15 April 2013

Scree if you want to go faster.......

After a txt message on Friday saying - Tomorrow Great Gable, let the excitement build!!! - I was already anticipating what a great walk today;s walk would be.  Base Brown followed by Green Gable then Great Gable then if there was time, over to Kirk Fell.

A very early start, up at 4am (after only getting to bed between 1 & 2am) and out by 5, remembering this time to have something substantial to eat so energy levels were high.  So after some toast and coffee we were in the car and heading North.  The weather forecast for today was for bright and sunny spells in the morning turning to rain and wind later in the day.   So fingers crossed the bulk of the day would be good for us.

We parked at the farm at Seathwaite and could see our route clearly up the side of the mountain via Sour milk gyhll and immediately we had to contend with the steepness of the hillside.  The waterfalls on the way up were a welcome distraction and gave us plenty opportunities to stop and snap.  It was really a lovely walk upwards.

At the top of the first leg there was a plateau area which we thought would be good for a quick snack stop and I went into my bag to find the bananas.  Oh dear, the bananas were still sitting on the table at home and not in my bag at all.  Good job Chris had packed the Caramel Wafers but it would still leave us short on snacks for the day, oops!  

 The next section up to the summit of Base Brown would take us up and past the hanging rock.  The whole way up the side of the hill with its delicious little scrambly bits I was looking at what I thought was the hanging rock.  It wasnt until I was practically underneath it I realised I had been looking at a completely different rock when the hanging rock is really hard to miss.  D'oh moment of the day.  

After navigating our way through a tricky bit of scrambling we were on the top and the weather was still being kind to us however there were some dark clouds on the horizon and the threat of a spot of rain was not far away.  The views gave us clouds swirling in and out, obscuring and revealing views min by min.  It was a beautiful place to be.

Down off Base Brown it was an easy walk over a plateau and then up the side of Green Gable.  We passed 2 chaps here who had come up the side snow field which I thought in today's avalanche potential conditions probably wasnt the best way to come up the mountain.  Everyone has different levels of what they consider risk I guess.

The cloud was now firmly moving in and around us and views both front and behind were a white out but there was strength in the sun and I was sure it would burn off again and it did.  By the time we'd almost got to the top of Green Gable the cloud lifted again and we got spectacular views over to Pillar and Haystacks and then a bit further to Grasmoor and Melbreak that we'd tackled on previous walks.  So we spent a moment or 2 taking a few pictures of the ever changing scenery.
The last push up Green Gable and the wind was starting to pick up.  At the summit we got the first proper sight of the beautiful Great Gable and what a magnificent sight that was.  A great big lump of beautiful rock that held me transfixed.  She was rocky and solid and I knew that getting to her summit would be a great walk but first we had to get off Green Gable and that was via Windy Gap which held true to its name.  Windy Gap was indeed a bit breezy but the upside was that it was blowing a lot of the cloud away and we were treated to some brilliant views of Bowfell, Esk Pike and the Scafell Range all of which were still fairly covered in snow.

Tummies were rumbling so half way up Great Gable we found a nice little sheltered spot and got out the sandwiches.  Home made bread from an interesting recipe with cheese spread and 3 peanut m & m's each for dessert since we had to ration the remainder of the snacks as someone forgot the bananas hmmmmm!

Onwards and upwards for the last stretch towards the summit of GG.  The views were indescribable and there were really no words to capture the sights that met our eyes.  The clouds had practically dissapeared and left us in awe of all the beautiful peaks that surrounded us.  GG is a bit like grand central station and people were appearing from all angles.  It was busy on top with groups of people arriving and departing, stopping for lunch and just generally milling around.  We didnt stick around long but headed North to descend with the intention of Kirk Fell which stood right in front of us.

The descent off GG was a great deal trickier than anticipated which meant the camera was packed away.  A path obscured by snow which was soft and resembled the innards of a beanbag making it very slippy and soft underfoot.  Match this with some very steep parts and you have a recipe for the potential of something going horribly wrong.  Luckily we were able to hone in on our winter skills training (thank you Scot and SD Adventures) and moved slowly down the hill backwards using ice axes and kicking, keeping us safe and getting us down that particular section without incident.  After the horrid soft snow we were on shale and this is my least favorite of walking surfaces.  Its loose and with each step the ground moves away with you.  The potential for slipping is great and after one slip I was left with a very sore pinky finger after jamming it against a rock.  Ouchie ouch ouch!  I detest Scree, it really isn't a pleasant ground covering at all.......!!!!
Half way down we decided that Kirk Fell was not for us today.  It was already afternoon and we'd been going since early this morning so we decided to follow the path that contoured the hill and took us back round the valley that would take us back to Seathwaite.  What we didnt anticipate was that the path would play hide and seek with us and that we'd miss it completely taking us too far down the mountain, on the horrid shale, to go back and find it which meant we'd still have another incline in our day later on when we'd have to climb our way back up and out the valley.  It was an unexpected and annoying detour to our day as the weather was starting to change and the wind had increased in strength.  
Spirits subdued a little but still with smiles on our faces through the rain and the increasing wind we moved forward over rocks until we finally met with the lower path that would get us back to where we needed to be.  We passed several people on the path, some of whom we'd met earlier in the day and quite a few with children (x box sales must be dwindling lol). Thoughts now turned to second lunch and we said we'd stop when we got to the crossroads at Styhead where several paths met.  The last of our sandwiches consumed and the last of the water drunk we knew now that we only had a few miles to go before we were back at the car.

