Walk Date – 20th November 2016
Distance – Not recorded
Weather – dry, some sun, some cloud, cold wind on top
We started out later than usual today as the morning began with an overcast sky, which looked as though it might develop into the now familiar pattern of weather we have been having during the last two weeks, strong winds, short spells of sunshine followed by long periods of assorted varieties of precipitation, drizzle, heavy rain, sleet, hailstones and snow, with temperatures just above freezing. By late morning however the cloud had thinned to a light veil through which a weak sun was managing to shine and large patches of blue sky began appearing. A weather window of opportunity, so after a quick lunch we decide to go over to Blencathra and just have a walk in the snow. Its been covering the fells since the last time we were out walking but the bad weather has kept us out of it, so now’s our chance to use what daylight is left, and even if we don’t get very far we’ll have got out of the house for an hour or so.
Route – out and back
Before getting on with our walk here are a few pictures taken on the drive over to the Blencathra Field Studies Centre –
Blencathra looking absolutely stunning with its full covering of snow.
Little Mell Fell, at the lowly height of 1657′ above sea level, is also fully covered.
Blencathra’s Sharp Edge, over to the right, standing out very clearly in the sunlight. I’m hoping no-one is attempting that today. Last Sunday a man was seriously injured when he fell from it and it took 49 members of three MRT crews and the crew of the Great North Air Ambulance Service six hours, in high winds and driving rain, to rescue him.
Blencathra and the infamous Sharp Edge in close up from the A66.
Back to the walk photos now and a look back down the path leading from the car park just above the field studies centre.
From the path there’s a good view across St John’s in the Vale to Clough Head, on the left, and the cloud covered Dodds to the right.
There was a severe frost last night, down to -6 degrees, and the path was extremely icy so we had to stop here and put the spikes on. That makes it sound simple, which in principle it is, however its not easy with gloves on so off they came. Then, because it is so cold, your fingers go numb very quickly and its difficult to get a grip on the things. Then you have to place the rubber strapping over the toe of each boot and pull hard to stretch the strapping and get it over the back of the boot. As you do the first boot you are balancing on one leg on the other boot, as yet without spikes, on solid ice and trying not to do a nose dive into the snow covered bracken. Oh what fun you can have with a pair of microspikes on an icy path.
Once the spikes were on and I could stand upright without sliding down the path I took this close up of some of the north western fells across from us. The most distinctive being Grisedale Pike, that’s the one with the sharply angled ridge just to the right of centre.
Climbing higher up the path and the distinctive peak of Lonscale Fell comes into view over to our left.
If you look back at our walk up here on 9th October you can see the tall moorland grasses which grow up here, now the snow is so deep only the very tips of the grasses are visible. This is now hard work, the route looks flat and solid but it wasn’t, and as soon as your weight went on it it gave way and threw you off balance. I just had to remove my jacket at this point, I was extremely hot thanks of all the effort I was having to put in just getting one foot in front of the other. While I was doing this a runner came past us and then between here and the ridge another two runners came by. How do they do it, that’s what I’d like to know, especially in deep snow such as this.
Whilst the camera was out I took another shot of Lonscale Fell with a little bit of the Skiddaw range appearing just behind it.
We’ve made it to the cairn which marks the beginning of the zig-zag path so we take a breather and have a look at the view for a couple of minutes. No snow in St John’s in the Vale, white cloud streaming across Helvellyn, Tewet Tarn over on the right with Thirlmere behind, and up in the right hand corner a parhelion, or sun dog. If you think of the parhelion as being at 9 on a clock face, then at 12 on the clock face you could also just see what’s known as a circumzenithal arc, or an upside down rainbow. It looks like a rainbow smile in the sky, but it was too indistinct behind the cloud to photograph well, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Alternatively you could look for images of one on the web, there’s lots of them.
I had been looking forward to getting the firm ground of the zig zag path underneath my feet to provide a bit of traction! This is a whole lot worse than what we’ve been walking across further down on the moorland. I’m waist deep in this drift here and the walking poles are of absolutely no assistance whatsoever. I’m pleased we weren’t the first people up here. Whoever left the ski tracks over on the left must have been wondering how much further they were going to sink down.
A firmer footing appears ahead of me, now all I’ve got to do is get to it!
We struggled up through the rest of the zig-zags and finally reached the top of Blease Fell. To give you some idea of how hard that was – on 9th October we reached this point after just a liitle over an hour, today it took an hour and a half. All that is forgotten though when you see the spectacular views that nature has provided for you. We look along the ridge to the top of Gategill Fell, do a quick calculation and decided that we still have time to walk over to that point at least
Behind us is the Skiddaw range looking pristine in the sunlight. I am feeling rather less than pristine now that we are on the ridge, the wind is hitting us full in the face and the jacket gets put back on, with the hood firmly over my head. Its Arctic up here at the moment.
The view behind us as we trudge, and I do mean trudge as the snow is even deeper up here, over to Gategill Fell top.
