Sunday, 27 December 2015

Rossett Pike & The Langdale Pikes Walk

My mate Rob let me know that he and the family would be in the Lake District around Christmas. He invited me up for a walk and a meal so I made sure I reserved a day for it in my busy Christmas schedule. I was working with Rob around the time I got heavily into hill walking and started the Trekking Britain website. Rob is a big fan of the outdoors and loves adventure. I accidentally found this out one day when I was about to descend Striding Edge from the summit of Helvellyn and he suddenly appeared in front of me with his father. I have had some brilliant mountain days with Rob and his sons Callum and Conor. On a memorable holiday in Glencoe many years ago when the lads were young, we climbed Ben Nevis not knowing that Callum had actually broken his arm the day before, after falling out of a tree at the Red Squirrel camp site. I've seen Rob crapping himself on a frosty Sharp Edge and spent an incredible day with him on a traverse of Tryfan, Bristly Ridge and The Glyders. Its a shame we don't see each other as much these days as every day we spend on a mountain seems to provide memories we'll never forget. I was looking forward to meeting up with the guys but the weather had been absolutely shocking with the worst floods Cumbria had ever witnessed. Imagine my delight then when I looked at the forecast and saw that the day we had chosen was going to be the only good weather window in a month. 

Sunrise over Windermere from Ambleside

As I was busy around Christmas I wouldn't be able to stay over so it was an early start so I could get up there early and we could all enjoy as much of the short winter sunlight hours as possible. As I approached Windermere on the A597, the moon was just setting behind the Coniston Fells on the other side of Windermere and it was absolutely huge. I didn't bother stopping to take a photo as photos of the moon never seem to work out and always make you look like a liar. As I rounded Windermere near Holme Crag I had to stop to take a photo though as the sunrise was stunning. You just know you are going to have a great day on the hills when it starts like that. I arrived at the quaint self catering cottage they were staying in at Ambleside and we all sat and had a chat about the plans for the day whilst I met Rob's beautiful new family and caught up with the lads who had each grown about two foot since the last time I saw them in person.

Sunny Raven Crag above the Old Dungeon Ghyll

We made the decision to head towards the Old Dungeon Ghyll in the Langdale Valley. We know the surrounding fells well and its only a short journey from Ambleside saving us from wasting precious daylight hours in the car. Despite the recent flooding the roads were okay. The sun had now risen above the fells and it was turning out to be the best weather day for weeks. The recent floods were crippling local businesses financially with losses due to a lack of visitors put off by stories of impassible roads and dangerous conditions. We parked for free which was an incentive for visitors. An excellent idea and we made sure we visited the pub when we returned and supported the local business by consuming the local ale and flapjack of course. 

Langdale Valley fields, Lake District National Park
We still hadn't actually made a decision on which route we were going to walk. We scoured the maps and all came up with suggestions. Most of the suggestions we had all done before so we decided on a slightly quirky route to be a bit different. We decided to walk up Mickleden, ascend Rossett Gill, across Rossett Pike, over Stake Pass then ascend the Langdale Pikes. If the weather stayed good and we felt we had time try and find the illusive summit of Sergeant Man, the only Wainwright in the Langdale Pikes I was yet to bag. Our decision to ignore Bowfell and Crinkle Crags was due to the fact there was a cloud line at around 750m and both were shrouded in cloud which we weren't too sure would disperse.

Heading into Mickleden with Pike of Stickle above
We set off down the broad and stunning Mickleden valley. Conversation started as we made our way down the track which was littered with huge puddles that gave brilliant reflections of the surrounding fells. Rob, Callum and Conor are all die hard Norwich City supporters. Fortunately for them I don't hold it against them. I did however lay down the first ground rule of the day. As you may know I am a United fan ( there is only one United before you ask ). This season has not been a good one and our current form is absolutely abysmal. I therefore selfishly proposed that football talk be banned, especially as Norwich had just beaten us at Old Trafford the week before. Ah look up there! Buzzard circling thermals above Pike of Stickle... this was my attempt to change the subject as quickly as possible. 

