Thursday, 31 January 2013

Confessions of a fell walker.

There's a danger when writing blogs about fell walking that you can come across as someone who's never put a foot wrong when that is very far from the truth, so here are some of the things I've done, or haven't done, which don't fit neatly with the image of "experienced and sensible fell walker".

1.  On our first hike up Helvellyn (via Striding Edge) I forgot to pack our sandwiches and only took plastic bottles of water, one of which sprung a leak and had to be emptied half way up.  We still made it by topping up our remaining bottle from the streams and eeking out our snacks during the day.  Not clever and not a mistake we've ever made again.

Not the place to forget your sarnies.
2.  We have, on occasion, navigated using the "lots of other people are heading that way so it must be right" technique, only to end up in completely the wrong place.  Well, not so much wrong as different, and silly.

3.  There have been several occasions when I've planned a route because it looked like a "nice circular route" and have failed to take into account the contours indicating steep ascents and descents along the way.  Fair to say we've had a few "lively debates" about those when they've come to light.
C'mon, it's not *that* far...

4.  You know that moment when you're stood atop a crag, gazing away into the distance and think to yourself "I know we planned to do X but that summit really doesn't look that far away."?  Been there, done it, got the T-shirt.  One particular hike involving Scafell Pike leaps to mind.  Having already completed the summit ridge we got distracted by Allen Crags, Esk Pike and Bow Fell before Steve wisely called time as I eyed up Crinkle Crags...

5.  We got hopelessly lost in the mist on Riggindale because we were "so sure of where we were going" that we didn't take a compass reading, even though we had one with us. We ended up having to hike over High Street, in the dark, mist and rain with only an iphone torch to guide us.  Not our proudest moment.

6.  We've never read Wainwright.  I've read a biography about him and am intrigued by his single minded determination to complete the books, and I've flicked through and greatly admired the drawings and handwriting, but I don't want to be told what to look for.  Spoils the surprise for me, rather like squeezing your pressies on Christmas Eve.  One day I'll get around to reading his take on the ones we've already done, but I've got so many other books to read about places I'll probably never visit.

"I can see your footpath from here"
7.  We got soaked to the skin around Haweswater when we set off in glorious sunshine and left our waterproofs behind, convinced it wouldn't rain.  We returned to the car a couple of hours later soaked to the skin and truly penitent.

8.  We didn't check the batteries in Steve's head torch and ended up near sprinting along Borrowdale in Kendal valley to get back to the car before it got dark.

9.  We've mistaken sheep tracks for footpaths more times than I care to admit to.  Maybe that's how the footpaths got there in the first place.

10.  "Yeah, that road looks fine, just give it a bit of a run up"  fateful words uttered recently when attempting to reach Walna Scar car park in the snow.  We didn't make it and discovered that even a Landrover can slide backwards on all 4 wheels on a sheet of compacted snow/ ice.

So there you go, my top confessions.  We've been lucky/ experienced enough to get ourselves out of various scrapes unharmed and have learned lessons from each and every experience.  Life on the fells isn't about being perfect, it's about keeping your head when things start to go wrong and learning your lessons for next time.  And please, tell me I'm not alone - are there any confessions you're willing to admit to?

Friday, 25 January 2013

Icicles, snowmen and inquisitive sheep on Yewbarrow

Britain's Favourite View in winter attire

(Blog & pics by Steve) The forecast was for another clear sunny day so I decided to venture over to Wastwater. Again the forecast was wrong as it was cloudy with intermittent snow, so I spent an hour taking shots at the lake before deciding it wasn't going to get any better and began my climb up Yewbarrow.

I've only climbed Yewbarrow once before in a T shirt on a rare hot March day so this was a change. The initial climb to the base of the crags was fine though still needed spikes to assist, but beyond that I'd forgotten how much of a short sharp mountain it is without much path past the 'face in the rocks'.

