Sunday, 29 January 2012

Snow, snow, thick, thick, snow...

Striding Edge
Distracting Icicles
I can honestly say that there's almost no part of me that doesn't hurt or ache in some way right now.  My back (dodgy anyway), my knees and ankles from the various tumbles and twists, my leg muscles from walking in snow and my shoulders from the rucksack that barely left it for 6 hours today.  But you know what?  It was a brilliant day!

We kicked off at Dunmail Raise, parking on the grass verge on the dual carriageway section and then made our way up Raise Beck, which got slippier and slidier the whole way.  It's actually easier walking in snow than it is walking through the snow line where everything is frozen and there's not a grippy spot to be found.  An hour later and we were up at Grisedale Tarn for our first grub stop.  I'd promised that we'd stop every hour to keep topped up, in reality we stopped after one hour, then after 2 hours and then not again until we were most of the way back to the car.  The thing that I've learned about walking in snow is that it doesn't lend itself to breaks; firstly there's nowhere to sit and secondly it's so bloomin' cold you don't want to stop anywhere for long.

Grisedale tarn
We invented route up to Dollywagon Pike, partly we followed other people's footprints and partly we got distracted by icicles and taking photographs.  I suppose we also got partly distracted by my juvenile insistence of diving into every huge snow drift and making massive deep footprints.  The snow was 2 feet deep in many places and I'm afraid I reverted to behaving like a 6 year old...

At the top of Dollywagon Pike the mist rolled in like something out of the Mummy (if the Mummy had been filmed on a cold Lake District fell and not a hot dusty desert).  Totally disorientated in the mist and snow we very nearly took an extreme shortcut down High Crag but stopped just in time.  The mist cleared and we resumed our route to the top of Helvellyn, and we were in good company, there were several dozen other people who also thought playing in the snow at 950m seemed like a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Unhelpful Snow and Mist Combo
The mist held off long enough to get some fab shots of Striding Edge, but not long enough to get shots of Skiddaw and Blencathra looking pretty darned amazing in the distance.  Just as I reached Lower Man with my camera poised they vanished again, this time never to reappear.

We made our way down via Birk Side and then the slipping and slithering began in earnest.  If we stuck to the path then we slipped over (well I slipped over, Steve remained irritatingly vertical at all times), and if I went off the path to find some grip I inevitably also found a deep drift, at one point vanishing up to my thigh. I may only have little legs, but that was still pretty deep.  We followed the path as best we could, tracking the footprints of everyone before us, but suddenly they all stopped as if simultaneously beamed aboard an alien spaceship.
Helvellyn Trig Point

Undeterred Steve found something that "looks like a path" so we followed that.  Eventually I asked "are there any footprints ahead of us that don't belong to sheep?"  "Erm..."  Thanks to Steve's intrepid nature and dead on sense of direction we made it back to the path at the foot of Birk Side and were back at the car by 6pm.

So here I sit, in a blissful and barely legal high induced by painkillers and a red wine so "full bodied" it practically requires a knife and fork to drink it.  Dinner is smelling wonderful and in a few minutes I shall devour a mountain of chips and a good sized steak - not a bad way to end the day really.
Helvellyn Shelter

Saturday, 28 January 2012

High speed hikers.

The path to the summit of Great Rigg
Great Rigg and Dove Crag
Not us but the several dozen other people we saw today who came steaming past us, we began to wonder if there was a Usain Bolt convention taking place at the top of Fairfield that we weren't aware of.  We're not all that slow but we do stop a lot to admire the view and take photos.

Maybe people live their entire lives at high speed and don't know how to slow down: race round at work every day, race up to the Lake District for the weekend, race around the fells, race back to the hotel, race to the bar, race to bed to be up early enough to race around and do it all again tomorrow.  I'm exhausted just typing about it.

Everyone's a critic!
The views today were definitely worth pausing to look at, it was our first proper experience of walking in snow and it was wonderful, hence this blog is rather heavier on the pictures and lighter on the words than usual.  As we were snowy first timers we picked a straightforward and not-too-long walk; Great Rigg and Heron Pike.

