22 December 2012

Crampon capers, New Boots, Santa does Helvellyn and Ice Axxxxxxe

Fingers were well and truly crossed for the weather as the reports were mixed but not having walked for the past 2 weekends we were desperate for a bit of outdoor fun and fun in the snow if possible.....keen for a bit of practice in before winter truly set in upon us.

So it was up and out for 6am and pointing the car in a Northerly direction we headed for the lakes.  Helvellyn was our target with a few others to bag on the way there and back.

We stopped at services for some tissues and I picked up a hollow choc Santa who was going to accompany us on our travels today and also provide us with that much needed sugar rush at some point during the day.

So we arrived at Glenridding just after 8.  It was still dark and we parked up and changed into our boots.  I was trialling my new winter boots today and hoped that they’d not cause me any grief.  Crampons were packed and ice axes affixed to rucksacks and Santa stashed in my hood where he would stay until any suitable picture moment presented itself or we needed a sugar rush, whichever came soonest.
 We started up the path which hit us with sudden steepness.  There is no “walk in” to this walk, it hits you with full frontal mountain path taking you quite high in a very short time.  Having not walked for a few weeks and wearing new, inflexible, boots meant I definitely wasn’t going as fast as I would normally have been but before long we reached a sort of plateau where, under normal circumstances, we’d have seen Catstyecam in front of us with Red Tarn and Helvellyn behind but as the cloud was coming thick and fast now we couldn’t see about 20ft in front of us 360 degrees of whiteness, lovely!  We were following a recognized path and we had maps, compass, gps so there was nothing to worry about but I was quite disappointed that the views on offer were not to be seen.   Typical!
 Soon after came across the first patch of snow,  there was more and more dotted areas of snow and ice and we knew before long we’d have to resort to crampons to keep us safe and moving forward.  It was still pretty much a white out and we still couldn’t see very much on any side of us.

Crampons attached, first lunch consumed (oh dear, guess who brought the wrong fruit....not the nice new fruit I'd bought but the 3 bananas, apple and tangerine that had been in my bag since our aborted effort last weekend yuk!!!!) and we were on our way up to the top of Catstyecam.  At the top everyone had their picture taken, including Santa…..well there were no views to take, just whiteness all around.

We didn’t stick around long at the top and were keen to get off back down towards the start of Swirrel Edge (or as I like to call it, Squirrel) which would lead us up to Helvellyn.  Swirrel Edge is a nice ridge walk apparently on any day but today with the ice and snow it was particularly tasty.  As we stepped along the ridge we came upon a group of 3 men from Selby, Yorkshire who were heading in the same direction.  They too were all aware of the conditions and gingerly made their way along and up the ridge. 

For the most part the hardest bit was just not being able to see what was in front of you or what was to each side.  The side guessing was easy as we knew it was mostly a sheer drop down but not knowing what was in front was frustrating as you never knew how far you were from the top or what tricky bits you still have to overcome. This all changed in an instant when the cloud suddenly started to clear and we could see the vague shape of the mountain ahead of us and the sheer drops to the side becoming visible.   Behind us there were glimpses of blue sky and the ridge we’d just come across was now clear to see and finally we reached the summit and the sun was aching to come out and brighten up our day.

Alas that was not to be as after 5-10 mins on the summit the cloud quickly descended again and we were once more in pea soup before we'd even reached the small cairn that marks the top.  Obligatory pictures taken at the summit and at the trig point including ones with Santa in we decided to make our exit pretty sharply.  The wind was blowing up here just a little and making Santa rock back and forth which made it look like he was laughing, ho ho ho!

Our original plan of heading off to the north to bag a few more summits was rewritten as the time taken to get to the top of Helvellyn with the current conditions meant that because it was the shortest day and it would be dark roughly about 4pm that we had to change our plans.

