Monday, 21 January 2013

Caw Fell and Haycock from Wasdale - Sunday 6th Jan

[Sorry this post is late.  Who am I talking to?  Oh, its me.  No-one else reads my blog.]

Despite only having one day at my disposal I thought I would make the effort to get up to the lakes this weekend, not least because it would do my waistline good.

I often head up to the Lakes with all my maps in the boot of the car and decide what to do on the way, but this time I was keen to plan ahead and enter the route into my GPS, so I planned to do a walk that took in five Wainwrights I have been thinking about for a while including, among others, Caw Fell and Haycock in a "circular" walk stating from Wasdale - its actually nothing like a circle but you know what I mean. The plan was to start with a relaxed climb up to Buckbarrow, and move on to Seatallen, Caw Fell, Haycock and finally descend via Middle Fell on the way back to the car. This was the route I programmed.
I left Kettering at 4am, which I think must have been a bit of a shock to my two dogs, especially as they had to sit in the car for 4½ hrs, but I calculated I would arrive in Wasdale just about at sunrise. When I arrived I couldn’t see any obvious parking spots near to my start point at the foot of the path up to Buckbarrow, especially as the roadside verges were very soft owing to recent rain, so I drove a little further on and found a good spot next to a farm at the foot of the descending path from Greendale Tarn near Middle Fell. Before parking up I drove onto Wastwater just to have a quick look – I always find it a magnificent sight in any weather or season. It was worthwhile as the sky was moody, but the weather calm and mild.

Then there was a snag.
I stepped out of the car for a moment to take a snap of the view on my phone, and left the car keys in the ignition. While I was admiring the snap I took, I heard the car locks click and realised my dog, Jock, had stepped on a button and locked me out! Not having a spare key I was panicking about how I was going to get back in. I couldn’t call the RAC as there is no mobile-signal in Wasdale, and I visualized having to break a window and head straight back home frustrated by my back luck. After a couple of minutes pacing up and down, it suddenly came to me that if Jocky had locked me out he could also unlock the car if he simply stood on the button again. It must have looked crackers with me running around each side of the car imploring him to follow and hoping he would stand on the button, but after only a few tries he did indeed unlock the car and my pulse rate returned to normal. I must say, I saw the funny side of this even when it first happened – locked out of my car by my own dog! I doubt if I’d have been so sanguine if it was tipping with rain, but then I probably wouldn’t have bothered getting out for a photo anyway.

So, with that drama out of the way, I went back to my intended parking spot and met a couple of guys, just parked and preparing to set off walking too. It turned out they planned a similar trip to mine and I shared my route plan with them and discussed the best paths and so on. While we did this their dog played with my two and presently they set off, while I continued to get my stuff ready for the walk. I was probably about fifteen minutes behind them when I set off. With a short road-walk to begin of about a kilometer I felt I had a nice warm-up, during which of course, I immediately felt a spot or two of rain, but nothing much. The forecast said rain was possible up to about 9am, and then mostly clear through to mid afternoon which was promising. On the path proper it was only a minute or two before I began to feel too warm and stopped to remove my fleece; continuing on in a t-shirt. The path is steep at first up to Buckbarrow, but flattens out after about 500 metres to a gentle gradient – in sunny weather I think the view from the first shoulder of the hill across to Wastwater screes must be lovely, but this day it was a rather grey. Once on the gentle slope I could see the other party ahead already at the summit of Buckbarrow. They hung around for a good few minutes but had moved on by the time I arrived and I never saw them again throughout the day.
At Buckbarrow I photographed the summit, and found it necessary to put my water proof jacket on against a little drizzle, not changing my trousers as I hoped it would only be a short spell. It wasn’t, and as I gradually ascended over Cat Bields and on towards Seatallen my legs were getting wetter and wetter, and the water was running into my socks so that I soon had soaking feet too! In the end I was forced to change into water proof trousers – the kind that you wear next to the skin, Paramo Cascadas, and a fresh pair of socks. This operation took me ages it seemed; farting about hopping on one foot and generally clowning, but it was well worth it as my legs remained dry for the rest of the day - I usually put them on fromm the outset to avoid this very situation, but perhaps thought the forecast could be trusted.

The trail up to Seatallen is probably very obvious on a clear day, but took a bit of concentration in what was now thick mist, but the GPS was a godsend keeping me confident I was on course, and I summited Seatallen, finding the trig point with no fuss.
One thing I realised is that GPS devices are not as convenient as a compass for simply setting you off in the right direction – most have a compass feature but you need to be moving to get the needle pointing accurately and this is a pain when you want to be looking where your feet are going and not at the handset. I will be sure to have my compass on my pocket next time and not in the bottom of my pack. Because of this I marched off in a slightly too southerly direction and had to traverse sideways through some nasty crags to get back on course – only five minutes of walking in even slightly the wrong direction can cost you half an hour correcting the error. It’s something I need to make more effort on as nearly all my navigational errors seem to route back to resumption of the walk after summiting.