The last surprise of the day came in the form of a proposition.  To take the safe and boring path back down the hillside to the farm or to have another little adventure and take the more scenic waterfall path via Taylor Force Ghyll  which would involve another bit of scrambling and some very impressive views of a fantastic waterfall.  We chose the adventure and even though our limbs ached and bodies were weary it was a good choice as the waterfall was indeed spectactuar and the little scramble down was really good.

On the last stretch now and we can just about see the car back at the farm.  Down onto the valley floor we followed the river that we'd crossed that morning before our hike up the hill.  The last hurdle was a stile to get us over the last wall and thankfully some very kind farmer of bygone times had made a lovely little sheep hole in the wall for his sheep to get through.  I opted for the sheep hole as there was no way I had the energy to haul myself over a stile.  I was running on empty and although exhilarated by the day exhaustion was creeping in.  Wet, tired, hungry and thirsty the car was a welcome sight.  Fresh water and a towel and we headed for Keswick for some well deserved fish and chips.

It was indeed a day of contrast.  A morning filled with blue skies and anticipation and an afternoon filled with rain, wind and a lot of hard work.  A thrilling day all round and a fantastic walk filled with ups, downs, laughs, scary moments, funny moments, tense moments and lighthearted moments, eye spy and lots and lots of fun :-), roll on the next adventures. 

07 April 2013

2 Crags, a fox, a buzzard and a wandering pike!

6am start took us on our now very familiar route northwards towards the lakes.  Our destination today was 2 crags, from the farm at Sadgill.  Getting there early is always a good idea especially today as there isn't much room for parking and we were the first car there, so after positioning ourselves so we could get out easy enough at the end of our walk we set off along the track.

The weather forecast was for a dry clear day with intermittent sunshine but the morning cloud still hung over the surrounding hills like a veil.  It wasn't long though before we started to see the tops appear and what looked like blue sky finally beginning to appear.

The track took us along the side of a river where we could hear some falls so we hopped over the stile onto the path by the river to follow that for a while.  True enough there were several little waterfalls dotted up the hillside and we followed that route for a while stopping every now and again to take some pictures.  We crossed the river at one point but the stones were really slippy and one false move could have meant a very wet walk indeed.  No panic though we successfully managed to cross twice without incident, phew!
After an unscheduled hop back over onto the track we followed that for a little bit more and were blessed with the sunshine when the path split into 3.  Left over to mardale point, straight ahead to some other destination and left to take us up the hill into the sun.  There was more snow here and it was quite hard packed.  Staying away from the grassy areas (as they meant your footfall went quite deep) it was fairly easy to manage up the incline.  As it got a bit steeper we were able to practice some ice cutting techniques as I am particularly rubbish at this but all practice is good huh?  Its amazing how natural having an iceaxe in your hand has become.  The way you hold it, the way you use it and the way you're prepared to use it should a slip occur.  Thankfully today it was just a protective device and didnt need to be put into action.

We headed up to the summit of Tarn Crag via and over a fence which was partially submerged in the snow.  The grassy areas were wet and boggy and this would be a nightmare of a walk in the summertime or indeed any time when there had been rain as most of it did seem quite boggy.  Apart from an earlier small submergment into the bog all was good.

With the summit in view thoughts turned to first lunch even though it was only 10.10 it was time for some nourishment.  Peanut butter sandwiches seem to be our sandwich of choice these days and they really hit the spot.  The surrounding peaks had cleared by this point and we could clearly see over to Kidsey Pike and the High Street range that had been our walk the previous weekend.

