Sunday, 18 March 2012

Am I too old for this?

I'm writing this the morning after the hike before, and everything aches.  Whenever I read other people's lovely blogs about hiking they never seem to mention the pain, so is it just us?  Are we getting too old for all this cavorting around the fells?  I do hope not!  Mind you, yesterday's hike was a bit of a "hiking extravaganza"!
Buttermere from Fleetwith Pike

Lured by the first spring-like Saturday of the year we decided to go for it and tackle a biggie.  Our plan was to park near to the lovely folks at Honister Slate Mine, hike up and over Fleetwith Pike, along Buttermere, around  via Scaleforce up onto Red Pike, then follow the ridge via High Stile, High Crag and Haystacks and back to the car.  We very nearly did it too, but we hadn't factored in three key things:

  1. Tourist time - allowing additional time to get from A-B on a sunny Saturday.  We'd gotten lax through Jan and Feb and had forgotten how much time this can add to the journey.  We were held up by a succession of people tootling along admiring the scenery at 35mph.
  2. Unexpected snow - it was a lovely spring day, we certainly weren't expecting snow on the fells.
  3. Another dodgy compass - my Silva broke during our Wetherlam hike, it simply refused to point north but it did, at least, point consistently in the wrong direction.  I replaced it with a non-branded one from Mountain Warehouse which, during the course of our hike yesterday, decided North could be in any one of a number of directions.  Free thinking compasses are not helpful.
Bleabury Tarn (note rain!)
We're not early starters and knew there was a good chance of finishing in the dark, so head torches were packed along with plenty of food and drink.  Thanks to the aforementioned hold ups along the way we didn't get to Honister until 11:30am, however we soon whipped up Fleetwith Pike and stopped for a quick slurp and a bikkie whilst we admired the stunning views down over Buttermere.  Then we descended Fleetwith Pike.  Entire books could be written about the descent of Fleetwith Pike down Fleetwith Edge and they'd be very long books indeed.  It just goes on, and on, and on.  But at least the views were pretty.  Over an hour later we were finally stood on the shores of Buttermere.

High Stile Cairn
The easy stroll along the banks of the lake was livened up by a hefty rain shower and we decided on reaching the head of the lake that we'd ditch the Scaleforce route and instead head up Old Burness to Bleabury Tarn.  This is a really straightforward route and is stepped pretty much the whole way and, if you were "lucky" enough to be on it yesterday in the pouring rain you'd have heard me belting out "Blueberry Hill" in honour of the occasion.  We sheltered briefly for a sarnie en route but otherwise steamed through, past the tarn, up onto Red Pike and into the snow.  This was definitely unexpected - though we had noticed the dusting on top of the fell on our way up.  Pretty though it was it delayed us for 2 main reasons; firstly because we were slipping and sliding around and secondly because it was pretty and we had to take pictures.

The mist kicked in around about now which was when I discovered my compass had taken leave of its senses.  However long I held it still for it resolutely refused to point consistently in any direction.  Though frustrated at the mist and the compass we were mightily impressed by seeing our first Brocken Spectres - we tried taking pics, but they're not easy to capture.  Thanks to the popularity of the route we found our way to High Stile pretty easily but it took us a while to find our way from there to High Crag.  Once we got to High Crag the mist cleared but it was now getting dark fast.  We dropped down via Seat to Scarth Gap and deployed head torches.

Climbing Haystacks in the dark was surprisingly straightforward, the route is clear and easy to follow although there are a couple of scrambles along the way.  We paused next to Innominate Tarn and there, in the peaceful still of the evening, with the stars shining brightly in the heavens, you could almost hear Wainwright himself whispering to us: "What time do you call this? It's gone 8 o'clock, it's pitch dark and it's time you got down off my bloomin' fell - I came here for a bit of peace and quiet!".

It took us a few attempts to find the route down in the, by now, pitch dark and at one point I slipped and tore my Gore-Tex trousers (again), my nice Berghaus walking trousers (first time), my undies and my, ahem, bum.  Luckily I didn't notice the latter 'til we were home and I spotted all the blood - to be fair it's more of a very deep scratch than a cut, but it is a good 3 inches long.  Sadly the location of this spectacular war wound precludes me from including pic or showing it off in anyway.  Curses.  Just take my word for it, it's pretty impressive!

Sunset from High Crag
Luckily for us the mist was long gone and we managed to navigate using the lights of Gatesgarth Farm in the valley below as a landmark.  We also made use of the many cairns along the way although at one point when I excitedly spotted another one Steve cautiously enquired "Is it actually a cairn, or is it just a pile of stones."  Good question.  Amazingly we didn't put a foot wrong and were very glad to spot a huge JCB as we approached Honister Slate Mine, reassuring us we were most definitely on the right track.

We finally got back to the car at 9:41pm after our 10 hour adventure.  We were exhausted and glad of the sitdown but before I hopped in the car I took one last moment to enjoy the fantastic display of stars; being out on the fells after dark might be challenging but it certainly has its benefits.  Today will be an awful lot lazier, but there will most definitely be a leisurely stroll along the prom later on to ease my aching muscles.

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