Winter Penyghent – A Drag Without Spikes!

5 03 2012

This post is about three winter walks on Penyghent and what can happen on even the Dales hills without any kind of ice spikes for grip!

March 2010
Got on the train and did Penyghent twice within one week. The first time was with Richard and we fancied a short walk up the Dales – as I didn’t have snow at home, we didn’t expect there’d be any further up the Dales so didn’t take any ‘tools’. As the train rolled into Horton-in-Ribblesdale station, Penyghent suddenly burst into view… and we could see it was pretty snowy! Oops! We set off anyway as the south (very steep) end looked to have thawed most of the way up…

The cafe and the shop were shut, which was unfortunate, but I’d had a piece of coffee cake for my breakfast on the train so I’d be okay. We marched through the village to the footpath which cuts across the field by the church… not noticing that the footpath was shut… Reaching the far end we found the gate nailed shut – Richard then mentioned he’d seen a sign at the start of the path saying something about a footpath closure! We went back across the field and that’s exactly what he had seen – I didn’t notice it at all.

A short diversion round the road past the church took us onto the correct lane which goes about ½ mile to a farm and then sets off up by the field wall. There was quite a bit of snow in the path following the wall which gave us the opportunity to see whether it was hard-frozen or grippy. At that level it was still just right – you sank in to around foot depth – perfect.

Penyghent Approach

However, we found that, just before we got to where the path reaches the ridge and turns north up the southern end of the fell, it was hard-frozen with no grip.

Penyghent Steep End from Fell Lane

We managed to get up the end of the fell to the first crag band avoiding the small, hard patches of ice and frozen snow. From there luckily the snow had pretty much melted off all the way to the top of the very steep clambery section up the rocky end and onto the flatter fell top.

Distant Ingleborough

From there it was an easy stroll across the snow at the side of the hard-packed path to the summit. The summit sign-post was pretty much buried and the wall along the fell top only had its coping stones showing on the top!

Summit Trig Point

Buried Signpost

Where’s The Wall?

We thought the western flank would be pretty death-defying stuff on that much hard-packed snow so decided discretion was the better part of valour and descended the same route.

Richard Heading Back

Steep Descent Down Nose

A few days later I went back on my own, taking my microspikes with me… I was again surprised as the train pulled into Horton just how much snow had now gone! 😦 I could see the western flank was still pretty plastered though so I’d probably get to use my spikes.

Same route up – cafe and shop still shut. Met an Indian guy on the top – quite an unusual occurrence in the hills really – and we had a quick chat. It was a lovely sunny day but pretty cold so I couldn’t hang around long. He asked what the south end was like for snow and ice – I told him it had all gone. I asked him if he’d come up the western flank and he said he had – I asked how he’d managed as he didn’t have any spikes or crampons – he just said it had been tricky.

With that I set off down the western side of the hill for a few yards. Within a short space of time I’d nearly fallen on my bum a few times so decided it was spikey time! Once I’d donned my spikes I was off down the steepening slope seeing a lot of people who seemed to be prevaricating lower down. When I reached them I saw why!

The lower part of the western flank is where the path sets off along the edge of the steep bit of the fell and traverses, descending gently, to a zig-zag back under the steep bit and away from the fell. This bit however, was completely banked out with hard-frozen, impenetrable snow – the path was pretty impossible really, even with spikes. I saw people had, and were, traversing above the path to a slightly less steep bit of hill and then trying to descend straight down from there. I followed – it was a well-used diversion!

As I caught a largish group up and started to pass them on the underside, one of them lost her grip completely and set off down towards me on her side. I stopped and let her pass – she eventually stopped, but from there, they had terrible trouble getting down the steep icy slope. There were a couple of guys sat below watching our progress and, as I reached them, they looked at my spikes and said they thought I’d been doing very well (no one else on the hill had anything at all). I asked them if they’d followed the path or the diversion – they said they’d used the path but had fallen off it around the banked part and continued down at a fair rate!

So that was 2 lots of spikeless people who’d fallen down the fell in around 10 minutes! Wonder how many more had that day?

Jan 2012
Richard and I decided it was time we got the train back out to Penyghent, hoping it was again snow-covered. We both packed our microspikes and met on the train – as it rolled into Horton-in-Ribblesdale, the hill came into view, glittering white with a good covering of snow and ice. We romped off through the village to take the route up the fields to the southern end of the fell…

Whernside From Start of Penyghent Ascent

About half-way up the rising fields, I donned my microspikes but Richard waited until the final rise to the wall where you turn left for the south ridge.

Initially, there wasn’t much snow or ice on the first section of stone-pitching so we removed our spikes again. As soon as we’d done that, we got to a section of path which heads horizontally along a narrow grass ledge to the foot of the first limestone crag band. The narrow ledge-path was completely covered in hard ice – we put our spikes back on again and didn’t remove them until we descended below the snowline later in the day. This was what we’d come for 🙂

As we were re-fitting our microspikes, Richard said there was a man up ahead. I looked up when I was ready to set off and saw something very strange indeed… “He seems to be dragging something”, I said. We peered ahead and then set off upwards to see. He was indeed dragging something. He had a woman with him and he was dragging her backwards up the fell by the scruff of her coat! We spiked our way up to them and saw the woman – at that point being dragged backwards up an icy gully – looked completely terrified. She was also croaking that the man was choking her – he didn’t seem to hear so I told him for her. He released his pull on the coat for a while. We noted that the pair were just in boots with no other form of grip.