We parked in the layby just north of Grasmere and headed off, the route is well signposted and easy to spot so no bickering required.  The snow didn't start until we got above Stone Arthur and then the learning began, here's the highlights:

Great Rigg in Alcock Tarn.
  1. Paths in the snow are easy to find and follow but become slippy quite quickly as the snow gets trampled into ice.
  2. If you go "off piste" to avoid the ice then things become unpredictable; one step will be onto solid ground and the next will see you vanish up to your knee in snow.
  3. Walking uphill in soft snow is exactly the same as walking up a steep sand dune, only colder and a lot prettier.
  4. Although it's fun jumping around in 2 foot snow drifts the snow does find it's way into your boots if you're not wearing gaiters.
  5. If the sun is out then trust me, you'll need your sun glasses.  I've never been skiing and thought the poncy shades were just for posing in.
  6. The well trodden paths may not necessarily be going in the direction you need as we discovered when we headed off Heron Pike in the wrong direction.
  7. It's easier to walk "cross country" in the snow as we found out when we left Heron Pike, realised we were headed in the wrong direction and decided to plunge down to Alcock Tarn instead. 
Alcock Tarn is utterly breathtaking and well worth a hike in its own right and we're very glad we took an unscheduled detour.  As we followed the path back down towards Grassmere we watched a stunning sunset behind Lingmoor Fell and thought about all those people who'd come steaming past us and were now propping up an anonymous hotel bar and missing the show.  Worth the rush?

On Frozen Pond.

Coffee & a map.

One of the greatest pleasures of living in Cumbria is Saturday breakfast, not because I have anything exotic, but rather because of its simplicity; coffee, a map and the wonderful anticipation of where we'll be headed this weekend.

After a long and, usually, hectic week at work, Saturday breakfast is the time I can catch up with myself whilst the rest of the house is quiet.  Monday - Friday usually sees me zooming around different parts of Lancashire and occasionally beyond, but Saturday and Sunday are mine and on Saturday morning I get to plan what we'll be doing.

The kettle goes on and 5 maps come out of the bookcase.  Why 5?  Well there are the 4 OS Maps for the Lake District plus the tourist A-Z Map which is fabulous because it covers the entire region on one side and gives me a clear idea of how long it will take to get to where.  We've been up here over a year now and we know the main routes so these days I use the A-Z more for picking out the smaller passes and short cuts.

Once I've homed in on somewhere suitable then out comes an OS Map (or two depending on where I've homed in on.) and the real planning begins.  Usually by now I'm on to my second cup and a little toast and my feet are itching to get into my boots.  This time of year I'm looking for a fairly straightforward and relatively short (4 - 5 hour) route up a peak we've never done before.  We're not trying to bag all the Wainwrights as such but we do like to go somewhere different each weekend.

Route sorted, coffee finished and toast crumbs tidied, now it's time for the real fun to begin.  A little faffing and then we're away.  Just perfect.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

It's the little things...

Having the correct equipment in the fells is essential, and in the past I've written about the sort of stuff you should be taking with you, but that's not to say that all of the stuff available for outdoors living is perfect.  Over the past few months I've been pondering over some of the tiny improvements manufacturers could make in order to render their kit perfect, and here are my (tongue in cheek) suggestions.

Velcro fastenings for hood pockets.  No, no, no, no, NO!  I've seen these in many different brands and figure they must have been designed by a bald bloke.  Or woman.  They are a perfect hair trap and should only be bought if you're already bald or require a sore bald patch on the back of your head.

Hanging loops in waterproofs.  Now I'm sure there is a very good reason for them not being there, but I just don't know what it is.  We have lovely Berghaus waterproof jackets and I can't fault them apart from the fact there's nothing to hang them up with.  I'm sure someone will tell me it's in case they get ripped or something, but these jackets are incredibly light so I really don't see the problem.  When we return dripping wet from another fell top adventure they get hung by their hoods - and that can't be healthy either can it?

Larger zip toggles.  And while I'm on the subject of waterproof jackets, please can we have larger or longer zip toggles?  When it's freezing cold and pelting with rain I don't want to have to take my gloves off yet again to deal with a zip.

Glow in the dark boot laces.  Maybe it's my age but I can never see to do the darned things up.  I absolutely adore my leather Brashers but they're brown and so are the laces.  I'm off to invest in a pair of scarily bright laces to help my failing eyesight.