Rossett Pike reflected in Mickleden track puddle

Rob & Conor following the Cumbria Way route through Mickleden

At the Stake Pass and Esk Hause sign posted cairn we went left and crossed the wooden footbridge towards the Rossett Gill ascent in the direction of Esk Hause. I love this ascent as it gives head on views of the alpine like north east face of Bowfell. As the cloud line was around 750m the cloud was hanging over the cliffs and buttresses adding to the atmosphere as we ascended. There was as always much conversation about the word gash as we approached the gash at the top of Rossett Gill.

Rob and Callum crossing Stake Gill, Mickleden, Lake District

Stake Pass and Esk Hause junction split, Mickleden, Lake District

Rob and Callum ascending Rossett Gill, Lake District
As we got closer to the top of Rossett Gill thin wispy clouds were also forming over the Langdale Pikes and Rossett Pike. After the stiff climb we eventually reached level ground as the path reached Angle Tarn at the col between Bow Fell and Rossett Pike. Here we turned right and ascended the short ascent to the summit of Rossett Pike. 

Looking down Mickleden from Rossett Gill, Lake District

Angle Tarn, Lake District National Park
We ate lunch on Rossett Pike watching the incredible scenes over Mickleden as cloud crept through from Stake Pass like a creepy mist and hid the valley below that we had just walked. Days like this can often feel more exhilarating than a blue sky sunny day. 

Conor, Callum and Rob having lunch on Rossett Pike, Lake District

Cloud creeping into Mickleden from Rossett Pike, Lake District
We headed north east along Rossett Pike towards Its other tops and eventually Stake Pass. It is the least trodden of the fells around the Langdale Valley skyline. Terrain is fairly tricky at times and it seems to go on forever despite looking short when viewed from down in Mickleden or on a map. Our perception of distance wasn't helped by the cloud which had now enveloped us. Rossett Pike, is actually a long ridge crammed between two larger mountain massifs. The steep Mickleden side of the ridge is a huge wall at the end of the valley. On a map you can see the ridge is split in two by Little Gill which at first we mistook for Stake Pass. The north eastern end of the ridge is like a separate top again which you have to climb up then descend to reach Stake Pass. We let Rob lead the way at this point. Whenever I walk with Rob he always has a moment where he likes to go off and walk by himself. I think he has a bit of a moment to himself. I do the same myself at times and understand so I leave him to it. The only problem of course is that Rob is then leading the navigation which our wet socks knew by the time we had crossed the boggy ground to reach Stake Pass. 

Rob leading us into a cloudy and boggy Stake Pass, Lake District

Conor admiring the contrasting view towards Langstrath, Lake District

We helped a couple with directions at Stake Pass then started the ascent of Martcrag Moor. The views behind us looking north over Langstrath towards the Northern Fells was completely clear and in complete contrast with the cloud that had now shrouded the fells we were walking. We took slightly different routes up Martcrag Moor and Conor and myself who were falling behind were suddenly the victims of verbal abuse from Rob and Callum. "Path Wanker" became the term of the day and was used extensively for the next few hours. 

Callum admiring Pike of Stickle from Martcrag Moor, Lake District

Rob heading towards Pike of Stickle, Lake District
On the ascent of Martcrag Moor we realised as most of the Langdale Pikes was shrouded in cloud it was pretty pointless treading wet boggy featureless ground to find Sergeant Man. We headed instead towards the unique dome shaped summit of Pike of Stickle. The views down into Mickleden from up there were awesome as the cloud continued to haunt the valley from above.

Atmospheric scenes as we approach Pike of Stickle, Lake District

Looking down into Mickleden from Pike of Stickle, Lake District

The summit of Pike of Stickle is a lot bigger than it would appear from a distance and has a fun scramble to reach its top. When we reached the top we didn't stay too long as there was now a chill in the air. We descended the fun scramble then turned right and followed the path over the hollow to Harrison Pike which we also ascended then quickly descended as it was chilly and there were no views just cloud. We allowed Callum to navigate the way down. As he almost led us off a cliff on the south side of Harrison Stickle it became apparent he had inherited his fathers navigational skills. 

