Rapidly Lowering Expectations in Borrowdale

20 04 2013

Mon 15 & Tue 16 Apr 2013
This week I was supposed to re-start my Munroing quest and head back up to Scotland for the first time this year. It’s unusual for me to still not have had a Scotland trip by April to say the least! The few days before I was due to set off, I daily checked the ‘MWIS’ (mountain weather) forecast for the two areas of Scotland I was interested in. Although a thaw seemed to be setting in at long last, the winds were due to rise to hurricane-force – gusts of up to 100mph were being forecast 😮

In the end, at the last minute, I revised my expectations down a notch and decided to take a trip to the Lakes to try to get more hill-fit in readiness for Scotland. Richard said he would come (he said definitely not to my Scotland trip ambitions) and we managed to get booked into one of our favourite hotels which is down Borrowdale. Plans and visions of Scafell Pike and a return by the Corridor Route floated through my mind. Hell, I ought to also add in Scafell too – just to get a bit of scrambling practice up and down Foxes Gully.

I mused on during our first night at the hotel and outlined several ambitious walks to Richard. Then we trekked out to the notice-board to check on the weather forecast for the Lakes… gale-force winds – just the same as Scotland! We decided to look out and see what it was like in the morning.

The next day we looked at the low cloud scudding past the hotel windows and knew we weren’t going up to the snowy-looking Esk Hause (I’d been on a recce walk to Seathwaite and back the night before and seen all the snow higher up). We decided to set off towards Rigghead and see how we felt at its crossing of the ‘Allerdale Ramble’.

Heading down to the well-submerged stepping stones (there had been torrential rain overnight), we saw these lambs. I took to calling them ‘Feed sack Mac’ as they had little macs on made out of plastic sacking. I persuaded Richard to take some photos (all photos in this post are Richard’s as I wasn’t about to take my camera out in such dire conditions).

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When we reached the junction of the two paths, we decided to head on up Rigghead Quarries against the blustery wind which was funneling down the gill. I had lowered my expectations to Dale Head by now – still one of my favourite fells but a bit short for getting fit on. Richard wasn’t so sure with the wind battering us about – I said it was possibly okay on the more open areas above.

We had a little explore in the old mine levels and saw some interesting sights – one was that many of the levels were filled with deep snow quite a way into the tunnels…

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There were even some icicle stalagmites…

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As we reached the boggy, flat area at the top of the quarries, we saw the cloud flying past Dale Head and decided that, with the direction putting us at risk of being blown over the huge Gable Crag at the end of the ridge, it was yet another no-go. Richard said we should just head away from the wind over High Spy and Maiden Moor – a walk I’ve done so often in bad weather I’m starting to find it really boring. Oh well, it was mountains and would help get me fitter – I agreed that’s what we’d do.

We stomped up to High Spy’s summit and were pleased to immediately drop out of the wind until the very far end of the ridge where we decided to add on Catbells. The summit of Catbells was lethally windy as we found when we tried to head back into the wind. On our return from Catbells, we descended Hause Gate and walked back via Grange and the riverbank to Rosthwaite. It would have to be our Esk Hause trip to the Scafells tomorrow then…

After tea, we looked at the next day’s weather forecast and the wind was set to be even worse! 😦 The next morning we could hear that it certainly was! It had banged the room’s windows all night and the rain had battered against them. At least by morning it had dried up and was attempting to be sunny on and off.

We set off on the three mile walk up to Seathwaite to see what we could do. I originally planned to go up Seathwaite Slabs by Sour Milk Ghyll and attempt to reach Green Gable’s summit. Failing that, I said, we could always do Base Brown instead (a smooth, grassy and gentle hill). Failing that, I said we could just head straight over the saddle between the two and descend to Taylorgill.

When we reached Seathwaite, Richard said he didn’t fancy the walk above Seathwaite Slabs into the coombe – I agreed that it would probably be a battle against swirling and buffeting winds. I suggested we at least try to reach Esk Hause via Grains Gill instead as that should be reasonably sheltered from the SW wind.

The gill was reasonably sheltered in places but, as we got higher, the wind became more obnoxious and would suddenly try to knock us over – it sometimes succeeded with me! We were following two chaps and I was watching intently to see where they struggled and where they appeared to walk normally.

Just after the narrow, scrambly, rocky section of the gill, we met a chap coming down and Richard quizzed him intently. It turned out he’d only come from Styhead and said the winds were horrific there – we were pretty sure that’s where we were headed.

