Tuesday, 11 December 2012

High Stile Range, a risky day to learn a lesson from.

Monday 10th December was looking good for that month, with a clear sunny day as a forecast and it wasn't to disappoint. We set off from Carlisle at 08.40hrs, just Holly in the cage as Dylan was favouring his chest and not at his best. Dylan wasn't the only one under the weather as I was on antibiotics for a chest infection. He had more sense stopping at home, but it had been a week since my last walk and I was going to seed.
 You get a good view of the northern fells as you travel A595 for Cockermouth, with Grasmoor looking majestic with it's crown of snow and Butteremere Valley opening to view. We missed out Cockermouth, morning rush and Christmas choking this small town and took the Paddle School shortcut for Lorton and on to Buttermere, parking above the church.

A much photographed view, but I make no apologises.

We were the first to park, though I was surprised at this on such a clear day. We set off, passing The Bridge Hotel and The Fish and heading for Old Burtness and the fix the fells path to Bleaberry Tarn. No matter how intent you are on a specific goal, one can never fail to be in awe at the majesty of the views in such clear weather, with the thin snow providing a magical contrast.

Who could pass without stopping to take in this iconic view of Buttermere and Fleetwith Pike?

This is such a beautiful valley, time has to be taken to soak up nature and these kept improving the higher you climbed up to Bleaberry Tarn. Photo stops helped to slow our ascent though we still managed to move quickly to get the heart racing and the legs aching (and the chest heaving).

Buttermere with Grasmoor range as it's backdrop, capped in snow

Looking to Crummock with the Mosser(pronounced Mozzer) range directing the eye to Scotland.

Buttermere and Fleetwith Pike, Honister pass to it's left.

Coming up to the corrie, Bleaberry Tarn about to come into view.

As we came toward Bleaberry this normally signals a rest break to take in the view of this lovely tarn. I've taken many pictures of this and also the view behind of Newlands valley but it suddenly struck me to take one from the corrie side of the tarn with it and the fells combined in one shot. This was at one and the same time, a touch of brilliance and the beginning of a stupid act. We moved round the tarn and set up for the photo.

Bleaberry Tarn with Crag Hill and Lad Hows off Grasmoor.

I was chuffed with this view as it's not one often seen, if at all. We then turned, looked up, nothing looked too daunting, so we set off up the corrie, avoiding the longer walk to the path up The Saddle.

Another view of Bleaberry with Crag Hill and now Robinson framing Newlands.

 This was our mistake, as we had only micro spikes and no ice axe. The snow was soft and for two thirds of the way we were untroubled, but for the last third the snow increased and became much harder. Lets say we got up ok without incident, but I learnt a lesson that day. I'm a walker not a climber and was relieved to get to the top. While on this ascent I saw the Seaking pass toward Wasdale and that was an incident of tragic consequences. Still, we were now on the wide ridge and time to move on, heading for High Stile. We passed the summit cairn, taking care all along this route as the normal path passes snow encrusted corries and we weren't looking for that quick a descent.

Grasmoor from High Stile with a boundary fence post marking Allerdale(Buttermere) and Copeland(Ennerdale) District boundary.

I stopped a moment for another photo of Grasmoor though with mans influence on the fell top to add interest as in this shot above. It was approaching bait time, though there were at times a strong wind which chilled the bones so we decided to drop off High Crag and bait near Seat. Anyone who knows this area is aware of a steep descent off Gamlin End. It's a fix the fells path, but even that is chocked up with falling scree. For an acknowledged path it was virtually an ice axe descent(if I had took one), though we got down through digging into the softening snow, Steve switching to a safer scree descent for traction. At the bottom we met a man and a woman in there late sixties/early seventies who between them had a pole each. After asking us for advice and being informed they would come to grief if they continued, they then proceeded to take no heed and set off up High Crag. We sat eating our bait and watched this play unfold. They were doing ok but started hunting for a better route, split up drifting a considerable distance apart, started slipping down, had a debate where I believe sense prevailed and returned before things got worse. I could criticise, but not after our earlier error, so we said, "Good decision" as they passed us by.

Gamlin End route to High Crag, the two can be seen under the zigzag.