Callum and Rob taking in the atmosphere on Pike of Stickle summit

Head of the Langdale Valley from Pike of Stickle, Lake District

Loft Crag from Pike of Stickle, Lake District National Park

Langdale Valley from Loft Crag gully, Lake District National Park
Navigation in cloud is always interesting and there was even more confusion to be had on deciding the best way to descend back down to the Old Dungeon Ghyll. We ended up at the top of the daunting looking Dungeon Ghyll path below Thorn Crag which I know definitely would take us back down to the valley. I hadn't been that way for a few years though and it did look like the path had eroded quite badly. After some apprehension and Rob's strop we finally made the decision to descend this way. The path was pretty scary in places and rock fall had left just a foot wide loose path in places with a sheer drop into the cold and dark Dungeon Ghyll far below. There was definitely an increase in human gases wafting around at this point.

Ascending Dungeon Ghyll path under Thorn Crag, Lake District National Park

Callum and Rob rounding Pike Howe, Windermere beyond, Lake District

The path eventually turns from rocky steps to steep grass, which was lethally wet and slippery. We all took turns at falling on our backsides and each time our compassionate fellow hill walkers sympathetically shouted "Path Wanker". Rob took more abuse than anyone as he had stiff soled boots which don't grip too well on wet grassy slopes.

Callum mocking his dad for falling over... again!

We ended up near the New Dungeon Ghyll then followed the bridleway back to the Old Dungeon Ghyll. To mine and Rob's amusement the lads had a working class argument mocking each other with comments like "Where's your degree". Rob then announced that he had been dreaming about me and cheese the night before. Not surprisingly things went quiet. We reached the pub where we met doggies, ate flapjack, called each other "Path Wankers", spoke about old times and I got mocked by the bar staff for ordering a shandy. Top day with the guys, even though we don't see each other much, I hope we keep meeting up and climbing mountains for the rest of our lives. We finished off a great day with absolutely delicious tea with Ha and Hong Yen at the cottage in Ambleside.

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Thursday, 8 October 2015

Kinder Downfall from Hayfield

I have walked the Kinder Downfall from Hayfield walk every year for the past twelve years. Last year was the first year I hadn't, due to my injury. I missed it immensely as I love Kinder and its unique landscape. As I was fit again I decided to head up there and this time take my girlfriend's cousin Anthony with me. I was impressed by how much he enjoyed a stomp up Blencathra a few weeks ago in some of the worst weather I have ever walked up a mountain. As Hayfield is literally only a half hour drive from Manchester I love taking people on this walk to show them what is so close to their doorstep. 

River Kinder through Marepiece Wood, Peak District.
We managed to get a free parking space on Kinder Road just before the quarry car park at Bowden Bridge. It is always a relief  to find there is still free parking available when you haven't been somewhere for a while. Unlike the torrential rain we had a fortnight when we arrived at the foot of Blencathra, the weather today was looking promising, cloudy but bright.

The Kinder Plateau reflecting in Kinder Reservoir, Peak District
After nearly being run over by two speeding mini buses on Kinder Road we made our way over the bridge by the sheep dip then turned left along the River Kinder footpath through Marepiece Wood. It is a lovely walk along the river through the wood, a great start to a walk. Anthony's commenta about the lack of litter along the path and how friendly people seem to be in the outdoors put a smile on my face.

Anthony walking along White Brow beside Kinder Reservoir, Peak District.
We turned left and crossed the River Kinder outflow from the dam then turned right and headed up the steep cobble path to reach the height of the dam wall slope. The Kinder Reservoir looked fantastic, the calm and settled day made the waters look like a glass mirror reflecting the Kinder Plateau and plantations on the opposite side of the reservoir.

Anthony walking towards the William Clough footbridge, Peak District.
We walked along the muddy path below White Brow. The path eventually narrowing as it was headed through the thick Bracken. I started boring Anthony with stories of Britain's native snakes and lizards and told him to look out for them on the dry paths and bracken. The views up to the plateau across the reservoir were getting me giddy about the prospect of walking along the plateau for the first time in far too long. I've missed the Skylarks, the Mountain Hares, the Grouse and the lunar landscape. 

