Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Snow & Tilly On Helvellyn

Sunshine on Helvellyn
Out of the blue, after a rather soggy summer in the Lake District, a beautiful Monday morning appeared with the autumnal colours still vibrant and higher up the fells, crisp white snow capped peaks.  Just one day like this and all the rain of previous weeks was forgotten.  With blue skies and snowy mountains, there is nowhere in the world I would rather be.  And to make things perfect I had a day off and still had Tilly the lovely black Labrador with me.

Tilly sledging
We set off to climb Helvellyn from Wythburn as it seemed one of the snowier fells.  We were not disappointed.  The initial slopes from Wythburn are steep through the woods but as you emerge, there are ever growing views of Thirlmere and the fells heading towards the Langdales, Keswick and Coniston.  My eyes were constantly distracted by the snow higher up however so we pressed on.  Before long we got to our first snow.  Tilly was in heaven.  She ran around, eating it, rolling in it and chasing snowballs but then discovered a new game – sledging.  She put her back legs out behind her and pulled herself with her front feet down the slope until she was in free fall.  When I called her back (getting dangerously close to a crag) she ran right back up to the top of the slope and did it again.
A perfect day

The closer to the summit we got, the deeper the snow was.  It made walking quite hard work as some of the steps took me up to my knees in snow but it was worth it.  The sky was so blue, the sun so bright and the snow so white that it was picture perfect.  The contrast between the cold blue and glistening white was spectacular and it felt good to be alive.  Tilly was a bit confused about her paws sinking in the snow but spent most of her time continuing to run around and sledge.
Striding Edge

The sight of Striding Edge (a rocky arĂȘte) was amazing.  There were earthy stripes where the sun had begun to melt the snow on one side and from the other side it was still completely covered in snow like the icing on a Christmas cake.  Despite the conditions, there were people walking along the top of the arĂȘte.  Rather them than me!  

Red Tarn - like a spilt pot of ink
The summit was deservedly quite busy with people soaking up the views.  Layer after layer of mountains rolled out in all directions against the blue sky and Ullswater sparkled and snaked its way into the distance.  I sat on the summit for ages, mesmerised with Red Tarn in front of me, nestled between Striding Edge and Swirral Edge and looking so dark that it was as though someone had spilt a pot of ink.  I felt euphoric and tears pricked the back of my eyes as it was just so beautiful.

Frozen snow ripples
After lunch (shared with Tilly of course) I decided to continue onto Nethermost Pike, High Crag and Dollywagon Pike.  Off we went – both running and jumping this time and I threw snowballs for Tilly who chased them time after time (although she ate them rather than retrieved them).  The black and white contrast between the snow and Tilly was really striking.  Also striking were the ripples in the snow where the wind had swept the snow into ridges like frozen ripples on a lake shore.

Fairfield & Grisedale Tarn
Having done most of the hard work, the summits of Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike were just a joyful stroll.  The vertical rock face of High Crag was in the shade and looked at its most imposing.  Then as we headed off the summit of Dollywagon, the view of Fairfield and the appearance of Grisedale Tarn was simply wonderful.  I have never seen Fairfield look so beautiful.  If it had been earlier in the day I would have been tempted to climb it but the afternoon was ticking away and there was still a long walk back around Grisedale Tarn and down Raise Beck before darkness set in.

I waited to see if the sun would catch Grisedale Tarn as it was making its way around Seat Sandal but it was just a bit too low in the sky by then.  The route down Raise Beck was beautiful.  The waterfalls and cascades were still catching the sun and the lower we got, the less snow there was but the more the vibrant autumn colours came out, at their best as the sunset in front of us.

Raise Beck
As I got back down to the foot of Dollywagon Pike, darkness was almost upon me and I headed along the level path through the fields back towards Wythburn.  As I got to the woods, it was virtually pitch-black as any remaining light was blocked by the density of the trees.  Tilly had to go back on her lead (she may stand out against white snow but not against dark woods!) and for the first time in my fell-walking history I had to use a torch (albeit only for a few minutes).  Thank goodness I had not lingered any longer on Helvellyn.

An absolutely beautiful and magical day.  Stunning.

See more photos of this walk here.


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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Lest We Forget: Remembrance on Great Gable

The annual Remembrance gathering on Great Gable is something I had heard a lot about, even before I moved to the Lake District.  I really wanted to be part of it in 2012 as what better way could there be to remember those who have given so much for us?  I joined a small group of friends from previous Twitter walks – Paul, Sian, Jim, Phil and Gary at Honister, with Tilly the black Labrador keeping us company and looking forward to being spoilt by everyone.

