Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Fell for All Seasons?

As we are fully fledged year round hikers now I thought it an appropriate time to review our first 12 months on the fells and figure out which time of year is best for fell walking. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the seasons so in the best scientific tradition we shall identify a constant and note how it varies throughout the year; in this case our constant will be sheep, so if it's small & bouncy, it's spring; if it looks like a bad advert for Gillette, it's summer; if it's wet & shivering, it's autumn and if it's camouflaged against the landscape traceable only by it's bleating & a trail of yellow snow, then it's winter. Of course the other constant is the rain, in which case the advice is; if the rain feels slightly warmer than normal then it might be summer - but there's no guarantee...


Just the teeniest bit guilty...
There are a few fabulous things about spring on the fells; bluebells, garlic and lamb - and two of those go rather well together.  We started our first serious walks in the spring and my memories are of amazing spring flowers in the woods and on the hillsides. Rannerdale bluebells are etched into my memory; the stunning blue hillside, bright yellow gauze and deep blue skies reflected in Crummock Water. Early in the spring, especially during term time, the fells are relatively quiet, as are the roads, but the still short days can rule out some of the longer hikes unless you're carrying head torches. The smell of the garlic in the woods meant I was constantly hungry and I did feel a wee twinge of guilt each time I cooed at a gorgeous spring lamb.


Hidden away - can you name the lake?
Busy season. Oddly enough we found this a great time of year to start late and finish late and thus avoid the crowds. Most people are better at getting out of bed than we are and set off between 9 & 10am, presumably allowing them to be home for their dinners. We found that by setting off at 12 or even 1pm we missed the rush and the very light nights meant we could stroll back to the car at 10 or 11pm.  I suppose some people might advise against walking during the hottest part of the day but c'mon, it's the north of England and, much as I desperately love the place, it's never really going to get that hot, and if it does then there's always a lovely cool lake to walk around or even take a dip into.  It's also wise to avoid the main routes up the fells and study your OS map rather than your Wainwright if you want any peace and quiet.


Moonrise from Wetherlam
This is the time of year for early starts and late finishes.  It's the perfect season for taking shots of sunsets; the fells are the most wonderful shades of red and brown and when the evening sun catches them they are truly stunning. But the mornings are not to be missed either; inversion season starts during the late autumn so when the mist is hanging low in the valleys, head for the nearest high spot and have your camera ready.  It's also the time of year for getting caught out by the clocks going back so best to double check you've packed your head torches before you set off.  Not that we'd ever get caught out by anything like that.  Honest...  And lastly it's the best time of year to see the Gills/ Ghylls going at full tilt, of course the reason they're going full tilt is because they're full of rainwater, and all that rain has to come from somewhere so don't leave home without your waterproofs.


The very worst thing about winter is the short days.  I'm not a fan of intentional night hiking - one of the main reasons I love the fells is the amazing views, and if I can't see those then I'm not so keen.  Of course on a clear night the stars are amazing, but there are plenty of deserted lower lying spots you can see those from.  During December and January it's dark by 4pm so we used the time to visit some of the lower fells; Helm Cragg, Loughrigg etc.  I think the very best thing about the winter is the snow.  No, it's the inversions.  No, it's the snow.  Oh I don't know!  How about "it's the snowy inversions"?  I've learned a lot about walking in snow this year,  I've also learned a lot about sliding in snow and falling in snow - mostly I've learned that the last 2 can be quite painful and should be avoided if at all possible.

So after all that I have to choose my favourite time of year for the fells.  Hmmm, I'm inclined to say early spring when the crocuses & snowdrops are out everywhere and the evenings are getting everso slightly longer, but that's probably because it's early spring right now.  Ask me again in a few months and I'm sure I'll have changed my mind.  Sorry about that but don't blame me, blame the fells.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

"A rose by any other name..."

Crinkle Crags in a puddle
Today was one of those days when we started out intending to do one route and ended up doing a completely different one.  Not that we have anything against Pike of Blisco, but this is the second time we've planned to climb it only to veer off at the last moment, well, technically, the second and third times as we didn't climb it twice today.  Our original plan was simple, park at Dungeon Ghyll National Trust car park, head up Blisco via Brown Howe and back down via Wrynose Pass and Blea Tarn.  Problem was, just as we started up Brown Howe we spotted another path that looked a lot more fun and took us up over Crinkle Crags, so we took that instead, promising to try and squeeze in Blisco on the way back, but it wasn't to be.