The spectacular Wast Water Screes.
A little off piste I came to some great icicles around 13ft long I'd say. Further up is a tough scramble, tough enough during the best of days but in thick snow it required full concentration. Though I'm tall at 6'4 with a good reach, my fat size 13 boots can't fit in all the ideal foot holds so I knew on the way down I would need to change the bulb ;-)

13 foot icicles
After an hour of scramble and re-routing I made it to the top of the crag. I decided that due to probable time, light & blizzard restrictions I would waymark may way around to avoid the crag on the way down by placing little snowmen. The snow was knee deep here and with no one else having been up, I had to forge a new path forward this made the final part of the climb long and tiring.

Once at the top dark snow clouds loomed over Great Gable and Scafell it began to snow on me so wary of the time it had taken me I headed back down. The snowmen were a great help and a little more fun than cairns (or are some really just random piles of stones?) I ended up just below the crags in good time so stopped for a bite to eat with a inquisitive sheep for company.


Drifting Away on Great Gable

(Blog & pics by Steve) The sun was shining in the south lakes so I thought it a great opportunity to get out and get some snowy fells lit up by the sun. As I drove around I thought I'd go further afield and go for an easy path higher up and headed to Seathwaite to get some shots of Great Gable, Styhead & Sprinkling Tarn. As I should have expected I suppose the further into the middle of the lakes you go the more likely it is to be cloudy. Darn, snow looks much better in the sun.

Once you get to Seathwaite Farm, it's a popular long steady route to get to Scarfell Pike. At Stockley Bridge you have a choice, go left straight up to Sprinkling Tarn, continuing left the path winds it way up to several peaks,Eskpike, Lingmell & Scafell Pike. Or at the bridge take a right to Styhead Tarn, Great Gable and up to Scarfell Pike via the corridor route. As you can see the left path go on & on ahead of you all the way up, I prefer going up the path to the right.

Cloud lingered over Great Gable and far below Lingmell so opted to stop at Sprinkling Tarn. As luck would have it the sun came out over Styhead Tarn where I stopped for lunch and had a chat to a nice old man. We made our way up to Sprinkling Tarn both stopping every other footstep to take another photo as the cloud disappeared and the sun and blue sky came out. A churpy chappy from Langdale stopped for a quick chat before he yomped off looking for somewhere to camp (or dig out a snow shelter I think he said) somewhere on the other side of Great Gable.

The sun was beginning to set only minutes after it had came out and was giving the snowy mountains a lovely golden glow so couldn't resist, saying goodbye to the nice man as he made his return journey I headed up to side of Allen Crags to get a view over the valleys. As the sun set, I returned down the other path to Stockley Bridge. At some point I shall try this route up, it's long and stepped a lot of the way and I'm not sure which is best, going up or down steps.

As I got to the bridge, I said hello to the nice old man again as he sat having a snack. Turned out he would have had to walk down the road to the bus stop at Seatoller or wait an hour for it so I drove him down and caught it just in time. Nothing worse to end a good hike than a long tedious road walk.

Some are better equipped for winter walking than others.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Pretty much irresistible...
It's January and the UK is currently gripped with snow fever.  As I type around 1mm of snow is sprinkled across the track outside the house but still it makes the news.  In an hour or so I shall fire up the flasks and head for the fells, but not before I've passed on some of my top tips for hiking in the snow.

(NOTE:  Whilst some of these are light-hearted hiking in the fells in winter is dangerous and should NOT be attempted without all the proper kit and experience!)

1. Snow is cold.  Really cold.  Don't be fooled by the blue skies; you think it's cold when you get out of the car - just wait till you get to the top of the fells.  Load up with as many layers as you can.  This is not a time to be fashion conscious, this is a time to be safe.  The Michelin Man look is de rigueur for winter hiking.

There's a path under here somewhere...
2.  Snow is wet.  I know this might sound obvious to many of you but plenty of people seem to miss this fact and head out without waterproofs because the forecast is dry.  Well the forecast may be dry but the snow will be wet.  And cold (see above).  Any part of your body which comes into contact with it will become cold and soggy which, if you happen to be me, means your boots, socks, gloves, trousers and backside will spend the day in a state of soggy frozen numbness.