 We cracked on over Seat, passing them once again and at Scarth Gap took the Buttermere route for the lake. This was uneventful though the views were again wonderful but in a different light. Apart from some cloud for a few minutes on High Stile the views were uninterrupted.

Haystacks from Scarth Gap Pass

Buttermere with Rannerdale Knotts in sunlight.
All I said was 'Swim!'
Once off the fell and into the valley it was a lake walk back to the car. That was it, a 12.5km, 950m ascent walk which should have been uneventful, but wasn't. Two wiser men climbed into the car and we set off for The Kirkstyle Inn.
Now as a pub with a backdrop this one takes some beating. With a roaring fire, top quality beer served in pint measured glasses, what better way to end a days walk could there be?

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Scafell Pike, again but not the same.

I would normally put up a blog only if I take out my camera and this I take only in decent weather. I explain this to justify the lack of blogs of late as I have been out in some awful conditions, both underfoot and under the heavens. One walk I completed with my walking companion Steve, was on 27th November 2012. Where did we go? well we've had enough of walking through bog this season to last a lifetime and a walk to Scafell Pike can never be said to be a boggy route. The stipulation for this walk was crag not clag(underfoot) so off we headed for Seathwaite, again. I had the camera with me though when we arrived at the farm the cloud was brooding. It didn't bode well, though off we set with our trusty hounds underfoot, Dillon in his normal measured manner and Holly(the Beast) like a missile.

Sourmilk Gill at Seathwaite.

Seathwaite Farm, you can just see the plaque on the left of the gate, stating it is the wettest place in England.

 Ours was the third car parked at the farm and it seemed to suggest others had thought better of venturing out onto the fells that day. One group of four men were setting off for The Pike and after advising them on the Grains Gill path we left them to it. We headed for The Corridor Route as it was my intention to take Steve to The Pike via the Dropping Crag route between Scafell Pike and Broad Crags. Most of this walk he has done before but this was a new, though short section he had never been on.
 The weather was never wonderful as we headed for Styhead Tarn, the rain and increasing wind as we became more exposed to The Wasdale Valley and it's funnelling qualities off the Irish Sea and beyond that, the Atlantic Ocean. In the main, the summits were lost to our view but this is a route completely committed to memory and it needed to be as we found later on the top. The walk was uneventful in it's steady climb, the only part I took an interest in was as we crossed Skew Gill on the north face of Great End; this is a route onto this fell I have not climbed and intend to this year. As we got to the outcrop that is Stand Crag, a scramble that puts nervous walkers off this route, we hit the snow line at 600m that marked a change in conditions for this walk. We climbed down this and continued on in encrusted snow that never took your weight and ruined your stride by constantly giving as you bore on it with your full weight. The higher we got the deeper this snow was, but still below the boot line. With Criscliffe Knotts and Middleboot Knotts to the right there is a 'fix the fells path denoted to the left which branches off The Corridor and this was to be our route for the summit. It's a strange path this as it is clearly 'fix the fells' but a little higher it just disappears, though if you keep Broad Crags to your left you can't really go wrong and you will also be following the Gill upward; this eventually drops behind you into Piers Gill. Forgive me for no photos here as I was trying my damnedest to wade through thigh high virgin snow. I say virgin though one had been up before me and that was Steve. When he's on a mission there's nothing holds him back and I was trying to keep him in sight here. This was short, but that gives no testament to the work involved getting through this thick duvet of Christmas covering. Finally and thankfully, we came to the Hause between Broad Crags and Scafell Pike. The final section is the steepest, but with the top in sight who cares? As Steve had time on his hands waiting for me he had altered his clothing for the final thrust to the top, but I needed time to don more layers and change gloves. This is hard when you can't feel your finger ends and Steve had to crack on to keep himself warm.

Finally heading for the Pike summit, keeping off the ridge to the left.

Much the same shot but both dogs having fun.
Even this section though trod by others previously, was still hard work and disorientating with the snow blanket masking rocks I would easily recognise. The views were limited to say the least but you can't branch off this until nearly at the summit and up we headed with rumbling stomachs as shelter was none existent from the biting wind and time had dragged due to the arduous conditions. Finally the summit cairn was in sight.
Why do we do it, for the view of course!