Anyway, back to the start, because one of the things that has struck me today is how appropriate, or not, some of the names in the Lake District are, so let's do this walk and evaluate the names along the way.  At the time of writing this I haven't researched any names locally, so if you can shed any light on any of them, please let me know.

ScaFell & friends. (c) Steve Pipe
We started at Dungeon Ghyll.  First of all there was no Dungeon there and secondly, why is it sometimes "Gill" and other times "Ghyll"? I'm guessing we probably have the Vikings to thank for that.  We followed the road, then the track to Stool End, I can't even begin to imagine where that got it's name from as the nearest loos are a mile away back in the National Trust car park.  After our aborted attempt at Brown Howe, we made our way past the splendid Whorneyside Force, which was most definitely forceful, and then across the bottom of the most inappropriately named Hell Gill; inappropriate because it's an absolutely beautiful little gully with a fabulous waterfall tucked into the back of it.

We slid our way up Buscoe to reach the most appropriately named spot of the day; "Three Tarns" where there were indeed, three tarns.  Or at least the frozen remains of them anyway.  I was a little disappointed not to find a pub there because a) it's a great name for a pub and b) I could really have done with a pie and a pint around about then.  I should also report that it was mind numbingly cold at this point and what little breath I had left was taken by the views.

Next we picked our way up and along the Crinkle Crags ridge and both commented on how crinkly and craggy they were as we slipped and slithered over crests and cols.  Lurking behind us in the distance was Bow Fell and each time I hear that name I have images of a Bond villain stood at the top stroking a white cat telling me he's been expecting me.  I was most disappointed when we climbed it a couple of years back not to find him there.  Perhaps he was in his lair that day.

Bow Fell & one of the 3 Tarns (c) Steve Pipe
By now we were headed downwards past Cold Pike (perfectly named, been past it twice, both times it was freezing), and down towards Red Tarn and I can vouch for the fact that it is surrounded by lovely red rocks and so is most deserving of its name.  It was now gone 4pm and as we drank coffee and munched on Snickers (Marathons!) we decided it was best to head down via Brown Howe (rather more white than Brown today) and give Pike of Blisco a miss for the second time in one day.  And is it "Pike o Blisco" or "Pike of Blisco"?  And who, or what, was Blisco?  Sounds like a brand of blister plasters to me, so probably appropriate.  "Sore feet?  Try new Blisco they'll help you walk more when you're sore."

Anyway, we made it back to Delores just as it was getting dark (she's our main transport since our car died; the name comes from her air of faded grandeur and is utterly appropriate).  Apologies Blisco, no hard feelings, I promise we'll be back to visit you and your infamous cairn soon, let's face it we're fast running out of excuses and other fells in your vicinity to distract us, so maybe next time, eh?

Beautiful frozen waterfall. (c) Steve Pipe

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Felling in Love

Ullswater, where the affair began.
I'll never forget the first time we met; 22nd August 2010, I was a little apprehensive and you were all rugged good looks and twinkling blue skies. As with most relationships we were both on our best behaviour for the first few dates - your blue skies continued to twinkle and my clothes were skimpy. We even spent the night together on our first date but I think that's because we both knew it was serious right from the start.

We were inseparable for those first couple of weeks but eventually I had to return home, though we both promised to keep in touch. I returned a couple of months later and I could immediately see you'd changed, those twinkling blue skies had been replaced with something a little more moody and unpredictable, but if anything it only made me love you more. If I'm honest I'd changed too, my skimpy clothes were gone, replaced with something rather more comfortable and practical. We only got to spend a week together but it was enough time to make our plans for the future.

"Home" - for a while.
We finally moved in together on 2nd January 2011, some people thought we were rushing things, but we knew better didn't we? To start off with we made do with a small place that meant I had to commute to see you but it was worth it and by the end of March we were properly together.

