Monday, 6 July 2009


I seem to be able to get to the Lakes a lot recently and had been looking forward to this little trip since the relative disappointment of a rather misty outing on Pillar a fortnight ago. Having dropped off my inferior, but strong and potentially truculent, other half at honourable number one stepson's house in Prescott I pressed on to the Lake District for a bit of light gambolling on the foothills and a sound snooze wild camping....or so I thought. After a late start it was almost 2pm when I got to Langdale. Wasting half an hour hunting around for somewhere to park I was almost giving up when I discovered the B road from Elterwater to Grasmere on which I found a perfect parking spot and start point for a my walk. Being rather late, and in a bad mood, suffering residual tourist-swarming-hoards-rage (after all I had driven past the the queue to turn off to Windermere and Bowness an hour earlier...grrrr) I decided to forget wild camping, and take a light pack and have a few hours before a nice pub meal somewhere in the evening. As you can see here - Langdale overrun with tourist ants...
I set off for Silver How and Blea Rigg thinking these would be an ideal short jaunt, and unlikely to attract a dedicated visit in the future. The walking is fairly easy up to Silver How from High Close, but paths are indistinct and the terrain variously boggy and rocky within a few steps. the first small hill, Dow Crag I think it was on the map gave me a nice shot of a little tuft of Stonecrop - a lovely plant - often wish I'd got some in my garden.Silver How isn't the most impressive or inspiring fell in the lake district but it affords some nice views and must be lovely on a fine day. I saw Helm Crag from an angle I hadn't seen before and thought I'd press on as the weather was looking threatening.

The weather did indeed turn and I trudged on to Blea Rigg in full waterproofs cursing the rain. On the summit of Blea Rigg two blokes sat immovable on the summit cairn (well, dog's grave would be more like it) and with rain belting down, I though "Stuff the camera" and fled the scene. I was hasty. By the time I got down to the rock shelter below (see Wainright guide for details) the rain was easing and five minutes later it stopped and brightened up markedly. I decided I would plod on towards Sergeant Man and get a better view of Pavey Ark and Loft Crag. I misread my map thinking Sergeant Man to be High Raise, and thought this protuberance must be High Raise... I must say, it struck me that the vague crag in the middle ground didn't seem to merit a chapter in Wainright's book if that was all Sergeant man had to offer. Nonetheless I figured I could bag two more tops for a little effort and decided to tread on. About halfway up I stopped to take a couple of photos and consulted the guide at which I realised the whole of what I could see was Sergeant Man, so I figured I may as well finish it now. You know how the Lake District is - it pulls you in somehow. As you can see from this photo on the shoulder of Sargeant Man, the weather God's were looking to swap rain for fog. Oh Good. But before long I was at the summit.

I suppose High Raise is not that high really but for the sake of half a mile it is silly to overlook it I thought, so I sat to have my butty and ponder the scene - which is where it all started to go Pete Tong. A madness took me - I decided I was Aragorn or Gandalf or summat and seeing as I was this far, why not do Thurnacarr Knott and the Pikes too. After all, how much longer could that take? Well, too bloody long as it turned out, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The path from Sergeant Man to High Raise is not exactly exciting, but is more Peak Districty than Lakey - all bog and peat, but easy enough and I was on High Raise fairly soon..

I also got to see Honister Crag (steep "V" in the middle distance) and the Dale Head Group from a new angle.

Thurnacarr Knott is described by Wainright...well, its not,; more scorned by him actually, but not alone in that, so I expected little from it. Its not so bad really. Rocky, a bit deceptive as it suffers a long sweeping depression in the lead up which is worse than it looks at distance.
Harrison Stickle and Loft Crag look fierce together from Thurnacarr Knott. Nonetheless, the view of Pike O Stickle is impressive and I headed off thataway next...Pike O Stickle looks worse the closer you get to it and it has a good side and a slightly more dodgoire side like many fells. I decided to clamber up the dicey bit, proper putting the wind up myself. Still I made it and taking this photo from the top began to realise my timing might be a bit faulty - it was getting dusky, especially as the low cloud was making it dark. I'm trying to decide what this moody shot is, but I can't quite put my finger in it - its that thing about some fells looking awfully different from unfamiliar angles. If anyone can tell me, please do. It looks more like Blencathra than anything else to me, but I can't quite decide if it is or not. (Update - I've now decided. Its Skiddaw).Some sheep seem to get in the most inhospitable places too...