There's a beauty in seeing this, snow designed by the wind.
So here we were, now time to look for a good sheltered part to eat our bait. No such luck, it was a question of what was the best bad place in the wind and to clear as much snow as possible and hope it doesn't leak through your trouser seat. I have one sop to age and that is a folding cushioned mat, a godsend at a time like this and I used it.
 While taking a short bait we were suddenly joined by a lone hiker who had come from Wasdale, this being the only person we had seen to date. The four men who set off from Seathwaite we knew we would be in front of and to be honest we expected them to turn back in these conditions. This walker was completing his Wainwright round and was well attired for the conditions though I would have advised a walking buddy on such a day. He was moving on to Scafell via Foxes Tarn and after advice on his route we left him after we sorted out our layers for the route off.

A layer change before the trek down.
We were going to head for Lingmell coll and the Corridor again though in snow this took some effort. Even on a well remembered route snow can have such a disorientating affect, though we hit the big cairn spot on and followed this line down. Once at Piers Gill it was merely a question of staying on the Corridor to Styhead. Our intention had been to carry on up to Great Gable but time had not been our friend so we just headed back to Stockley Bridge, the car and The Scafell Hotel at Rossthwaite. Two beautiful beers and the day was complete. Oh, the four men? their car had already gone, someone had sense that day, but at least we 'earned' our beer.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Greenburn Bottom & Wyth Burn.

We've walked The Lakes and completed all The Wainwrights, but this journey tends to lead to an attitude of 'While we're up top we'll complete as many summits as possible'. This means you invariably go up a ridge and come down another where possible, leading to certain routes never trod upon. Helm Crag from Grasmere, onto Gibson Knott, Calf Crag and round to Steel Fell is a classic example and a horseshoe Wainwright bagging walk. The old pack horse routes which follow the valley bottoms that make up these ridges are rarely walked and I've been pondering the Greenup Bottom between Helm Crag and Steel Fell, as one route with Wyth Burn between Steel Fell and Ullscarth as another. I've wanted to do these if for no other reason than to find out what they are like to satisfy the curiosity and to really know an area.
 Myself and Steve parked up on A591 just down from The Travellers Rest, Grasmere and commented on the weather not being as clear as it had been when passing Keswick. Still, it was not forecast to rain and it was mild in temperature, though vision limited.

The view from the road toward Stone Arthur.

A dozen Herdwick Rams in the above field.
We set off and took the footpath through the field opposite The Travellers Rest which brings us onto a minor road to head into Greenburn Bottom, but not before the precarious crossing of Green Burn.

Looking back after a thankfully dry crossing, well, Holly(The Beast) swam it as usual.
We continued up the tarmac road which passes a few houses, passing also another field of Herdwick Rams, and then onto the fell area proper. The track was well marked, holding to the right of the Burn, I'll give it this name as that is the OS map name. Normally in Cumbria these are Becks or Gills but it must be remembered that it was also a disputed area of Scotland and it should be no surprise that these place names cross over borders.
 This track, initially easy to follow petered out into a quagmire route of peat and reeds; it eventually took constant checking of our Satellite mapping system to ensure we were on the marked path. The weather was unduly mild and although we were prepared for anything I stripped to T shirt, Steve ended up bare chested and we had to laugh at how we were now dressed compared to our last three rain lashed outings.
We made the summit of Calf Crag in good time so I asked Steve to take an 'I was here' shot of me at the cairn


Someones paying attention, I wonder why?
We pressed on and came to the metal fence posts that mark the top of Far Easedale and headed then for Greenup Edge, the high point between Stonethwaite in Borrowdale and Grasmere, when travelling the coast to coast route.

At this point this was regarded as a brilliant view.

Greenup Edge opening up.

On Greenup Edge looking to Stonethwaite area. Fleetwith Pike with it's distinctive steep slope where they have the Via Ferrata.
 The only other person on the fells(this seems to be a recurring topic while we are out) was a solitary coast to coaster coming up from Stonethwaite and after some advice on his route in clag and where to sup his beer in Grasmere, we had a hot drink, turned and headed for Wyth Burn. I started this by saying I wanted to 'know' an area and now I 'know'. I had concentrated that much on the actual route we would take, underneath dramatic mountain sides, passing waterfalls and burns, that I had failed to notice an area simply named as The Bog. It's a bit of a giveaway I know, but I missed it and now there was nothing else for it but to traverse this quagmire.

