Sat 1 & Sun 2 Dec 2012
(click on photos to see them full-size/resolution)
After not receiving an invite to their Christmas do for the last 10 years or so since my Kili/Mt. Kenya trip with Adventure Peaks (perhaps it was something I said?) I was delighted this year to receive one. It clashed with just about every other do I was invited to and also a weekend-long rock concert but, with it being in a smashing warm and comfy posh hotel and included daytime walking in the Lake District, their event won the day…
I arrived lateish on the Friday evening after a superb meal in The Watermill Inn at Ings and was shown to my lovely warm and comfy room at the Briery Wood Hotel near Ambleside. I later had a stroll to the bar and joined three guys sat talking about mountains and, as one of them was a staff member, asked what the plans were for the next day’s walk. I was amused to see they were going to be driving round to ‘The Connies’ as I’d only just come back from there a day or so before. Oh well – they’re some of my favourite Lakeland hills so I didn’t mind.
The next morning we had to be up bright and early as we were leaving in a minibus at 0900. I expressed a little concern at the fact they were planning to attempt to drive the van up to the Walna Scar carpark as everywhere was very icy and the thought of a few hundred feet up a narrow single-track road at a gradient of 1 in 4 was a bit perturbing to say the least. The top bit (which fortunately is a lot flatter) is quite twisty and I knew from walking up there that water flows across a lot of the road and it could be thick sheets of ice – rather our driver than me! As it turned out there were no problems, just a few worrying moments…
We geared up in the freezing cold wind and, after several minutes of waiting for everyone to get organised, we set off on the icy track towards the summit of Walna Scar Pass. Although it was cold, the air clarity was superb for photos so I kept stopping to take some – I was surprised to see not many other people seemed to be bothering.
We set a reasonable pace to the top of the pass but, as with all large groups (there were 18 of us), we got pretty straggled out. As we neared the summit of the pass I hung back – there were two reasons for this… firstly, I wanted a pee and knew there would be nowhere else to ‘go’ as this is a very popular walk. My second reason was due to my familiarity with the area. The ones up front marched confidently on assuming that the best place to wait for the others to catch up was the summit of the pass – not so! I know from experience what a bitterly cold wind-tunnel it is and had no intention of standing around there waiting for the folks at the back!
We all re-grouped and headed off up to the first peak – Brown Pike. As soon as we approached the summit, the path turned to ice and it became very difficult to stay on your feet. As I am very nervous since slipping and breaking my wrist this May, I immediately donned my microspikes. As there wasn’t much snow I probably looked a bit silly but I didn’t care. The others didn’t bother but I noticed on my photos that not one of them is walking on the path – they’re all strung out to the side of it on the less hard-packed grass. I won’t do that as I hate causing further erosion at the side of the paths. Quite a few people took falls as the day went on too so I was even gladder I’d geared up at the start.
After admiring the views down the gullies and negotiating Dow Crag’s verglazed summit rocks carefully, we all trooped down to the col before Coniston Old Man. We had two dogs with us – a nice, quiet chocolate Labrador which, apart from a tendency to sometimes get too near to my spiked feet and cause me concern, was very well-behaved and seemed pretty sensible (as labs seem to be). The other dog was a spaniel and, to my mind, not altogether suitable for the hills. For a start, it yapped loudly and constantly which I found a bit irritating really. For seconds, it kept running around all over the place including on the wrong side of the drop over the huge crags on the east side of the ridge. On icy ground that was pretty worrying – I kept thinking it would suddenly disappear with a howl as it plunged to its doom!
We continued up onto the Old Man and stopped at the cairn, trying to keep out of the cruel wind and in the sunshine. I was a bit irked that some of the guys wouldn’t sit down and so were taking a lot of the sun off me – sitting around on summits, I need all the warmth I can get. If I’m on my own I rarely stop on a summit for more than a couple of minutes – we stopped for around 20, by which time I was frozen solid.
I was hoping we were going to do the extended walk along the ridge to Swirl How as the ridge walk is lovely and it was nice conditions for it. Unfortunately, the leader (apparently after a scare last year when the group had had to come down in the dark as they overran) decided we were heading off down the Miners’ Track. I was a bit perturbed at this as it is north-facing and extremely steep – the kind of thing I’d prefer to go up really, not down. There was another lady sat near me who was also a bit perturbed as she didn’t have any kind of spikes and could see it was going to be steep. I offered her the use of either my crampons or my microspikes but, unfortunately, I was undecided at this point which I was going to wear myself.
We finally set off towards the steep slope and, unfortunately, by the time I decided I was going to stay in my microspikes and offered my crampons to the lady, she’d decided to do without and just descend cautiously. I felt a bit guilty that I couldn’t decide earlier. We all got down without major incident, although a few more people had small falls.
We soon arrived back at the minibus and were driven back to get warmed up before attending a great slideshow about Adventure Peaks’ ascent of Ama Dablam in October.