You can tell from these pictures its getting murky now, so Loft Crag and Harrison Stickle became a bit of a race. Getting up and of Loft Crag was OK,but by the time I was up on Harrison, it was deep into flash photography territory. Here's the summit of Loft Crag with Pike O Stickle in the background..
And this gloomy outlook is my final top of the day Harrison. Inviting eh?

I'd love to report on the view from Harrison Stickle, but I couldn't see bugger all! The sun sets the last few degress like a lid slamming shut on a schoolroom desk so I decided to give Pavey Ark a miss, as I would get nothing much from the experience and started back to the lower shoulder of Sergeant man on Stickle Tarn side. Big mistake. A rocky, steep, treacherous hillside in the gloom meant it was totally dark by the time I found the Blea Rigg path. Took me about an hour to get no ore than a mile. Thankfully I could remember enough features of the path to know I had found it again, and took a compass bearing every now and then to get as far as the rock shelter where I rested, and even dropped off to sleep for a while - it wasn't actually that cold. In the end it took a good couple of hours to slowly and carefully navigate my way back to the car, using Knipe's Law and my decent map skills, upon which I found someone had pitched a tent exactly where I'd planned to put mine, so I ended up brewing up, making some instant risotto and flopping out in the car. I was woken just as it was getting light by the most torrential rain I can remember, so to whoever it was nicked my tent spot - I thank you! All in all, a ludicrously unplanned walk and one I would love to do a gain in good weather and with an early start. Its easy to consume hours going no-where and doing nothing on the fells and that requires better planning if the weather posed a threat - not too much of a problem in July, though I still carry my heat sheets and survival bag etc. Actually having mentioned Knipe's Law ("Use a head torch in the dark, idiot!") I just remembered that mine started flashing every 20 mins or so to warn me it planned to run out of battery before long. In the end it was still going strong back at the car, but I was kicking myself or not transferring spare batteries from by big pack to my day sack.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Don't put off till tomorrow....

She who must be obeyed has issued demands to take her to Liverpool this weekend so she can visit honourable number one stepson, who is a PhD student studying Nuclear Physics (I'm not kidding, clever little sod - took me by surprise when he casually announced he was going to become a genius), and works off and on at Sellafield. Of course this means I can drop her off early Saturday and pick her up Sunday tea time, affording me the opportunity to have a mucky weekend with her sister. Sadly, previous attempts to abscond with siblings-in-law have come to tears (generally of disbelieving laughter) so I guess I'll plan another walking weekend in t'Lakes.

I have this theory that Wainright baggers get about 75% through the list of 214, to suddenly realise the last 25% will take twice as long as all the time they've put in so far. This is because you have to go back to places you've already been and complete what I call the "Oughts". The little uninteresting ones that you "ought" to have gone that extra mile for. On my last walk I skipped Kirk Fell, and I suppose I could have done Haycock. Haycock is OK to miss on a Mosedale round because it can be part of a Western Wasdale set separately. But Kirk Fell is now a thorn in my flesh because I've done everything round it, including Gable, so the only way its going to get done is a special trip to do just that top alone. I've been knocking off four or five at a time each trip, and I know that sometime next year when I get to 75%, I'm suddenly going to think "Bugger, I've got to go back to Hellvelyn to do Catsycam", (this is sadly true).

I'm now thinking of publishing a list of "Oughts" as an appendix to Wainright's pictorial guides, although, I have to confess, there's one of the volumes that I think is nearly all "oughts" and seems to be a contractual obligation volume almost. Perhaps that's not fair now I've said it. Some ridge warriors might argue that Castle Crag is a tiddler hardly worth doing, but actually its a lovely rock with a beautiful feel and view - one of my favourites. I took one of my favourite pics on my last walk to Castle Crag, in the valley below. Well, wherever I end up, I guess it'll appear on here sometime.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Tears on my Pillar

