Monday, 31 May 2010

Coledale Horseshoe Wild Camp

It had been a hard week at work, my colleague phoned in sick four out of the five days which meant I was doing the work of two people and ended up working several extra hours, on top of this I had also agreed to be in work all day Saturday. Come Saturday night I was absolutely exhausted! It was my birthday on Monday and my employer lets us have our birthdays off for free, something I hadn't taken advantage of the last two years so I was determined after the week I'd just had that I was not going to miss the chance for a free day off this year! I was also determined to make sure I made the most of it. I sat down on Saturday night thinking of how I would like to celebrate my birthday and nothing beat the thought of waking up on my birthday morning on top of a mountain watching the sunrise. After doing the usual scouring of Memory Map and browsing various websites I decided I would do something different. The weather had been incredible most of the week and was due to continue through the weekend. I quickly decided on the Lake District and set about finding a route I hadn't done before and in a part of the Lake District I hadn't done before. The north western fells is the one area I have done the least in the Lake District, despite the fact that every time I talk to anyone who lives in the Lake District they always say it is the best.

Go Lite Shangri-La 3 shelter on Causey Pike ridge

The first place I go when looking for a good Lake District route is Sean McMahon's website as he has in my opinion the best Lake District walking and photography website there is. On Sean's site you can click on any of the Lakeland Fells you wish to climb and then once on its dedicated page you can browse through the routes he has done that include this fell. It is a very easy and ingenious way to find a route in a certain part of the Lakes. Sean's photographic skills aren't something that need to be written about, just go visit his website and you will see the other reason why so many hill goers browse to his site every week whilst sat at work missing the hills. I found a few routes that looked good but the one that appealed to me most was the Coledale Horseshoe. The Coledale Horseshoe involves twelve summits, eight of which are Wainwrights, it is seventeen kilometres long and involves a total ascent of one thousand four hundred metres. It is usually a fairly tough day walk but should be made easier by my plan of breaking it into two days using a wild camp. The walk also starts from a free car park, something which sadly I am finding harder to find in the Lakes when planning wild camping nights. I spent Sunday morning packing my wild camping gear. It was a pleasure knowing I could leave several heavier items at home as the weather was so good and night temperatures higher than average. I decided to use my Golite Shangri-La 3 shelter as a single skin shelter, leaving the inner nest and floor at home. All warmer gear was now discarded, the only warm clothing I took was my Rab Generator jacket in case it got nippy at night. I left my gas stove at home and took my ultra lightweight White Box meths stove and several fluid ounces of meths which I had in a fantastic new Vargo fuel bottle I had bought off Ebay earlier in the week. I took my Primus Kettle for boiling water in and MSR Titan mug, however I did have a plan to buy a new pot from Keswick on the way if I could find the one I wanted. Soon everything was packed and my rucksack was feeling surprisingly light even with water and food. I said goodbye to Nicky and set off in great weather, soon on the M6 heading north.

Causey Pike summit ridge

There was a horrible accident on the M6 south bound where a Range Rover and horse box had over turned. Our north bound side was slow for a while as people were rubber necking. I still got to Keswick in good time and was there a few hours earlier than originally planned. There was only one thing for it, I had to waste a few hours in a town known for its abundance of gear shops, gear fondling! I had one thing in particular I was after. I had seen the older version of the Optimus Terra Solo titanium cookset and was impressed with its size and weight, so when I saw the new version with a proper sized lid instead of those daft frying pan lids I knew I had to have one, especially as they aren't that expensive either in my opinion at only twenty quid. The lid on the new version is big enough for a brew, which is a huge bonus as it means I can ditch my mug and the lid isn't wasted weight as it had been in the past with those daft useless frying pan lids. I found one in Ultimate Outdoors where the staff almost drove me to walk out of the shop, I felt like they were about to cuddle me, I like friendly staff but for god sake don't smother me! I also picked up a Thermarest compressible pillow as I've had three inflatable pillows of all price ranges and makes fail on me now and I want something that I can rely on.

Sleet How ridge path to Grisedale Pike

I made my way to the car park on the Whinlatter Road above the lovely village of Braithwaite Kinn path at the north end of the car park. The only way to put myself back on the right path was to either find my way up the very steep heather strewn rocky ravine on my right to gain the top of the Kinn ridge or head back to the car park passing everyone who had seen me head the other way. To avoid such an embarrassing situation I chose the stupid way and made my way up the steep ravine to the right. I got to the top of the ravine and crossed a fern path to gain the path I should have been on in the first place. I was so exhausted in the heat that I had to throw myself to the ground and take a long refreshing swig of Lucazade. I regained my breath and started the easier walk along the Kinn ridge. When I took my break I tweeted to say where I was and one reply I got back said "that last pull up Grisedale is gonna be a hot one today!". After ascending Kinn to Sleet How I had a view in front of me that made me realise exactly what he was talking about. The final pull up Grisedale was fairly tough on a day like this, but the anticipation of the views on a day like this kept me going and I soon gained the exposed summit of Grisedale Pike. My original plan was to camp here and do the rest of the horseshoe tomorrow, the only problem being that it was only six o'clock. A friendly fell runner from Braithwaite appeared over the ridge and shared a fantastic ten minutes with me on top of this brilliant viewpoint which on a day like this was just awesome.

