Tuesday, 5 February 2013

One Step Forward, Two Steps Down

Wintery morning skies
Snow is exhausting! I still love it though. With a blue sky or textured clouds acting as a back drop to brilliant white mountains, it is better than on a clear blue and warm summer day (sometimes). There is no doubt it is much more tiring though! A recent walk up to the Helvellyn ridge (specifically aiming for Whiteside initially) reminded me of this very quickly....

Skiddaw & Blencathra
I started from Thirlspot near Thirlmere with the wintery morning sun peering over the slopes of Helvellyn Lower Man promising some good views and I chose this ridge specifically to see into both the Ullswater and Thirlmere valleys as it is spectacular. With a real sense of anticipation I started at a fair pace (for me that is – speed is never my strong point) very optimistic about the walk. I had hardly walked a few hundred yards though before I knew my microspikes were going to be essential on the icy path. I stopped to put them on (it is really easy to do) and kept going along the quite gentle path stopping constantly to take photos of Skiddaw and Blencathra.

Before long the path takes you up a steep section that would be tiring at the best of times but sinking ankle-deep in snow each step it was a real challenge and tracking the path rather tricky. I was full of energy at that point though so as the views along St John’s in the Vale towards Keswick and across the valley to Thirlmere got better and better, there was plenty to distract me. Eventually the path levelled out and I thought I must be near the ridge. Sadly not. Looking very far away and very steep was Raise, which is the fell next to Whiteside. The summit I was aiming for was still not in view with the crags of Brown Cove in the way. 
Silky smooth snow on the Dodds

The ground was flatter now and I could see a path up the side of Brown Cove so I pressed on confidently. I was still sinking to above my ankles though so having to lift each foot higher each step. I took off my microspikes at this point as they were just collecting snow and making my feet even heavier. The ridge of Brown Cove seemed to take forever to get to but I knew once I was there, it would be a milestone and I would feel enthused about being so much closer to my goal.

Waves of snow
How wrong can you be? The summit was still out of sight from there. Raise still looked a very long way away. The snow was still soft and worse, deeper! As I started the ascent to Whiteside, it was a case of one step forward, two steps down as I regularly sank up to my knees in snow, sometimes staying upright and other times propelling forwards and landing in a sprawled heap on the snow and taking a breath before hauling myself up time after time.

With the deep snow unremitting and Whiteside not seeming to be getting any closer and having landed in a heap for what must have been the fifth or sixth time, I seriously contemplated giving up. I was really not sure I could make it as it was so exhausting. But at that moment, as I lay on the snow propped up on one elbow with one leg buried up to my knee, I saw a couple walking the ridge towards Raise. I reminded myself it was the view from the ridge I was after and summits did not matter so I changed direction and headed for the ridge. The great thing was that having spent so much of the ascent sitting down, I could really appreciate the textures of the snow that went from being as smooth as silk on Stybarrow Dodd to looking like waves as it covered the grassy tufts where I was.

The eastern fells
I made it to the ridge and as ever, the moment I did (just like reaching a summit) the pain of ascent was forgotten and I just revelled in the views towards Swiral and Striding Edges, Catsycam and the eastern fells and in the opposite direction to the fells beyond Thirlmere and towards Coniston. Breathtaking and worth every tumble and every breath.

With summits not being important, I ditched Whiteside and headed towards Raise instead as it was in sunshine and looked more inviting (and less steep!) The views from the summit were beautiful and the icy patterns and textures on the rocks and cairn were superb. The wind was a bitter chill so my stay on the summit was brief and I decided to head down via Sticks Pass and see the skiing area (yes – Raise has a ski lift) and admire the silky smooth Dodds beyond.

The walk down was long and microspikes were again essential but it was amazing. There were a few snowboarders about and it looked a much faster and more fun way to get back down whereas I was still wading thorough deep snow. It was less tiring on a downward slope than upwards and the views remained a distracting sight, particularly the pinks and wisps of clouds in the sky around Skiddaw and Blencathra.

Always a Herdy around....
I walked back along the lower slopes to Thirlspot crossing becks and streams and watching the sun set over the fells behind Thirlmere. It was a lovely walk but I think the ascent was possibly the most tiring I have ever done and comparable to the Grasmoor screes (although I think the screes edge the contest!) Entirely worth it though. I love walking in snow.

See more photos from this walk on my Facebook page.

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  1. wonderful images Tanya :) looked lovely up there.

    1. Thanks Phil. Cold but yes - lovely :-)

    2. It looks a lovely day for it Tanya. Nice pictures and the scenery makes the arduous snow walking well worth while.

    3. Thanks Ray. Yes - you forget how tiring it was as soon as you get to a ridge/summit :)

  2. Really special blog great photos i have walked in the snow on some of my favourite fells you have inspired me to do it again thankyou

    1. Thank you Peter. The fells in snow have many happy memories for me :)

  3. Your getting very good at this Tanya...Excellent read..

  4. stunning day for it! great pics and excellent read!

  5. Well I really admire your stamina and your persistence and what a winter wonderland.

    I missed all the snow this year so seeing your pix has reminded me how beautifully it cloaks the landscape.

    1. It is beautiful. Love it. Starting to feel ready for spring now though :-)