As well as the summit cairn Tarn Crag also boasts another man made feature near to the summit is the remains of a surveying pillar. This unusual stone and concrete construction is cleft at the top to provide a sight line and was originally surrounded by a wooden frame, now decayed. This is one of four such pillars built during the construction of the Haweswater aqueduct. Below Branstree and Tarn Crag is the first section of the pipeline carrying water from the reservoir toward Manchester. The tunnel, some 1,300 ft below the summit, required 250 tons of gelignite for blasting, and when constructed in the 1930s was the longest such pipeline in Britain. It emerges into Longsleddale below Great Howe, where the spoil can still be seen.

We didn't stay for long and headed for the next summit Grey Crag which was over in a North West direction.  More plodding through the icey and sometimes grassy snow I had a little off piste moment but was heading for the fence that ran almost all the way to the summit.

Grey Crag provided a spot for second lunch or the second half of the sandwich and also a very funny moment deciding which hill was to the left with a little cairn on it.  I think you'll find that was probably Harrop Pike and after looking at the map that seemed to be what it was........wasn't it lol?  The views were, as always, spectacular and the sun shone down and with very little wind it was really quite pleasant.

Time to find the route down and as always it was a bit of a traverse through grass and today, snow.  We headed over to another one of the stone structures which was part of the surveying pillars and stood directly inline with the one we'd seen at Tarn Crag.
Further downwards we  saw the first people of the day, heading up another path, on their own route but the best sighting at this point was a little fox darting over the snow, its bushy tail flying behind it and it made excellent speed over the flanks of the hill and was soon out of sight.  A lovely moment none the less and it was nice to see something other than rabbits or crows whilst out on the hills.  At this point I will mention that today we saw an abundance of Sky Larks, singing away while they were flying, not starlings but sky larks and those little flighty birds were really quite lovely.

Our route was now very much down, down and more down and before long we could see the car.  A short walk today as it was just after midday and part of me felt like I'd only done half the work that we usually did.  My legs were tired, my knees felt the descent as they normally do but it did seem incredibly early to be ending our walk.  Later in the day our bodies would be glad that we did as although it was a short walk it was a tiring one.  Snow has a habit of doing that to your legs, sapping every bit of energy out of them but every part of it is brilliant and I wouldnt swap walking up hills for any other form of excercise.  How could running round a track or on a treadmill compare to this???
Finally back at the car and whilst changing shoes I noticed a bird flying just off to the South.  It was flying like a bird of prey and Chris quickly summised it was a buzzard.  Sure enough there it was floating in the thermal air getting progressively higher and higher until it was at an altitude that would take it right over our heads and off over the mountains.   A beautiful sight of a wonderfully magestic bird.  Just a pity my camera didnt do it justice but lovely to watch.
Heading home, in the sunshine, having had a great walk, thoughts turned to the fact that this may indeed be our last winter walk of the season.  If the temperatures rise and the rains come then our winter boots, ice axes and crampons would be put away till next year.  We've had some superb winter walks.  The Helvellyn range, Scotland, High Street to mention just a few.  Roll on next winter where ice axe arrests, cutting steps and crampons would be the order of the day again.  I am looking forward to our Summer walks where I'll be swapping my crampons for sunscreen..........bring it on !

01 April 2013

Hello High Street....goodbye cream egg!

After a few weeks of "bad weather stopping play" it was an exciting prospect that today we'd actually get our boots on and head out to the hills.  The forecast was for dry and clear weather and although there was still a fair amount of snow on the Lakeland fells and conditions meant that warnings were frequent regarding difficult walking and sub zero temperatures but we were layered up, ice axes and crampons were packed as was our lunch, plenty water and snacks.

What I hadn't packed was my camera and I was gutted as today would have been the most excellent day for outstanding pictures so unfortunately we have no pics to share.

Up at 4am and out the door by 5 we still didn't beat the sunrise and the closer we got to our destination the more beautiful the sky became.  Pink hues ribboned the sky ahead of us and a vibrant orange skirted the dotted clouds behind us as the sun started its ascent into the day.

We arrived at the car park and there was only 1 other car there.  2 chaps with ropes and clinky metal bits meant their day was probably going to be a tad more strenuous than ours.  Within minutes we were all ready to go and we set off along the path that would take us round to the unnaturally forested peninsula of where the village of Mardale once stood before it was flooded over 100 yrs ago to provide water for the industrial towns in the area.  It must have been a sad time for the villagers to be uprooted and see their homeland flooded to make way for industry.

The path upwards took us up quite steeply at first towards our first little peak of the day, Rough Crag.  The ground underfoot was frozen and walking was not difficult but hard going in the drifty bits of the snow.  The path followed a small wall as it snaked its way upwards.   We could see the summit of High Street ahead and had several more ups and downs to complete before we made it there and already it had a low blanket of cloud sitting atop which we hoped would clear by the time of our arrival.

