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Blencathra, The Sequel

PostPosted: Sun Nov 22, 2015 7:18 pm
by The English Alpinist
After my repulse of a week ago, I was back to Blencathra and the Northern Fells in style - not all of it good. I parked up once again at Mungrisdale village hall, and set off in good time at 7.15 a.m. It was one of the longer mileage days in my plan to do all the Wainwrights in a single winter, October 31st - March 27th. I feel I have to get some of these big expeditions in before winter truly takes hold. I'm certain to have to do shorter walks when that time comes, and shorter walks means more walks which means finding more time to get out there. 40 will be about the limit, which is 2 days per week on average. I've plotted the campaign in 30 walks, which has in effect already turned into 31 with the aborted venture of last week. At least I got Souther Fell in, so that made today marginally easier.

#1 landslip.JPG
Here today, gone tomorrow, part of the path along the Glenderamackin.

Setting off through the Glenderamackin valley, conditions were similar to last time but a bit less fierce. I soon came upon evidence of all the heavy rain of the past week, as a couple of sections of the path had disappeared. Gone, collapsed into the river, great chunks of it washed away. It was easy enough to edge around, but nevertheless a sobering reminder of the power of nature. I was under the impression the Lakes had taken millions of years to form, but here we had a development within a week! At the confluence with Bannerdale Beck, where last time I struck out up Souther Fell, I this time made my way up to Bannerdale Crags via the ridge on the south rim of this dramatic geological basin. This looked unofficial, not marked on the map, but there was a trail at first and as I got higher it was perfectly feasible, considerably safer than Sharp Edge for example. This first conquest of the day pleased me, a successful little gamble, saving on a bit of mileage but also rewarded with stupendous views in the early morning sun which was rising behind Souther Fell.

#2 spur.JPG
‘The crater-like rim in view to the north is magnificent,’ says AW. Indeed.

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Not sure how the sun comes to be 'in front' of those far mountains (?!).

Somehow it felt a little dishonourable to take Fortress Blencathra by the back gate, as opposed to one of the great buttresses at the front. I guess it is a bit easier, with the climb broken into stages, but altitude is altitude. By the time I was on Foule Crag I was reminded why I turned back last time, as the wind was substantial (50 kph, as opposed to 70 last time), with intermittent but stinging snow squalls. The temperature up there was exactly freezing according to, with wind chill of -8. On with the balaclava! It was definitely not as perilous today, though, and only on the brief ascent of Foule and a short section along the top did I have to concentrate on staying on my feet. Blencathra summit itself was remarkably placid by comparison, with all the expected views to be enjoyed in the midst of passing banks of cloud. I particularly enjoyed gazing down the route up Scales Fell where I had been foiled 7 days ago. Job done, and a sense (way too smug, I know) that nothing was going to stop me today.

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Blencathra approached from Bannerdale Crags.

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Next, it was on to 'a dreary appendage to a fine mountain.' AW's words, not mine! My next summit, if we can call it that, was Mungrisdale Common, a flat expanse of authentic Lakeland grasses and moisture. From a distance, really quite pretty: green at first as the rocks of Foule Crag bottom out into it and towards its western extent a reddish-brown swathe of Autumnal heather. In truth, it was not as bad as I feared up close either, even after so much rain. It's possibly the best sponge in the word, a bit of deft footwork and gaiters sufficing perfectly well. I was not too heartbroken to leave it behind, though, as I returned to the pass below Foule and Bannerdale. This was to be my last case of deja vu today, a little triangular point-joining of 3 peaks done and now northward to the 3 remaining fells of the day.

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My rucksack looks like a blue alien clinging to Mungrisdale's cairn, the sole dry spot.