British Airways 747 Jumbo Jet heading into Manchester Airport.
As we reached the bottom of William Clough a huge British Airways 747 Jumbo Jet flew over headin in to Manchester Airport, it was huge. Instead of heading up William Clough, we decided to cross the footbridge and take the direct route up the steep South West ridge that heads out from Sandy Heys.

William Clough, Peak District National Park.
Half way up the ascent the views started to open up behind us. Manchester, Greater Manchester and Cheshire in the foreground. Radio City Tower and the huge Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool beyond the cooling towers of Fiddlers Ferry power station by the shimmering Mersey Estuary. 

Sandy Heys, Kinder Plateau, Peak District.

Anthony stomped on ahead of me as we approached the plateau at the top of Sandy Heys. As I struggled up through the scattered rocks he stood unsympathetically mocking my fat sweaty head. We sat on the rocks at the top and had our drink and our sandwiches, looking out over Kinder Reservoir whilst being attacked by the most ridiculous swarm of black flies.

Kinder Reservoir beyond Sandy Heys, Kinder Plateau, Peak District.
We eventually gave up the battle and the flies won. We packed up our half eaten sandwiches and headed in an anti-clockwise direction east around the edge of the Kinder Plateau towards Kinder Downfall. 

Canyon at Sandy Heys, Kinder Plateau, Peak District.
I showed Anthony the view down from the huge cliffs by Kinder Downfall. At one point I made the mistake of showing off and got myself wedge between two rocks dangling in a precarious position above a deep drop. Which as you can imagine amused him as I tried to correct myself before he managed to get a photo of me struggling.

Anthony on the rocks above Kinder Downfall, Peak District.
As we made our way back to the main path I spotted something moving through the thick grass. It was a Common Lizard. I was so chuffed for us both to see one after telling Anthony about them earlier. We tried to carefully catch it but it was so quick that we couldn't grab it without injuring its tail we we left it alone.

Myself on the rocks above Kinder Downfall, Peak District.
Kinder Downfall was busy at it often is at weekends. I was glad to see that there was nowhere near as much litter strewn among the rocks as there had been in previous years. I made my way down to the pool above the main waterfall, a great spot on an early morning walk when there is no one else around, but not worth sticking around today as it was too busy. 

River Kinder pool at Kinder Downfall, Peak District.

Kinder Reservoir beyond Kinder Downfall, Peak District.
We continued along the edge of the plateau and as we did the views to the right were pretty awesome as the haze was beginning to lift. I was constantly pointing out landmarks like the airport tower and Joddrell Bank's huge Lovell Telescope.

Joddrell Bank's huge Lovell Telescope seen from the Kinder Plateau.
Looking back towards the cliffs we were stood on top of on the other side of the Kinder Downfall we spotted a dozen or so climbers. They looked great hanging off the cliffs with the huge urban sprawl of Manchester beyond.

Manchester City Centre seen from the Kinder Plateau, Peak District.
A trip to the Kinder Downfall is not complete until you have taken a shot of your fellow walker at what one of my friends aptly named "The Penis Rock". I came across this rock several years ago with a classy friend of mine who immediately recognized its phallic shape.

Anthony and the phallic shaped rock on Kinder Plateau, Peak District.
We continued heading south along the plateau edge path towards Kinder Low. We crossed the narrow ford at the top of Red Brook then eventually turn left off the main path to reach the rocks and trig point pillar at Kinder Low. When we reached the summit I jump up on to the trig point pillar for the standard summit shot. Anthony was a big girls blouse and wet out.

Myself on the Kinder Low summit trig point pillar, Peak District.
Although the true higher summit of Kinder Scout is supposed to be three metres higher and four hundreds metres away, I have always thought of this as the summit. I've never understood how anyone can really figure out what is the true summit up here in such a changing landscape whose height must change all the time due to natural erosion. 

Kinder Low, Summit Area, Peak District National Park ( taken in 2015 )
On the subject of erosion, natural or man made. One thing I was amazed at on the walk was how much the landscape had changed due to the ongoing moorland restoration work. You can see the difference in the landscape by looking at the photo above which I took on this walk and the photo below which I took ten years ago. I know land management can be vital around areas of man made erosion such as summit areas and close to popular paths, however I have to controversially admit that I don't think I'm a fan of us interfering with Kinder's unique and naturally fragile landscape. I feel the erosion is mostly part of a natural process and that erosion by people is fairly isolated. I've been up there many times and find that people don't wander around the plateau they tend to stick to the plateau edge path and the few crossing paths. I do feel like the unique landscape I go up there to see has been taken away somewhat. I'm guessing my opinion on this subject will probably anger some but I'd be interested to hear other peoples opinions.

