black and opaque.
Once I’d got out and dressed I warmed myself up with some hot chocolate and we set off back down the way we’d come. There is another path but we knew that this one was very clear and in such thick mist that made a big difference. We went a lot faster on the way down than on the way up! We were slowed a bit by how steep the path is in some places, especially as it’s so gravelly, it often felt as though your feet might just slip away beneath you. Eventually we came out from the cloud and the view opened up before us once again. Out of the mist the burnt autumn colours of the bracken and heather were stunningly bright and the late afternoon sunlight itself seemed to have an orange tint in it.
A strange, beautiful and very enjoyable day, and felt very good to do just one more… although I suspect this really may be my last of the year. You never know though…