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.