Over the past year or so I've learned so much about you and it's fair to say I've lost my way with you a few times - especially when you get all misty skied on me. I've also noticed how unpredictable your moods are and, on occasion, I've seen your nasty side; not pretty but we all have one don't we? You're forever changing your appearance and are always keen to show off the new look for each season. You've taken an interest in my clothes too and you're happy for me to go back to my skimpy clothes on the right occasion but you're quick to punish me if I get it wrong - remember that time I thought I could hike around Haweswater in my t-shirt and shorts because it was sunny? Halfway round you unleashed a torrential downpour that taught me to respect you and your ever changing moods.

Misty eyed.

I know I'm not the only one in love with you; ours is an open relationship and each year I have to share you with around 8 million others, but I'm happy with that. Many of them don't understand you like I do and I know some of them hurt you when they don't appreciate your fragile nature and walk all over you with no consideration for the future relationship.

\Breathtaking beauty.

There are literally thousands of books about you written by people hoping to get to know you better and trying to explain your complex nature. Some of those books are helpful but many of them miss the point completely. Love for you can't be explained it can only be felt, and those who don't feel it will never understand how those like me cope with your unpredictable nature, ever changing moods and constant demands for attention - but we're happy aren't we?

Our relationship is rock solid so today, on Valentine's Day, I just wanted to take this opportunity to tell the world what you mean to me. I haven't bought you flowers - but I know you'll have some ready for me next time we meet. So please, don't ever change your wild & unpredictable ways, I really do love you just the way you are.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Following trails and making tracks

Thirlmere view

I headed up to Thirlmere and took the icy road to the left of the lake parking up at Dob Gill then a slippery yet pleasant walk up the forestry tracks.When it was time to turn off the main track on to the narrower footpath, for some reason rather than follow the human footprints I decided to follow some animal tracks off in another direction.You can follow animal footprints a lot easier in the snow and when you follow them there is logic to them, they always follow an easy clear route. The other week when we lost the Helvellyn path down I followed a sheep trail down, and to great success I thought. Anyways they didn't look like they were bear, wild cat or boar marks so I thought it safe enough that I wouldn't stumble upon their lair.

I eventually came to a gate at the edge of the woods with the wilderness opened before me and a bitterly cold wind in the face. The path lead up with Dob Gill remaining to the left which had many frozen waterfalls.

Icy Stream

Icy Stream

From there the path was vague and seemed to split into three leading away with footprints, human with crampon, bear, and erm yeti?
Human with crampon

Had thought about bears and wild cats but not yetis...

I thought it best I follow the human though if your footwear doesn't look like that then is it any safer than meeting a bear or yeti?

It didn't take long for the path to turn to sheer ice, spikes were definitely needed.

I reached the crest and could see Blea Tarn lower down in front of me, and from it a path leading down to Watendlath. I trudged down to the waters edge and quickly took some photos for as long as my frozen hands would allow(my drink had iced up!) As it was getting late I headed to Bell Crags on a circular route back down.

Frozen Blea Tarn

Tuffs of grass poking out of the snow making an interesting pattern.

Sunset over Blea Tarn

Distracted from photo taking I suddenly became aware the wind had died down, it was 5pm on the dot and it was still, eerily still. Is that when 'they' come out to feed,early evening when there's no wind? Cautiously looking around to make sure I wasn't being caught in a bear-yeti co-op pincer movement I headed back down into the woods. Hmmm. Bears and woods...
"I could see things were about to kick off;so I got out of there!" Ross Kemp style...

ps. no there aren't really any bears or yetis out there, it was just the cold affecting my brain ;-)


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Slip Sliding Away

Gummer's How Trig Point
I tried to come up with a really smart and funny title for today's blog, but this song has been in my head all day and so appropriate given what I spent most of the day doing...

Gummer's How Woods.
Having no real plan, apart from wanting to be out all day playing in the snow, I packed a vast amount of food and drink and we piled into the car.  Grange was fogbound but we had a hunch it might be an inversion and as we headed up the road to Gummer's How we were proven correct as we popped out into a gloriously sunny and snowy landscape.  There was a sort of a "mist sandwich" going on today, with lots of mist down in the valleys and lots of it on the tops of the high fells, but in the middle it was beautifully clear - if a little parky.