The weekend before last (20th June), was supposed to be my attempt at the Yorkshire 3 peaks, but the project foundered when I had too much sherbert on the Friday night and couldn't drag myself out of bed till after 5pm, leaving the house at about 6.15am, which meant I wasn't up near the Dales/lakes till well after 10am - I live in Kettering Northants. I figured this meant the chance of completing the walk in daylight hours was slim especially as I am anything but slim and a constant 2 mph on what would be my longest walk so far looked ambitious. So, I reset the sat nav for Wasdale Head and figured I could have a crack at Pillar which has been on my shortlist for some time. I arrived at Wasdale Head around 11am and had a quick trip to the Barn Door outdoor shop to get some new socks and a tee shirt. It was a coolish day, but dry up to then with low cloud obscuring the tops of the Scafells - I couldn't see Pillar from the car park as it doesn't really come into view for a good half mile out on the walk towards Black Sail pass. Finally got away at 11.30am and felt a bit overdressed in Paramo Cascada trousers, but expecting rain I thought it better to be ready - zipped 'em open all the way down to keep cool (they have poppers to keep the from flapping behind you - supplying a lovely breeze up the pass).

Its interesting how perception of distance is affected by the size of the mountain ahead. I'd always considered Pillar to be remote indeed looking at maps, yet Wainright's guide had it down as four and a half miles via Black Sail pass, and it didn't look very far from the valley bottom. I always find the first half hour of any walk, even on the flat is a good antidote to enthusiasm for walking. Seems to take the body that long to accept we are walking and get warmed up to the task, and this day was no different. I kept looking back at the screes running up to Dore Head knowing I would be passing by the top of them some hours later.

Funny thing was, I couldn't see how Dore Head was a good place to be climbing up Yewbarrow - it looks fierce from down in the valley, and as I was to find later, it looks fiercer still from the foot of the crag at Dore Head. That's for later.

The ascent to Black Sail pass is fairly gentle most of the way if you stick to the old pony track. Just above the crossing of Gatherstone Beck there are a few nice cascades which must be dramatic in spate, and tricky to cross. Continuing on the path there is a head of land (Gatherstone Head?) where the path zig-zags up more steeply, and about a quarter of a mile further the path splits left to a short cut to meet the ascending ridge near Looking Stead, and right to Black Sail Pass and the foot of the scrambly climb to Kirk Fell which I was planning to ignore. The short cut is really nothing of the kind being much steeper than the old path even if shorter and I found myself making ground up faster than people on the "short cut". I saw some of them later when I'd gone the long way round, begging for oxygen at the side of the main path. By now it had tried to rain a few times, never enough to get a waterproof on, but threatening all the same. I was so hot I welcomed the breeze and drizzle. It was also getting misty at times as low clouds scudded down the corrie from Wind Gap.

Just past Looking Stead, where the view of Haystacks is wonderful, or would be on a clearer day, a couple were looking for the high level path to Pillar Rock. I could see the distant and rather exposed path as it rounded one of the buttresses above Ennerdale, but the beginning is concealed from plain view and takes a little looking for. With so much mist I felt it safer to stay on the main path up the ridge to Pillar, but I met them later on the summit and realised the route they took is not as scary as I'd thought. I need to go back and do it myself on a nice clear day - shame I hadn't realised. I trod on along the ridge heading roughly West which is easy to follow along the remains of an old fence. The remainder of the climb is merely a matter of very simple scrambling and hopping from rick to rock up a shallow boulder field. This is my favourite sort of ascent, where vestigial mountain goat DNA cuts in for me. I was soon cresting the top of Pillar in thick mist and caught up with a Caribbean couple who had rested near me further down for a sarnie. We all agreed as I reached the trig point that Pillar is dreary in mist, and though I'm glad I walked up, I'll have to do it again to really appreciate it.

I could have cried after all the effort.

I sat down for a bite in the ruined shelter and amused myself chucking little bits of sandwich to an unusually bold sheep who likes tuna sarnies. At least I think it was a sheep, but it had been shorn recently and looked a bit Goaty to me.

