Limited daylight, limited distances, unlimited satisfaction – a two day winter wild walk.

As I was reviewing the year in preparation for the writing of our family Christmas letter I realised that I have walked and / or wild-camped in each month from April to October of 2020. I came to this realisation at the end of November realising that this would be the first month to break the pattern. Almost coincident with this I came across an advert for pre-loved Hilleberg Soulo at a very reasonable price, well reasonable for a Hilleberg!

After a test run in the garden, I felt the urge to try it out in conditions to justify its design. I set off for Buttermere on a Friday evening and slept in the van overnight to facilitate a good early start the following morning. Being December the days were set to be short, with under eight hours between dawn and dusk. At 0810 on the Saturday morning, as the sun rose, I strode purposely out of Buttermere village and set off for Red Pike.

Looking back across Crummock Water

My proposed route would take me along the High Stile ridge to Green Gable and then over to Black Sail Pass to camp next to Cloven Stone Tarn as I have great memories of camping here on my first Coast to Coast walk some many years ago. The amount of snow on the ridge was rather greater than it appeared from down in the valley. OK, only 4-6” but enough to make it fun and enough to justify an axe for the final ‘drift filled’ gully to the summit of Red Pike. A number of hills have the epithet ‘Red’ but Red Pike truly is red with the scree composed of iron rich syenite. The views from the ridge were excellent.

By the time I got to the steep decent of High Crag the sun had warmed this West facing end and started to melt the snow. My decent was painfully slow. The shallow snow was now extremely slippery but nothing like deep enough for crampons to be employed. Over lunch I noted my average speed of the morning has been only 1.8 mph. I could probably still make it to Black Sail Pass before dark, but not if the descent of Great Gable turning out to be anything like that from High Crag. As I started down the far side of Haystacks I concluded two things (i) That Weston Junior would love the gentle scrambling at the top of this peak and (ii) The temperature was dropping very quickly. Today had been slow, tomorrow would likely be similar so I opted to stop early which would shorten the following day as well.

Since I had my Sawyer ultra-filter with me this gave me complete confidence to source water from Innominate Tarn and I found a suitable, if bumpy pitch which afforded a great view of Great Gable.

There was little wind, and so no real justification for my five season shelter. However, it’s geodesic design was really helpful in helping me find the best pitch of the bumpy plateau I had chosen as my stopping point (NY 208,123). I found the next morning if I’d walked a little further (209,119) I’d have had a much smoother pitch with as good a view. The temperature was soon below freezing, and whilst in my youth that would have made a gas stove problematic, the pre-heater tube on my Alpkit Koro did what it was designed for and it cooked my dinner without a hitch.

The following morning was overcast with the cloud base around 700 m. That I was at 600 m and did not have to re-traverse Great Gable in the cloud was a blessing. Today’s route would take me to Honister Pass then up onto the ridge on the Northern side of the valley. My descent of Grey Knotts was again slow, justifying my change of plans the day before. My slow descent dampened my spirits so I sought to re-state my manhood by setting a good pace up to the top of Dale Head. Getting there 10 minutes ahead of plan re-ignited my mojo and whilst I was now well and truly in the cloud I set off with gladness along Hindscarth Edge. I can only imagine this section of the walk affords amazing views down into the valleys on either side and is somewhere I plan to return in better weather. In fact I would love to do the whole walk again, but in the absence of snow to get all the way to Black Sail Pass to relive my experience of umpty diddly years ago

Where they were afforded, the views from Littledale Edge where super and I found myself descending back to Buttermere just in time for sunset.

The Soulo, whilst not in any way challenged, proved to be a fine shelter. The porch is just big enough for my liking (space for rucksack, wet outer gear, boots and space to cook (not that I could ever commend cooking with the door closed dear reader). I look forward to taking it out again when I can test it’s true metal. I would not seek to carry it in the summer, but in bad weather I can fully believe that it lives up to its reputation. And how many other one man geodesic tents are there out there? Now my wild walking can continue all through the winter when and if Mrs W affords me another weekend pass.