We then trooped off to change and get cleaned up for dinner – and a great meal it was too. Immediately after this was their usual ceilidh – they hire a proper Scottish Ceilidh Band for this… I was tapping away with my feet but didn’t dare get up to dance as I was worried about my newly healed broken big toe – I wasn’t sure it would be up to leaping around. Also, I was worried by the sight of several of the ladies in very high stilettos – I didn’t fancy one of those landing on my poorly foot!
I was sat chatting to a young lad who’d also come on his own and he mentioned that he was collecting Wainwrights by public transport as he doesn’t have a car. As I didn’t fancy the planned easy walk of Claife Heights the next day, I’d been toying with the idea of doing the Kentmere Round instead. I decided that’s what I should do and that I should also invite the young lad as, otherwise, he’d possibly have trouble getting down Kentmere without a car to bag those Wainwrights. I invited him and he readily accepted.
By now, I was fed up of seeing folks dancing and having a whale of a time while I sat out miserably so I decided I had to give it a go and see how my foot got on – I just hoped no-one jumped on it! I did four dances in total but, by the time I got back to my room my ankle, now totally unused to such shenanigans, had swelled up and was pretty painful. I was very worried I might have to let the young lad down in the morning but put it on a soft cushion in the bed and waited to see how it felt in the morning – luckily it was fine the next day.
I’d told the lad I’d probably not be at breakfast until 9am and would probably leave around quarter to ten. However, as I laid there trying to sleep, I started calculating how long the round would take. I realised that, when I did it in summer, it took me nearly six hours – I also realised it would get dark at four – on my original plan, we wouldn’t arrive at the parking at the end of Kentmere until around eleven – far too late to complete the round in daylight. I determined to try to get up early.
I managed to get to breakfast for around 0830 and we left the hotel around nine for Kentmere. If we hadn’t got stuck behind some of the typical tourist sloth-drivers, we’d have been much earlier to the parking but we managed to get to Staveley around 0930 to start down the Kentmere road. I had a feeling it would be icy and, after a nasty scare at the first bridge, where the road goes round a tight S-bend, I realised it was going to be very slippery indeed!
We slithered our way slowly down the valley, followed by another car, and drove to the parking at the village hall. There weren’t really any spaces left and, realising those cars would be in the shade all day, decided I didn’t want to park there anyway. We’d just passed a field at the foot of the hill with a sign saying you could park there for £3 – we went back down to have a look. The field was in full sun and would be all day – to me, an important consideration when walking in winter as there’s nothing worse than arriving back knackered at a frozen and uncomfortably cold car!
We were starting out on our walk just about ten o’ clock – that just gave us more or less six hours before dark, which was the same amount of time I’d taken in summer when it wasn’t icy – ooo-err!
Luckily the young lad was a quick and fit walker so we could get a move on… that is, apart from the Garburn Pass track getting steadily icier as we ascended. In the end, we had to abandon the track for the sides near the summit as it was just thick sheets of ice – I kept toying with putting my microspikes on but never got round to doing it. We slithered through the gate at the top and things improved for a while when we turned onto the grassy track across the (now nicely-frozen) bogs towards the first summit of Yoke.
We were closely followed by a group of three guys who we passed while they were having a map-read and I was finding them quite irritating. Firstly, one took a phone call from his noisy mobile – I always find that quite annoying and unnecessary on the hill, being the Luddite that I am anyway. I do carry a mobile but it’s only for emergencies and is always firmly switched OFF on the hlll – well, actually it’s always switched OFF, much to the annoyance of anyone trying to contact me! I do check it periodically for texts and suchlike…
Anyway, these guys were also annoying me as they were walking straight past the summits and not bothering to ‘bag’ the hills properly – I suppose I’m just a bit of a purist really. I think what was irking me was that they seemed to have no respect for ‘our hills’ – at least one of them was from Scotland and I think I felt he was ‘dissing’ our smaller hills. Eventually, after I’d stopped to change a film, they got far enough ahead for me to forget about them.
The ascents of the first four hills was up the southern slopes – all very easy – the northern descents were a different matter – extremely steep and slippery. I was again toying with putting my spikes on but, as I only needed them for the short descents, I just used maximum caution instead. I have to say everyone else was being just as cautious.
We reached thickish, hard-frozen snow on the ascent of Thornthwaite Crag but these are pleasant and easy hills in snow so we enjoyed that. The weather was gloriously sunny and it was a lot warmer than our day in The Connies as there was no windchill. We had a very miniature break at the huge pillar on Thornthwaite while the lad nipped out of sight for a few minutes and I ate a biscuit and had a quick warming coffee.
I’d looked at my watch while I was sat alone having a quick break and saw it was already after one o’ clock and we were only nearly half-way round. When my friend came back (I’m afraid I can’t remember his name – I’m very bad like that), I said we’d best crack on unless he wanted a longer break – he said he wasn’t bothered as it was cold hanging around so we set off.
We missed out High Street – it isn’t really part of the round and I find it pretty boring to add in. Also, we were running very tight on time so I felt we didn’t have time to include it. I pointed it out and said it would be easy enough for him to include in a walk from Patterdale which is easily accessible by public transport.
