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?


  1. Good warning... I have even retraced steps down Wansfell as I didn't have any spikes on my boots.

    1. It served as an education for me and will be much more sensible in future, by keeping to paths and the ice axe is a permanent feature on the backpack now. Still, it was a good day all in all.