Thursday, 21 June 2018

Great Gable and Kirk Fell

Thursday 3rd May 2018

As I left the Borrowdale Youth Hostel the sun was beaming through the clouds and there was a distinct feeling of warmth to the air that was a marked improvement on the cold weather that I had previously been enduring on this holiday. Although Borrowdale was enjoying sunshine the fells at the head of the valley were veiled under grey clouds that were a warning of the poor weather that was to come later in the day. At Seathwaite I passed through the farm buildings, over the River Derwent and up the steep path that climbs beside Sourmilk Gill in lovely sunshine that would soon prove to be short-lived. Eventually after slowly climbing the steep fellside and passing a spectacular waterfall I reached a wall above which the path eases as it enters Gillercomb. At that point I came off the path and headed towards a very large boulder that was my key to reach the object that is marked on O.S. maps as the Hanging Stone. It could easily be this big boulder even though there is nothing hanging about it, but it is clearly the rock that is marked on the map. Wainwright was also dubious about the identity of the Hanging Stone and nominated a rather insignificant boulder half way up the side of the hill for the title.

A slender path starts at the big boulder and leads up the craggy fell past several possible candidates for the Hanging Stone weaving through the bands of rock to finally reach the ridge coming down from the top of Base Brown. On this holiday I was trying to climb all the fells in the Lake District that are more than two and a half thousand feet high and Base Brown doesn’t count as it is too low. I have visited the summit of Base Brown on only one occasion before, back in 2006, on a descent after a long day, so I thought I would do an ascent up Base Brown now as a bit of a sneaky fell on the side. With the sun lingering in the north and east of the Lake District the clouds had already started to encroach upon the corner where I was walking and would soon descend upon the tops. Before that I walked along the occasionally boggy ridge from Base Brown, around the top of Gillercomb and all the way up to the cloud-enclosed summit of Green Gable. This was my first High Fell of the walk and the fourteenth of my holiday. The fifteenth High Fell was across the eerie Windy Gap where scree slopes and boulders have to be negotiated before reaching the misty surrounds of Great Gable.

Cairns guided my route up the crags and through the boulder-strewn top of Great Gable until eventually I reached the memorial-adorned summit. When I was last on Great Gable in 2013 the memorial plate to fallen heroes had been removed for refurbishment so it was gratifying to see it back in place and looking in fine condition. Testament to the poor weather I had the summit of Great Gable to myself, which doesn’t happen very often, but for the same reason I didn’t stay long and after checking my direction I headed off along a line of cairns away from the summit. So rough is this path across the boulder-strewn top and steeply down the rock-filled hillside that if it wasn’t for the cairns I would seriously doubt I was going in the right direction, but they didn’t let me down and when the terrain improved with smaller rocks a path began to appear. Unfortunately this path did begin to lead me astray and it was only when the clouds briefly parted to afford me with a glimpse of valley that I realised I had strayed from the north-west ridge that I should have been on. Crossing the northern scree slopes I rejoined the correct path that brought me down to Beck Head just as the rain started.

The rain didn’t last long at first and by the time I was climbing the craggy slopes of Kirk Fell on the far side of the pass it had stopped. An old fence used to surround Ennerdale and in places the posts can still be seen providing a guide in mist for the wary traveller and is particularly helpful on Kirk Fell. Climbing Rib End brought me to the broad plateau on Kirk Fell that can be tricky in misty weather as the path is not clear. There are two tops and the first I encountered is not the summit. Fortunately I knew this and continued following the fence posts past Kirkfell Tarn and up to the summit of Kirk Fell, High Fell number sixteen. I remember being at the top of Kirk Fell in similar weather in 2003 and 2005, eventually getting much better weather in 2006 (the aforementioned walk), but I don’t remember a more recent visit. One of the benefits of my High Fells Challenge is that it is bringing me to fells that I haven’t climbed in many years. After lunch sheltered from the wind I set off across the top following the posts until I reached Kirkfell Crags. These looked quite scary especially as it had started to raining quite heavily, but the only alternative is a gully full of loose stones and muddy, red soil that seemed even less appealing.

Despite the rain I decided to scramble down Kirkfell Crags and ultimately found it exciting though slightly scary at the same time, and it was not until I had safely reached the bottom that I finally succumbed to the weather and put on my waterproof trousers. I had planned to continue along the ridge to Pillar but with the rain getting heavier and with no sign of stopping for the rest of the afternoon I started heading back towards Borrowdale. From the Blacksail Pass I took a path that descends steeply to avoid the Sail Beck ravine before crossing the northern slopes of Kirk Fell on a sketchy path that I have taken many times before and enjoyed making its acquaintance once more. Returning to Beck Head I joined the Moses’ Trod path below Gable Crag and Greengable Crag and crossed the grassy slopes of Brandrath to eventually join the clear path of the Coast to Coast route. This was a long walkout in the grey, misty conditions with nothing to see but the path through the grass before me, and required a bit of blind faith that I was on the right route that would take me through the mist and to my destination. I had no doubts and it did take me to Honister Hause and eventually Borrowdale.