Kinder Low, Summit Area, Peak District National Park ( taken in 2004 )
After boring Anthony with stories of how the summit area we were seeing was once a dark, desolate, almost lunar landscape we descended the large flagstone Kinderlow path towards the bronze age burial mound of Kinder Barrow. The purple heather was still in bloom. 

Kinderlow path to the Kinder Barrow bronze age burial mound.

Stunning purple heathers on Kinderlow Cavern, Peak District.
At the end of Kinder Low we descended the steeps path to reach the edge of the moorland where it reaches the top wall of the farm fields below. I was surprised to find there is still a distinct lack of signage, decent dry paths or wall crossings at this point. It is a shame for such a popular route. Surely if the paths, signage and wall crossings it would mean less walkers getting misplaced and be better for the walkers and the land owners. May be some of the millions being spent on the top should be spent down here too. We stopped at a drive way cake sale on our way past Tunstead House. As we arived back at Bowden Bridge the Mountain Rescue Team were arriving to deal with an incident which we later learned was a broken ankle at Kinder Downfall. 

Anthony heading towards Tunstead Clough Farm.

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Sunday, 19 July 2015

Blencathra via Scales Tarn Walk

I was due a wet day in the mountains. To the annoyance of others, I am normally extremely lucky with the weather. The last few times I have booked a Monday off work I have been gifted perfect conditions. I watched the weather forecast at least a dozen times last week hoping it would change. A two thousand mile long weather front over the Atlantic, mimicking the Pacific's El Nino effect, was lining up to hit Britain. Its first target was Northern England and North Wales. Every forecast showed rain covering the nearby national parks of Snowdonia, the Lake District and the Peak District. I invited along Maria's young cousin Anthony who has just finished his exams. Anthony already had plans for Monday afternoon so our time scale was reduced to setting off early Monday morning and returning early afternoon. This was Anthony's first proper mountain so I wanted it to be something impressive. He is also a fit young man, so I wanted it to be challenging. I wanted something challenging for myself too as I'm feeling fit again after returning to regular football and cycling almost five hundred miles in the last two months commuting to work. The only saving grace with the weather was that the direction of the approaching weather meant western hills would take the brunt and there may be a chance of higher cloud base and less rain on the more sheltered eastern hills. With that in mind I decided the Eastern Fells or North Eastern Fells would be ideal. One mountain that is both impressive and accessible is Blencathra. It lies on the edge of the A66 trunk road just ten minutes after leaving the M6 motorway. It is a fascinating mountain with stunning views and has a variety of ascent and descant routes for all abilities and weather conditions. Blencathra it was then and the route would be decided in the morning and depend on the weather.

Anthony ascending the crags above Mousthwaite Comb.

I picked up Anthony at 6am and the weather wasn't too bad. It didn't start raining until we reached the border of Lancashire and Cumbria. As we passed the Howgills though it was absolutely bucketing it down and I was doubting my plan of finding shelter on the North Eastern Fells. We kept laughing at the rain thinking what absolute nutters we must be to be heading to the hills on a day like today. I was impressed by Anthony's positive attitude, he wasn't at all phased by the prospect of walking up a mountain in the rain. Fortunately the rain slowed down and stopped for a while as we descended Shap. When we reached the layby on the A66 it was reduced to drizzle. The cloud base was very low at around just four hundred metres. I really wanted to do Hall's Fell Ridge to give Anthony a taste for ridge walking but also wanted to show Anthony the picturesque Scales Tarn. Given the weather I decided that via Scales Tarn would be the best ascent route. Sharp Edge is probably pushing it for a newbie and to be honest I'm not even comfortable doing it myself on a wet day like today. If the weather improves we could descend Hall's Fell Ridge and if it doesn't we would descend the simpler Scales Fell path.