The position of the toggle on the cord of my Silva map case.  This is perfectly positioned to get stuck under the strap of my rucksack every single time I put it on.  Am I just wearing this stuff wrong or something?

Zip off legs.  Don't get me started on zip off legs.  The world maybe going to hell in a handbasket, but I'll still be on my soapbox about zip off legs.  I love the idea but what is the point of them if the only way you can remove the leg is by first removing you boots?  Steve has Crag Hoppers and Peter Storm trousers which both have this problem.  I shopped around and both my Regatta and Berghaus trousers are fine.

OS Maps of the Lake District 1:25,000 series.  Four maps to cover the Lake District.  How annoying is that?  And doubly so when many of the fab routes up Scafell Pike and Coniston require the use of 2 or, in one case, 3 different maps?  The customised OS Maps cover a much smaller area so still don't solve the problem.

Waterproof woolly hats.  Why don't they exist?

Gore-Tex Trousers.  A)  Please can I have a pair with a reinforced backside?  B)  Why are they always in such dull, dark colours?  I want a pair to match my lovely bright orangy red jacket, but nooooo, they're all boring dark blue or charcoal.  (Well, apart from the gaffa tape holding mine together.)

A compass with a clock.  My watch is on my wrist and on a cold dark night on the fells I don't want to have to remove my gloves to find out the time.  A small digital clock on a compass would be a real help.

Well, that's my mini rant over.  One problem I'm keen to know how to solve is how to best deal with a runny nose on the fells?  Tissues get soggy and are blown away far too easily, hankies just get soggy, gloves are only useful for the smaller drips and snot rockets are fine for boys but never elegant for ladies, and the wind direction really needs to be taken into account.  Any suggestions?

Reply to Cumbrian Rambler (mp3)

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Truth About Hiking Part 2. Preparation.

Cairn at the top of Holme Fell
Maybe it's just us that manages to make a meal out of preparing for a hike, I don't know, but it does seem an awful faff every time we're trying to get out of the door.  Take this morning for example, it wasn't an early start and we were only doing a short hike, but boy did we manage to faff.

I fell out of bed around 9:45am, stuck the kettle on and settled down with a coffee and an OS map.  By the time Steve joined me 10 mins later I'd decided that Holme Fell and Black Crag looked like a good idea today on account of the fact it was blowing a hoolie outside.  Whilst he finished his coffee and brekkie and perused a copy of TGO (who said men can't multi task!) I sorted the food and the flasks, whilst simultaneously getting dressed and eating brekkie. I then did the washing up using the hot water I'd used to warm the flasks before quickly clearing the cat litter. (Women can multi task and save the planet!)

Finally tearing himself away from TGO Steve then organised his camera bag and clothing and sorted out the waterproof trousers, mine being easy to spot on account of the "invisible mend" (bright blue gaffa tape over the hole I created plunging down Grey Crag on my backside.).  By now there were piles of food and clothing in the kitchen and hallway so time to start stuffing bags.

Spotted this little fella near the top of
Holme Fell.
Bags duly stuffed I then zoomed around the house a couple of times locking doors, locating the waterproof map case, hunting the charger cable to the mobile for a spot of in-car charging and making sure the cat had food.  Meanwhile Steve started ferrying assorted piles of waterproofs and boots into the car, this he accomplished quite swiftly before plonking himself in an armchair and mocking my continued circuits of the house.  Eventually we piled into the car and headed off.  About 1/2 mile up the road Steve somewhat sheepishly admitted we'd have to turn around as he'd forgotten to put his walking socks in.

Surprisingly we made it to Yew Tree Tarn before lunch, and then began the hardest part of most walks, finding the starting point.  The route around the tarn was easy enough to spot but it took a few goes for us to locate the path up Holme Fell, this sort of hunting is not helped by the fact that I am the most impatient person I know and within 5 paces of where I think we should be turning off I start attempting to scale walls and crawl through bogs.