Just after this we reached an awkward crossing of a side-beck. Normally this would be fine but the wind was hoping to hurl us down the waterfall we needed to cross the top of. Further away from the waterfall was thick ice… Richard was totally put off by now and said we needed to turn back. I really wanted to at least try to reach the head of Grains Gill and the face of Great End and was hoping the huge north face of the latter would soon be sheltering us.

I got as far away from the waterfall and as near to the ice as I could and dragged my way across using as many handholds as I could find on the wet rocks. Richard looked horrified but I insisted he come across. He threw his rucksack across to me and eventually clambered across to join me. I led on upwards…

We started to meet quite a lot more snow patches but they were thawed enough to get a decent grip. The path goes perilously near the edge of the gill for the rest of the way though and I’d seen the guys up ahead were struggling. The old scree path was still running up the hill about 10 feet further away from the gill so I led us up that instead of the modern stone-pitched one.

We were fine until we reached the final section round the corner to Ruddy Gill and then I saw that we had a section maybe 6 feet wide, on sloping snow, above the drop into the gill which, at that point is probably 40 or 50 feet. The wind was gusting violently across the corner towards the gill – no way was I tackling that. I’m sure the guys in front must have gone that way though.

I said to Richard we weren’t going to attempt that death-dealing corner and that we’d find a way straight up above us between small crags and boulders. Richard led the way up kicking steps in the snow banks where necessary. We hauled our way between huge boulders and suddenly we could see we just needed to descend a wide and gentle snow bank to the crossing place at Ruddy Gill.

The gill crossing was interesting due to the huge banks of snow in the gill…

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(note the reddish stains at the bottom of the drifts – it is called Ruddy Gill after all!)
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We got across without any problems as luckily the snow was pretty firm. Just then we met another guy coming from the direction of Styhead so quizzed him. He said he’d originally planned the Corridor Route to Scafell Pike but found it completely impossible against the fierce winds. He was giving up and going back down Grains Gill.

The wind by now was funneling round the side of Great End and howling eastwards down towards Styhead so we cancelled any plans of battling up to Esk Hause and set off down towards Styhead. I got hurled quickly down the stone-pitched route several times but managed not to fall. We soon noticed we were getting wet with spray and noticed a waterfall was blowing upwards – quite unusual in England, although I’ve seen it several times in Scotland.

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There were still some snow-holing banks downstream (winter walking groups tend to make snowholes in the sides of Ruddy Gill)…

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There was a little tunnel after a huge snowpatch where another little stream was emerging…

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As we neared Styhead, we saw a short-cut path cutting below the height of the pass across the end of Styhead Tarn and, as this would be more sheltered, took that to the path at the far side of the tarn. When we reached the far side and came into the shelter of Great Gable, we found a spot completely sheltered from the wind and decided to take a quick break.

After our break we set off down towards the Taylorgill descent where Richard took these pictures of a ‘high sea’ running across the lake…

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Very soon after this, we passed a huge cairn on the path and noticed people huddling behind it. As we headed away from them, a voice shouted after us. We turned back and found a young woman with her mother looking quite uncomfortable. They asked what it was like ‘further on’. I asked where they were trying to get to and was presented with their ‘map’. It was just a drawn diagram of a triangular route with no real information on it – I surmised it was a representation of the route we were doing in reverse.

I looked up from the map to the young girl and noticed that, strapped to her back, was a very unhappy looking baby in a papoose – I thought I’d heard a baby crying somewhere but had assumed it was sheep. The mite looked absolutely frozen and was just screwing its face up to cry some more. I was absolutely horrified and immediately started to fire reasons at them why the route ahead was impossible and that they should turn back immediately. Richard joined in…

We then set off on our way but, after a few minutes, I looked back to see what they’d decided to do and was relieved to see they were following us down. We later decided that, with the ‘map’ they had and the huge snowbanks at the crossing point and the start of Grains Gill, they would never have recognised it as their route and would probably have ended up continuing up to Esk Hause. I’ve no idea where they would have gone from there!

Luckily, on the descent of Taylorgill, we eventually left the horrible winds behind and descended in bright, warm sunshine to the walk across the fields back to Rosthwaite. Stockley Beck was thundering under Stockley Bridge…

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I call this bit ‘Stockley Linn’

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Back at the hotel, I had a good hour’s sunbathe in the hotel garden with my tea and scones (and rum butter) – bliss!

