Monday, 29 October 2012

Abandoning Wetherlam

Wetherlam on a sunnier day!
The morning weather did not bode well.  Heavy rain and gusty winds were forecast and it turned out to be spot on.  A Twitter walk arranged by Gina was planned though and they are always fun whatever the weather so Tilly the black Labrador (who is staying with me for two weeks again) and I packed our sandwiches and waterproofs and headed off to meet the group at Tilberthwaite.  The plan was to start with Wetherlam and then head up the Prison Band to Swirl How and follow the ridge to Coniston Old Man.

Starting out
As we all arrived, we discussed what we should do in light of the weather. Should we abandon Wetherlam and do a lower level walk?  Just do Wetherlam?  The most critical question being of course – how long until the pub opens?  Given it was 9am we had a good few hours so we decided to stick to Wetherlam on its own.  After all donning our waterproofs (see “Girl from the South Heads North Episode 1” for the accuracy of the label on my “waterproofs”) the 11 of us headed up the path alongside Tilberthwaite Gill.  The thought of Gina’s legendary chocolate brownies was a good incentive.  I took a group photo just as we left and the rain drop on the lens says it all!

Tilly at this point had a decision to make.  She prefers to walk in front so she can see what is going on.  She is also very loyal and wanted to walk with me, but I am invariably at the back having frequent “Tanya stops” so it was a choice between leading or being with me.  After a short stint ahead looking back, she decided to walk with me, however far behind I got.  She is so sweet (the fact I was carrying the treats I am sure was irrelevant to her).

Gushing waterfall & autumn colours
Not at the back! Yay!
We ploughed on through the rain and wind, passing beautiful waterfalls with the white rapids contrasting strikingly with the autumn colours of reds, oranges and browns.  Rain has compensations and fabulous waterfalls are one of them.  The views were not great but having climbed parallel to Wetherlam to reach the summit of Grey Friar in glorious sunshine the day before at least I could imagine what I could be seeing.  Gina took a photo at one point on the way up and I have included it in the blog as I am not at the back of the group! Hurrah!  It was a brief but satisfying moment.

River crossing on the way back down
As we reached a plateau, the wind got really strong and it was a battle to keep moving forward.  Tilly was drenched, her ears were flapping in the wind but she was loving it.  However, I remembered the route we were doing and I had reservations about the ascent of Wetherlam Edge.  It is a steep scramble in places and if windy, can be quite dangerous.  I did it in similar conditions last year at the tail end of Hurricane Katia and whilst I made it to the summit on that occasion, it was too windy to stay there for more than a minute or two and although Tilly is good at scrambling, I decided on balance we would be better making a retreat.  I let Dave and Andy (who had been kindly taking it more slowly to keep me in sight) know I was going back and arranged to meet them all in the pub at the end (well I may be abandoning the walk but that did not mean I had to abandon the pub!)

The "I would like a chocolate brownie please" look
Tilly and I made our way back down towards Tilberthwaite.  Then a horrible thought struck me.  We had not just abandoned Wetherlam, we had abandoned chocolate brownies!  Tilly looked particularly distressed at this but after toying with the idea of chasing back up the mountain, we decided that one look from Tilly’s eyes in the pub would secure a brownie each.  We were right!

Wet, blurred & bedraggled - braving the camera timer!
It was great to catch up with everyone at the end of the walk in the Black Bull in Coniston.  Great company and even though Tilly and I did not make it to the summit, a great walk.
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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Piers Gill & An Orange Shovel

Wastwater (from a previous visit)
I have seen the dark craggy ravine of Piers Gill several times whilst on other walks or out with the Fix the Fells volunteers in the Lakes.  From the summit of the Styhead Pass you can see it in the distance and it looks forbidding but fascinating.  I still spend as much time as I can out on the fells as part of my Fix the Fells role so a drain run up that route from Wasdale seemed a perfect opportunity to have a closer look.  A drain run is a maintenance task to clear the path drains of any stones and debris to ensure the water is channelled away and also clear any loose stones from areas of stone-pitching.  I have done these a few times before (see “GirlFrom the South Heads North Episode 2”).  

