Monday, 18 February 2013

Another pair of tiddlers

 After a decent walk around the Back o' Skiddaw on Saturday, my legs were not begging for more on Sunday, but the weather was so good I couldn't resist getting a couple of tops in so after a false start considering Helm Crag, where i found a crowd heading to the foot of the hill as though they were hosting the FA cup final up there, I changed plan and drove to Thackthwaite to have a go at Low Fell and Fellbarrow.  To be honest the weather was so good, an ascent of the local tip would have been worth a try...

Half the ascent up Low Fell is on an old miners track...

....though when this gives way to foot tracks the going is still obvious an direct.  I was happy to reach the summit in the most glorious sunny, calm weather, though mercifully still cool.

The view is great from Low Fell, so I tried to do a panorama with my phone - its a bit stripey, but not that bad.  I do wish I'd got my good camera with me this weekend though.

Across half a mile or so of somewhat of a boggy col lies Fellbarrow, (with a small intermediate hill) and Jocky enjoyed being top dog for a minute!

Over the top of Fellbarrow and down around its northern flanks Jocky found a sheep's leg bone to gnaw and I took one last shot of Buttermere before we got back to the car and off heading for food and home.  Back next week for a few more tops if the weather holds.

Back o' Skiddaw

I have been accelerating my peak bagging recently to attempt completion of a Wainwright round by the end of July when I am fifty, so I was looking forward to getting a few ticks chalked up this weekend.  The weather forecast was OK for Saturday, with a little drizzle possible but looking better for Sunday, so I hoped I would get plenty of walking in.
I planned a route that took in the Cockups, Meal Fell, Longlands Fell, Brae Fell and Great Sca Fell, but when I arrived in the country lane near to the start point of my route I couldn't see any easy way get access to the fell from were I had to leave the car.  Checking my route it seemed possible to reverse the route heading up a bridleway towards Great Sca Fell first and end up coming back off Little Cockup, and wherever that path emerged would not be my problem, in access terms.  When I designed the route I had deliberately left out Knott and Great Calva imagining myself to be tired and shagged out by the time I got near them, and not wanting to climb the highest at the end when I would frankly, my dear, not give a damn.  But reversing the route meant I could do those too early on and the rest would be a fait accompli, and largely a descent to boot.
So, off I strode with one of my dogs, Jock, towards Hause Gill and Burn Tod, which I didn't intend to climb but is the first big lump I would meet on the way to Great Calva.  Here's a pic of Jock running ahead up[ the lane which forms the first part of the bridleway.

This early bit steepens slightly after a quarter of a mile and hauls itself up to a rocky outcrop called Brockle Crag, which doesn't have a cairn as such, but would be a lovely place for one to rest were it not so early in the walk. 

On a clearer day the view of Bakestall and Skiddaw would be very striking, but it was already seeming a bit misty as I ascended.

A little beyond Brockle Crag the path levels somewhat to the confluence of two small gills that join to make Hause Gill.  I took the right of these two heading up the south flank of Burn Tod where I would eventually head more or less due south to climb up Little Calva.  The Gill looking back is very pretty just where the route turns sharply south and steeply up.  All that water has to go somewhere and  the ground further down around the feet of Burn Tod is horribly boggy in places.  By this point what had been a perfectly normal bridleway was suddenly very tricky and would be suitable only for mules and mad walkers.

More or less as soon as I begun to climb up the now snowy slopes towards Little Calva it started to get misty and by half way I would say visibility was only a hundred yards or so.  I felt pleased I have a GPS these days to help me out in mist, and it really does make a difference.  I must say though that its always easier glancing at a map to get a wider appreciation of the fell with GPS helping pinpoint the current location.  I often saw people on forums arguing which was best and now think the combination of the two is hugely beneficial.  With the help of these tools I eventually found the "pile of stones" that the OS choose to mark on the map;  not that its much to look at.  As you can see, it was a hardly photo heaven by now, but as I was only using my phone for pics its always worth a snap.

Probably the worst part of the walk was next crossing the boggy morass between Little Calva and Great Calva.  In clear visibility I expect its fairly clear where to go, but the absence of paths and the mist made it a "follow-a-bearing" proposition and I found myself navigating some horrible bogs and tussocks, risking a broken ankle with every others step, so deep were the concealed holes.  But, I aimed-off left from the summit of Great Calva knowing I could "handrail" the fence that crosses its summit and not long after got to the foggy top.  I had waded through so much snow and bog that I was beginning to feel a little moisture getting into my right boot somehow.  They are supposed to have goretex lining, but nothing keeps boots completely dry forever.