Next up was Bowscale Fell, the route taking me along the awesome edge of Bannerdale Crags. It was here that I saw the only other fellwalkers of the entire day, a party of 3. They were coming up the path alongside 'The Tongue', but some distance down so alas we were not destined to meet. Shortly after, I was on Bowscale summit, which has a low stone shelter. I hunkered down for a brief rest and to refold my map, a task which would have been a well-nigh impossible challenge without some protection from the wind. The need to refold always suggests progress, but it was also a reminder of how distant the last 2 fells were from the others. High Pike and Carrock: I could have conceivably done High Pike on my Udale day, but that would only have made that long instead of the pleasurable little jaunt it was. One thing in my favour here was that the approach was on the well-trodden Cumbrian Way. First, I had to get to down to that, and I dearly wanted to do it without incurring the 2 km western detour of the marked route. I attempted a glorious if obvious short cut. 'Practical' was another matter.

The first part of my descent took me along the edge of Tarn Crags with an arresting view of Bowscale Tarn below - 'tiered crags and silent waters' as AW puts it - before I veered off to the left to head down the expansive western slopes. Here I was hit by a squall again, this time having a hint of permanency about it. Full waterproofs and balaclava on, and I even felt the need for goggles briefly. The gradient was gradual and it was pleasantly dry underfoot, however, so so far so good. Despite being on no path, the route-finding was simple, and would be even in mist. Simply keep Long Gill somewhere close by to your left, and head downward until you hit the River Caldew (you can't miss it, believe me). Near the bottom, I had the cautious optimism of a black-dashed line on Superwalker XT25. Experience of using this excellent map has already taught me that these are the least brilliant of 'paths', but nevertheless they're always right there where the map says. The million dollar question was would I be able to cross the river? The black dashes ran right over it, but it was time to find out the reality.

The stages of my inspirational Bowscale shortcut.

The Caldew is only a small river here, barely justifying the name, but let's not forget all that rain. The black dashes were obviously an archaic shepherd's trail (I passed the remnants of a sheepfold) and I could clearly see where it 'forded' the river and continued up the other side. Well, no chance there today. My stress levels reached the highest point of the day as I squelched and sighed back and forth along the bank looking for a place to cross. Never enough rocks close enough together, and that water was rather deep and fast flowing. There were places from a distance where it looked possible, only to see when I got there that it was way too dangerous. I lacked the triple jumping talent of Jonathan Edwards, the clinging power of an otter, or its swimming prowess for that matter. An attempted leap onto one of those big rocks would send me slipping and plunging horribly off it. However, the English Alpinist is far too stubborn to backtrack the full kilometre to the official crossing point I had sought to avoid in the first place (would that have a bridge anyway?). Damnit, I was just going to go through this thing lest I become The Flying Dutchman of the Caldew valley, an apparition of a fellwalker forever wandering up and down the bank and never reaching the other side. I chose a spot with a boulder in the middle which I could at least balance against to avoid being swept away, and a bed which looked flat. I was in just above the knees, and out on the other bank in a few nervy moments.

Pride mingled with the sensation of the drenched feet I would have to endure for the rest of the day. I had arrived at the relative domesticity of the top of the road from Mosedale, but this did not include a tumble drier. I rang out my socks as best I could, tipped the excess water from my boots, generally shook myself down and regrouped. The arrival of a car here imbued me with a flicker of temptation to quit right there and walk down the lanes to my own at Mungrisdale. That had been an option written in to the itinerary if I was running out of time. However, I wasn't. A quick calculation told me I had plenty of daylight to finish the job. There was no excuse for giving up here, so close to completing all the Northern Fells. Note to self, though: do not do stunts like this in the true depths of winter, or I'd be liable to be walking in ice blocks. As it was, my feet never got seriously cold today.

"It's a beautiful spot, isn't it?" asked the elderly dog walker who'd emerged from the car with wife and hound.

I did not disagree. He went on to enquire as to my mission.

"How are you enjoying it so far?"

I told him of my joys from Blencathra to Bowscale, and omitted the last short cut bit, an adventure which I prefer to think of as an educated gamble rather than incompetence.