We rushed across towards Mardale Ill Bell, by now breaking through the snow quite a bit as the slope we were traversing faces south. I had a quick look for the lovely tarn I took a photo across in summer but couldn’t see it – I eventually did – it was completely frozen over and white with frost so it just looked like its surroundings really.
We quickly summitted Mardale Ill Bell and ploughed on towards the descent. This is again north-facing but much longer this time down to Nan Bield Pass. The path was just a sheet of ice and very unnerving so I sat down and donned my microspikes straightaway. The young lad also donned his crampons as he wasn’t impressed with the state of the path either. People around us were taking some pretty hard falls!
We made it down to the pass safely and continued straight on for the climb up the lovely narrowish ridge to Mardale Harter Fell. Most folks were heading off down from the pass along the track back down the valley – I was thinking at this point they probably had the right idea and wondering whether we were being silly to continue. As we’d been doing the first half of the ridge though, it transpired that my companion had actually done three of our first hills already and it was the ones we were heading for he hadn’t yet done. I was very worried we’d end up missing some out and he’d then have to endeavour to get back down the valley on another occasion.
We rushed on up the steep ridge but suddenly he hailed me from behind – I turned round and saw he’d shed a crampon. I’ve never seen a strap-on crampon fall off before and couldn’t imagine how it had happened – I’ve always assumed it would be impossible for those to fall off. He re-fitted it while I stressed about how long it takes to fit crampons as opposed to the quickness of putting on microspikes.
By the time we summitted Harter Fell (and I quickly re-arranged the nearly-collapsed iron fence-posts which adorn the summit cairn as they were looking very flat and unartistic) it was already half past two! I told the poor lad we’d really have to get a move on now and hurried him along the ridge as fast as we could scamper – luckily, like I said earlier, he was young and fit and well up to any speeds I could throw at him! I was impressed that we made the summit of Kentmere Pike by ten to three – an amazingly quick time. We had kept our spikes on though for speed.
We clambered over the wall to reach the trig point summit, quickly clambered back again and continued our mad dash down the long ridge to Shipman Knotts, the final peak. Again, if we hadn’t been trying to get all the peaks on this half of the round for the young lad, we’d have probably taken then saner option of descending the nice path from Kentmere Pike back to the valley.
It’s an exceedingly long walk to Shipman and seemed to go on forever. It was along this stretch that I decided I really had to stop for a pee myself – I’d gone several hours without so far and it was getting pretty cold – it’s just such a faff for women – especially in full winter gear!
We eventually reached Shipman Knotts and I was a bit dismayed at how very long the route to the final descent was from the summit. But I was determined we should get down that section before dark as it’s pretty craggy and I knew the slabs would be sheets of ice – I didn’t fancy tackling them with a head-torch!
We eventually reached the steep slabs down – they were pretty horrific and we were glad to have spikes on. We reached the track of the pass between Kentmere and Longsleddale by ten to four which was truly impressive. The track was again totally iced up so we still kept our spikes on. We stomped off along the track very quickly, by now I was starting to lag behind slightly. I was impressed that the young lad had very good manners and would stop and check whether I was okay periodically.
We were a bit perturbed at one point to see some farm dogs approaching us and getting far too near our spiked feet – I wish dogs wouldn’t do that. Their farmer owners soon hove into view, manfully (and womanfully) struggling up the track just in wellies – very slippery items of footwear for such conditions!
Eventually, we reached the road at Hallow Bank and I was surprised to see a car parked so far up the icy hill of the road up there – there’d been another one too which had left a nice, unfrozen patch where it had been. The road was sometimes frozen sheets of ice and sometimes tarmac – I wavered as to whether I should de-spike. I don’t like ruining my spikes on tarmac and hard surfaces but am still really nervous of another fall. I ended up keeping them on until just before the car!
We turned off the road onto the footpath down the fields to join the lane which comes out behind the village church. My friend took his crampons off on this lane – I waited until I reached the salted road hill down from the church. We managed to make it back to the now re-frozen car by half past four – a time of 6 and a half hours and just dark – not bad on one biscuit and a couple of cups of black coffee – the lad just had sweets!
It was not quite as slippery driving the 6 miles or so down the narrow lane back to Staveley and we were lucky to see a roe deer just exiting the road via the hedgerow in my headlights. We only had one little loss of traction when I met a van around a corner but otherwise okay.
I dropped the lad off at Oxenholme mainline station as I was passing Kendal anyway. I then went off on a very fast mystery drive around the countryside trying to find Endmoor which is where we normally join the motorway/Kendal road. I say fast as I was keeping on the tail of a local as I didn’t know the road and find it’s easier to closely follow someone who does – he was equally determined to get rid of me – very exhilarating! I never did find Endmoor but luckily came out at Kirkby Lonsdale which is even nearer home.
Not sure about the lad but I was totally knackered by the time I reached home and, amazingly for me, was in bed by nine!! I didn’t get up until after eleven the next day either!
Stats: 16 miles, 3795 feet of ascent, 8 Wainwrights, 6.5 hours, 1 biscuit and 2 coffees!