Monday, 26 July 2010

Blencathra via Sharp Edge

After the work fortnight from hell which found me at the doctors with chest pains it was time to get back to the things that chill me out in life. My new wife wanted us to spend the day out in the hills together for only the second time this year, lets face it she was hardly going to get an argument from me! She has a few things on her mountain to do list including Scafell Pike, Striding Edge, Tryfan and Sharp Edge. Weather forecast wasn't great but said it would be mostly dry. Last minute, in fact literally as we entered Cumbria she decided on Sharp Edge, a walk I have only done once before myself, the last time on an incredible winters day with my walking mate Rob.

Sharp Edge

We made our way up the M6 in good time to get to the start of the walk at the Scales layby on the A66 by midday. I was trying out my new OMM Adventure Light 20 rucksack today for the first time. This is the most incredibly well thought out minimalist lightweight rucksack, ideal for summer walks. Packing it in the morning was easy and recently I've made an effort to stop taking stupid amounts of gear with me when walking in summer. The financially tight side of me wants my gear to work all year round, but in reality you really do need separate gear for summer as its just pointless carrying and wearing heavy or over specified stuff you don't need in summer. The thing I like most about the pack as well as its ridiculous weight of 445g is the sloped bottle holders on either side which are perfectly placed and shaped, meaning I don't risk pulling my back every time I try to put my drink back. So gear ready we set off up the steep bracken path above Scales. After slogging a few hundred metres up hill I suddenly realised after the indecision of where we were going I'd left the map in the car. I set off back down the hill and got to the car and realised I'd not only forgotten to walk with them, I'd actually forgotten to bring them! I wouldn't ever recommend anyone go out onto the fells without a map but in this case as I had done the walk before, knew it well and looked at it several times the night before.

Nicky in the Glendermackin Valley

We made the steep ascent up the bracken path to skirt over the crags above Mousthwaite Comb. We were soon on top of the ridge separating Mousthwaite Comb and the wild Glendermackin Valley in the desolate 'Back o' Skidda' area. We headed off up the Glendermackin Valley looking up all the time at our first glimpse of Sharp Edge, looking brooding half covered in swirling mist and clouds that kept rising and falling over its dinosaur like profile. After passing dozens of other walkers on the path we headed off left up the newly laid path by Scales Beck. This newly laid path was quite a shock as it wasn't there last time I trod this way, a fine example of how to make a permanent and none intrusive path it is too. It'll be there for decades, looks fairly natural and there is no need for anyone to stray either side of it. We reached the huge glacial amphitheatre of Scales Tarn a place which when less people are around is a wonderful lunching spot, today however there were too many people around to really be able to take it all in. I put my poles away and we got ready for the ascent to the start of Sharp Edge. At this point as is always the case here the ridge separates those who are less experienced from the braver as the in experienced take the easier alternative on to Scales Fell from the other side of the tarn.

Nicky on Sharp Edge

We got on the ridge and the fun started. Its a shame there are not more ridges like Crib Goch, Striding Edge and Sharp Edge around. They are the most fun you can have on a mountain in my opinion. Having to concentrate your brain and exercise every part of your body is so invigorating. Knowing full well that any mistake in these situations could realistically be fatal adds extra fear and fun at the same time in a weird way. You feel at one with a mountain when you are exploring it and walking over it, but to be clinging on to it for dear life is one step further! The ridges pointy and crumbly old rocks, Blencathra being made of Europe's oldest rock, were not wet despite the looming clouds and mist. A good thing as we approached the infamous 'Bad Step' a large piece of smooth angled rock that is a regular haunt of the local Mountain Rescue teams. We passed safely over the Bad Step and moved on towards the final part of ridge. The final part of the ridge is a steep but fun climb which eventually tops out on the saddle between Blencathra and Atkinson Pike.

Nicky on the final part of Sharp Edge

Once on the summit we strayed off path slightly, running parallel to the usual path and looking for the cross made of white stones that I've seen on photos and Google Maps. We never found it and all we saw was sheep. Looking at Google Maps now, I can see that we were not far from it, but as we had no map wandering off in the mist was kept to a minimum. We reached the summit and the views were, erm well there wasn't any! We took a photo and decided it probably wasn't the best idea to stand or sit around on the windy summit  so we set off down Halls Fell Ridge. I wasn't too sure if Halls Fell Ridge came straight off the summit and had no map but was fortunate to find another mapped walker who let me look and confirm it was off the summit. We headed off down the rocky descent of Hall's Fell Ridge. The ridge was good fun, not as hands on as Sharp Edge obviously but still good fun and usually the views off it are incredible. This way down seemed to take a very long time and after confirming on a map I now know why as it is four times longer than Sharp Edge, which makes sense really as you are going the full drop from mountain summit to the A66 which you are not at all when you come up the other way.

