Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Tilly, Skiddaw & Sledging

Arriving at the car-park
Following the success of the last Twitter group walk (in terms of fun rather than navigation at least) we decided to set forth again, this time heading for Skiddaw Little Man, Skiddaw, Bakestall and back around the Cumbria Way on a 12 mile horseshoe route.  A horseshoe route?  What could possibly go wrong?

A rather misty Skiddaw
We all met in the car-park with the mist hanging low in the valleys and clinging onto the summits above but with the promise of “sunny intervals” at midday.  We carefully checked the route (nothing if not learning from our mistake on the previous walk, although we had Ray and Gary with us so the odds were definitely in our favour) and headed off to our first mountain.  Tilly the beautiful black Labrador was with me on another visit and she was particularly excited about the walk as for her, more people equals more treats!

Tilly in action in the mist
The path up the Jenkins Hill path to Skiddaw is very steep and before long I was a straggler at the back but as well as Tilly I had the company of Phil (chief photographer) and Ria, who appreciated all the “Tanya stops” (can’t really call them view stops as the mist meant there was nothing to see!)  Tilly was scampering around and having a great time.  After the others had waited for us to catch up, I started chatting to Gina (of legendary chocolate brownie fame) and found myself at the front of the group for a while.  After a few minutes I turned around to see where Tilly was and I had a moment of panic as I could not see her anywhere!  I ran to the back of the group shouting her name (deafening Phil in the process) and then saw her trotting further down the path stopping at everyone she came to then moving back to the next person.  Poor Tilly had lost me and was working on the odds that I would not be in the main group but at the back somewhere.  Usually she would have been right!  I called her again and then started waving my arms manically like I was conducting an aeroplane to land to catch her attention.  I was wearing a bright pink ski jacket so she soon spotted me and came racing back up the path, covering me in kisses as she arrived.  

My microspikes
At the fork in paths to Skiddaw Little Man and Lonscale Fell, we split into two groups.  I headed straight for Little Man (very conscious that at my pace an additional fell would hold everyone up).  Very soon we were in snow and it was frozen so quite treacherous to walk on so I had an opportunity to try out my new microspikes purchased in Keswick a few days before.  Basically it is a set of spikes and chains that fit on your boot and give you better grip on ice and snow.  They were easy to put on and the moment I started walking again the difference was amazing.  I have never used them before but if you are doing fell climbs in the winter then I would really recommend them.  They are much safer and give you a greater sense of confidence.

Black Labrador
Beautiful misty Tilly
Tilly did not have microspikes however and when she attempted sledging (where she puts her front and back legs out and pushes herself down the snow) she was unprepared for the ice and went hurtling into freefall for about 10 metres before catching herself on some grass.  It did not stop her trying again a few minutes later though!  Every time she stood still for a while, her fur caught the mist on it, making her look a rather aged lady!  She will still look beautiful when she is old.

We reached the summit of Skiddaw Little Man in one piece and by this time I was deliberately trying to find every piece of ice and snow I could to use my spikes.  The next summit was Skiddaw, where we were going to meet the others who had gone off to Lonscale.  It was absolutely freezing when we got there.  The wind shelter was filled with snow and ice and the wind chill was biting.  It felt like a thousand icicles were dancing on my face.  Dave dug me out a shelf in the ice to sit on as we all started eating lunch, hoping the others would arrive soon before we turned into human icicles.

Lunch - Tilly's favourite part of any walk
Lunch is Tilly’s favourite part of any walk so she did not care about the cold.  Those eyes were turned on each individual one by one for any food they may wish to share with her.  Everyone caved in (although she was not sure about the apple core donated by Bruce and much preferred his sandwiches).  It occurred to all of us at this point that we had let Gina go off in the other group so had no brownies!  Poor planning!  Note to self: always be in the Gina group.

Just before midday the clouds parted and all of a sudden one of the “sunny intervals” appeared and we could see for miles all the way back to Keswick and Derwent Water.  We all leapt up with our cameras and then as quickly as it had arrived, the view disappeared and I do not think any of us got a photo!  

After lunch, without the others having arrived, we decided to press on as it was just too cold.  I sent Gina a text to let her know and my hands were so cold it was almost illiterate but enough to get the message across.  We headed off down the slope towards Bakestall.  Tilly decided it was time to give sledging another try and this time it was much more successful.  She seemed pleased with the attention she got from it from those nearby so promptly turned upside down and went sledging on her back!  Such a show-off!

Then suddenly, out of the mist behind came a voice....Dave had gone ahead from the other group to catch us up.  Having found us, we waited for everyone else to arrive before heading off to Bakestall.  As we were lower down the snow disappeared (much to Tilly’s distress) so microspikes came off and as we reached the Whitewater Dash waterfall, we stopped to have brownies.  Hurrah!