From Gategill Fell top we look along the ridge again to the summit of Blencathra. I really expected to see a lot more people up here today but there were surprisingly few folk about for such a good weather day. Perhaps they had been deterred by the morning’s cloudy skies and then, by the time the skies cleared a little, had decided it was too late to bother. We now had to consider whether we were going to head over to Blencathra summit or not. Its not a huge distance, as you can see, but the sun is getting lower, the shadows are lengthening, and a bank of cloud is coming in behind us. There’s about an hour and a half of good daylight left in which to get over there and back to here, and then get back down to the car park. We decide that might be cutting it a bit fine so we make this our turn around point and spend a few minutes enjoying the views.
From the top of Gategill Fell a look eastwards towards the cloud covered northern Pennines on the distant horizon, and in the centre, across the valley, are the two Mell Fells, Great and Little, with Gowbarrow Fell stretching along to the right of them.
A little further to the right and in the centre we can look straight along from Clough Head to the Dodds and on to the, now cloud free, Helvellyn range.
Immediately below is the ridge of Gategill Fell which eventually leads up to where we are now standing.
A little further to the right and we’re looking back over Knowe Crags to the summit of Blease Fell.
Right behind us is the Skiddaw range with Great Calva to the right of it. Below us in the middle foregorund is Mungrisdale Common. The long shadows of two walkers who have stopped to enjoy the view are stretching across the foreground reminding us that time is getting on and we need to think about making our way back down.
Up ahead is the group of three walkers who were just with us here on Gategill Fell top, and behind them are two teenage girls. As they passed by us we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. The one nearest the camera was wearing quite a short skirt, which you can see is is being blown horizontal by the wind, woollen tights, a thin fleece top with a hood which she had pulled over her head, and a pair of well worn basic trainers. She had her hands stuffed into what little pockets the fleece top had available and she looked absolutely frozen. The girl just in front of her was similarly decked out in ordinary black tights and a long floppy jumper which ended about halfway between the knees and the backside, and also wearing a well worn pair of basic trainers. No gloves, no hats, no packs, but I’d put money on them both having a mobile phone with them. Its brass monkeys up here and everyone else is clothed accordingly so these two were beyond our understanding.
Keeping well away from the edge I take a look to the south as we cross over to Blease Fell, the sun dog is still just about visible through the approaching cloud.
A few of the grass stems which remained visible have been transformed into icy pennants by the action of the wind.
Still ahead of us are the three walkers but no sign of the teenage girls. That group of three stayed about the same distance ahead of us all the way down and at no point did we see the two girls either in front of them or behind them, so where they went is a mystery. Its almost as if they’ve been airlifted off.
Another look southwards along St John’s in the Vale, with Thirlmere on the right, the highest point over on the left is the summit of Helvellyn.
I’m not much given to fanciful musings but, at this point, the light had something of the mystical and surreal about it, and was bathing everything in a soft golden glow.
The skies have clouded over but enough sunlight is getting through to illuminate the north western fells. The view is of what is generally called The Coledale Round. You can start at either Causey Pike, the knobbly topped one over on the left, or at Grisedale Pike, over to the right and just keep going until you get to the other side. Its a grand walk taking, very approximately, six hours, less if you go like the clappers, more if you take it leisurely. In today’s conditions it would likely be an energy sapping walk and therefore take even longer, who knows.
Golden skies over Derwentwater, we’re out of the wind now so everything is quiet and still, and all we can hear is the crunch of the snow beneath our feet. I’m not a big fan of winter when I’m down at ground level, but up here, on a day like today, it can be quite wonderful.
2′ deep, I was reliably informed by the owner of the walking pole.
Snow depth demonstration, my walking poles are not providing any stability since the ends of them are nowhere near being on the ground.
Wobbling our way back down the zig-zag path with the snow still giving way under our feet and throwing us all over the place.
Looking over to Derwentwater and there goes the last of the sunshine, but we still have that lovely golden skyline to gaze at.
More deep drifting on the path. I would have liked to have seen the skier negotiating the leap across followed by the sharp turn to the left, I wonder how fast he/she was going.
Whatever their speed was it was bound to be faster than mine since I’m now up to my knees and progressing at a snail’s pace. I can’t believe we actually walked up through this lot, no wonder it took us such a long time.
As I straightened up the snow shifted beneath my feet and I dropped down a bit further, even then my feet weren’t touching the ground. A fit of the giggles ensued, no doubt caused by the sheer lunacy of it all.
We’re almost down now and the light is starting to fade but there’s still a lovely blue sky over to the west of us. It was just around this point we met three walkers coming up carrying their skis. They had been standing talking to each other for quite a few minutes as we’d been descending so maybe they were wondering whether to continue or not. They did mention to us that they thought they might have left it a little late. I looked back shortly after we left them and they had started walking uphill again so perhaps they got at least one run in.
As for us we’re almost back down to the car park, the afternoon sun has thawed the path out a little but as we’re in for another night in the freezer it’ll be just as bad again tomorrow. Unless we get a really warm spell in the next few days and weeks this snow looks like its here for the duration, and if we get the chance of a decent day of weather were sure to be out in it once again.