Rainbow. Taken from a bog somewhere near
Black Crag...
We soon whizzed up to the top of Holme Fell where we got blown sideways whilst drinking tea and scoffing shortbread fingers. (Another thing I love hiking - I can stuff biccies with complete impunity!).  We headed down via Man Crag along something which was once a path but which was now a pretty stream complete with rapids and waterfalls.  Our route then took us up to Oxen Fell High Cross and then up to High Arnside farm where we promptly lost the path before finding it again hiding behind a wall.  At this point a sharp shower blew through leaving behind it the most wonderful rainbow - see, there's an upside to everything.

We quickly got to the top of Black Crag and were blown sideways again whilst this time scoffing tea and a slab of malt loaf which was over a month past it's sell by date, but as malt loaf has a half life rather than a shelf life I think we'll be fine.  Have to say the views from Black Crag were stunning and we've named it "4 lakes fell" on account of the fact from the summit you have clear views of Windermere, Esthwaite, Coniston and Tarn Hows.

The route down was pretty straightforward, mainly retracing our route up but with fewer bogs and more footpaths.  We were soon back at the car, restuffing it with assorted muddy waterproofs and boots before heading home.  Once home the faffing began all over again; wet clothes here, muddy boots there, flasks to be washed, wrappers to be thrown away and, most importantly, coffees to be made, tea cakes to be toasted and feet to be put up as we sank into the sofa.  The best things in life are always worth a little effort, don't you think?
Sun through the clouds over Coniston.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Commander Robert Falcon Scott

January 17th 1912

Scott writing his journal.  Photo: Herbert Ponting
On January 17th 1912 Commander Robert Falcon Scott reached the South Pole. Along with him were Seaman Edgar Evans, Lieutenant Henry Bowers, Captain Lawrence Oats and Dr Edward Wilson. They set out on their final journey on 1st November 1911 and they arrived one month and a day after the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. Their journey back to civilisation was ultimately to end in tragedy and whilst initially celebrated as a Great British Hero Scott has, over recent years, been criticised by many for some of his decisions but even Amundsen conceded that Scott's achievements were far greater than his.

It was never meant to be a race to the pole in Scott's eyes, his mission to the South Pole was one of scientific exploration and the information he and his team gathered between 1910 and 1913 gave an amazing insight into a previously unexplored continent. So what was his mission and why did it go so badly wrong?
A little background.
Photo: Herbert Ponting
Scott had lead a party to Antarctica previously - the Discovery expedition between 1901 and 1904 when amongst his team was Ernest Shakleton, another man whose name became synonymous with south polar exploration, but whom history has treated somewhat more kindly than Scott.
Prior to his appointment in June 1900 as leader of the National Antarctic expedition Scott had a distinguished career with the Royal Navy, he was well regarded and was an experienced leader. The aim of the Discovery expedition was one of exploration and scientific discovery and his team included a zoologist, a marine biologist, a palaeontologist, a doctor and a physicist.
By the time of the Terra Nova expedition of 1910 - 1013 much more was known about the region thanks to Scott's previous journey and that of Shakletons. Again his party was comprised of a mix of Royal Navy personnel and a select group of scientists. Their aim was to explore and learn more about Antarctica as well as to be the first people to the south pole. Amundsen's only goal was that of reaching the South Pole first.
Initially Amundsen had indicated that he was heading north for further exploration of the Arctic, but on 12th October 1910 Scott received a telegram whilst they were docked in Melbourne. It simply read "Madeira. Am heading South. Amundsen." (Madeira was a usual stopping off point for European vessels heading south.). Despite this gauntlet being clearly thrown down Scott stuck to his original plans.

The Terra Nova.  Photo: Herbert Ponting
Having left Cardiff on 15th June 1910 they first saw land in Antarctica on New Years eve and began unloading their cargo and making camp at Cape Armitage on 4th January 1911. Between that point and the time they set off on their quest for the South Pole (1st November 1911) Scott's team carried out a phenomenal amount of research relating to the weather (readings were taken throughout the winter), the geology of the region, the plants and the many animals. Their studies formed a basis for our understanding of the region and much of the information they gathered is still being used today.