Low cloud, masking that which is The Bog.

Wythburn Tarn at The Bog's end.

Looking back on an area that I'll only do again in a dry summer, preferably a drought.
If nothing else we could laugh at each other as we waded through this. I can only compare it to The Great Moss behind Scafell Pike. Here we were tackling this in the wettest summer we've had in an age and I won't be returning next week! Still the waterfalls at The Bog's end were a sight to behold and the view looking back was really bonny, reminding me of a high plateau like Watendlath, just a tad boggier.

The view down to Wythburn

Lookingt back on the waterfalls.

 We baited at the footbridge where the two footpaths from Stockhow Bridge meet and decided to alter our plan of going round to Dunmail Raise via footpaths and instead changed to one of them 'as the crow flies' routes straight up from the bridge. This meant a steep incline and I was panting a little by the time we got to the summit There we were with only a downhill section to come, this had meant that having left the clag behind we were back in it again. This route taxed the Achilles tendons but we're used to that now.

Nearing Steel Fell summit, the most sun seen all day.

Dylan on the summit. The boy done good, Holly is off around somewhere on one of her 'missile speed' sorties.

The path off Steel Fell back to Greenburn Bottom was tricky to find and we referred to the electronic mapping systems to locate a point where it is worn. Once on it you can't really go wrong, well not navigationally, but if I slipped once on this grassy descent I slipped a dozen times and was very concious of knee ligaments. Even Steve, normally sure footed found it hard to keep upright. We got down with no lasting damage done, just some muddy washing for our wives to tackle. We linked up with our original route and got to the car, a quick roadside change and it was into Grasmere for Tweedies Bar (part of The Dale Lodge Hotel) and some quality beers. I had a Coniston Brewery K7 and a Red something or other which I can't remember it's full name. Both were top quality drinks and I could drink either one all night.

 A good outing in mild though misty weather of 16kms with 1050m ascent. I didn't know the routes before, now I do and interesting that they were I'll return when it is a dry summer.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Kidsty Pike To Harter Fell And a Soaking.

The Remembrance Sunday walk to Great Gable was a walk with my brother and as stated, it's purpose was not the walk but the commemoration. Today was Monday and a pure walk day with my colleague Steve. Sunday was beautiful weather and what comes after beautiful? We woke to rain commencing at our start time of 08.30hrs and set off. Steve would usually leave the route for me to pick and we had recently been on Kidsty, but from a Glenridding walk. Neither of us had actually walked up it (though I've had a previous grass slide on the way down) so I suggested we put that right on this day 12.11.12. The weather deteriorated en route to Mardale car park where incidentally there were Road Closed signs at the head of the dam, I believe because of a water main being installed, going to the Hotel. We still got access to the car park, parked up and apart from one other car which promptly turned and left without getting out, we made the decision to bracket ourselves in the 'couple of idiots' category. Still, we've been in this category twice this week weather wise and if you didn't walk on rainy days my boots would be nearly new looking; as it is I am coming up for needing a new pair.

Hawswater, oh what a beautiful day.