Several people had told me how popular this gathering was but I was surprised to see by 8am so many cars in the car-parks there and already a long snaking line of people making their way up the various routes to Great Gable.  It was a beautiful morning with sunshine and mist and the autumn browns reds and golds still holding on for their last hurrah.  I realised as I arrived that I had forgotten my water bottles (too busy packing Tilly’s treats) but decided it would be ok as it was a cold day and I had coffee.  This is not the first time I have forgotten water (see my “The Knight & the Water” story) – clearly I had not learnt my lesson.

Our route up was via Green Gable so we headed off, Tilly leading the way.  I walk on my own a lot, as a couple and with larger groups and I enjoy them all in their own way but this was something utterly unique.  The volume of people heading to Great Gable was amazing – there must have been 30-40 people nearby for much of the route and there was a real sense of friendliness and sharing a common goal.  I even managed to overtake people (rare for me as I am usually quite slow) and found myself on occasions at the front of the group! 

Tilly's "forgive me" eyes (photo by Phil)
As we neared Green Gable, I was becoming incredibly thirsty – it may have been a cold day but walking is thirsty work regardless.  Without much hope, I asked the group if any of them had a spare water bottle.  Gary fortunately did (thank you!) and at that moment, it tasted better than Dom Peringon would have done (I reserve the right to change my mind about that once the memory has faded though).  Tilly was enjoying herself thoroughly but she is not the most considerate walker as she tends to stop unannounced or barge passed to get to the next person with treats.  This seemed to be Phil as Tilly bounded up to him and tripped him up! Phil fell forwards and bruised his knee and cracked the filter of his lens.  He was fortunately very forgiving and one look from those deep brown soulful “Tilly eyes” still got her a dog biscuit.  She is a master I will give her that!  

Mass scrambling
On we went to the summit of Green Gable heading into the mist and then down to Windy Gap and up the final ascent to Great Gable.  Here it became rather a bottle-neck as several paths merge around Green Gable and at Windy Gap and the path from there to Great Gable is made of rock and scree and takes careful negotiating.  With so many people, it was a slow but steady climb.  At least I did not need to declare “Tanya stops” though.  Tilly found her mountain paws and she jumped and scrambled up the rocks and we finally arrived at the summit.

The busy summit
I have never seen so many people on or near a summit in my life.  Scafell Pike is nearly always busy and mountains like Catbells, Loughrigg and the Langdale Pikes usually have a steady stream of visitors.  At this moment on Great Gable however, there were literally hundreds of people all waiting on the top and for the next half an hour, probably more than another hundred arrived.  We were scattered all over the summit and some had even brought tents up for the occasion (I liked the pink and yellow one best).  Other people we knew came to say hello as they arrived, some from other valleys and Tilly thought Ray was Father Christmas as he came bearing gifts of dog treats.

There was only ever a fleeting view to other mountains and valleys but it did not matter.  We were all here for one reason only – to remember those who have given so much for our defence and freedom.  Those people who have made sure that all of us, whoever we are have the freedom to enjoy such a beautiful place.  It was very moving to be part of such a gathering and peering through the mist to the occasional tiny glimpse of other summits and tarns, I felt very fortunate and privileged.

View to Buttermere, Crummock & Mellbreak
A few words were said by a representative of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club and we observed the two minute silence.  Hardly a dog barked during that time.  It was a short moment but poignant and then we all began to make our way down.  Again the scramble was slow to get to windy gap but after that, it was a lovely walk without anything too arduous back over Green Gable, Brandreth and Grey Knotts.  On Brandreth, the mist really cleared and we had views all the way down the Ennerdale and Buttermere valleys.  Mellbreak holds special memories for me so seeing it in the distance was wonderful.  Great Gable looked menacing looking back with its dark crags on display.

Tilly finding her mountain paws....
Between Brandreth and Grey Knotts is a little tarn and whilst it was a hundred yards away, Tilly decided she was ready for a swim and bounded towards it, landing with a not so elegant but very enthusiastic splash.  At this moment you know she is a true Labrador.  After hauling herself out she decided to expend some of that pent up energy (5 summits are clearly not enough for her nowadays) and started sprinting all around us and making wide circles on the grassy fell side and rushing up to us and diverting at the last second.  At this point, a male black Labrador arrived and they gambolled around together as we made our way back down to Honister.  The only thing that distracted Tilly was Jim opening some crisps.

On the summit of Brandreth
About three hundred yards from the car-park, I was chatting away and promptly slipped backwards and ended up in a not very elegant “splat” on the ground.  Not my best look (although nothing damaged except my ego) and fortunately Phil had not managed to capture the moment on camera.  Dragging myself back up with all the dignity I could muster, I managed to get back down to the car-park without further incident.  

