Monday, 4 May 2015

The Dodds from High Row

I have spent this entire winter injured waiting for my hernia operation. I knew the recovery period meant I wouldn't be walking up mountains until at least late April early May. The likelihood of climbing snowy mountains was slim to none for the first time in over a decade. I checked the Lake District weather and webcams on Wednesday in preparation for a walk on Friday which I had booked off work. I couldn't believe my eyes, the hairs on my arms stood on end as snow capped mountains appeared on the webcams. The weather forecasts spoke of more snow and cold nights in the next few days so the snow was highly likely to still be there Friday.

Cockley Moor and Thornsgill Beck from Groove Beck.
Sean of the inspiring Striding Edge website and Love The Lakes shop in Ambleside had been out walking and posted photos on Twitter of snow capped peaks. I replied to one of his tweets and asked him where he thought the most amount of snow had fallen. His response which turned out to be absolutely spot on was the Eastern Fells. The obvious mountain to guarantee yourself snow in the Eastern Fells is the highest Helvellyn. I am determined to climb new mountains this year and have already climbed Helvellyn several times before including in winter conditions. I'm not completely fit yet and I did struggle last week climbing Moel Hebog so Helvellyn may have been biting off more than I could chew right now. I scoured the guidebooks and internet for alternatives and spotted The Dodds, Eastern Fells I have always wanted to explore. Most of the routes start from High Row near Dockray which I was interested to read has a handy altitude of 412m above sea level. An easy ascent to a mountain over 850m high followed by some of the easiest high level ridge walking in the Lake District, with the opportunity to bag a few Wainwrights. This was exactly what I was looking for.

Snow capped Great Dodd from Groove Beck, Lake District.
I had great pleasure in packing my ice axe, crampons and four season boots on Thursday night. The crampons were overkill but unfortunately I hadn't yet replaced the micro spikes I accidentally left in a Peak District pub a few years ago. I ended up wearing the four season boots, carrying the ice axe which I used briefly and carried the crampons just in case. Mittens and Buff as always the most comforting of all the winter kit I carried and used. I left home at 6am Friday morning, stopping for a Subway sandwich on the way as I hadn't prepared any lunch. At the Kendal and South Lakes junction of the M6 I could see snow on the tops of the highest Coniston Fells. Then as I passed The Howgills even they had a sprinkling on their highest tops. As the M6 descended from Shap towards the Keswick and Penrith junction there was lots of snow on High Street and the Far Eastern Fells, even a sprinkling on the summit plateau of the Pennine's highest Cross fell. The temperature at Shap was only one degree celsius.

Blencathra from Bruts Moss on Great Dodd ascent.
Driving along the A66 towards Keswick it is normally Blencathra that catches my eye, today however my eyes were fixed in the direction of The Dodds in anticipation and within a few minutes I was delighted to see a snow capped Great Dodd. I arrived in a quiet Dockray hamlet around 8am and turned up the steep road to High Row. I was the first car of the day at the small car park which only has enough space for around a dozen vehicles. The scene at High Row was perfect with blue skies, crisp cold air and the sound of birds over the forest. I took both three season boots and four season winter boots but decided on the latter. This turned out to be a crucial decision as the stiff soles were vital for kicking steps across the steep snow covered north east ridge of Great Dodd.

Ascending Great Dodd from Randerside, Lake District.
I left the car at High Row, headed through a gate and along the old coach road which was sign posted to St John's in the Vale. The forest on the right hand side looked frighteningly dark and cold. A sweet little Robin followed me for a while but soon disappeared when it realised he was getting no share of my Subway. I crossed the ford through Groove Beck then turned immediately left on a faint grassy path heading west along the northern side of the beck. The path was easy at first rising gently above Groove Beck, however as the path gained height and reached Bruts Moss the going underfoot became extremely boggy. Luckily as I had my waterproof four season boots on I didn't have too much difficulty.

Clough Head, Skiddaw and Blencathra from north east ridge of Great Dodd.
Once I reached Bruts Moss at the foot of Randerside there were views north to a wintery Blencathra. I stopped to admire the view and listen to the Skylarks chirping away dozens of metres above my head. There was a short ascent to reach the summit area of the small rocky outcrop of Randerside. As the path gained height and the gradient increased the boggy ground disappeared thankfully. From the far end of Randerside summit the view ahead was dominated by the huge snow covered dome of Great Dodd. After taking photos I began the ascent of the snowy north east ridge of Great Dodd. It's not so much a ridge, more the steep shoulder of a huge grassy dome.

Snow covered north east ridge of Great Dodd, Lake District.
I was surprised by how difficult the snow was to ascend; none of that easy, sticky and fluffy stuff to dig my toes into. This was hard, slippery and crunchy stuff and the only way to ascend it was to slice horizontal kick steps. As the path got higher the dome was less welcoming and the ground got steep quickly so I decided it was time to hold the ice axe just in case one of my kick steps gave way and I had to arrest. I stopped along the way to take a few photos and eventually reached the summit plateau.