3.  Snow is slippy.  It might look all soft and fluffy but that's just a ploy to lure you out there.  Hiking in snow involves slipping over, which is perhaps the main reason why it's a good idea to stick to the safe routes.  If I'm going to fall over I'd prefer to only have a few bruises to show for the experience.  You may just be here for the weekend with a plan to bag a bunch of Wainwrights but trust me, the fells will still be there the tomorrow, you may not. (For winter hiking it is essential to invest in proper walking spikes.  We have Pogu Spikes and would strongly recommend them.)

"Off piste"
4.  Snow hides all the good paths.  Well at least it does at first, by lunchtime most of the main routes have become icy bobsleigh runs leaving you with two choices.  Either slide your way down the main route or get a slightly better grip just off the path but risk vanishing up to your thighs in a drift.  Which brings me to point 5.

5.  Snow is deep.  It has this knack of lying in a lovely flat looking blanket and covering up all the dips and troughs in the landscape.  One second you're walking on solid ground, the next you've vanished up to your thighs in a drift.  This is largely good fun but also a little spooky at times.  Not to mention frustrating and energy sapping if it's towards the end of the day.

6.  Snow disguises landmarks.  The fells look stunning in the snow but they also look different.  Red Screes becomes White Screes, cairns get covered and shelters drifted up.  We can recognise and name most of the fells and are pretty handy with a map & compass, but the snow makes everything look different and that can be disorientating.  Stick to routes you know or use a GPS system to stay safe.
Challenging conditions on Helvellyn

7.  Snow comes from clouds.  Big thick clouds, which often return to the fell tops during the day.  Nothing is trickier to navigate through than thick snowy mist on top of a thick snowy fell.  To put it bluntly, if you don't know how to navigate don't go up there.

8.  Snow nicks all the good lunch spots.  You may have packed a big flask of hot soup but you'll be hard pushed to find a spot to eat it.  For a start it's incredibly cold so you won't be wanting to stand still for too long and secondly all the flat surfaces have snow on them.  You can scrape it off but believe me you will have a numb bum within seconds of sitting down.  Snow hiking is about short frequent snacks to keep your energy levels up.

Winter hiking rocks!
9.  Snow wears you out.  Do not expect to complete the same distances in the snow as you can on a fine day.  The combination of all the factors above make it an energy sapping experience.  The cold on its own can drain you much more quickly than you realise and once you're tired you are much more likely to make mistakes.

10.  Snow is fun!  I don't want to be a doom monger - I love the snow.  Snow is perfect for pelting Steve with snowballs and for making snow men and snow angels and for sledging on and for a million other excuses to act like a five year old, just remember it can also be dangerous.   Right, time to fire up the flasks and head out there!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

*This* is why we do it.

Some days just don't pan out as you'd expect.  This morning we had our plans; take car to garage to get handbrake fixed (when they sold it to us they didn't warn us it only worked on the flat and not on hills, bit of a problem around here), then proceed to an undisclosed location to track Herdy's latest adventure, then home for tea.
Not a promising start.

What happened was this; took car to garage, handbrake "fixed", proceeded to undisclosed location (45 mins from Kendal) and parked, only to discover smoke pouring from our rear wheel.  Call garage and inform them we'll be returning but not before we've had a bite to eat.  Sit in car and enjoy sarnies smiling a cheery "hello" to passers by and try to look as if we always eat our lunch in a car surrounded by clouds of acrid smoke.  Return to garage where they "refix" the handbrake.  No smoke but car now pulls alarmingly to the left - if you're attending my course tomorrow please excuse the smell.
En route up Kirkstone Pass

By now it's gone 2pm and we are ITCHING to get above what we now know is an inversion (thanks to Paul @prb43 Byrne).  We impatiently wait for car to be fixed and, realising the Herdy plan is out of the window, we scour our brains for an alternative location which will lift us above the clouds as quickly as possible.  Kirkstone Pass is settled upon and as soon as car "fixed" we're off.

