Sunday, 31 March 2013

Call me irresponsible?

Beautiful Blencathra

The unseasonably snowy weather has left the fells looking stunning with deep snow carpeting the peaks.  For those of us drawn to the outdoors they have been pretty much irresistible since the snow first arrived in mid November and there have been dozens of pictures and blogs showing them from every angle in all their winter glory.

Kirkstone (just about) Pass-able
For those of us living up here the snow has also had a major downside; blocking roads and closing passes.  When you live somewhere with as few major roads as south Cumbria you really notice it when one or two of them are out of commission.  That said the gritters and snow ploughs have done a stunning job and most routes are soon passable again, though maybe down to one track in places.

Frozen footbridge.

Snowed up stiles.

Perhaps most importantly the snow on the fells has habit of luring people towards it, whether they're prepared or not and, despite repeated warnings, Mountain Rescue have been called out to assist many people caught unawares by the extreme conditions on the fell summits.  I have to admit that I do, on occasion, feel a little guilty; do those of us sharing photos and stories of adventures play any part in encouraging people to put themselves in difficult situations?

Steep snowy climbs

Beautiful but hard work!

Deep snow - like wading upwards through sand.
Most bloggers I read take the time to warn people not to head out there unprepared so I guess, at the end of the day, people need to take responsibility for their own safety.  At some point we all have to go up there with no experience else how will we get any experience?  Our motto has always been to take it steady, build our experience a bit at a time and try not to put ourselves into dangerous situations.

Beacon at Thornthwaite Crag

Raven Crag

View from High Street

Panorama from High Street

That said things do, on occasion do wrong; sometime suddenly but perhaps more worrying are those occasions when a difficult situation creeps up on you unawares.  On Friday, as we made our way upwards, we gradually realised that the snowy slope beneath our feet was getting steeper and longer as we got higher.  Sounds obvious now, and it looked a lot different from the bottom looking up than it did from the top looking down! 

Whenever that happens we find somewhere to pause and rethink; on this occasion our plan was to aim for a snow covered wall and make our way up that, the logic being that at least the wall gave us more grip than a sheer snow slope.  I'm not saying it was the best plan, but it worked, and we've learned another lesson for next time.

So, is it irresponsible to post pictures and stories from high fells in the snow?  I don't think so; the fells are there to be enjoyed and to be shared.  If you do head up there just make sure you're properly kitted out and, whenever you get the chance, support Mountain Rescue, just in case.  (If you want to make a donation their Just Giving page can be found here.)

Keep Calm and Enjoy Hiking


  1. Winter definitely gives those in the mountains a more challenging environment, but the rewards can be remarkable.

    I'm sure that we've all made mistakes - I have - but I see too many winter trip reports and blogs that mention the donning of microspikes (or equivalent) when the ground becomes hard and icy. They are no substitute for crampons!

    If anybody is heading above the snowline, particularly in conditions such as we've had recently, I'd consider it unwise to go without crampons and an ice-axe. I think that some walkers see these as tools of "mountaineers", and therefore beyond the realm of winter walking, but it's all too easy to be on ground where their use is all but essential.

    Mountaineering doesn't have to mean scaling cliffs with all the paraphernalia you might assume, or taking the final steps to the summit of Everest. In my eyes, if it would be safer traversing ground with crampons on your feet and an axe in your hand, you're mountaineering, even if the ground you're on would be simple to traverse without ice and snow.

    With the amount of information now on the internet about recent conditions, there really need be no excuse for setting off without the necessary equipment.

    Cheers, Al.

  2. Thanks Al. Agree it's definitely better to be "safe than sorry". Maybe part of the problem with ice axes and crampons is people being unsure as to how to use them? Microspikes are an easy option, perhaps crampons etc. perceived as being too "scary" and not for sale in the usual hiking shops. Just a thought.