GPX route files can be downloaded from here and here.

Blencathra, Skiddaw and the Minor Northern Fells – A Two Day Rishi Ramble

As soon as my management team heard that Lancashire was on the brink of becoming a Tier 3 COVID zone they acted. Most of the team were put onto full time furlough, but two brewers and a dray-man put onto a two day week. Thankfully for my sanity I am one of those working part time*.

I’ve often dreamed of being a professional hill walker, well thanks to Rishi and his furlough scheme, I spent two days this week in the Lakeland Fells on 80% pay.**  My route took me from Mosedale over Blencathra and Skiddaw, and then back via the more minor Northern Fells that sit behind these two 900 m peaks. Minor in size and notoriety, but not in the pleasure of the views they afforded as I was to find out.

Day One took me over Blencathra and onto the col between Jenkin Hill and Little Man, some 700m up the 931 m of Skiddaw.

Day Two started in low cloud which persisted until I was part way down the further side of Skiddaw, but then lifted to afford great views.

  • Rainbow

The route worked out well, with 10.5 miles and most of the height gain on Day One, and 13 miles on Day Two. If I did it again I would tweak the route a little. My route and the changes I’d make to the end of each day are shown below:

Click on the links to download the .gpx files for my actual route and improved endings for days one and two.

*Mentally there is a world of difference between a two day week and not working at all. It’s easier to think positively about working shorter hours than not at all. OK, I’m only one week into this new regime, but it feels much more like something I could make the best of than it felt during the full ‘house arrest’ of earlier in the year.

** Joking aside, it’s really important that people who are furloughed keep themselves ‘fit’ for a return to work.  Brewing is a very physical job, so it’s good to remain physically fit.  Mental health is vital for everyone so reconstructing purpose and routine into these novel and prolonged periods away from work is also key.  Backpacking / wild camping in Fell Country fulfils both these goals for me

A Two Day Ridge micro-adventure

Wild Camp Route - Jul 19A weather window opened up so on Friday evening I headed to Threlkeld in the van to sleep at the start of my planned Lake District walk and wild-camp.  The route (see right) would take me from Thelkeld Mining Museum to Ambleside.  I chose the route because of the long ridge, the possibility of camping at height and the ability to get a bus back to start at the end of the weekend.

As I started off the tops of the fells were being kissed by cloud.

DSC_0457But this rose as the day went on and by the time I reached 800 m the cloud was above me.  The air was much clearer on the Sunday, but here are some highlights from day one.

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My chosen night spot was Nethermost Pike (890 m).  The classic place to camp would be next to Grisedale Tarn (2 km further on), but I wanted a wilderness experience (as far as this can be possible in somewhere as popular as the Lake District).  Nethermost Pike is pretty much flat topped, but there is a slightly (6-8′) lower plateau on the Eastern Edge and with the wind coming from the West it was slightly sheltered.  Also it offered a better view from ground (my kitchen / bed!) level.

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Good view from the kitchen

It was really glorious on the Sunday morning with only the Herdwick for company, the air was clearer and I didn’t see a soul until I descended to Grisdale Tarn to collect some water.

DSC_0475After a longer than expected detour to take in the top of St Sunday’s Crag I had my lunch on top of Fairfield and then started the descent via Hart Crag, Dove Crag then High and Low Pike into Ambleside.  There I was able to celebrate with a pint of Windermere Pale from the Hawkshead Brewery.  A great example of a modern British pale ale

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The whole route totalled 23 miles with only 6000′ of height gain.  Next time I’d like to tackle it in the winter.

Five day walk in the Lake District

On the way up The Knott

One mile for each year of the Queens reign, well almost.  I will post some more pictures, but here is a starter to give you a flavour of what a great walk this was.  A circular route between different B&B’s and the culmination of a plan hatched some, ahem, 19 years ago after I finished the Coast to Coast – THIS was even better!