One of the most famous expeditions during their stay is recounted by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of the youngest men in Scott's team, in his book "The Worst Journey in theWorld" and relates to a winter journey to locate Emperor Penguin eggs. Cherry-Garrard also details the rest of the expedition in touching and harrowing detail.
The expedition was also one of the first examples of commercial sponsorship in action. Companies such as Fry's chocolate, Heinz baked beans and Bovril provided food and money in return for photographs of the team enjoying their products. Herbert Ponting was the photographer on the expedition and took many iconic images as well as fulfilling their commercial obligations.
So, what went wrong?
Manhauling.  Photo: Herbert Ponting
There have been many theories as to why Scott's party failed to be the first at the pole and why they ultimately died just 11 miles short of a provisions depot that could have saved their lives. The reality is that, as with most things in life, it wasn't as a result of any one thing, rather it was a combination of factors, some of which I'll outline:
Taking 5 people instead of 4 to the pole. Various depots had been laid out along the route and the sledges packed with enough provisions to support 4 people on the last leg of the polar journey. At the last minute Scott opted to take a 5th person with him in the final party. This is most likely because everyone wanted to be part of the final group and Scott wanted to give the opportunity to as many people as possible. However this decision meant reduced rations, more cramped living conditions (they had a 4 man tent) and the sharing of vital equipment, in particular they only had 4 pairs of skis, meaning one of the party (Bowers) had to walk through deep snow as he man hauled the sledge, rather than ski.

Not using dogs. This is a criticism that has often been made, especially as Amundsen succeeded using dog teams. Scott instead used a combination of ponies and man power. The reality is that Scott was simply not familiar with the use of dog teams in the way Amundsen was. Growing up in Norway Amundsen had used dog teams since he was young, Scott on the otherhand had limited experience with much of his knowledge coming from working with his friend and mentor Nansen. He did take dogs as part of the overall expedition, but as the results of working with them were mixed at best he did not use them on the final journey. Instead he did what many of us would do, he stuck with what he knew.
L-R: Oates, Bowers, Scott, Wilson, Evans.
Photo: Herbert Ponting

Insufficient provisions. We know an awful lot more about calories and vitamins now than we did then. Based on the provisions that we know they took with them it has been clearly established that there were not enough calories or vitamins in their daily ration packs. The whole team also had an equal allowance, even though they were of quite different sizes and builds. One of the first people to start suffering was Evans, a big strapping fellow and, as Scott put it "...the one least expected to fail." The lack of calories over the five month journey was enough to render the team too weak to face the exceptional conditions they had to endure.

Unusually poor weather conditions. A basic weather pattern was known for the region thanks to Scott's previous expedition and throughout his South Polar journey immaculate weather records were kept. This has allowed us to establish that the weather they faced on their return journey was worse than they would have expected. The temperatures were much lower and they were pinned down on several occasions by vicious blizzards. These unforeseen stops meant it took them longer to reach food depots and consequently the inadequate provisions they had needed to be reduced further to make them last longer.

Evaporation of oil. Oil formed a vital part of each food depot, providing much needed fuel for their stoves, without which not only would they have no warm food or means of heat, but they would also have no means of melting snow for water. The leather seals used on the oil containers perished in the extreme conditions allowing oil to escape, this meant that fuel had to be used very sparingly and a vital heat source was reduced.

Geologists in Ice Cave.
 Photo: Herbert Ponting
Caring for sick men. When the first of their party, Evans, showed signs of illness the team did all they could to care for him. He weakened quickly on their reutrun journey, not only becoming unable to pull the sledge, but eventually needing to ride upon it. There is no doubt that this slowed the party and even when it became clear that Evans would not survive the journey home they still cared for him until he died on February 17th. The next of the party to fall ill was Oates, yet he made no mention of his dreadfully frostbitten feet until 3 days before he died. During those few days he deteriorated rapidly and on March 17th asked to be left to die. The team refused. Later that day, while they were camped during another blizzard he uttered his now famous last words: "I am just going outside and may be some time." before leaving the tent and walking off into the blizzard never to be seen again. Should they have allowed the sick men to slow them down when they had the means to end their own suffering? (On March 11th Scott insisted Wilson hand over to each remaining man the means to end their own suffering, 30 opium tablets each.) It's a question I hope I'm never in a position to have to answer. By the time Oates died they were all aware of the fact they were very unlikely to survive their ordeal, sticking together in those circumstances would perhaps seem the most appropriate thing to do.

