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!

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