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16 responses

25 04 2013
thecurvyhiker

Icicle stalagmites and waterfall updrafts! Love it!
Utterly gobsmacked to hear about the backpacked baby, can only imagine how cold the poor mite was. 😦

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25 04 2013
mountaincoward

It definitely isn’t the first-time for the baby-in-a-backpack – I’ve heard of it quite a few times on the likes of Snowdon in icy weather – I heard of those incidents as they had to be rescued and the baby nearly died of hypothermia each time! First time I’ve seen it though – not good! 😦

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21 04 2013
McEff

Those pictures of the wind blowing the waterfall backwards are good. I saw a similar thing at the top of High Cup Nick last year, but less spectacular.
I read somewhere a long time ago that ruddy, in the Lakeland sense, comes from ruddle, or raddle, the iron-rich and bright red mud that farmers used to mark their sheep. Alternatively, I might have dreamt it.
Cheers, Alen

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21 04 2013
mountaincoward

That’s probably correct what you heard – I wondered where the word ‘raddle’ came from and that would make sense so I don’t think you dreamt it! 🙂

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21 04 2013
chrissiedixie

Sounds like a bit of a battle that! I love windy days – but only up to a certain windspeed! Once it starts to make me unsteady on my feet and threatens to knock me over, it’s often time to retreat.
That’s the second ‘baby in a papoose’ horror story I’ve heard in a week. Even in the streets in the winter, it often amazes me how people don’t seem to dress little ones properly for the cold, never mind in the hills.
Those little lambs looked mega-cute though 🙂

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21 04 2013
mountaincoward

Well I had to admit she had put a woolly hat on the baby but it still looked fed up and frozen.

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20 04 2013
fedupofuserids

Maybe not a Munro trip North of border, but at least it looked an eventful trip 🙂 Crummock Water apparently had water spouts, with your ‘waterups’ it shows how strong the wind was.

You will be glad to hear that there is a little less snow now & spring may have finally sprung (fingers crossed)! On the down side, the road from Windermere to Keswick averaged about 30mph today 😦

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20 04 2013
mountaincoward

I only went as far as Ingleborough today and my Mum drove us – she’s in her mid 80s and even she was moaning about the slow drivers ahead!

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20 04 2013
bob

Looks a wild day out Carol. Good pictures.
After a week of rain and high winds up here I can report that most of the snow on our Munro’s has now disappeared leaving the ridges clear. Ben Nevis still has a white cap on it but 90 % of the rest can be climbed without touching any snow at all on the ascent.. Scotland Awaits your arrival with trepidation, expectation and open,empty pockets. Feel free to feed our economy again. :0)

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20 04 2013
mountaincoward

I’ve been trying to get up to Scotland all the last week and have just cancelled the rest of my holidays and come back to work! It’s just too windy up there just now.

LOL to the ‘open, empty pockets’ though 😉 And thanks for the info about the snow cover – I was wondering whether the rain was turning to snow on the mountains or not…

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20 04 2013
Paul Shorrock

Nice sunny day in North Wales today, but back to the rain tomorrow:-(

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20 04 2013
mountaincoward

Yeah it was lovely today – I went up Ingleborough before nightshift – it’s quite a few years since I’ve been up there so it was nice to get back there. It was mowed out with walkers!

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20 04 2013
jackie sowrey

The lamb jackets are cute and probably needed. We lost hundreds of lambs in the heavy snow on the IOM and it was probably the same on the mainland. I’m glad the girl with the baby decided to follow your route. Jackie

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20 04 2013
mountaincoward

Yeah the lamb jackets certainly are needed – there’s the odd good day but it’s mostly very wet and very windy and many were born during that bad snow. There were quite a few lost around here I think, although many farmers were due to start lambing the week after the snow. I think they leave it as late as possible here nowadays.

I was glad to see the girl and baby coming back down – it really wasn’t fit – the baby just being sat must have been freezing. When people are warm with walking, they often don’t appreciate what it’s like for an unmoving infant in a carrier!

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20 04 2013
stravaigerjohn

Must get Spring soon???

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20 04 2013
mountaincoward

We’re getting the odd day of it but nothing much is showing ‘leafwise’ yet unfortunately. The hawthorns are starting to put some leaves on in the more sheltered areas around here but they’ve often been out as early as mid February in milder years. I wish they’d hurry up as I’m sick of seeing everything bare!

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