A really poignant and memorable day – Remembrance Sunday on Great Gable.  Lest we forget.
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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Blue Skies Over Yewbarrow

Bell Rib on Yewbarrow
Since I first climbed Yewbarrow in January 2011, I have claimed it to be my favourite mountain.  However, until October 2012 I had not climbed it again.  I have admired it wistfully in the distance as I climbed fells surrounding it and walked and driven passed it on the way to and from Wasdale Head but never ventured near the summit again.  Climbing Yewbarrow in 2011 was perfect in every way – it was a lovely sunny day with blue skies as far as the eye could see, the scramble of the ascent and descent and the long ridge route across the top, combined with making a momentous decision on the summit means it has been unbeatable.  My first ascent is captured in my book “From High Heels to High Hills”.  If I am honest, I suppose I was a little worried that having such a perfect memory of Yewbarrow, I would be disappointed a second time.  Surely it could not be as amazing as I remembered?  

When I arrived in Wasdale one weekend morning in October, my intention was to walk around Wastwater.  I love the scree path and for a low level walk it is quite challenging in places.  It was a beautiful sunny day and as I drove towards the lake with the screes crashing forbiddingly into the water I caught my first sight of Yewbarrow towards the end of the valley bathed in rich autumnal colours.  It had that “come and climb” me look about it and won me over.  Yewbarrow it was to be!

Great Door & the view to Wastwater
The first part of the ascent is straightforward on a grassy incline.  Each step you take you are rewarded by ever better views of Wastwater and the surrounding fells.  In the glorious sunshine that day, the lake twinkled and sparkled but the low autumn sun meant the screes were cast in dark shadows, making them even more forbidding.  Contrasts like that are one of the things I love about the Lake District.

Looking back along the ridge to Wastwater
From the top of the grassy slope, the climb changes completely.  From here, the ascent is on rocks and shattered scree with a few scrambles.  Then you have a choice to make.  A tricky rocky ascent in a gully to the right that takes you to the far end of the ridge or an easier path that brings you up further along it.  There is a story behind my first ascent at this point (I will not spoil the book though) but I decided to take the more tricky route anyway as I remembered the glorious ridge along the top to the summit.  It was a steep scramble to the ridge and a matter of careful planning in places and then there I was – on the main ridge at Great Door with views to the Scafells, Great Gable, Wastwater and the screes.  This is why I love this mountain.  Simply breathtaking and all amongst a sea of blue sky.

The Scafells from the summit
The ridge route over the top of Yewbarrow is about a mile, with the summit being about two-thirds of the way along it.  It is a joyful walk with such views to be had.  From the summit the wonderful views of Red Pike, Haycock, Pillar and Kirk Fell start to open up.  Even though it was October it was really warm and a lunch stop overlooking England’s highest mountain and deepest lake was something special.  The Scafells looked spectacular with white whispy clouds above and dark shadows cast over Mickledore.  A lot has changed in my life since I last sat on the summit of Yewbarrow and I could see exactly why this place had inspired me to chase my dream.

Crab claw on Stirrup Crag
I decided to descend via the Dore Head Screes but only if I could find the path (another story from the book) and to tackle Stirrup Crag.  This is a crag that you can avoid by taking a cut-off to the left but having done it before, I was confident I could manage it.  It is tricky in places, particularly going down rather than up though and at one point I had to stretch as far as my legs could to get to the next ledge, always conscious of the rocks below!  I have tackled Striding Edge, Sharp Edge and Jack’s Rake but this was a reminder never to underestimate any craggy descent.  It was more difficult than I had remembered.  

I got to the bottom unscathed (if a little muddier than at the top) and searched for the path next to the Dore Head screes to descend to the valley.  It begins with just a few indistinct pigeon holes and then turns into a more recognisable path (although it is starting to turn into a bit of a scree itself).  From the path you can see back to Stirrup Crag and an odd rocky outcrop that looks like a crab claw.  I am sure it has a more technical name though!

Great Gable amongst autumn colours & a sea of blue
The path was steep but with close views of Pillar and Kirk Fell and a patchwork of stone walls and fields in the valley to occupy my mind, it was not long before I was strolling along the valley floor in search of the Wasdale Head pub.  The clouds were creating shadows and patterns on the fells and Great Gable stood proudly at the top of the valley still bathed in blue skies.

Scafells over Wastwater
A beer in the warm sunshine by the river was a well-deserved respite and walking back between the foot of Yewbarrow and the shores of Wastwater with the sun making it sparkle was a perfect way to end a perfect walk.  I need not have worried at all about Yewbarrow living up to my memories.  It is simply wonderful and remains my favourite fell.  

More photos from this walk are available on my Facebook page.
Wastwater Screes

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