We decided to descend via striding edge as some guys had just come up it and said it wasn’t too bad at all.  We had all the gear, the experience (Chris has been on striding edge before), and the will to be safe so we said, lets go for it.  Unfortunately because of the lack of visibility we couldn’t actually find the path that would lead us there.  Yes we found the memorial which signifies the start of the path but there was nothing in the gloom that suggested there was a path, no footsteps of previous walkers, no rocks, nothing and as we knew the only alternative to a path would have been a sheer drop we decided to retrace our steps and head back to Swirrel Edge where we’d just been which would get us down at least on a familiar route, safety first at all times.
Cameras away this journey down was easier said than done.  Coming up through ice and rock on quite a narrow ridge was tricky enough, going down was near suicidal.  I have never had to take so much care in my life, in any situation before as I was taking coming down that ridge.  Chris went first and carefully made his way, backwards in some cases, though the rock.  I followed and tried as much as I could to follow his footsteps.  My gloves were now soaking and it was getting cold and I could feel myself shivering with the now chill in the air or was it because I was just a tad scared…..not sure but this was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life.  1 false move and you were away down off the edge.  I did slip.  I’m not sure how or what cause it but I skidded down the path and luckily stopped right in front of Chris who was saying “use your ice axe” over and over again, mainly because I’d landed on his head and he was afraid he’d go as well and if that had happened then it would have most likely been the end of the world for both of us regardless of the Mayan predictions.  Luckily I struck my ice axe in, got a bit of leverage and found some footfalls that held and we were able to continued the slow and steady journey down albeit with even more caution. 

A little bit further down as I was reaching forward to grab a bit of rock that would help me keep my balance down the next section, Santa who was stashed in my hood, broke free and slid down the path, down the side of Chris and kept traveling, picking up speed as he went.  Down and down the ridge until he was out of sight.  Poor Santa, there was no rescuing him as he was long gone so we just continued on without him.  Santa bagged 2 wainwrights today but alas that’s all he’d be bagging.  We enjoyed having him with us and the only regret about losing him was that we didn’t get to eat him…….

Back to our descent, every footstep was taken with the utmost of care and not only were we keen to get down through the snow and ice safely we were conscious of the time and knew that as soon as 4pm came around it would be dark and walking in the dark after an exhausting day with tired legs and minds was not a pleasing thought.  So we tried to quicken our pace as much as we could and as soon as we were back at the base end of Swirrel Edge and the base of Catstyecam we removed our crampons, packed away the ice axes and tried as much as we could to quicken the pace downwards.

The moon was already up and the rocky path was slippy.  Knees were tired, ankles and feet sore, head mashed because of all the concentrating earlier we just kept going as fast as we could propel ourselves forward and downwards with constant reminders of the time and the fact that darkness was just around the corner.
Before long we could see the pub in the village below with its lights twinkling however the moon was now shining brightly above us and darkness was setting in.  Luckily Chris had his headtorch with him (I’d forgotten mine!!!!!) and it helped us the last 30 mins or so to see where we were putting our feet and it was a very welcome moment when we reached the road and found our way round to the pub.

An amazing day filled with fun, fear, frolics in the snow and a good practice session in winter conditions.  Helvellyn will be visited again because I’d love to see it without the snow and ice but oh my goodness what a wonderful day to see it for the first time.  Helvellyn you may well become my fav mountain in the Lakes, overtaking the beautiful Bowfell………we’ll see ;-) ......Poor Santa!

04 December 2012

Celebrations on Hen Combe and a wander over Mellbreak

After the outstanding walk of yesterday and our fun in the snow todays walk would be less icy but still had the makings of being a lot of fun.  Mellbreak and Hen Coombe were the targets for the day with Hen Coombe being Chris's 100'th Wainwright.  Quite an achievement and something to celebrate for sure.

Rising early, sandwiches made and we ventured out along Crummock Water again to find our start point at the base of Mellbreak, no birds of pray this time sadly!  We parked near a phone box, next to a van not realising our early morning chatter had woke the sleeping occupants of the van.  Well they should have been up anyway so not to miss the beautiful frosty morning.  Sky clear and bright and thick frost carpeting the surrounding area.