Hairy Caterpillar

We saw a big hairy caterpillar on our way down the final descent off Halls Fell Ridge. As we got towards the easier end of the ridge we were reaching the cloud line and as we came from under the clouds the views were glorious. An endless patchwork of sun lit farmers fields led away from the mountain in all shades possible. To our left and right were two of the other ridges that head off the tougher south side of Blencathra. To our left Doddick Gill looked great with walkers silhouetted on its fine ridge line and to our right the darker Gategill Fell.When we reached the crossing at Gate Gill we headed left along the path which skirts the top of the farmers last wall all the way back to Scales.

Nicky descending Halls Fell Ridge

I was sad to see that the farmer has still kept up the stupidly protective barbed wire covered gate at Doddick Gill, I wouldn't mind so much if he'd used the section above the fields but it is still open moorland. To be honest the path all the way back to Scales needs to be improved as it is a fairly busy route and it has a few dodgy sections. The unavoidable slippery rocks that you have to descend to get down to the crossing at Scaley Beck could be avoidable if the farmer would let the path go a tiny detour round the rocks into his field. Sadly I predict someone will really badly injure themselves there. We luckily managed the slippery rocks though the people after us seemed to struggle, I myself fell on the path just before as the soil path is wearing away on the drop side but you can't actually see it under the bracken. Except for these unfortunate spots it is a nice route back to Scales but to be honest I'd be tempted by the road instead next time which is sad. When we got back towards Scales we stood by the conifers above the farm and watched in amazement as two Swallows flew almost bat like around our heads backwards and forwards. A great day out on a great mountain, just a shame we didn't get to see the magnificent views that can be had from her summit.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Force Crag Mine

My dad came up last week for my wedding and brought along with him his fantastic Tramper all terrain disability buggy. We have done a few walks before with this incredible machine. A few years ago we travelled up through the wild Cwm Eigiau valley in Snowdonia on a very rainy day and also trekked up to Stockley Bridge above Seathwaite in the Lake District on a perfect sunny day. The plan this time was if possible to get him to the top of a mountain so he could experience big views. I posted a thread on the outdoor forum to see if anyone could come up with possible routes I hadn't thought of myself. The problem is that the Tramper can't handle really major steps, stiles, fences or walls. Therefore the task was to find a route to a summit that involved none of the above and just a fairly easy going unobstructed bridleway or track. This proved to be a lot harder than you might think. Several of the suggestions when actually investigated turned out not to be feasible due stiles and walls in most cases or temporarily locked gates.

Myself & Dad by Stockley Bridge

I being a walker and a lover of wild places know all to well why this is and accept the situation, though I do think it is a shame that we can't give disabled access to at least just a few  mountain summits in Britain, there is after all hundreds if not thousands of hills and mountains in our nation and anyone who wants to get to somewhere quiet and remote can do so with a little effort and planning. The recent over the top reaction to the tarmac of the Miners Track in Snowdon is just ridiculous and anyone who like myself regularly uses this track will know it doesn't actually make one single bit of difference as the Miners Track itself was already a wide highly accessible road surface. If anything the constant over the top reaction has actually highlighted to the wrong kind of person that the track is now there, no one would have known much difference otherwise. I think you'll find the first place the over the top reaction started was the Daily Mail... which says it all really!

Dad on Tramper in Cwm Eigiau

So anyway enough of my opinions! One useful recommendation was the Lake District National Park's 'Miles Without Stiles' project website. With over forty routes listed and detailed, all without obstructions for lower and higher category disability vehicles, this is a brilliant resource and positive step in the right direction to including disabled access to Britain's wonderful wild areas. We chose the Braithwaite to Force Crag Mine route as I had recently walked the Coldale Horseshoe that circles this lower level alternative. I knew the road to the mine would be a great way of easily getting into a wild and wonderful environment. Our rather exuberant plan was to try and get the Tramper up the path to Coledale Hause, though this would totally depend on the condition and difficulty of the ascent path. I knew for a fact the Tramper would make it from Coledale Hause up to the summit of Hopegill Head but wasn't sure about the final ascent path to Coledale Hause from the valley.