Caw Fell and Haycock sit north and east respectively of a head of a wide U-shaped valley that descends roughly south east, so I had decided to traverse along the curve of this valley head below Haycock and go first to Caw Fell, then more or less along a flat ridge back towards Haycock. However this proved heavy going and was strewn thickly with huge boulders in wide fields. This slowed the dogs and I down considerably and I suspect we would have saved time by going further up towards Haycock first and accepting that the walk out to Caw Fell will always be a “there and back” proposition. Nonetheless, with a struggle we reached the impressive wall, (rather undersold by its familiar name “Ennerdale Fence”), that connects the two peaks, and more, and followed it along west to Caw Fell, quite quickly finding a stile that allowed us to follow the lee side out of the worst of the wind. The ground is pretty good along the wall as it follows the line of the ridge watershed, so tends to have good drainage for much of this section, but it’s a mighty long bit of stonework, and I marvel at the effort to build it.

This picture of the wall, looking towards Haycock from Scoat Fell, was taken some time ago when I did a walk involving Pillar, Scoat Fell, Steeple and others (here).

Actually we went further than we needed to as Caw Fell is technically denoted by a cairn on the north side of the wall, but we went on to the promontory closer to the name “Caw Fell” on the current OS Explorer map. This adds about 2km round trip merely to see a ramshackle shelter, so I wish I’d satisfied myself with the cairn. On the ridge the wind was strong and biting, the rain fine and soaking. My male dog, Jock, was managing OK, but my smaller dog, Tilly, was having a tough time whimpering and shivering continuously. I regretted not getting her a coat as she doesn’t have the body mass to withstand serious damp and cold, nor a double coat like Jocky who seems impervious to it all.  Finding a large rocky outcrop, I decided to rest in the lee and picked her up – she nestled inside my jacket for a few minutes, and despite making me a bit soggy, seemed to benefit from the rest and the warmth – she even stopped shivering a bit. I felt pretty weary and miserable myself so I decided to press on a little to the next place we could find to stop and have some food. This took us to a nasty crag between Caw Fell and Haycock that bars one's progress and forces the path round and down – Little Gowder Crag. The big wall seems to ascend over this outcrop merging with the rocks in places. In good weather a nice easy scramble over the top would be fun, but I was in no mood and grumbled as I picked my way through boulders again around this obstacle. A short distance past this I got back on the lee side of the big wall and found a spot to eat a sandwich. I shared some flapjack and fruit bread with the dogs, but they evidently don’t like peanut butter sandwiches. I hadn’t realised how much I needed that food and water and within half an hour I was more energetic, but I wish I’d taken something more substantial for the dogs – they looked hungry.

Not a great distance further we came to Haycock which is unremarkable really with a large pile of stones, hardly worthy of the term cairn, and serving no particular shelter needs either. When I think of some of the so-called shelters on the fells, I wonder who makes them. The one on the summit of Helvellyn is superb and affords enough protection to boil a kettle and read a paper, as does the one at Esk Hause on the way up to Scafell Pike, but more often than not these “shelters” are in such disrepair or so poorly thought out, one would be equally protected by merely lying down on the ground!
I wonder if anyone has thought up a top 10 shelters list.

Dropping down off Haycock is a nasty proposition if one leaves the summit south, with horribly steep scree and boulder fields that I would not enjoy even in good bright weather, so the logical thing is to continue east to the right-of-way that heads south along Nether Beck, but rather than talking this path, stay high in the valley roughly parallel with it and aiming for Middle fell which sits high between Nether Beck and Greendale Tarn. This route almost rejoins the outward path up to Seatallen, but quickly whips back towards Middle Fell presenting about a 130 metre climb up to the summit. Unfortunately, the weather had delayed us so much by the time we got half way to Middle Fell we were in darkness and walking by head-torch, slowing us down even more as I kept turning to assist the dogs with some light on rocky patches. I decided it would be unsafe to attempt Middle Fell in the dark and I assume it will still be there if I go back. To be honest I had encountered enough rough boulder ground during the day, and worse, slipped and fallen flat on my back four times, I felt it was pushing my luck to take on a hill I have never seen in these conditions. What is it they say? “Getting up is optional, getting down is mandatory” and I felt optional was safer this time, and anyway, what would I see up there? Some rocks.


The long trudge down past Greendale tarn to my car was un-amusing in the dark as the path is indistinct and the slope rocky or slippery turn by turn, but the dogs were keen to get down and went ahead finding the path most of the time on the softer ground. I never really thought about it before but dogs must be able to smell the path, or I suppose, scent previous walkers as they sometimes connected sections apparently separated by featureless slopes of bracken and heather. I know dogs have hugely sensitive noses, but it’s a mystifying super-power to me, and persuades me they hardly need the light on more forgiving ground, even though they picked their way through rocks gingerly by sight.


We finally reached the car after nearly nine hours of walking which means we averaged only 1.25 miles per hour, including stops. I would normally expect to do about 2 miles an hour in good weather, mostly down to better visibility, but I am never one to rush when the hills become hostile. I’d sooner be cold and miserable, plodding slowly, than risk injury through a more pacey descent.

Overall, it was a pretty drech and miserable walk, but then some of them are and it
makes you appreciate the good times more – as a brummie poet once wrote, “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work”.

Nominal distance 11.2m, Total Ascent 3513ft, true distance 11.4m.

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