Mellbreak stood proudly in front of us and as we made our way up the snakey path we could hear what sounded like a hunting horn.  Was there a hunt on today.  We hoped so as getting pictures of that on such a clear day would be a bonus.  Further down the path we met a young lad with the hunting horn and he explained that the hunt was yesterday and that 5 dogs had failed to come back so he was out, early doors, in the hope of calling them home.  Throughout the whole day we never saw any sign of them and hopefully they made it back safely.

Mellbreak hits you hard with steepness almost from the get go and it was brilliant.  The scree slope that takes you up the first part of the climb was thick with frost and it was hard to get a foothold as with almost every step the scree slipped you back.  It was draining on the legs and lactic acid was soon flowing.  We could see over to the hills from yesterday's walk and the snow was still sitting like a little bobble hat on the tops.  The sun was streaming down Crummock Water and the stillness of the morning made for good reflections on the glass like top.

Once through the scree section of the ascent it was a rocky zig zag path that wound its way round the last section of the mountain bringing us out on the top where there was quite a nice cairn.  This wasnt the true summit as Mellbreak was monkey nut shaped and its Southern hump was the true summit.  As nice as this was we still had a way to go to reach the top.

Down the spine of the hill, following the path and then back up again to play hunt the top.  Many little hillocks and rock piles could have been the summit and it took almost engineering and surveying skills to determine which little raised bit actually was the true summit but we found it and had the obligatory pics taken there.  This was 99 Wainwrights for Chris and only 1 to go, eeeeeek exciting!!!

Stopping here for first lunch we were soon joined by a young lad who stopped quite near us.  2 others came over the horizon and seemed to not quite know what little hump was the true top after a few shouts of left a bit, no right a bit, back a bit, the young lad beside us realised he'd not stepped on the top and left his stuff to wander back over so that he could stand on the true summit.   His bag, his flask and his tangerine sat there on the rocks waiting for him to return and for a moment we thought it would be funny to move his tangerine to the top of a little pile of rocks and then thought against it.  So we carried on down the path that would take us hopefully to the next target Hen Coombe.

Down the very steep grassy path, yes it was THAT steep we met a young lad and man at the bottom who had stopped for lunch.  The young lad was from London and had come up for the weekend to walk with his Dad. We stopped to chat to them for a bit then left them to their sandwiches which attracted some very curious sheep sniffing out whatever was on the lunch menu today.  I hope it wasnt mutton eeek!

Continuing down the path we could see Hen Coombe to our right but the path kept steering us away from that direction.  Every now and again we'd question whether we were on the right path but according to the GPS we were spot on.  Perhaps the detour would provide us with some visual delight that we'd have missed otherwise or alternatively it would provide us with a deep, boggy, reed ridden, hard trudging relentless and energy sapping field of torture.  Guess which one it provided us with???

Its hard when you're in a situation you know you must endure and there is no escape but to continue onwards with the knowledge that it will, at some point, end.  It ended at the base of Hen Coombe.  An hour of mental and physical blah! Not a part of the walk that I enjoyed and here we were at the base of Hen Coombe having had all the energy sapped out of us and we decide not to wander round the side on the gentle curving path but to head straight up the flank of the hill.  So up we went.  1 step after another and just kept going like that until we practially reached the top.  I'm so much better ON piste than OFF lol.  As soon as we met that little path again vitality flooded back into my legs.....strange!

So here it was.  The 100th Wainwright for Chris directly ahead.  A small pile of stones marked the spot and I stayed back to take the celebratory pics of this moment.  He stood, arms stretched out like Cristo Redentor in Rio and I was just thrilled to be part of this.  For me, it was my 40th, I'm lagging 60 behind but my century will come one day.

Time to descend for the final time today and behind us the sky was darkening as the forecast cloud cover was moving over.  It was mottled cloud and the sky threw some beautiful shapes at us.  The light was fading even though it was only mid afternoon and the walk down off Hen Coombe was quite pleasant.  Following the path down it brought us to a river.  Chris went further down a bit to take a picture of the flowing water and I took the opportunity to skip across the rocks without an audience which I did sucessfully, phew!   Unfortunately Chris wasnt as lucky and stepped on a particularly slimy and slippy rock and found himself almost in the river.  Only a foot this time and again the camera was saved but he had a rather wet trouser leg but fortunately that was all.  This walking on water lark isn't really working out lol.