The early morning sunshine had promised much at the start of this walk but it failed to deliver and eventually produced possibly the worst weather of the holiday. The day before I had been elated at being at the top of a mountain but now my emotions were very different in much worse weather. The lack of a view was largely the reason even though the low cloud does add a challenge and some excitement to the walk that wouldn’t otherwise be there. It is a very different experience when the weather is poor and ultimately I would always prefer a view though in the Lake District rain and low clouds are to be expected. Great Gable is a fantastic mountain with some really tricky paths and Kirk Fell is not much easier especially above Black Sail Pass. These are mountains that are a challenge in the best of weather and even more in this typical Lakeland weather.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Esk Pike and Glaramara

Wednesday 2nd May 2018

After rain all night it was pleasing to walk out of the Elterwater Hostel to sunshine, the rain clearing to leave a lovely but still cold and windy day walking in the Lake District. The day before I had caught a bus from the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel to Elterwater but to get back I thought I would take the old fashioned way, and walk. There are two different walking routes along Langdale with one following the river along the route of the Cumbria Way and the route that I have taken many times before since my earliest days in the Lakes, while the other is one that I have used in more recent years and once again on this occasion. It climbs above the slate quarry through lovely woodland before passing Baysbrown and is undeniably the better route, which is why it is now preferred. Eventually joining the Cumbria Way I followed the trail across the valley past lovely herdwick lambs and after walking through a National Trust car park continued along the Cumbria Way to pass the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel along a track that heads down Mickleden. My original plan for this walk was to go up Crinkle Crags and Bow Fell, but after the excesses of my first day I was still ahead of schedule having done those high fells the day before.

Those fells had dominated my view while walking down Great Langdale and I eventually passed them by to reach the imposing cliff faces below Rossett Pike and the seemingly impossible climb out of the valley. The difficulties are more apparent than real and a good footpath zigzags cunningly all the way up to the strong winds that were blowing through the pass. These winds were bitterly cold forcing me to heavily wrap up though short lived and was soon sheltered from the strong winds on the short descent to Angle Tarn. Branching off the main path before the winds returned I climbed the fragmentary path to Ore Gap and from there to the summit of Esk Pike. It was at this point that I think the walk changed markedly as my strenuous efforts to climb Rossett Gill and up to Ore Gap were now past and I was now able to enjoy being at the top of a mountain. Esk Pike is a queen among kings. A magnificent mountain humbled by its presence among some of the greatest mountains in the Lake District that encircle the top of Eskdale. I love Esk Pike because of its humility, and it was now my tenth High Fell on this holiday where I aimed to climb all the High Fells.

The morning sunshine was now fighting against heavy clouds that brought patches of hail or snow while the sun shone a short distance away. Sheltered from the cold wind I watched this battle with awe and amusement, and finally thankfulness as the clouds cleared just as I was finishing my lunch so that I now had fantastic views across Esk Hause to Great End and north over Allen Crags and Glaramara towards Derwent Water. A great path that passes across shelves of rock makes the descent down to Esk Hause, which is the place that I would consider to be the heart and centre of the Lake District where all the mountains and streams radiate. Crossing the pass I climbed the path that heads towards Scafell Pike, but upon reaching the top of Calf Cove I turned right leaving the tourists behind and headed up to the top of Great End. It wasn’t too windy on Great End enabling me to have a wonderful time as I wandered around the various cairns until eventually reaching the south-east cairn that marks the summit. I was elated at being at the top of this mountain with clear views all around including in the direction across the scattered rocks towards Scafell Pike. There is no better place to be when the weather is right than at the top of a mountain and at that moment I felt on top of the world.

Returning to the top of Calf Cove and back to Esk Hause I headed down to the lower pass and up to the top of Allen Crags, and my twelfth High Fell, and as I began the long traverse to my thirteenth the sunshine finally lost its battle with the clouds. Despite dull, overcast skies I enjoyed the walk along the ridge between Allen Crags and Glaramara on a fabulous path that weaves around the crags and pools making its way along the undulating ridge even though the path is not clear all the way. After a long walk I eventually reached the top of the peak that had been in my sights since Allen Crags only to discover another peak a good distance away. After crossing this lengthy depression I climbed the long slopes and got to the top of the next peak only to find that I had been deceived again. Another crossing brought me to the third summit where there is a cairn, but that is also not the summit. Glaramara is a very tricksy mountain, but eventually it does deliver and finally I reached the summit and was rewarded with a splendid view down Borrowdale towards Derwent Water though marred by grey skies.

There is a very steep descent from the top of Glaramara down a twenty foot rock step (note the Bad Step on Crinkle Crags is only a ten foot step) and is a little tricky but eventually I did reach the bottom and made my way past Coombe Head on a rather vague and boggy path that heads down the ridge towards Borrowdale. The path does improve during the descent and made the end of this walk a pleasure despite the grey views ahead of me. This was a good walk over some great mountains in very cold but often sunny weather. I had been very tired at the start after my exertions earlier in the week but I bounced back when I reached Esk Pike where the elation at being at the top of great mountains overcame all weariness. The views may have been grey and overcast at times but these mountains didn’t fail to deliver especially when standing at the top of Great End. There is nothing better to lift the spirits than standing at the top of a mountain in the Lake District and I was fortunate on this holiday to be visiting over fifty of them. With thirteen High Fells already under my belt I had another forty to go.