Sail and Crag Hill from Grisedale Pike summit

I left the fell runner to run back down the ridge, he told me of his plans for a family barbecue that night which made my tummy rumble some what! I headed down off Grisedale over the bump of Hobcarton Head then up Hopegill Head. The final ascent to Hopegill Head gave daunting and fascinating views down to Hobcarton Crags which I had never heard of but was more than impressed with, I would imagine there must be some great scrambling routes up it. Hopegill Head was one of my favourite moments for a very long time. It was just something about the airy summit with its perfect position looking out over flat lands to the sea on the north  west and east to mountains galore. The Isle Of Man floated on a shimmering sea in the distance as I sat on a chair of rock on the summit basking in blue skies, sunshine and strong warm winds. I sat for almost an hour in the same position and don't know how I stopped myself falling asleep. The wind coming off the sea was getting stronger all the time and I knew that there was no way I would be able to camp on Hopegill Head summit so continued off it over the bump of Sand Hill down into Coledale Hause. On the other side of Coledale Hause an easy ascent through a very silent and desolate valley in the col between Grasmoor and Crag Hill saw me reach Wandope Moss with incredible views to the southern and south western fells. I then headed up the back of the huge bulk of Crag Gill to reach its wide summit plateau and trig point at the highest point of the walk.

Crag Hill summit with Grisedale Pike and Skiddaw beyond

By now the wind was incredibly strong and I was starting to get a little anxious about the possibility of getting the tent up. The summit of Crag Hill was not an option so I moved on and headed down The Scar to Sail. The views to my right now included Ard Crags and Rigg Beck both of which I hadn't seen before. Sail was just as exposed and windy unfortunately. The only place I was getting out of the wind was in the cols between each peak as the ridge was heading east away from the strong west wind so each time I went into a col I had a mountain behind as a wind break. The only problem I had now was that each possible camping spot that had no wind also had a ridiculous amount of mosquito type flies and of course I didn't have my nest inner, I'm not talking the odd one, I'm talking thousands in view at once, they made the grass look like moving water. I tried to erect the tent on Sail but it almost collapsed in the constant strong gale and looked like an invisible bull was trying to knock it over!

View from my shelter, and what a view!

I carried on and headed towards Causey Pike. This iconic hill is usually seen from Keswick or Borrowdale where it takes on the shape of an impressive pyramid shaped mountain. This is of course because it is the end of the ridge I am walking. As I reached the col before Causey Pike I realised that the sun was about to go down and the spot I was stood on by the path was the most sheltered area yet so I left my rucksack and headed up Causey Pike with warm jacket and camera. From the exposed summit of Causey Pike I sat and watched the sun go down and the tops of the peaks to the east go orange. I was hungry by now so headed back down to my rucksack and set up the tent and got the stove going. I've only used my White Box meths stove once before in a bothy and I am usually a gas fan as I find meths a little messy and hate the smell of it getting on everything. The Vargo fuel bottle I bought this week has completely eradicated that problem with its easy pour flip spout and fluid ounce measuring marks. It was perfect and weighs nothing compared to my usual gas setup. I can see myself using it more in the future. Combined with my new Optimus Terra Solo pot I have a complete cookset including fuel for under 350g! I was soon sat in the porch of my shelter looking out over beautiful moonlit lakeland fells eating a lovely meal and a sweet and milky cup of tea, absolute heaven! I slept well with the large door of the shelter open all night looking out at the moon and stars.

Myself on my birthday morning above the clouds on Causey Pike

I woke at quarter to four and decided to stay awake and make sure I was up for the sun rise. I got the stove going again and made my favourite camp food my very own recipe Spicy Fruit & Nut Porridge. I took my porridge, warm coat and camera up to the summit of Causey Pike. I sat and watched the lights of Keswick and Braithwaite slowly fade as the morning glow brightened. Then the most amazing thing happened, I turned round to find every valley behind me filling with cloud creeping over the cols facing the prevailing west wind. Half an hour later every valley had cloud in it and me perched on Causey Pike above it all. All of a sudden a bright light shone ahead of me and I saw a tiny line of bright light as the sun made its very first appearance of the day. It was jaw dropping with cloud spiralling up from the valleys below on either side at the same time. I tried to take it all in hard as it was to do so and sang happy birthday to myself. I looked back towards the col where I could now see my tent sat on the ridge crest with cloud filled valleys on either side, wow did I really spend the night there! I packed up and was soon heading down the path from Causey Pike towards High Moss. The original plan would have seen me having to do almost the entire horseshoe walk on Monday morning but as I had completed most of it the night before all I had left was the walk over the three small hills on the opposite ridge of Outerside, Stile End and Barrow. This part of the walk wasn't quite as spectacular as the rest, though the walk off Barrow towards Braithwaite was certainly enjoyable. By 10:30am I was back at home in Manchester and in the bath opening my many birthday cards.

I have uploaded all of the photos from this wild camp walk here.

Route Map...


  1. Priceless! No one could have given you a better Birthday pressie...

  2. Happy birthday and what a great wildcamp. Great write up and thanks.

  3. It's great when you get an inversion like this. You feel a little privileged to be up there. Good report and pics, thanks for sharing.

  4. Not sure how I missed this write up, utterly braw!

    Oh aye, and a happy birthday to you! (I'll buy you 2 birthday pints seeing as I never wished it on time!)

  5. Belated Happy Birthday Jamie, and that sounds like a most satisfying trip, with some great weather effects.

  6. Good walk that! I ran it a few years ago and then went back to walk it in reverse.

    And I soooo want that tent!

  7. Aye it is a corker the Shangri-La 3 / Hex. Don't think I could ever use another tent ever again, its versatility and inner space are unbeatable. The new one 2010 version is lighter too!

  8. Really magnificent view from your tent - one of those moments we all treasure. Great way to spend your birthday. That said, the best present ever will be coming around my birthday this year - my newest piece of kit: my first child. Cannot wait to take him up and show him some of the views you've captured here.

    345g for your cookset is not bad. After some thoughts I posted recently, I'm coming to the conclusion that although a Ti-Tri might be as much as 560g in total, its versatility is beguiling. We'll see how the next few months pass...