Snowy footsteps on Great Dodd, Skiddaw and Blencathra beyond.
Incredibly there was hardly any snow on the summit. I'm guessing this was due to the fact that the all day spring sunshine had managed to melt it from the tops but had not got a chance on the shaded northern and eastern sides of the mountains, which was definitely where the most snow still lay. The south side of Great Dodd's summit plateau had a shelter cairn which was buried under a deep snow drift making it unusable and it was too cold to stop anyway.

Great Dodd shelter cairn, snowy Raise and Helvellyn beyond.
From Great Dodd I took a fair few photos. The views from this high and centrally located mountain include possibly every high mountain in the Lake District. From Great Dodd I descended south west towards Watson's Dodd. Great Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd have defined and significant summit peaks. Watson's Dodd on the other hand is more like a slight rise on a dog leg shaped col with a stone cairn. It is well worth the visit though as it gives fantastic views to the North Western Fells over Thirlmere. On Watson Dodd's cairn someone had laid a row of colorful prayer flags which I'm guessing may have been for Nepal, it was certainly a thought provoking reminder.

Myself on Great Dodd with snowy Stybarrow Dodd beyond.

Snowy Stybarrow Dodd from Great Dodd, Helvellyn range beyond.

Descending snowy Great Dodd towards Stybarrow Dodd and Watson's Dodd.
I made my way back along the col and headed towards the foot of the Stybarrow Dodd ascent. For some reason the temperature which I expected to rise during the morning had dropped significantly. Mittens, hat and Buff were quickly donned. It may have just been the cold wind making its way over the col as it does. It did seem to warm up once I had reached the summit of Stybarrow Dodd.

Southern, Central, Western and North Western Fells from Watson's Dodd.

Great Dodd beyond Watson's Dodd summit cairn, Lake District.
There are two summits on Stybarrow Dodd. I bagged the main 843m high summit by turning left off the path and heading up hill. I then made my way across to the south western summit which is just three metres lower at 840m. On a day like today when the Eastern Fells and the Helvellyn ridge are covered in snow, this summit has by far the better views. It was here that I saw the first fellow hikers of the day; we acknowledged each other with a wave as they disappeared down the ridge path towards Raise. On the neighboring Raise was the Lake District Ski Club's tow and piste which looked in perfect conditions and begging to be used. I spent some time on Stybarrow Dodd and took plenty of photos of the wintery scene.

Hikers on Stybarrow Dodd with Bowfell and Scafell Pike beyond.

The Lake District Ski Club's tow and piste on Raise.

Footprints in the snow on Stybarrow Dodd, Lake District.

Helvellyn range from Stybarrow Dodd, Lake District.

Helvellyn behind Raise from Stybarrow Dodd.

Raise from Stybarrow Dodd, Lake District.

White Stones on Green Side from Stybarrow Dodd, Lake District.
I made my way east from Stybarrow Dodd towards the 795m high White Stones on Green Side. The col had the deepest snow I had walked in all day and at one point I disappeared to my knees. Being a fan of snow I loved it of course and purposely put as much weight down as possible with each step to make it even deeper. After a short ascent I reached the summit of White Stones on Green Side. The sun was now out from behind the clouds and the wind had lost its bite so I sat on the White Stones summit and devoured my Subway sandwich. Lunch time views to a snowy Helvellyn range were unbeatable.

Deepdale from White Stones on Green Side, Lake District.
I headed north east along the ridge from White Stones on Green Side towards the 756m high Hart Side. From the summit cairn I walked over to a secondary cairn on the northern side of the summit just a dozen or so metres away. There were incredible views from that cairn north east across Cumbria towards southern Scotland.

Great Dodd from Hart Side, Lake District.
From Hart Side I descended into the col between the main and second summit, the latter I wasn't interested in visiting. Instead I headed north to the cairn on Birkett Fell on the north eastern edge of Hart Side. From Birkett Fell's stone cairn there was a stunning panoramic view over Ullswater. I sat on a rock and took in the last big view of the day for a while before the final descent.

Birkett Fell cairn, Ullswater beyond, Lake District.
The original plan to descend from Birkett fell to Dothwaitehead was to hand rail the stone wall that crosses the summit in a south east direction until it reaches the start of Little Aira Beck. Then turn left and follow the marked footpath north down into Dowthwaitehead. As I got to the stone wall I saw a couple coming up from the hill in front and stupidly decided that if they had come up then there must be a defined path down the northern side of the hill. There wasn't however and after a steep slippery grassy tussock descent I soon regretted not going the long way around.

Stile over stone wall to Aira Beck and Dowthwaitehead, Lake District
I did eventually reach the proper path after crossing a stile over a stone wall at the bottom of the hill. At Dowthwaitehead I stood on the wooden footbridge over the Aira Beck watching two Dippers on the rocks. After crossing the footbridge I headed up the minor road passing the farm and cottage, making my way up the steep tarmac road back to High Row. There is an alternative footpath through the fields but as they were full of animals I decided against that as I didn't have the energy to be running away from cows protecting their calves. That steep tarmac road was a bit of a killer after a long walk and my own calves were groaning. A fantastic day finished off by a visit to the Rheged Centre for a pint of shandy and a surprise Cumbrian Beef and Onion pie for my good lady back home.

Aira Beck at Dowthwaitehead, Lake District.

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