Anthony on the path along the Glenderamackin Valley.

At Scales we headed west along the pavement of the A66 for a few hundred metres to reach the footpath through the farm. The path was flanked by stunning fox gloves as tall as ourselves. We spotted a few white Rabbit bottoms bouncing away from us in the farm fields. We headed through the gate onto the open land above the farm and turn right ascending the path through thick bracken. Anthony had shorts on so I told him to check for ticks afterwards as they love hanging off bracken waiting to attach themselves to passers by. As we ascended the crags above Mousthwaite Comb it became apparent how humid it was. I have to admit I had forgotten how tricky and narrow this route over the Mousthwaite Comb crags can be when its wet. The drops on your right are quite leg wobbling. The path leveled out as we reached the col between Scales Fell and South Fell. We turned left and headed west along the easy route up the upper Glenderamackin Valley. Anthony has just bought a decent mountain bike and the path on the other side of the valley to Mungrisdale caught his eye as a possible descent route. The views didn't last too long unfortunately as the cloud came in as we were making our way towards Scales Beck and the rain got heavier.

Looking back down the Glenderamackin Valley.

Anthony approaching Scales Beck.

We crossed the Scales Beck and ascended perfectly laid path. Anthony commented on how well laid the path. I therefore felt obliged to bore him by explaining how the paths are laid by volunteers and showing him some of the visible drainage techniques used. I was disappointed when we reached Scales Tarn as I had hoped to impress Anthony with the stunning glacial hollow back by the huge Tarn Crags and flanked by the incredible Sharp Edge ridge. Instead we could literally only see about a dozen feet in front of ourselves. I bored him again by explaining to him what it would normally look like and what he was missing. I was impressed when he gave me the correct response of "we'll have to come back and do it on a good day then".

Anthony at an eerie looking Scales Tarn.

From Scales Tarn we made our way up the loose path from Scales Tarn to the summit. This path is calf burning in places as you are often walking on your tip toes due to the steep gradient. I think if Anthony hadn't been there I may have stopped for a lot more breaks, his youthful fitness was showing me up and I felt obliged to kept up so kept going. I continued to annoy Anthony telling him how amazing the views would have been had it been clear. After a stiff climb in rain and wind we reached the summit plateau where we turned left and made our way to the summit. The summit is easy to find by heading towards the highest ground and looking out for the ordnance survey trigonometrical station ring on the floor.

Anthony at the summit of Blencthra, Lake District.

Myself at the summit of Blencathra, Lake District.

The weather wasn't great on the exposed summit. Neither of us wanted to hang around with no views and having rain blasted into our face by the wind. We took a quick photo of each other then decided to get off the summit. We descended the same path to find the top of the Scales Fell path which we passed on our way to the summit. We found the top of the Scales Fell path and descended the easy going zig zags. As we made our way back down to the col between Scales Fell and Souther Fell we came out of the clouds and the views opened up again towards Souther Fell and the upper Glenderamackin Valley.

Anthony descending Blencathra via Scales Fell.

Souther Fell from Scales Fell, Lake District.
At the col we turned right and made our way back down the narrow path over the Mousthwaite Comb crags. Anthony slipped at one point whilst making his way over a tricky section. He was amused by my worried reaction. He has no idea how much I feared my own death had I returned home to explain that he had slipped off down a steep crag. We returned to Scales via the path through the bracken and arrived at the car like drowned rats.

Anthony above Mousthwaite Comb, Lake District.
We managed to get all the way to the summit and back to the car in an impressive two hours and fifty minutes. We didn't see a single other person in that time as it was Monday morning and no one else was daft enough to walk up a mountain in that weather. I will definitely invite Anthony again as he is certainly fit enough and he enjoyed it despite the awful weather which would have put most people off hill walking for life. We visited Keswick on the way home to get fudge for those back home and enjoyed a well deserved breakfast bap and pot of tea from the Wild Strawberry Coffee Shop. There was an incident in the public toilets at Keswick which involved me trying to dry every part of my body the twisted hand dryer nozzle could reach, but the less said about that the better.

Anthony looking towards Clough Head, Lake District.

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