As we wound our way up we weren't 100% sure we'd be high enough but, sure enough, as we approached the Kirkstone Inn we popped out of the clouds.  Well, almost, Steve has the best pics of this moment so I'll be posting those at a later date when he's done tinkering with them.

At the time we parked up the car park was still in the mist, just, so we slung our kit on our back and near sprinted up to Red Screes.  45 mins from the car park to the trig point - a new record for us.  But the views were utterly stunning!

Beautiful Icebow at the top of the clouds.

Our route to the summit.

A little higher...

We headed out to Raven Crag and started rapidly depleting our camera batteries.  Everywhere we looked the views got better and better and, as the sun set they got prettier still.

Batteries spent and light fading fast we headed back down to the car park.  Oddly the screes seemed to be a lot more "screey" on the way down than on the way up, but we made it back to the car just before "head torch o'clock".

The last time we visited Red Screes I wrote a piece where I facetiously asked "Why do we do it?".   On that occasion, after blundering around Red Scees in the mist, I quoted one of my favourite explorers George Mallory who said we do it "Because it's there".  On this occasion I'd like to elaborate on that; not only do we do it "because it's there", sometimes we do it because, when we get there, we can see this.

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Friday, 4 January 2013

New year, new life, new blog.

Ahhh Haweswater - remember summer?
But no resolutions!  I always think New Years Resolutions should instead be titled "Here's a list of things I want to do but will probably ultimately fail at and will thus beat myself up about at some future point in time."  Not quite so snappy though.  If you've clicked here looking for news of our latest hike then you're fresh out of luck I'm afraid, we were away over the hols and haven't been out yet, but here's a few nice pics of the fells anyway.

So what's the point of the blog if there's no hike?  Well 2nd Jan marked 2 years since we sallied forth into our new life in the north so I thought now was as good a time as any for a recap and an update.  I always promised I'd track out new life warts and all, so here it is.

Beautiful Buttermere.  And breathe...
Workwise I've taken the plunge out of full time permanent work and into full time permanent fear.  The plan was that my training work would support us while we built the writing/ photography side of things and that was working fine right up to the point when my biggest client slashed their training budget by more than half.  Darn.  Still, it's no good moping around, I have other work and can use the additional time to focus on my writing and developing the photography website.  (Ha!  "Developing the photography website" - these blogs aren't just thrown together you know!)

The vegetable plot in the garden is primed and ready for action though I'm still not quite sure what I'll be planting.  We have about 1 foot of lovely composty soil before we hit the old Morecambe Bay silts, so I'm thinking a combo of spuds and seaweed to make the most of the natural habitat.

The writing is also taking off nicely, something I never envisaged two years ago and I now have a weekly hiking column on the Cumbria24 website as well tracking the monthly adventures of the lovely Herdy.  There's a list over on the right of all the other places you can find me too.

Retro is in, right?
On the home improvements side we're still awaiting planning permission for our modest modifications; we're hoping to pop an external staircase in to open up 3 "undercroft" rooms (basement) and allow us a little more space for visitors.  At the moment our second bedroom is only a single room but that doesn't stop us wedging a double bed in on occasions. It works fine so long as the occupants take turns breathing.  But budgets being what they are I may need to live with my 1976 retro kitchen a little while longer, still retro is fashionable again, isn't it?

And that's pretty much it.  I'm not going to tempt fate with some well meaning positive comments; since writing my last blog about the joys of Christmas I've dealt with a sprained foot, Norovirus and a cold, so I've learned my lesson on that front.  Instead I shall leave you with my claim to the "oddest meal of the festive season" crown.  On a family visit to a pub on New Years Day I opted for the salmon as I wanted something light for my tum.  They were out of salmon so I switched to cod instead.  As the plates arrived for the rest of the family choc full of roast dinner I confess I felt a little envious, but I needn't have worried; 2 minutes later my own lunch arrived with a lovely light piece of cod delicately placed atop a pile of roast spuds, carrots & parsnips, all surrounded with a thick meaty gravy.  And you thought sherry trifle for breakfast was odd.  Happy New Year!

Cod & gravy - what's not to love?