They came, they looked (through the windscreen), they left after two minutes.
It seemed pointless taking the camera in such horrible weather and I hid it under clothing. I should know better but with the conditions and the blockage on the road I didn't think this long dead end would get a visit from naughty boys. We headed for the path going east on the north side of the reservoir, crossing Mardale Beck and taking the shortcut over The Rigg at the base of Rough Crags and headed for Kidsty Howes, leading to it's pike. For those that don't know this area, this is the scene of the sunken village of Mardale, sacrificed when the Water was extended by the Dam construction to feed Manchester, along with Thirlmere. When in drought, which definitely was not going to be today, you can walk the streets of the village, seeing the foundations including the church and cross over the pack horse bridge. It is a 'must do' for lakes visitors. The dam itself was an engineering marvel at the time, being the first hollow buttress dam in the world. Sad that such an engineering marvel displaced a whole community and regarded at the time as progress.
 We started up the grassy embankment of Kidsty Howes, looking across to Riggindale and Rough Crag, the former nesting area of England's only golden eagles, sadly there is just the one now; one day, perhaps he may find another mate. As we headed up the wind increased substantially. You went to place a foot and were pushed off the planned footfall by this invisible, though ever present force. This route is not an edge and is a wide grassy bank, so still safe in these conditions. With our heads down and face turned as far from the wind's onslaught as possible to shelter from these liquid needles that stung our faces, we reached the summit cairn and continued on for the High Street path. Our route turned us into the wind when we reached this but what can you do about it? Nothing but walk on and we lowered our heads even further and cracked on for the primary trig point of High Street, hoping for some shelter by the wall to eat our bait. No such luck as the wind was coming down the wall length and not at 90 degrees to it so this was not to be our haven of rest for a food stop. This is not my most walked area but I still know it and the only suitable place for a respite from this onslaught of wind and rain I knew to be the built shelter at the head of Nan Bield Pass. This is high on three sides and has a seat, albeit stone slabs, but would be a luxury on this day. We broke into a jog to warm the blood as we headed for the lower summit of Mardale Ill Bell and dropped even further to the shelter. Before a food intake and now in some protection, we donned further clothing and a change of gloves to keep warm and after 15 minutes there, we had a decision to make. Was it the easy short route of Nan Bield Pass or the longer 'up and over' Harter Fell and Gatesgarth pass we would take? I started this by saying we were a couple of idiots, confirmed by the fact in all this we saw no other human being on this popular route. Yes, we took the Harter Fell path, subjecting ourselves to a little bit more 'character building' pain. We got to the top, saw nothing and headed down Gatesgarth meeting only one other and he was protected, enclosed in a digger cab doing path repairs. We dropped out of the cloud and saw the reservoir below us, making it back to the car. We looked at each other and just laughed the laugh of 'well, that was interesting'. We quickly changed as you can't sit in a pub dripping all over the floor and knew the Mardale Inn to be shut down so we decided to give The Hawswater Hotel a try with our custom.

Heading for Hawswater Hotel, looking back up the valley showing The Rigg promontory

Looking across the resevoir to Kidsty Howes.

I was hoping they would have at least one cask beer on but apart from keg beer it was just bottles. We had one Deuchars Pale Ale, refrigerated, which they served in a Magners glass and charged £3.50, top whack, for this privilege.

What should have been a good beer, but served too cold, in the wrong glass, for top money.
One pint (well 500ml) and we were off in search of a better, cheaper drink. The beauty of this Hotel is it's isolated and stunning location so one more photo for those who don't know it. They would get more custom if they sold proper beer.

The view from the Hotel, across Hawswater, looking to Bampton Common.

We headed for Bampton but had to continue to Askham and The Queens Head. It was Jennings Cumberland Ale which Steve plumbed for and I had a Black Sheep. It seemed over with too quickly so a half of Black Sheep later (Steve had a pint) and we were satisfied. A good though taxing day of 14kms with 990m ascent and plans laid for Thursdays walk. Bring it on.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Great Gable 'Lest We Forget'

Today was not about a walk, it was about being at a certain location at a certain time on a specific day. That place, time and date was Great Gable at 11.00hrs on Remembrance Sunday 11th November 2012. Irrespective of weather a Remembrance service is held here every year and it is the largest one in the national park, though others on Great Carrs and Castle Crag are also places of gathering to remember those who have fallen in service of their country. My brother was up walking in The Lakes and had asked where to walk over the weekend. I suggested this which he immediately agreed to, I was going anyway. He arrived at my house for an early start and we set off from near Carlisle in what was to be a very good and tranquil day for such a commemoration. The last remnants of the morning mist were dissipating over Wythop Mill and Bassenthwaite Lake and Skiddaw was blanketed in a cap of cloud. We continued on but gave in to the draw of the beautiful scenery and autumn colours as we passed Kettlewell car park on the shores of Derwentwater so pulled in here.

Catbells across Derwentwater.