In the mist I had to take a compass heading to set off for Scoat Fell. A local guy who know the fell pointed in the direction of the path, sadly 45 degrees away from where it really is, so I'm glad I ignored him and followed the compass, soon picking up a line of cairns and headed steeply down to the Wind Gap saddle before steeply climbing up to Scoat Fell which has a lovely flat plateau on top ideal for a wild camp, if a bit bouldery. Following the felltop wall west brings the summit cairn into view and also the characteristic crag of Steeple jutting out towards High Stile ridge the other side of Ennerdale. I found a trip to Steeple and back again can be done in ten minutes or less if you are in a hurry.

The fell top wall makes an unbrokenline to Hayock, but by now I was feeling a bit worn out and decided I'd go straight on South to Redpike (Wasdale), and onto Yewbarrow, so off I marched into the mist.

I realised I'd wandered from the path after a couple of hundred metres and had to navigate by compass back to the path, passing two or three groups of lost souls wondering where they were - amazing how many people just take a map and no compass. By the time I got to the path again, it had cleared considerably and never really got misty again for the rest of the day, although I had lost several hundred feet coming down to Red Pike so little wonder. Red Pike is nothing much to write about, even the path avoids the top cairn, but I felt obliged. Tick.

What the top of Red Pike lacks, its descent towards Wasdale makes up for in a magnificent view of YewBarrow and the Scafells beyond.
On a really clear day, it would be worth lingering to count and name all the fells in view - fantastic. But as I wearily plodded down I got nearer and nearer to Dore Head and the seemingly unconquerable Stirrup Crag, but I was to have a stroke of luck. At the saddle of Dore Head I sat to eat a Marathon (I still can't call them Snickers) and three chaps passed me on the same route and headed up to Stirrup Crag, so I had the opportunity to watch their choice of path, ledge and chimney. They almost ran up, so I realised it was not the Matterhorn it looks, and fifteen minutes later I was standing on the top of the crag, admittedly with legs that had now given up the ghost. Only a light skip down Yewbarrow to go and I'd be back to the car. Yeah, right.
Anyone who's climbed Yewbarrow knows its fairly innocuous on the face of it, resembling a large upturned boat, but with my knackered legs and out of water too, I was ready to sit down and collapse. There's a steep descent on the South Western ridge of the fell which follows a scree run and this put the old pins to the sword a bit, however, while resting for a few moments I could hear the tinkle of water and found a healthy trickle running off a rock in the middle of the scree. I was able to fill my bottles and have a nice cold drink before I set off again for the last couple of miles down to Wast Water and back to Wasdale Head. When I arrived at the carpark I met a chap waiting for his sons to return from Scafell Pike. They'd done Ben Nevis in the early morning, driven down to Scafell and planned to do Snowdon in the dark. This made my legs feel worse if anything. The plan had been to camp at Wasdale Head campsite and do some more the next day, but I was so cream crackered the long drive home seemed a small price to pay for a couple of cold ones and a lie on the sofa. Problem was I never got home till 2am with stops and short snoozes and wotnot, so by the time I did get home catatonia was the only option. Ho hum! Another lovely Lakeland day - how I wish I lived somewhere a bit nearer.

Has it come to this?

Oh Lord! So now I'm a blogger - I held out for so long but in the end the inane drivel I feel the need to write on various forums (fora?) compelled me to do this. I reckon a blog is only a fancy diary anyway, so I can write what I want and kinda leave it lying around so to speak in case anyone wants to have a look. Blogs have that extra insurance of "If you don't like what I say you shouldn't have come to my blog" - hopefully I won't offend anyone too much.

Most of what I put up here will be about walking I think, but you never know when my favourate walking forum seems to have flipped into collective grieving for Michael Jackson, and the rest of the country is still grinding its teeth about MPs expenses.

MPs expenses - a dog bites man story if ever I heard one. These desperate little hacks have made a scandal out of nearly nothing. I heard a stat the other day. The sum total of all expenses claimed last year by MPs (legitimate or otherwise, the expenses that is, not the MPs) amounted to less than the charges for all UK text messages in the first minute after midnight on new years eve 2008. Admittedly its a busy minute, but sheesh! What a lot of nonsense. Was it Oscar Wilde who said "When faced with temptation I invariably yield to it" or summat like that. On the other hand, a duck island is just asking for trouble really. I wonder if I would claim for a new fancy sleeping bag or tent on my business exes if I thought it'd get through. Actually, that's a falsehood. I don't wonder at all - I know I'd claim it!