Before we knew it we were back on the snake path where we'd seen the boy with the bugle earlier today and the car was just mins away.  One last look back to Mellbreak and we were back at the car and thinking that perhaps that fabulous sky would be over Haystacks at the moment.  So as quickly as we could we high tailed it along towards Honister Pass to see if we could catch Haystacks in a glorious moment.  Unfortunately we didnt make it and consoled ourselves with popping into Keswick for a bite to eat before heading home.

The end of another brilliant weekend.  I couldnt think of any place I'd rather be or be with on my weekends now.  Life has a wonderful way to giving you exactly what you need, just when you need it most.  Here's hoping for more clear, bright, sunny, frosty, snowy, fun weekends to come. 

03 December 2012

5 Wainwrights a buzzard, wag sandwiches and laughing in the snow.....

Grasmoor was the name of our walk for the day and as well as Grasmoor we'd tackle Whiteside, Hopegill Head, Wandope and Whiteless Pike, just missing out on Rannerdale Knotts due to the light fading fast. It was a full day of superb hills and little did we know just how superb they'd be with a dusting of the precious white stuff.

An early start from home got us to Buttermere and over to Crummock Water for about 9.00am, after a quick stop at Tebay services for water and other bits and bobs.  Before we reached our parking space we thought we'd hit the jackpot by spotting a little bird of pray on a post by the roadside but by the time I'd reversed (albeit slowly) it had flown away so we never knew what it was, sparrowhawk or kestrel.  About 10 mins later along the road a massive bird swooped in front of the car, big and bulky with the markings like an owl but the head of something much more fierce.  It was a buzzard (after investigation) and was the most majestic thing I'd ever seen.  Just a shame we only saw it for a moment.

By 9.30 we were ready to head off up our first target of the day, Whiteside.  The climb up was steep (but not too bad lol) almost from the get go and our attention was constantly being dragged to the right where the tops of the route for later in the day could easily be seen covered in gorgeous snow.  Behind us was Mellbreak, looking all orangy in the morning sun and we knew that tomorrow we'd be tackling that first and it did indeed look inviting.

On up Whiteside there was no respite in the rocky path up.  The occasional rocky scrambly bit but mostly a zig zaggy path taking you straight up the mountain side.  Before long we were at the snow line and everything seemed to get a bit icier.  Pools of water frozen in time kept us alert as we really had to be careful where we put our feet for one wee mistep on ice and we'd be off back down the mountain the quick way.

Up onto the top and it was a glorious view that met us.  Way over to the West we could see all the way to Scotland over the fields of wind turbines and to the East and North was the route we'd be following today.

Keen to get on with the walk and get ourselves amongst the snow proper we practically skipped down off the summit making our way over to the path that would take us up to Hopegill Head.  The surprise that met us was a tasty little ridge before the final steeper path to the summit.  Under normal circumstances we'd have been able to tackle this ridge without hesitation but today, each footfall was met with sheet ice and made it extremely precarious indeed.  At one point it was hands AND feet work and I do believe I slid down a bit on my backside........you just have to do what you have to do, excellent fun.

Through the ridge section and it was sunglasses ON time.  The glare from the carpet of snow that met us from all angles meant it definitely was sunglasses time.  The view of the summit of Hopegill Head looked as if a coach had just pulled in, there were people coming at it from all angles and it looked busy up that at the cairn.  We didnt hang around long there but instead, took a few mins to admire the view then scuppered off down to a quieter bit and those who had wee grippery things for their boots put them on and those who didnt resorted to descending the hill on the mat that they sat on for lunch stops........I can testify that the sliding mat option was indeed the most fun way of descending a hill.

At the bottom, we settled on a bit of rock with snowy hill flanks on all sides and had first lunch of the day.  Having bought our bread, ham and relish in Marks and Spencers instead of the usual local grocery store our sandwiches really were a higher standard than we were used to and did everything but raise our pinky fingers when tucking into our lunch hehe!  After lunch we had a very spiritual moment when a bit of walking on water took place.......would it crack, after a few intrepid footsteps no one got wet lol.