Skiddaw House
It was a bit of a shock to hear it was about six miles back to the car-park along the Cumbria Way but at least it was mainly flat.  I was a bit worried about Tilly but she did not stop scampering around and looking for treats and was not bothered at all by the distance.  The route back took us via Skiddaw House, which is quite a remote youth hostel (although at least there is a good track to it, unlike Black Sail near Ennerdale) that used to be a hunting lodge.  Peering out from a tiny copse in the mist, it looked quite eerie.  

Skiddaw on a rather clearer day
The final couple of miles saw some views down towards Thirlmere and across to the fells we climbed on the last walk and before long we were back in the car-park and heading off to the Horse and Farrier pub at Threlkeld, where Tilly received more treats from Ray (including a cheeky one she stole from his hand!)  Yet another great Twitter walk even though the weather was less than great.

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Thursday, 6 December 2012

Not Quite the Coledale Horseshoe Part 2

So – as the phone, chocolate brownies and Dave disappeared into the distance with the rest of the group looking on with a sense of amazement (mainly that Dave was staying upright on the frozen, ice-covered snow – like Torvil and Dean but without the skates) we all had a sense of fear that the phone was in fact doomed!  However, diving through the air with a leap that was worthy of a seasoned rugby player, Dave tackled the phone and saved it!  We all cheered until we saw brownies flying across the icy fell-side as a result and the collective “nooooooo!!!!!” from the group was probably heard in Carlisle.

Grasmoor from Wandope
I had a moment of doubt at this point as I was the only person holding a brownie in my hand as I had been offered one before the phone incident.  I weighed up how fast I could run if the group decided they wanted to share it.  Mmmm...my previous attempt at fell-running had not ended happily and on ice my chances of escape were low..... Fortunately Dave retrieved all the brownies and started heading back towards us as a collective sigh of relief that they were safe spread around the group.  Oh yes and we were pleased that Dave (who had gained hero status) was safe as well.  

For about half an hour, all that could be heard for miles around was the sound of our laughter, with Gina (happily reunited with her phone) probably the loudest of us all.  It was hilarious to watch and I am quite confident that sledging iphones and flying brownies are a Lake District first.

Helvellyn range from Wandope
After all that excitement we had another route discussion.  It was midday by then (we had been walking for three hours) and still we had not reached a single summit.  This mattered little as we were all having such a great time but we decided to divide for a while as we all had different priorities.  Jim and Cindy had already started to head up to Eel Crag rather than continue to the summit of Grasmoor and I wanted to head to Wandope so I headed off on my own to that summit.  I said to Gina (who was valiantly trying to put on her new micro spikes) “I will be fine – you guys can catch me up”.  Catch me up?  On a mountain?  Now that is a sentence I never thought I would say!  

Eel Crag ridge from the edge of Wandope
It was a lovely walk.  With an unconventional sideways and tentative style I managed to stay upright going down the icy snow and the route along the edge of Wandope to the summit was an easy stroll with amazing views of the rugged slopes of Eel Crag and to Grasmoor and the rest of the group (with Gina’s laughter still echoing from afar). I stayed away from the edge as the iphone incident showed how slippery the frozen surface was and I had no intention of sledging over the precipice!Finally, having walked around and between summits all day, I had reached my first one!

After leaving Wandope I joined four of the group and Lassie on the slopes of Eel Crag and we headed to the summit to wait for the others and have some lunch.  Lassie developed eyes that could have rivalled Tilly as she looked at each of us in turn for some food.  She was not disappointed.  The rest of the group joined us and our next stop was Sail.  

On the narrow ridge (a bit wider here)
The ridge between Eel Crag and Sail I had done before but that was in the summer a few years ago.  I had forgotten how narrow the ridge was and with snow and ice and steep drops either side it was quite treacherous in places.  I was pleased I was wearing my well-padded ski trousers as I resorted to using more than just my legs and arms!  At a particularly icy and rocky part, Steve stood in front of me as I edged my way down in case I slipped.  I suspect he was just as pleased as me that I did not fall as it was a long way down!  As I got to the bottom of that section, about five other people from the group appeared having found a nice gentle path around the edge of the rocks.  Sigh.  Then Steve and Dave waited patiently as I took forever to negotiate every rock and section of ice on the rest of the descent.  I was probably being over-cautious but in those conditions (which were not unexpected) it is so easy to injure yourself or worse and I did not want any broken bones.  When we got to the top of Sail, we looked back and the ridge looked even worse than when we were on it.  Really steep and narrow.  I was glad that mission was accomplished unscathed!
Looking back to Eel Crag

After Sail we headed down towards the valley again with plenty of “oohs” and arm waving as a few of us took it in turns to slip on the icy paths.  I slipped quite badly at one point but picked myself up and continued down with zero points for elegance. We climbed Outerside and then Stile End but could not face Barrow.  Besides, Gina had mentioned the “P” word (pub) so we went straight back down to the Coledale Inn.  Gina won the prize for the most acrobatic slip without falling over and for the most elegant fall.  I must say that for much of the route we had an excellent view of Grisedale Pike – we just never quite made it to the summit!

