Sunday, 4 December 2011

Thumbs up for Thumbs up mountain!

Well, a number of firsts today.  First time in a hail storm on a fell, first time in a snow shower on a fell, first time walking though (very light) snow and first time up thumbs up mountain.

Helm Crag, up close.
We've been waving to thumbs up mountain since the first time we drove south along Thirlmere.  It took us ages to get around to finding out the real name for the place as we rather like our name for it, but turns out it's Helm Crag.  Next time you're driving south along Thirlmere look up and to your right and there it will be, right down at the south end, looming over Grassmere, and giving you a cheery thumbs up as you go on your way.   We decided last weekend that today would be the day for it but we didn't realise we'd have a few other firsts too.

As we headed along Windermere we could see the snow on the top of the fells in the distance and got ever more excited as we neared our goal.  Our plan was to wander up Green Burn, scramble up to Gibson Knott then follow the ridge to Helm Crag and then head downwards.  You really should come out walking with us some time, we have such a laugh along the way!  Along our route we viewed Helm Crag from various different directions figuring out the best "thumbs up" angle and decided it's definitely better from a distance. 

As we made our way up Green Burn we noticed a large white wall was moving towards us and the mountains behind were vanishing.  Within a few minutes we were being pounded by a hail shower (Check out the video below.).  Walking into the direction of the wind became very painful and pretty much dictated our route up Gibson Knott.  The shower soon turned into snow and left a light dusting all around us - very festive, almost as if the weather was waiting until December before turning on all the Christmassy stuff.

The walk itself was pretty uneventful but as it was our first time out in these conditions it was an opportunity to learn.  If you're an old hand at this sort of stuff then you'll probably laugh at what I'm about to say, but cast your minds back to the fist time you were out in winter and try not to be too harsh.

Firstly I learned that I need a pair of waterproof overgloves as my wonderfully warm gloves became an icey cold block of sogginess pretty darned quickly, not helped by the fact that I have a rubbish sense of balance so have to hold on to stuff a lot.  I also learned that I need more hot drinks and less cold squash and lunch breaks in these conditions require you to be able to neck a sarnie in 60 seconds flat - without getting hiccups.  My boots, as ever, did an amazing job keeping my feet dry and toasty and the gaffa tape on my waterproof trousers thankfully stayed put.

Another wall of white approaching!
I think I've also finally realised what bothers me about the sanitised routes up the fells, they encourage idiots to head upwards with the mistaken idea that the entire Lake District is laid out the same way.  We went down via White Crag, a route that has had rock "steps" laid in because, I'm assuming, it's a popular route from Grasmere.  We found the steps a welcome addition but passed a few people heading upwards who, in our opinion, were ill equipped to deal with even such a small fell as Helm Crag.  Most notably we passed two men chaperoning 2 teenage boys.  Their showerproof macs were no match for pretty vicious hail showers we were getting, they had a small pack but no map or compass and, we overheard them say, were "hoping they'd find a path down the other side and back to the hostel."  Hoping?  HOPING?  And they were in charge of teenagers? 


I reckon Mountain Rescue should have a sliding scale of charges based on the idiocy of the people they have to rescue.  Or maybe we should introduce a points system like we do for driving licences?  Anyone caught on Helvellyn in flipflops will, of course, face an immediate lifetime ban. Those without a proper map and compass (or GPRS) should be given 9 points and immediate disqualification unless they attend an orientation class.  If they are caught a second time they should be released
on top of Scafell Pike in the mist and promised a beer, pizza and a hot bath if/ when they make it down in one piece.  Should sharpen the mind a little.

A very festive dusting of snow.
Anyway, we made it back to the car a little colder and soggier than when we set off but sporting a lovely rosy glow.  We know we still have a lot to learn about the fells in winter, but we've got some sensible routes in mind and promise to take it steady.  And no, we won't now be calling it by its proper name, it always has been and always will be Thumbs Up mountain to us.