Looking north to Skiddaw capped in cloud.
After a quick photo shoot we returned to the road and continued on with traffic mounting, travelling into the valley. I knew this would mean parking problems at Seathwaite, but was unprepared for the full extent of the issue. I turned into the dead end road for Seathwaite and was quickly met by cars parked well before Seathwaite Bridge. I managed to squeeze into a gap others had thought better of and was 150m before the bridge. After a short road walk we took the footpath at the bridge that meets the Seathwaite Slabs path by Sourmilk Gill. I wanted to take this as it passes The Borrowdale Yews marked on the Ordnance survey map and these form the better part of Wordsworth's famous 'Yew Trees' poem.

The Yew Trees path looking across the Gill to Seathwaite Farm and the parking issues(which also went much further back).
Once we met the path up to Seathwaite Slabs it became an issue of just joining the queue up the path with little oppurtunity to pass people due to sheer numbers. The weather kept fine, though cloud could be seen to be developing.

Heading from Gillercomb to Green Gable.
As we approached Green Gable the cloud was on the fell tops and Great Gable was not really in sight, nor any of the stunning views you get of Ennerdale or Esk Hause. People seemed to be in abundance as the paths from Honister, Gatesgarth and Aaron Slack converged to form a blockage beyond Windy Gap.

Heading down to Windy Gap.

Looking to Esk Hause, a momentary break in the cloud to reveal Styhead Tarn with Sprinkling Tarn above it, Esk Hause and the Langdale valley beyond.

The final ascent for Great Gable, persons aplenty trying to get there on time for the 11.00hrs commemoration.
I knew from many previous ascents that we had some time on our hands, though I wanted to meet other people who had stated on social websites that they would be there. I looked ahead and the crowd was big and should not have been unexpected due to the fine weather which once again cleared.
Ahead the gathering of people waited to pay their respects at the appointed time.
At the summit others were approaching from the Styhead Tarn route, perhaps the most popular and the Kirk Fell route from Ennerdale and Wasdale. I looked but saw no sign of the group I was looking for and all walkers know that on a fell top lots of jackets just blend into the crowd. I heard someone call my dog and there they were, just ahead of me. After a short food stop and a chat the service began and due to little wind noise I could just make it out. The most fitting tribute is the two minute silence and this was adhered to rigorously with only the sound of dog whines to break it. Not a single word was heard to be said or a mobile phone sounded. I took no photos of the service or of the plaque. To do so I thought would be disrespectful and due to the crowds I knew the plaque was inaccessible for a long time to come. My brother and I followed patiently in a queue for the Styhead Tarn route to later head for Taylorgill Force and eventually we reached the mountain rescue stretcher box at the tarn.

I took the above photo of people coming off the fell behind me and the following photo is of the Aaron Slack descent from Windy Gap.

Everyone was taking the normal tourist route off the fell, this is the easiest, fastest and busiest but is not the most scenic so we did not cross Styhead Gill by the wooden bridge but continued on the left of the Gill. This gets slippery on some sloping rocks and later becomes craggy with steep slopes below The Force, but I love this route.

Just passing Taylorgill Force

Walkers on the Stockley Bridge route, though this misses the waterfall (Force) views.

This gives a representation of the route in places.

Looking back to Taylorgill Force.

A Seaking no doubt going to someone in distress on the fells.
This Seaking was skirting Base Brown to head toward Styhead. My brother always looks up at these with some affection as he used to work on the electrics in a previous life in the navy, twenty odd years ago. Finally the farm was in sight and at least we had this route to ourselves. The weather was faultless for mid November and to think a week ago the fells were in full snow.
Seahtwaite Farm ahead, nearly journeys end.
This put us on the Borrowdale Yews path again so we avoided a long road walk and finally we were back at the car. A tribute duly paid to brave men who died in service of their country fighting on the side of Right in conditions that were hellish. All the WWI veterans are now passed into memory but WWII veterans and all wars since are the reminder of the need for resolution through discussion by Governments at The United Nations. Let us commemorate their sacrifice by ensuring war on the scale of these two world conflicts never happens again. There is a date in my 2013 diary already taken up and it's 11th of 11th and \i intend on being on Great Gable.