Dad on Tramper above Braithwaite

We did the usual compulsory gear stop at Keswick then drove up to the car park above Braithwaite. Parking wasn't easy as it was a good day so all the locals were rightly taking advantage of the good weather. I realised on the way that I had, for only the second time in several years, forgotten my camera. So all shots would have to be taken on Dad's camera which luckily he didn't forget! The Tramper came out of the back of my dad's new Citreon Berlingo, perfect for transporting the Tramper and other accessories, and a few minutes later we set off along the slow and easy ascending mine track into the valley. As the mine track bends away from the car park and skirts the valley above Braithwaite with views across Keswick and the huge Skiddaw, you soon get that buzz from being somewhere special but with very little effort. As we entered the valley proper and passed the last farming walls a Kestrel swooped past us at head height.

Common Lizard from track to Force Crag Mine

The valley has the Coledale Beck snaking its way down the valley floor and the side with the track is covered in lush ferns and bracken. Half way along the length of the valley something started walking across the track in front of us, I quickly recognised it as a Lizard. We approached it gently and let it go on to my hand taking care not to damage its tail. It was a female Common Lizard which as you'll see from the picture looked like it may be pregnant. Fabulous creature. After getting a cracking macro shot we put the Lizard back and it soentered the grass slope on the opposite side and disappeared down a small hole. Another group of walkers came along the track with a disabled lady on a standard shop mobility scooter like you would see in a super market or on a high street. This track from the car park to the mine is great for such a vehicle and will get people out in a wild place that would otherwise sadly be out of their reach. They had a few twitchers with them too who said that the Kestrel was in fact nesting up in Force Crag the impressive head wall of the valley that gives the mine its name.

Dad fording Coledale Beck on Tramper

When we reached the path down to the ford over Coledale Beck we headed down to the beck and forded it with no problems at all, the Tramper making easy work of the crossing over awkward stones. Up the other side and the path obviously started to get more like a mountain path. The Tramper made good progress though was obviously now working harder than normal. We got probably half a kilometre along the steep rocky path and then it all went wrong. The Tramper had a fault last year where the oil seal broke when the motor got hot, this seamed to have happened again and we could clearly see the oil dripping out of the motor on to the wheels axle. Dad carries a good toolbox with him for the tramper along with other kit to deal with emergencies like fuses going, electrics needing temporary fixes etc but nothing would resolve this particular problem. We stood looking in dismay at the thought of pushing it back and then Dad turns to me and says "you know it doesn't free wheel don't you?". My heart sank at the thought of calling Mountain Rescue! Dad was clearly understandably disappointed and as I stood by watching him try various things knowing nothing would fix it I looked up at the summit of Grisedale Pike above us basking in sunshine. I was on that summit a few weeks ago and would do anything on earth to be able to stand on that mountain with my Mum or Dad and experience a summit view with them which sadly I may never do due too their disabilities. It was a very sad moment but as with most of my life I will take the positive from the situation and make the very best of my own life while I am still in good health and climb many mountains for them and bring them back the views in my photos.

Force Crag Mine

We both pulled ourselves together and after wedging a piece of metal into the motor to stop the ratchet we managed to get it to free wheel and started on our long mammoth task of getting the Tramper back down to ford the beck half a kilometre below. After much pushing and steering and breaking over big rocky slopes we got to the bank of the beck. We realised by this point that it was going to be harder than we'd first thought free wheeling the Tramper as it has an automatic locking system on it when it goes a certain speed and this seemed to now be coming on every ten feet or so halting our progress even further! The thing weighs a ton too, I had a look at the Tramper website when I got home to find the reason my shoulders were hurting so much is that the thing weighs 146kgs!

Dad on Tramper above Coledale Beck

We struggled to drag the Tramper across Coledale Beck, I had no choice but to get soaking wet in the water. By the time we got to the other side a young couple had turned up and started helping us. To be honest without their help there is no way on earth we'd have got it up the other side and back to the track. Once back at the track we knew we were safe and it was just a case of pushing Dad on the tramper back down the slowly descending track for a few kilometres. The only problem of course being that it locked on the brakes every so often. Plenty of people passed and chatted including a lovely couple who used to live round the corner from us when we lived in Sale, one old fella from Sheffield was with us for a while and took the burden off me by pushing the Tramper for a while, he was an old climber with a buddy who is disabled and said he'd be back to do the route with his mate soon.

Dad on Tramper heading toward Coledale Hause

It was certainly an adventure and Dad will be gutted that his Tramper is now out of service until he finds out if he can afford to get the motor fixed. He took it really well though and we both still had a great day out, in a fantastic place and met so many great people as you always do when you are somewhere like that!

I have uploaded the few photos we took here.

Route Map...