It was a beautiful walk, the surrounding peaks covered in layers of snow and the sun hitting different bits highlighting gulleys and ridges and the valleys in between.  As I'd not been out for a good few weeks my legs took their time to adjust to the terrain and there was a little bit of huffing and puffing but nothing too bad and apart from a runny nose I was feeling great.

Rough Crag was the first "tickable" summit of the day and although not a Wainwright it was a Hewitt so definately counted as something significant.  The route at this point was fairly easy going with some ups and downs but nothing too strenuous.  We just followed the contours of the mountain until we could see clearly in front of us the spine of High Street that would lead us up to the summit.  There was no one around, not a single soul and I love the sound of the silence on the hills, golden silence!

Continuing upwards the sky was darkening and the blue bits diminished as fine little pieces of snow started to fall.  I was amazed by the snow as it was tiny little ice crystals no bigger than a pin head but perfectly formed as snowflakes, the kind of forms we learn as children and quite beautiful...dare I say it, almost angelic lol.  All around us the views were decreasing and before long the weather had moved in and we were shrouded in mist and cloud.  Sunglasses that were needed earlier were packed away and hats and gloves back on as the lack of sunshine, however weak it was, now meant that the chill was biting.  Ice axes were now out and crampons firmly attached to our boots, we kept moving forwards and spirits were high.  It was hard work but left you with a feeling of , yes, this is where I'm meant to be.  All cares in the world diminish when you're on the side of a mountain, plotting your route, following a path.  It truely is one of the best feelings in the world.

By the time we'd completed the last push up to the summit plateau of High Street it was a complete white out.  Our route map told us that by continuing a little bit forward and to the left we'd find the trig point and off I went to find it, constantly searching with my eyes to see if I could see it.....and then there it was, standing proudly in the cloud just waiting there for us.  The wall that lead up to it was peppered with snow patterns made by the wind and it was an eerie but magical sight.

On top the wind wasn't too bad and we stopped for a moment by the trig point to grab some food.  Gorgeous Italian bread with peanut butter which provided much needed energy for the second part of our day and a cadbury's cream egg.  Here is a stark warning for chocolate lovers.  When you're holding your cream egg, gingerly in your gloves, enjoying every succulent bite and someone says.......oh look over there, pointing behind you, do not look, its a trap, a trap to steal your delicious egg and that, my friends, is what nearly happened to me.  A valuable lesson learned!

The next part of our journey would take us to The Knott and as we moved over the High Street plateau the cloud started to life and gave us views to take your breath away.  Suddenly we could see over to the surrounding peaks, North to Blencathra, West to the Helvellyn range, it all just opened up magically to provide a winter wonderland of eye popping scenery.

After seeing practically no one on our walk so far there were suddenly people around.  Fell runners skipping over the landscape wearing and packing hardly any gear, skiers with dogs and other walkers enjoying the day.

After a quick stop at The Knott it was down and then back up a fairly steep incline to Rampsgill Head.  By this time the ground was beginning to break up a little and the hard frost of the morning was weakening slightly which meant the hard crust no longer supported your body weight and with every step the top crust broke and it was probably the hardest section of the day.  Back jarring, ankle turning horrid terrain but we plodded on trying to pick out the more solid bits to walk on.

Rampsgill Head was a "blink and you miss it" kind of summit, it has no remarkable features and could quite easily be missed if you weren't directly on the path.  Luckily we didn't miss it and from there it was a relatively easy meander across to Kidsey Pike, the last summit of the day.  My legs were starting to feel it now and tiredness was beginning to creep in after our early morning start but everything around, the views, the scenery were a great distraction. 

The descent, like all descents was an interesting one.  Practically straight down, through snow, rocks, ice, cowboy style.  In the valley below we could see clusters of deer casually grazing and high above us dots of people on a path.  Was that our path?  Possibly but sometimes a detour brings unexpected results and looking back to where we'd been really gave us a sense of achievement and just letting my eye wander round the route we'd taken that day gave me a great sense of satisfaction.

The final part of our walk would lead us out of the valley back to the mound of trees at the end of the peninsula where we'd started our walk but our day was not without incident as just before we got down to a little bridge that would take us across the river on the valley floor I got bogged.  My leg just disappeared down a bog and I was covered in slutch right up past my knee.  Thank goodness for waterproof boots and gaiters.  Yuk!

Before long we were back at the car.  An epic day, an epic walk and it has only re-ignited my appetite for more.  Too many weeks grounded because of the weather and fingers crossed going into Spring it will only get better from here on in.  I'm ready for our next adventure............