I didn’t envy their position… I scouted up ahead on the next, very steep section up to the summit and found that the stone pitched steps were completely covered in thick, sloping ice. The remaining climb to the final crag band at the top is very steep indeed and there was no way she was going to get up there in the state she was in. Furthermore, there was another couple ahead trying to clamber up more or less on their hands and knees clinging onto rocks.

I went back down to the couple and told them there was no way they would get up the mountain and they would be best to go back down. I’ve no idea how he got her down the crag band again but, with a train to catch in less than 3 hours, we couldn’t hang around any more. We continued up – it was quite a challenging clamber up the icy steps even in microspikes.

As we reached the top few rock steps up the final crag band, we found the couple who’d been ahead squashed together on an un-iced ledge of sandstone – they didn’t look happy. Their dog was pacing around impatiently wondering what they were doing and why they’d stopped. We clambered over them on up the path, trying not to spike them, and they then followed us up to where the fell flattens out considerably and the snow ceased to be icy. From their conversation at the summit cairn I don’t think they’d really enjoyed their ascent.

Fountains Fell (excuse the start-of-film/loading fault)

Looking Back From Whence We Came – Interesting Light

We had a quick coffee and biscuits at the cairn and then set off down behind a couple of young ladies who, although they were also only in boots, seemed very confident. Indeed they gave us a run for our money during the descent, but I was stopping to take photos a lot (as you do 😉 )

Looking Along Summit Ridge to Plover Hill

The unhappy couple with the dog were descending behind us but very slowly indeed. To be honest though, the snow on the west side of the fell, unlike my last visit, was fine – not frozen at all and a nice depth to grip into with boots.

Looking Back Up

The Section of Path Which Got Banked Out on Our Previous Trip – to the left of Richard is where the 2 guys fell down!

Looking Back Up Again
Dramatic Skies!

Looking Back to Plover Hill

And Whernside Again

We then followed the steep path from the mountain towards the crossroads of paths which lead either back to Horton (left) or on to Foxup (right). This path really was thick, hard ice all the way – everyone behind us was having to abandon the path altogether and take to the softer snow on the moorland.

Snowman with Richard’s Hat 😉

We made it back to the station with about quarter of an hour to spare but we’d fairly flown down the final, un-iced sections of track and back through the village!




8 responses

6 03 2012

That,s an area I keep trying to get my club to have a winter weekend hut meet far with no success.Some nice photos of a great landscape.


6 03 2012

You’ll have to give me a shout if you manage to get them to visit and I’ll try to get to join you for a day 🙂 (if noone minds of course)


5 03 2012

My observations are the total opposite of Paul’s & yourself. I find some walkers tend to don crampons & micro spikes in the car park (far below the snow/ice line) and wear them on the ascent – opposite extremes I suppose and probably just as likely to cause a broken ankle !

More importantly Pen Y Ghent looks good in the snow 🙂


5 03 2012

I think I tend to be much more cautious and put them on early, especially microspikes. But i do worry about causing damage to both the spikes and the landscape if there isn’t enough snow and ice to warrant them. I tend to carry microspikes on my pack wherever I’m going from about December through to the end of Feb though. I’d rather have them with me and not need them than the other way round.

Ingleborough used to be my ‘winter hill’ but nowadays it seems to be Penyghent. The fact that I can get there on the train and not have to drive is a huge factor in that though!


6 03 2012

Better to be over cautious 🙂 – I tend to leave mine off until I ‘scare’ myself then regret not putting them on sooner :O ! Not sure what the MRT would say if I needed rescued with a perfectly good pair of crampons in my sac!

I bet the chap was in the dog house for a day or two thou 😀


10 03 2012

I really should have got a photo of him dragging her up the hill… but it seemed rude somehow! LOL


5 03 2012

I must admit that I can be guilty of ‘slighting’ the Dales and thinking none of the hills necessitate ice tools in winter. But Penyghent and Ingleborough, having some very steep sections, and Penyghent having actual crag bands, are exceptions I think and I tend to treat them with a little more respect, especially Penyghent. I would say that, when it’s properly snowed up and frozen hard, there aren’t really any safe ways off without tools, whereas you could probably find an easy enough route down one side of Ingleborough. I’ve absolutely no idea how that guy got the terrified woman back down – neither Richard nor I would have fancied that route on that day in boots!


5 03 2012
Paul Shorrock

You must be a mind reader, Carol (or I must!). My blog this week is also on exactly the same subject on exactly the same hill!

I had similar problems coming off Pen y Ghent in February 2010, just before your trip. 40 years experience of going out in snow conditions got me off ok, but you could equally say that 40 years experience should have told me to take spikes along!

I was walking from Horton to Ribblehead via PyG, surveying a section of the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge route – the spikes would only have been needed for ten minutes in a trip of over five hours!

The people who slipped were lucky – I noticed some nasty looking scre at the bottom of the run-out.

Might be worth posting this again early next winter, as a warning to ALL winter hillwalkers – great post, Carol.


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