The Coledale Inn was a nice pub with a pretty Christmas tree and large open fire.  There was much laughter as we relived the iphone incident and an eventful walk.  Okay, so it was not quite the Coledale Horseshoe as we had planned (Gina christened it the “Coledale flipflop”), but it was a great walk with some really nice people.  Six months ago I did not know any of them and some I only met that day but we laughed a lot and had a great time.  I have made some lovely friends in the Lake District.  

In years to come I expect parents will recount the “legend of the sledging phone and flying brownies” to their children...
Grisedale Pike - the summit that never was!

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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Not Quite the Coledale Horseshoe Part 1

Our walking group
Robert Burns once said: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.  This proved to be true about our attempt at climbing the Coledale Horseshoe from Braithwaite near Keswick.
There were 13 of us and Lassie the dog out on another Twitter walk, some regulars and some who were joining us for the first time.  Our mission was the Coledale Horseshoe – a series of six mountains with the potential to add two more if we were feeling active. Simple!  The first mountain on our route was Grisedale Pike and we headed off confidently from the car-park along a low-level path at the foot of the mountain.  I was pleased about this as I had done the Coledale Horseshoe a few years before and had taken the path on the other side of the car-park so it was nice to do a different route.

We walked and chatted looking down at a frosty stream and in front of us a valley stretching out towards Eel Crag and Hopegill Head and behind us, views of Skiddaw and Blencathra.  The sun was shining, the mountains were snow-capped and I was wearing my vibrant pink ski trousers and bright white ski jacket.  No chance of losing me! All in all it was a perfect day to be walking the fells.
Skiddaw & Blencathra from the wrong path
After about 30 minutes of walking on a flat path gaining absolutely no height at all it dawned on us that we were on the wrong path and the towering summit of Grisedale Pike on our right was not getting any closer.  We were in fact just skirting around the bottom of it.  Group walking mentality at its worse as we had all just been following each other assuming someone else knew the way!  We toyed briefly with the idea of scaling the exceptionally steep bracken-covered slope to reach the ridge we should have been on but I think my face and the face of some of the others meant that idea was quickly dismissed (but honestly it was so steep I would probably still be trying to climb it now!)

We decided to head to the ridge at the head of the valley and then double back to Grisedale Pike.  Good plan!  Off we went again still in high spirits with the view of High Force and Low Force waterfalls and Force Crag mine (which looked like an abandoned set from an old Western film - you could almost see John Wayne appearing from one of the buildings).  

Force Crag Mine
A tricky river crossing saw me waving my arms around to balance but I made it safely to the other side although Sian had a tumble (she was not the only one during the day by any means!) and then we started gaining height for the first time.  

Walking in pink with Gina (photo by Phil Corley)
The snowy mountains all around were just beautiful.  Whilst the shadowy crags looked quite forbidding at times we could see the sun catching the fells higher up and it was stunning.  The strange thing was however that our target of Grisedale Pike was getting further and further away as the path snaked its way upwards but in the opposite direction to the one we needed.  The path was starting to get icy and I confess I slipped and caught myself on the bank (witnessed only by Jim I am pleased to say) and as we reached the ridge we had another route discussion.  Given Grisedale Pike looked like a distant speck on the horizon (well not quite but nearly) we decided to head straight to Grasmoor instead.  This was one of the additional mountains not on the official horseshoe.
Walking into the sun
Helvellyn range
With each step we got further into the snow and it was amazing. Grasmoor sloped up to the right with blue sky overhead and Eel Crag to the left.  Gina and I stopped for a photo shoot and then after Gina slipped on the ice (earning a score of 10 for elegant falling) we reached the col (dip) between the two mountains with the sun pouring over us like custard over brownies (sorry – I was getting hungry by then) and the silhouettes of the group looked striking.  The Buttermere fells and the Scafells came into view along with the Helvellyn range.  The Helvellyn range from that side looked a gentle and inviting series of ups and downs whereas the Scafells and surrounding fells looked much more dark, rugged and forbidding.  

Climbing Grasmoor
The final ascent to Grasmoor saw us negotiating snow that had frozen overnight and was really crunchy and then slippery in places.  Ice-dancing became a new sport of mine but I scored low points sadly.  As we got to the first cairn though, we decided it was brownie time.  Hurrah!  Dave handed them around and I took one from the box and then a potential disaster occurred!  Gina’s iphone in its red case slipped from her hand and started sliding down the icy slope.  We all thought it would come to rest in a little dip but it seemed to build up real momentum and kept going.  Gina looked quite horror-stricken at the fate that was befalling her phone so Dave started running after it on the frozen snow with the box of brownies held aloft like a waiter holding a silver tray  It was reminiscent of a scene with Manuel in Fawlty Towers.  This led to calls from all those in the party of “don’t drop the brownies Dave” and we watched in awe as phone, brownies and Dave disappeared into the distance......

Part 2 to follow.....
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