Continuing to haul heavy geological specimens. Until the end Scott and his men remained focused on the scientific nature of their journey. Their sldeges were heavily laden with rock samples from the centre of the continent, which were found by the party who eventually discovered them. Could their journey have been made easier if they had jettisoned this cargo earlier? Possibly. When hauling over ice overcoming the initial inertia is the main problem, once the sledge is moving it is easier to maintain momentum. The problem was that very little of their hauling was smooth and easy, much of it involved stopping and starting over difficult surfaces and the heavily laden sledges would not have helped matters.

Heroic Achievement

Scott and his extended support team left Cape Evans for the last time on 1stNovember 1911. They marched every day, with their support team leaving them at various stages along the route. On 4th January 1912 the last of the support parties turned back leaving Scott and his 4 companions to journey onwards. They arrived at the South Pole on 17th January 1912. They began their return journey on 18th January. Evans died on 17thFebruary and Oates on 17th March. Based on Scott's continuing diary entries it is believed that he and his remaining companions, Wilson and Bowers died on or around 29th March 1912, exhausted and pinned down by a blizzard just 11 miles from the One Ton Depot, which could well have saved their lives. (The original site for the depot had been 24 miles further south, meaning Scott would have reached it, but for a variety of valid reasons it was moved north - another story in itself.). During that time they man hauled sledges over 1200 miles across Antarctica, often facing the most appalling conditions, and they maintained their good spirits until the end.
Scott's 43rd Birthday 6th June 1911.
Photo: Herbert Ponting

Scott's team were devoted to him: "I loved every hair on his head. He was a born gentleman and I will never forget him." Tom Crean (a member of the supporting party). "He is thoughtful for each individual and does little kindnesses that show it." Edward Wilson (who died in the tent alongside Scott).

There is little doubt in my mind that Scott was a true leader, with the respect of all those who worked with him. Were it not for a tragic combination of events he would have survived to receive the recognition he so richly deserved. In his final days he wrote long letters to the loved ones of those who perished alongside him praising their character and courage.
The final passage in Scott's Message to the public ends: "Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependant upon us are properly provided for."

The last entry scrawled in his diary simply states "For God's sake look after our people."


The Worst Journey in the World - Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Robert Falcon Scott Journals - Scott
Captain Scott - Rannulph Fiennes

Sunday, 15 January 2012

I am in BIG trouble if my mum reads this!

Hiking rations for the day.
Funny isn't it, no matter how old you get you're still scared of a telling off from your mother aren't you?  Well, I am anyway!  After my previous post about being laid low with germs I'd promised everyone faithfully that I'd rest and stay put.  Afterall I've been ill since late December and am in the middle of a long courses of strong antibiotics from the doc; unfortunately I've never been one to do as I'm told.  I promise I would have done as I said if the weather had been rubbish, but stunning, icy clear January days are SO rare, especially at the weekends, that it would have been an absolute sin to miss it.  So I packed appropriate rations for a short hike and we set out with no real plan in mind other than to drive somewhere were I could have a little walk and see some of the fabulous scenery.

Wrynose Pass, part road part ice rink.
We aimed for Coniston first off hopeful of some still and serene shots across the lake, but it wasn't all that still so we carried on.  I then had the bright idea of seeing how far we could get up Wrynose Pass, reckoning there'd be some fab views from there.  As I warmed to my theme I noticed that Wrynose Pass provided pretty easy access to Pike of Blisco and thus a simple if slightly taxing walk would be within easy reach.  We'd clocked Wrynose Pass on our Wetherlam adventure and promised ourselves we'd return, so now seemed as good a time as any.

Wrynose Pass was entertaining to say the least. The parts in the sun were OK but the parts the sun hadn't reached were covered in black ice (and white ice for that matter).  We gingerly edged upwards in our battered old Ford Focus until we dared go no further.  When I checked the map I noticed that just along the road was a straightforward route up to Crinkle Crags. Our "drive with a short hike" was rapidly becoming a "drive with a longer than anticipated hike".