The traverse North to Knott also has some boggy sections so by the time I summited it I was ready to change my right sock for a waterproof sealskin one which worked excellently, although they are not the most comfy underfoot.  During the ascent of Knott which is steep five large gloomy figures had emerged only twenty paces ahead of us from the thick fog coming down.  This proper put the wind up poor Jocky and he howled and legged it down hill until I called him and persuaded him to return, but he gave them a wide berth.  They were all apologies and proved to be a very nice group.  Poor old Jock! 

By now I'm sure you have spotted a theme in these photos as its becoming a sequence of misty cairns and dog's graves.  With all the fog I'm afraid there was little else to snap.

The last of the misty mountains was to be Great Sca Fell which is a short walk in gentle descent from Knott.

I think I must have yelped when the fog suddenly began to clear as I started out from Great Sca Fell towards Brae Fell.  Suddenly the scene unfolded and I was able to get some kind of picture of the hills around.  The whole of Brae Fell appeared golden and warm looking, though for some reason I didn't photograph that view.  Nor did I take a summit shot of Brae Fell either as it was rammed with walkers unusually - the first I'd met at a summit that day.

Although I did tarry a bit on Brae Fell eating my lunch and talking to a couple of guys doing my route the other way round, I was soon off to Longlands thus requiring a long detour around the gorge between Brae Fell and Longlands which defies a direct beeline.  Longlands is not a steep hill and I got briskly to the top, took the requisite pic....

...and scooted off to Lowthwaite Fell, a Birkett among the Wainwrights.  there's not much on it to denote a top, but as its between Longlands and Little Sca Fell, my next destination I ploughed over it.  In the end, I lazily decided to skirt around Little Sca Fell and I wish I hadn't as the path around its southern shoulder is both uneven and bouldery; not to mention requiring a crossing of a gill near a waterfall on a quite dodgy slope.  I would have been better off putting five minutes of extra effort in and going over the peak to get to Meal Fell.  The saddle connecting Little Sca Fell and Meal Fell is in the middle-ground of this pic.

Once on the saddle, Meal Fell is a simple stroll away and probably the most interesting top of the walk with what looks like old fortifications and a cairn....

....and an impressive wind shelter on the other side of the summit.  Writer Bill Birkett speculates that the apparent quarrying is redolent of the hill fort on Carrock Fell, so it wouldn't surprise me to find this was once a fort too.

Beyond this shelter the hill drops away to the Trusmadoor Gap, here, which was the last significant ascent of the day up towards Great Cockup.

Great Cockup is deceptive.  From a distance the subsidiary peak looks higher but this indistinct summit is actually a little more elevated....

....than this one.  But I trudged over both anyway.

And I'm glad I did because the height gave me a good view of a lovely sunburst which made me curse not having brought my SLR camera.  I reckon I could have got a great shot of this scene with my good gear, though there is some impression of the view from this phone pic.

The last half mile takes in the charming compact summit of Little Cockup... 

...where a direct descent could be taken back to the start of the bridleway I took at the outset, but I chose to deviate slightly over Orthwaite Bank and got another snap of the sunburst which seemed to hang around for ages.

I contrived to slip in the last fifty yards of the path and fall arse-over-tit getting all muddy in the process but otherwise uninjured.

Back at the Travellers Rest in Grasmere, Jocky was one knackered dog, after 12 miles and 7 Wainwrights.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Base Brown and Kirk Fell

This weekend it was me and the missus fourteenth wedding anniversary, or as near as with the actual day being Thursday, and she demanded that we go up to the Lake District for a couple of days.  She even said she would join me for a bit of walking. 

Leigh does walk with me sometimes, but draws the line at much more than five miles, so the current rush I am in to finish my first round of Wainwrights is not really compatible with her idea of a nice weekend.  As I type this comment I am minded to admit that she is far from a soppy woman with no energy as she recently joined me for a walk up to Whin Rigg and Illgill Head above Wastwater.  That walk turned out to be a tough proposition in the end as we decided to descend to the lake edge for the return leg and negotiate the “screes”.  Had I realised what the scree route demanded I would have suggested against it, especially with two small dogs in tow.  The rocks were wet and slippery and only prolonged concentration and patience prevented us from coming a cropper – those screes are very treacherous in places.  I even had to pop one of our dogs, Tilly, in my rucksack for a mile or so as she was struggling and frightened by the big rocks.  My other dog, Jock is a bit braver, but even he looked at me very nervously once or twice and needed lifting over nastier bits occasionally.  I wouldn’t want a broken ankle any more than the next man, but I’d much prefer it to placing someone else in the same situation, so that fact that she managed the challenge is to her credit and she even mentions it with some satisfaction.

