Monday, 24 March 2014

Sledging on Skiddaw

Near the summit of Skiddaw
A crisp, cold day with blue skies and sunshine beckoned with snow-capped fells surrounding Keswick. I had driven up from Sussex that morning and had Tilly for company who absolutely loves the snow so I wanted to head up to the snow line as quickly as possible. Skiddaw was my mountain of choice. It is one of my favourites in the northern Lakes as it dominates the skyline and I have fond childhood memories of it.

The summit was hidden underneath cloud initially, as though Skiddaw had its own cloud factory but it started to clear quickly. We headed from the car-park at the end of the no-through road up the zigzag path. It starts very steeply but the benefit of that is you get amazing views across Derwent Water, the north western fells and Blencathra very quickly. The dark clouds were broken by rays of sunshine striking through onto the surface of the lake and casting shadows across the fells. 
Derwent Water in the breaking cloud

There is a monument on the route dedicated to the shepherds of the Hawell family and the inscription is beautiful:
"Great shepherd of thy heavenly flock
These men have left our hill
Their feet were on the living rock
Oh guide and bless them still"

Before long, we were starting to reach tiny patches of snow. There was barely enough to make a snowball but Tilly didn’t care – she started “sledging” as soon as she saw it. This is where she rolls on the ground then sticks her back legs out and pulls herself forward with her front paws. I first saw her do this when climbing Helvellyn in November 2012 and it is a funny sight to behold. It was her first snow of the winter and she was clearly making the most of it!

First sledging of the walk
Another ten minutes or so saw us in proper snow. There was no holding Tilly back at this point. She rolled, sledged, jumped and generally had a wonderful time in the snow. Walkers passing by even stopped to watch. I had to keep reminding myself to look at the views as well as Tilly. As we took the path around the slopes of Skiddaw Little Man, the view to the valley and the Caldale fells opened up and the sunshine peeping through the clouds lit up the snow. The speckled snow on Latrigg looked like a satellite photo from space.
Blencathra in the sunlight
Looking to Little Man

It was time for microspikes here as the snow was compacted and frozen and I saw several people slip. Tilly has inbuilt microspikes so she was fine. 

The final part of the ascent to Skiddaw summit is steeper and with the snow being quite deep it was hard work at times. Tilly found another dog to play with and they went running around the slopes together. This was when I learnt a valuable lesson.

Tilly is very obedient and always comes back on command and she never really strays very far away from me. However, whilst playing with the other dog (a Collie with much more energy than her) she ended up quite a distance in front. When they stopped playing, she thought I was ahead of her (optimistic given how slowly I usually walk) so started running to catch up with me. I had been watching her carefully the whole time so I called her to let her know I was in fact behind her. Usually this would have been fine but with the wind having stepped up in speed and volume and blowing in the opposite direction it threw my voice right back at me so she couldn’t hear me. She was stopping at every person ahead trying to find me but going uphill so there was no way I could have caught up. Fortunately I can whistle for England so I gave my loudest and most shrill whistle to get her attention. She stopped in her tracks immediately and looked back (as did most of the other people and dogs on the slope). I then waved my arms around like a woman possessed so she could spot me. I was wearing bright pink so I must have been quite a sight! She then sprinted back to me, covering me with kisses and wagging her tail with enthusiasm as she was so pleased to find me. It was a lesson I will not forget in a hurry. I have added a dog whistle to the equipment I take with me now just in case.

Heading to the summit
The rest of the walk was uneventful. The view to Ullock Pike and Longside as we reached the south top, with the ridge covered in snow was beautiful. Tilly stayed beside me like a magnet and we soon reached the summit. The wind was bitter at that height though and the wind shelter was full of people trying to escape the cold so we didn’t stay long. The views were superb all around towards the coast, Bassenthwaite and down to the valley below but sadly my camera iPhone battery had died so I couldn’t take a photo! 
Ullock Pike & Longside

We headed back down the same route and Tilly made the most of the snow before it petered out and we got back to the car. A spectacular day for walking made all the more special sharing it with Tilly and her passion for “sledging”.

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  1. Can totally empathise with the panic that comes when your dog strays that little bit too far out of recall range. Lost my own Coluki (collie/saluki) only on the North Downs in Surrey a few weeks ago when she suddenly just disappeared. She had of course, spotted a deer that I hadn't seen. I'm very careful usually but I had let her off the lead in an area I was less familiar with. Two hours later she came back to the spot where she took off, but I have learned my lesson and she's back on the lead!! No whistle powerful enough to distract her attention from a potential deer-chase!

  2. Hi Jenny - it was a heart-stopping moment. I am very lucky with Tilly - she always comes back on command so it was my fault for letting her get out of hearing range. Glad you found your pooch ok - it must have been awful!