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I myself did not sit down. High Pike.

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The drab, drenched approach to Carrock Fell.

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The excellent summit of Carrock Fell.

The rest of the walk passed without drama. The so-called Cumbrian Way, fine at first, bared little resemblance to a path above the disused mines. That may have been the fault of all the rain though. I thought I'd lost an excellent glove at one point, it having fallen out of my pocket which I'd stupidly not zipped up. I backtracked about 400 metres in the hope of finding it, and just as I was about to give it up lo and behold there it was. Happy moments. Along the top to High Pike the going was easier and blindingly obvious to follow, and the weather was holding if unsettled. High Pike entailed a short climb into the grey void, but the famous stone bench was there as expected. The long crossing to Carrock Fell was a mire for much of it, and I was a touch mindful of Wainwright's advice to take the Red Gate escape route down if in mist (I was in it intermittently). I could see why. It is not a great place to be lost. However, it was ludicrous to quit so near to my finish line, and it's not difficult with map and compass. Just very wet!

Carrock Fell itself was a fitting climax, a great summit. ‘Yet another of Carrock’s manifold attractions is its glorious view,’ says AW. The panorama is magnificent from this outpost on the edge of the Northern Fells, overlooking vast plains to the east. In addition to this there is the historical interest of the remnants of a Celtic fort up there, enclosing the impressively big summit cairn. Not a fell to be underestimated (I bet those ancient Britons didn't!), and care was needed descending on slippy rocks at first, and picking out the path down through the crags of the eastern face. On the final 45 minute road walk back to the car the weather closed in to stay, cold lashing rain at valley level, and no doubt rather nasty wind-driven hail and the absence of visibility higher up. All exactly as the superb predicted for the day. I returned to a dull, wet Mungrisdale with the satisfaction of a sizeable stage win on my 'Tour de Wainwrights'.

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Descending Carrock Fell.

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The car where I left it, always a great sight.

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Re: Blencathra, The Sequel

PostPosted: Mon Nov 23, 2015 9:43 pm
by dav2930
That's a fine approach to Blencathra. Glad conditions allowed a decent Wainwright count this time! :clap: But why oh why did Wainwright make Mungrisedale Common the subject of a separate chapter in his guide? :crazy:

Re: Blencathra, The Sequel

PostPosted: Tue Nov 24, 2015 12:13 pm
by The English Alpinist
dav2930 wrote:That's a fine approach to Blencathra. Glad conditions allowed a decent Wainwright count this time! :clap: But why oh why did Wainwright make Mungrisedale Common the subject of a separate chapter in his guide? :crazy:

I think AW believed Mungrisdale was a good place to view the Northern Fells from the 'inside'' so to speak. Hardly worth it though!

Re: Blencathra, The Sequel

PostPosted: Tue Nov 24, 2015 8:57 pm
by trailmasher
An excellent day out TEA especially with finally getting those elusive fells under your belt :clap: Re the wet feet is something we all have to endure at some point and can heartily recommend carrying a spare pair of socks and maybe a couple of plastic bags as boot liners :wink:

Re: Blencathra, The Sequel

PostPosted: Wed Nov 25, 2015 1:01 am
by ChrisW
Well that's bitten a few off the lump TEA, that's a fair old day in ...not the best of conditions, Why didn't you take off your boots to ford the river, with so much of the day remaining I think even I would have done that (and I am very reluctant to de-boot) :lol:

Re: Blencathra, The Sequel

PostPosted: Wed Nov 25, 2015 10:28 pm
by The English Alpinist
ChrisW wrote:Well that's bitten a few off the lump TEA, that's a fair old day in ...not the best of conditions, Why didn't you take off your boots to ford the river, with so much of the day remaining I think even I would have done that (and I am very reluctant to de-boot) :lol:

Never thought of the plastic bag idea, trail! I contemplated taking my boots off, but thought footing would be safer with them on, Best option will be to avoid river crossing in future!