So, I was resigned to a shorter walk than I’d prefer, but still we set off late Friday afternoon for a B&B on the outskirts of Keswick, and arrived, despite some delays on the M6 at about 9pm.  It was too late for any decent pub food or the like, but we grabbed some pie and chips in Keswick town centre and scoffed those in the car, and returned the B&B for a bottle of wine via a swift pint in a pub.  You may be detecting a theme at this point!
Up nice and early for breakfast and the weather was, in my opinion, at its best for walking – crystal clear skies and bone-chilling cold.  Leigh gave the dogs a five minute walk so they could have a wee, and then we began to prepare for the day.  Unfortunately, she was a bit under the weather and suggested I might like to go up the fell alone.  She would take a gentle stroll into town for a bit of light shopping, lunch and spend the afternoon lolling about in front of the iPad watching soaps.  This met with my immediate approval and I soon set off with just Jock, leaving Tilly with Leigh to have a girls’ day in.

The arrangement opened up possibilities for me, and I realised I could mop up a couple of fells that have been nagging at my conscience for ages – Base Brown and Kirk Fell.  In both cases I have walked pretty much everything near them leaving them in less than splendid isolation as unconquered peaks, and demanding special trips just to bag a single tick on the list.  This is OK for some of the smaller “Oughts”, but a nuisance for bigger ones that could easily take half a day each.
It occurred to me that if I started a walk from Honister Pass I could do the pair as part of a circular walk and revisit a couple of previous conquests at the same time, so by about 10.30 I was changed booted and setting off up the steep path above the Honister cafĂ© toward Grey Knotts.  This path, running by a more or less straight fence is almost impossible to get lost on.  In places it deviated from the fence for a few minutes to get round eroded parts or, as was the case this time, to avoid badly iced sections where folk have detoured year after year and made secondary paths.  On the whole though it’s a good steady climb which makes height quickly and safely. 

 The view from the path gets good almost immediately you get above the roof of the building below and improves with every step, widening dramatically after a couple of hundred feet.  As the sky was so clear it was wonderful to keep stopping and just looking, although Jocky gets impatient with me when I stop and goes off patrolling with his nose hoovering the ground.  It was funny seeing him trying to scramble up some of the icy sections, with his little legs a blur trying to get purchase.  He’d already had me laughing earlier when we went into the Honister shop to get the parking ticket.  While I paid, he had let himself out of the automatic doors somehow, and couldn’t get back in.  I spent a couple of minutes searching the shop for him before I spotted him pressing his nose against the glass wondering why I was hunting around in the shop.

 Clambering up to Grey Knotts he was as frisky as a pup, and when we topped the crag to begin to approach the summit he found a patch of untouched snow, now very firm and gritty with big ice crystals, but untrodden and sculpted with wind ripples.  He ran around on this snow trying to plough with his nose and rolling around on his back thoroughly enjoying the sensation of the cold surface.  I took a couple of pictures of him and we made a cursory inspection of the summit, agreed it hadn’t moved since last time and trod on towards the inevitably dull Brandreth.  I can see how Grey Knotts deserves to be a Wainwright with its steep ascent, but the inclusion of Brandreth seems odd – it’s hardly a peak at all, and certainly wouldn’t merit a climb of its own were it not a natural stop off point on the way to Green Gable.  However, it was new to Jocky, if not to me and he gets a tick.  He also tried to beg a tuna fish sandwich from a family resting up on the rocks near the summit, but I called him away. 

 Brandreth does at least have a nice view down Ennerdale and once we were a little past it and close to Green Gable I was eying Base Brown and moaning about the descent necessary between it and Green Gable.

The valley separating Brandreth and Base Brown forms a wide corrie underneath Green Gable which is very steep and craggy in parts and requires the walker to climb around it quite close to its top, so it feels like a lot of up and down walking.  In reality it’s not as bad as it looks and the boggy section in Blackmoor Pots, the depression before Base Brown, even failed to inconvenience me being as hard as iron in the cold conditions.  In fact I found myself having to smash through some ice to give Jocky a drink as he was licking the snow – shortly afterwards we found ourselves at the top and sat down for a snack.  The good thing about such cold is that you can sit on the ground without risking a wet bum, though I did put my waterproof coat on the ground for Jocky who curled up on it for a rest of a few minutes.