Three Shires Stone
We slithered along the road with Steve performing what he called "controlled slides" and me skating all over the place like Bambi on the frozen pond.  We then realised we were actually in Middle Earth as we reached "Three Shires Stone", the "historic meeting point" of Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland - I wonder if they ever went out for a drink together.  Now on the look out for Hobbits we continued upwards towards Mordor.

It really was a perfect walk in perfect weather.  Not a cloud in the sky and a clear and very easy to follow route, the only thing less than perfect was my respiratory system and the quiet stillness of the day was punctured only by my hacking, wheezing and swearing as we made our way past Red Tarn.  (One of the many Red Tarns in the Lake District as it happens, they really were quite uninventive when coming up with names for these things.  Rather like "Mountain View" B&B establishments I mean c'mon, it's not hard to be a little more creative than that is it?)

Crinkle Crage. Simply stunning.
Although I was suffering I have to say that every single painful step was worth it.  The views in the Lake District are amazing at any time (well, anytime the mist is high enough for you to see them), but today they completely took your breath away. Crystal clear skies of the most spectacular blue and the fells so crisp and clear you felt as if you could reach out and touch any one of them. 

It was certainly a popular route but that's unsurprising given the amazing conditions.  Parts of the path were somewhat slippy as we got higher but it was easy enough to walk along the grass instead, plus the icey conditions had the added advantage of freezing the boggy areas making them a lot easier to cross.  We generally employ a "ninja feet" approach to bogs, a technique honed from watching one too many Kung Fu movies, the aim is to take lots of small steps on your tippy toes and thus avoid sinking into the mire.  It never usually works, except when the bogs are frozen.
Frozen boggy path

It took us around 1 3/4 hours to get to the top of Crinkle Crags via Great Knott and about an hour and a half to get back to the car via the appropriately named Cold Pike.  My legs were like jelly and had no strength in them, my head was throbbing, I felt nauseous and if we hadn't reached the car when we did I think I'd have just collapsed in a heap.  I know many people reading this won't understand at all why I didn't just stay in bed and do as I was told for a change, but those who do understand know that when the weather is this perfect the fells have a way of pulling you towards them that simply cannot be explained. I honestly think it did me more good to be out on the fells than sitting indoors pining at the amazing weather and doing nothing.

There will be plenty of days in my life when I can stay indoors wrapped up in a duvet watching TV but there are very few such perfect hiking days, and when I'm old and grey (sorry, older and greyer) I'll not remember the days I was wrapped in a duvet but I will remember the days like today.  Wainwright always said his plan was to walk the fells so that when he was no longer able to he could re-live all the walks in his mind - and no-one called him crazy did they?
Grassy icicles next to a stream near to Cold Pike
Snowy patch on Crinkle Crags

ScaFell Pike & Friends from the top of Crinkle Crags.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Closed for refurbishment.

I've not been around for a while and this is due to a combination of factors; Christmas, germs and the decision by my blog hosting company to close down their site forcing me to relocate my entire blog, post by post, to Blogger.  Still, it's nicer here, more design and layout options plus it's free, though I am now wholly beholden to the Google god of the internet and if they go they take my life with them.  No pressure then.

Sharp Edge Blencathra. I'll be back soon.
Temporarily closing down appears to be the in thing in January in the Lake District.  It's our first January in Grange and many of the shops are closed for refurbishment ready for the next season which begins promptly at February half term, so I'm in good company.  We saw a steady flow of tourists through Christmas and New Year and they're pretty easy to spot - they're the ones with the clean walking boots and carrying umbrellas.  Anyone who lives up here knows the futility of trying to use an umbrella when faced with a Cumbrian deluge.  Firstly it may possibly keep your head dry, but nowhere else and secondly it acts as a sail, hauling you along at twice the speed you intended.

And as for the germs...  Well I've lived in the north for a year and have enjoyed perfect health, I visited the south for 10 days over Christmas and came down with an evil infection.  A bit like 28 days later.  So addled by sinusitis, antibiotics and paracetamol my head is not as clear and creative as it usually is and I'm certainly not allowed anywhere near the fells for another couple of weeks so I shall, instead, dedicate my time to refurbishing the blog and settling it in to it's new home.

Please do take time to look around, you'll find the same old rambling posts plus a few new photos, and it's much easier to leave comments now, though I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.  I'm off to unpack some more blogs.  Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.