Lunch over we set back on the path again up towards the base of Grasmoor skirting round the side of Eel Crag that we were on the previous weekend.  Everything covered in snow and quite deep in some places with previous footsteps showing the depth of snow that had drifted into the valley however it now had a thick icy top to it making it quite difficult to penetrate.  Wandering up and through the valley we soon could see Wandope in front of us, Eel Crag to the left and the impressive Grasmoor to the right.  The path up Grasmoor looked white, icy, quite steep and without the extra benefit of having grippers I knew that it would be tricky.  However I used the foot holes of a previous walker and tried as much as I could to stick to them and the rocky bits that protruded through the ice and hard packed snow.

Once near the top it flattened out a bit but we soon realised that we were only a few mtrs from quite an edge that fell into the valley below.  1 false step and there would be nothing stopping me from slipping off the edge. With that thought in mind we started to make our way more towards the middle of the plateau to continue our journey over to the summit.  Was it the small poor looking cairn or was it the shelter that was the summit.  Either way, we tagged both and after a few pictures were taken we headed off towards the path downwards again.

2 main thoughts at this point 1. The dark clouds coming in from the West and 2.  The steep icy incline that we'd just come up had to be descended.  The clouds didnt bother me as much as the descent and I had earlier said that I'd probably be better coming down on my backside but that would be too dangerous as there would be nothing to stop me and I would have no control as it was so very slippy and icy.  So we reached an agreement that we would link up and together we'd take it step by step down the slope.  I knew I had to stick to the broken up bits as that would give me more grip and almost as soon as we set off down I stepped on a glassy slick bit and toppled backwards.  Luckily that was that last tumble for me and the rest of the descent occurred without incident.  It was good having the help and reassurance of someone there with you, guiding you and supporting you and before long we were on the last bit and running down the last 20 mtrs or so to the base. At the bottom I couldnt stop laughing and that was really the theme for the whole day.  Laugher and fun!

Wandope was the next target and it was still very icy underfoot as we headed towards the 4th Summit of the day.  Not much of a climb up to the top but again the views were impressive stretching right over the Scafells, East over to Helvellyn and back towards Grasmoor and the route we'd just been on.

Everything was pretty tame now, slippy and slidy wise, compared to what we'd just encountered coming off Grasmoor but it was still fun to pretend it was slippy and scary and I did this quite often teasing of course......however that came to an abrupt halt when I found my lovely hat whisked from my head and thrown across the snow.......ok, I'll behave, if I must lol.

We're now descending out of the snowline and down towards Whiteless Pike, what we assume to be the 2nd last Wainwright of the day however we can see the sun starting to set behind the hills ahead and wonder now if we'll have enough sunlight to complete our walk.  Whiteless pike is a rocky affair with a summit coming to a point and then a sharp descent off the other side. It was around here we stopped for second lunch, finishing off the "by royal appointment" sandwiches and having a few more nuts and fruit etc.  The views over to the Scafells was incredible with Great Gable standing proudly in front glowing gently in the evening sun.

Down off Whiteless Pike it was apparent quite quickly that in the fading light we'd not make our last target of the day and Rannerdale Knotts would have to wait for another day.  It was still very frosty and icy in the shadow of the valley and as we were walking along the path Chris decided he could indeed walk on water and stepped on a frozen bit of the path.  It was sheet ice and within seconds he was on his back, his camera slung around his neck strangling him and thankfully the cracking noise I heard was the ice and not anything else.  No injuries thank goodness but a moment that did take your breath away!

Following a path that would take us back to the road and up to where we'd parked the car we followed the route down over the road and down to the waters edge.  A beautiful setting but in the fading light we'd no time to mess around and had to hustle back up along the treeline back to the road where we found the car just as darkness started to settle in.

An amazing day, outstanding weather, fantastic hills and superb company.  A day filled with laughter and memories made that will last a long long time.

Roll on tomorrow with more big hills and a celebration !