 I had bought a sandwich, sausage roll and some chocolate for the walk, and foolishly left them at the B&B, so all we had to eat was a nutrigrain bar and a chocolate flapjack left in the rucksack from weeks ago.  Nevertheless, with a bit of help from Jocky, they were soon despatched and twenty minutes later we were away to Green Gable, now deserted despite a throng visible in the distance when I’d sat down to snack on Base Brown. 

I’d forgotten how steep and craggy Green Gable is on the Western side and it became clear I would have to approach Kirk Fell via a descent from Windy gap.  Last time I crossed Windy gap I climbed Great Gable, so I’ve never been on the path down towards Moses trod, or indeed down Aaron Slack to StyHead tarn.  The Western path is pretty difficult going with lots of loose scree, so I hate to think what Aaron Slack must be like as it’s very steep.  At the foot of the path I met two chaps who asked my opinion on the route to Seatoller – I suggested either Aaron Slack, with care, or the route over Green Gable and down the north-western flank of Base Brown.  They decided in the end there was still enough day light to climb Great Gable from Windy gap and I offered to give them a lift if they missed the bus at Seatoller – I knew I would be driving down that way at about 6pm when the last bus leaves Seatoller, so I wondered if I might see them again – I didn’t in the end so I suppose they either caught the bus or are still on Great Gable!

Haystacks from the approach to Kirk fell.

The path to Kirk fell is straightforward with a few undulations and a bit of a climb up the eastern aspect of the hill threatening you as it comes into view, but it’s not really the killer its western counterpart is reputed to be.  That is visible from Wasdale as a poker straight, steep trudge and I recall Wainwright giving it mention as the steepest continuous ascent in Lakeland, which I can believe. 

With some frozen snow to avoid and a few rough bits it took about 20 minutes to get up onto the top of the Fell, although the first part of the plateau is about fifty metres lower than the official summit about half a kilometre further west. 

During the ascent Jocky kept stopping to look at me in disgust as though I was slacking and should quicken up.  He can be real sarcastic that dog can.

The real summit is quite good actually with a very decent wind shelter where a cairn might normally be.  I had a short stop in there for a drink of water and change of gloves, and for once the wind shelter is high enough to shield one’s head and shoulders.  Oddly, while I we were up there the wind was hardly noticeable, so I didn’t really need the shelter.

The view of the Scafells from the top is bound to be marvellous of course!

To return to Honister by Moses trod, via the old pump house ruins I needed to return off Kirk fell the way I came up, which isn’t as simple as it sounds.  The one very obvious path coming up cannot be mistaken, but on the way down there must be five or six possible start points – whichever we chose, I got a great view of the majesty of Great Gable which even at 800 or so metres on Kirk fell still seems huge. 

 I consulted my GPS after about ten minutes and we were not exactly following the upward path back down until about half way when it gets clearer, and I recognised little stretches we’d ascended. 

When we were about a hundred metres from the low point at Beck Head Jocky suddenly went “on point” having seen something and with effort I could just make out a couple sat down seemingly miles away with two dogs.  As we continued our descent one of the dogs saw us and galloped over to meet us.  This dog was a nice little black terrier and all the dogs all had a brief chat before we pressed on for the final walk back to the car at Honister.  As we got a decent way along Moses trod, nearing the modern fence it crosses via a stile, I stopped to snap a pretty sky and we then hurried on as I hoped we could make the car before dark.  I was forgetting the long track after the pump house ruins, with all its switchbacks and steepness, so despite getting a good pace going we arrived at the car in near darkness, on the borderline of head-torch territory.  I stopped briefly to photograph the plaque commemorating the re-opening of the Honister Mine - I wasn't sure if the photo would work as I was only using my phone for pictures on this trip, but they seem to turned out OK overall.  I'd missed the plaque the first time I used the track and at first I wondered if it marked the spot where the poor owner of the mine perished in his helicopter not too long back.  Now I think of it, I seem to recall the accident was a bit further down.  A terrible shame wherever it was.

The last section after the plaque is a gentler gradient than the switch-backs and I was grateful as my right knee was giving me some pain – no idea why as I’d not jarred it as far as I could remember.  At the car, I was grateful it was still dry as the temperature was now falling and I made a very chilly quick change into ordinary day clothes.  All in all a good walk with plenty of great views.  Two more Wainwrights for me and five more for Jocky, who must be up to twenty or more now I suppose.  Still ninety-five left for me to do, and they must be done by the end of July when I am fifty, so I am plotting and planning some longer circular walks to mop them up.  I can see how Jocky and I might well be doing some wild camping this spring to get some extended ridge-routes in.  Bring it on!