We were the first people up there and only had to share the fell with a few mildly startled cows, who frankly didn't seem to appreciate the gorgeous inversion in front of them.  We hung around for a while taking pics and surveying the distant fells deciding where to head next.  A big fell seemed pointless as we could see they had their heads in the clouds, so we opted for Loughrigg, although we've done it before we thought its central location would give us some pretty good views, even though we might have to dodge the crowds to see them...

Squeezing into a lay-by we set off, Steve marching purposefully ahead and me pelting him with snowballs.  Reaching the wooden bridge across the end of Grassmere we realised how right we were about the crowds, Loughrigg is a perfect fell for anyone staying anywhere near Ambleside and today it looked so wonderful that you can't blame everyone for wanting a piece of it.  Despite my grumpiness at having to share the fells with others it was actually quite lovely watching families out building snowmen, having snowball fights and generally enjoying the great outdoors.
Continuing Inversion over Windermere and Coniston

We wound our way up via the cave, where we found 3 people deep inside singing loudly.  They emerged a few minutes later saying how wonderful the acoustics were in there and we really should have a good old sing-song to try it out for ourselves.  Enthusiastic though I am, my singing voice is more howling gale than nightingale so I did everyone within earshot a favour and gave it a miss.

Not having a major summit in mind today gave us the time to wander around and explore the many corners of Loughrigg and we enjoyed a surprisingly warm and pleasant lunch atop Ivy Crag before weaving our way finally to the summit.

Making our way down was where the fun really started and Paul Simon's classic tune really could not have been more appropriate.  I have a lousy sense of balance.  Maybe it's hereditary, maybe it's psychological or maybe it's a result of my tiny feet, but whatever the cause, vertical is always a position which challenges me, especially when on icy paths angled 45 degrees downwards.  Eventually I figured that it was less painful to just sit on my backside and slide down than it was to try and remain vertical and fall down every few steps.  An unorthodox approach but what it lacked in elegance it made up for in efficiency  - check out the video if you don't believe me!

We made it back to the car just as the sun was setting where I finally got to rest my poor, sore and soggy backside and Steve finally stopped laughing.  I'm not sure if Berghaus clothing tests usually cover a 300m descent bum first but full marks to them - the trousers came through unscathed - maybe I should ask them for a job?

Friday, 3 February 2012

Clough-ing and Puffing

With it sunny and clear, the snow called. I headed out armed with a mountain name and the name of the nearest road. Yeah I know, one day I'll take a map rather than wing it...

When I couldn't find the road in question I looked up at the Clough Head and thought that's close enough and parked up. A quick walk back down the road I found it, 'The old coach road'. It must have some history behind it as it's a gated track unsuitable for vehicles yet has a proper road sign to Matterdale.

After a 30min walk up the old coach road across Thelkeld knotts you reach the base of the snow lined Clough head. From the north side its a sheer drop, good for paragliders, as there were when I walked past. I don't think theres an official path up this side so I found a suitable entry point and zig-zagged up. With it being in the shade the snow was quite icy, good for snow boarders who where also there. I was exhausted after each dozen steps, with all this nice weather and snow I need a rest, though I know I'll be up somewhere today...

Blencathra & Skiddaw

Once you are on the top you get a good view of Blencathra and Skiddaw to the north and the south Helvellyn and the Dodds and has probably been done by many as the beginning or end of a ridge walk to Dollywaggon Pike. I wonder how far that is; Clough Head-Calfhow Pike-Great Dodd-Watson's Dodd-Stybarrow Dodd-Raise-White side-Lower Man-Helvellyn-Nethermost Pike-Dollywagon Pike.


Derwent Fells & Crag Hill


Snowy bank on Clough Head

Looking towards Great Dodd

The views were stunning in the snow but as I had started late (psychotic cat, road works in Ambleside and big queue for petrol) it was already 4pm and the sun was turning. It all looked too good so I thought just one more and headed to a nice lump of bare rock, Calfhow Pike to have a final slurp of tea.

The sun was now setting so I headed back down and home. I think a circular walk that includes Great Dodd would be a good one for next time.

Moon over Calfhow Pike

Edit: It's Steve btw Hello all. :-)