Mark Rowe: Mortal man

I guess the fact we had booked in for the night at the Mortal Man hotel in Troutbeck should have forewarned us to take a little more care that day. I should add that I don't hold anything against the inn, which was not involved in how our walk unfolded. The Mortal Man was and remains one of the Lake District's most characterful and venerable hostelries. In fact, after the incident they couldn't have done any more, and what they did do involved two ice buckets, a bottle of wine, a large tube of Fiery Jack and a free chocolate pudding.

It had been the classic journey up to the Lake District: we'd left home a little too late on the Saturday morning, got stuck in traffic near Preston and probably set off for our walk from Patterdale an hour or later than was ideal.

So we were hurrying our circular walk. More precisely, I was probably a little impatient, harrying my wife, perhaps I had a vision of a post-walk late afternoon pint in the Mortal Man's bar.

Deepdale Common, Patterdale, Place Fell, Angletarn Pike and a peek of Brock Crag
The scene of the crime - Angle Tarn Pike, the Lake District

Whatever the reason, after we paused for a swig of water I forgot to zip up my knapsack. Disaster: my wife's lifelong cuddly toy, a penguin that acted as her travelling talisman fell out and began tumbling down the slopes around the Angle Tarn. Cue shrieks of panic. Lucy, without a moment's pause for thought for her own safety, rushed headlong down the scree, with predictable, and exquisitely painful results.

"XXXXX!... You XXXX stupid XXXXXX!..My knee...XXXXX!!"

Immediately it was obvious Lucy was in genuine pain and trouble. She couldn't straighten her knee or put any weight on it, and was 15 feet down the kind of slope where even with two good legs, it's a case of two steps up, then one backslide. It was 4pm in late February and we were nearly two miles from the car. All this happened in the days when, if you had a mobile phone, you needed a 50 litre backpack just to lug it along with you. So we had to walk our way out of the problem. That's after I'd been dispatched to retrieve the penguin.

It took two hours. Lucy, hobbling on one leg, squelching step by agonising step around the marshy paths by tarn. The last 40 minutes were in pitch darkness and I've never been so pleased to inhale the smell of exhaust fumes blown from cars driven along the A592. I've no idea how she managed to persevere; my mother-in-law still has no inkling of her daughter's range of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary.

At the Mortal Man, the wonderful staff immediately offered Lucy the prime seats in the bar, plumped up cushions, and ice pack for her knee and the second ice packet for a bottle of white wine. The anaesthetic properties of the Chardonnay, some painkillers and Fiery Jack led her to decide her present position was more preferable than Kendal A&E on a Saturday night.

The incident sticks in my mind, because before and since, I've hiked in many circumstances that would initially seem to be much more 'adventurous' and pregnant with risks: high altitude walks in Chile and Nepal; jungle walks in Peru and Malaysia; ice treks in Spitsbergen. I've walked Striding Edge in high winds and wandered through the Dark Peak in fog. I survived all those without altitude sickness, malaria, so much as seeing a polar bear or walking into a 20ft deep bog. None of this is remotely hardcore I know, but these are the sort of trips where most of us would at least make ourselves a cup of tea and check out what we should be mindful of.

Instead, my wife's tumble down the crags after a cuddly penguin is as close to anything I can recall to an 'adventure' that had teeth, where the repercussions would actually have been unpleasant, of a winter night outdoors for my wife in agony, or of me abandoning her there to seek help.

Loughrigg Fell, Lake District
The Lake District - usually the drama is in the landscape

Nowadays, of course, we laugh at it: whenever we watch Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns, I'm nudged in the ribs as Lucy recounts how her ordeal was similar to the 30-mile hop in Tomkinson's schooldays.
So when I think of adventure, I wonder whether Shackleton ever only came to genuine grief by cracking his head open on a low beam on one of his ships; or if Wainwright got tetanus from a splinter on a fingerpost sign. It's the innocuous trips - in both common meanings of that word - that can so often keep us on our toes.

Mark Rowe is a journalist who writes on walking, the great outdoors generally and environmental issues. Read his previous blog posts. Follow him on twitter at @wanderingrowe and via his website www.markrowe.eu.

Photos: (top) Peer Lawther; (bottom) Mark Treacey.