I was with the Western Lakes National Trust team and we met at the Wasdale Campsite at 8am on a beautiful sunny day where I was promptly handed my shovel with an orange handle and my working gloves, also orange.  How very co-ordinated (although I have not yet succeeded in my mission to find a pink shovel!)  As I put on my ski jacket (it was a cold day) and backpack, I got the impression I was possibly the only person in the history of Fix the Fells that had turned up to clear drains and paths in a bright white jacket (although they were lucky I did not add my bright pink salapets to the outfit – it wasn’t quite that cold).  But, everyone is used to me now so apart from requesting sunglasses to hide the dazzle, we picked up our shovels (which had not got any lighter since the last time I carried one) and set off.
Great Gable & Kirk Fell

Regular readers of my blog will not need me to say that this drain run was a little slower with me in tow and “Tanya stops” were frequent.  But on such a glorious day, it was a perfect opportunity to admire the views.  It was quite a long walk to the first drain and we split into two groups to cover two paths.  I set off with Steve and here started my battle with the question “What is the best way to carry a shovel up a mountain?”  Now I will be honest and say that until recently, this is not a question I ever thought I would need an answer to or indeed one that I would ask.  However, I spent the first mile of the walk with the shovel in one hand being held near the metal bit then in another by the handle.  Next I tried holding it out in front and then over each shoulder but it was always in the way and heavy (and the latter option just made me want to break into a chorus of “Hi Ho!”)

Piers Gill
My mind was soon distracted by the sight of Piers Gill however.  Where it ends and the gill starts to wash over the boulders and rocks it looks like many other rocky gills.  However, as you start to look up it, you can see dark cliffs and narrow crevices that look menacing.  The further up the path you get the deeper, darker but more mesmerising the gill becomes.  Your eyes are drawn to it all the time.  It is like something out of a Stephen King novel.

One of the drains - note the co-ordinated shovel & gloves
I was soon brought back to reality though and got my shovel to work clearing a very gravelly drain.  When the water starts running through it and away from the path, you get a real sense of achievement.  Steve did about three drains to my one but I am still learning the art.  We stopped for a coffee and admired the views to Great Gable and Kirk Fell.  Although the sun was shining, Great Gable seemed always to hold cloud on its summit like a cloud factory was at work churning out big white fluffy clouds that were then taken on beyond the valley.  The red screes of Hell Gill on its slopes looked uninviting but striking.

Cloud factory on Great Gable
Waterfall at the top of Piers Gill
Onwards we went and after a short steep scramble (here I confess I did not have my shovel) reached the deepest and most vertical-sided part of Piers Gill.  I was brave enough to lean over (whilst kneeling) to take a photo but you really cannot get the real feel for how magnificent if daunting it is from the photos.  People have on occasions had serious accidents and even died in the ravine thinking it is a path.  It is no place for walkers – there is no path and it is dangerous.

On reaching the top of Piers Gill (and being given my shovel back to clear more drains) we headed down to meet Iain and Barry and help finish that section of path.  Lunch was below the summit of Lingmell with Scafell Pike behind and Great Gable in front.  Having kept my jacket clean all day whilst clearing muddy drains, I promptly spilt coffee on it.  A handy tarn cleaned it up quite well though.  

Pulpit Rock & Scafell Crags
We headed to Lingmell Col and Mickleden so I could see the work planned for that area, which is understandably one of the busiest as people try and reach the summit of the highest mountain in England.  The Three Peak Challenge (where people climb Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon) has increased this traffic.  

On the route we headed to the foot of the Pulpit Rock and Scafell Crags, which are both vertical rugged cliff faces with areas of shattered scree.  To the right was the start of the Lord’s Rake ascent to Scafell.  This is a route I really want to try, although it looks pretty challenging!  After clearing another drain or two, we headed back down (shovel on the left, on the right, swinging – honestly how should I carry it?).  On the lower slopes, the path crosses a large gill (and given the recent rain it was pretty wide and fast-flowing) where only boulders stand between you and being carried down the river.  Steve and Iain hopped across nimbly and then pretended to be inspecting a piece of path so as not to put me off my crossing.  Not so the group of five guys on the bank behind who I knew would be watching my crossing attempt.  The reason I knew is because I would have been watching too if I was sitting there!
Lingmell Gill

I cautiously made my way to the middle of the gill but then there was a really long step to the next rock.  I looked around in earnest for an alternative but did not find one.  It had to be this rock. It looked slippery.  I felt the eyes of the people behind still on me and looked down the river to where I would end up if I did indeed fall in.  It could be anywhere – depends what rock I got wedged behind.  Then I found a use for my shovel that meant I cared no longer how heavy it was.  I stuck it firmly between smaller rocks under the water and leaned on it to get across the big step.  Hurrah!  Success!

Looking down to Wastwater
It was a great day.  Hard work but a great team and I will always love going out on the fells to help fix them.  I just need someone to invent a lightweight shovel (with a pink handle please!)
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