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Halfway with the spectres on Swirl How

Halfway with the spectres on Swirl How

Postby nigheandonn » Sun Nov 29, 2015 12:12 pm

Wainwrights included on this walk: Great Carrs, Grey Friar, Swirl How, Wetherlam

Hewitts included on this walk: Black Sails, Grey Friar, Swirl How, Wetherlam

Date walked: 01/11/2015

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Spending Halloween in a hostel seemed to be the best thing that had ever happened to the four kids who were staying there - it certainly gave them plenty of walls to show off their artwork on. There was someone trying to sleep in my room from quite early on, so apart from a misty trip to the pub (very atmospheric for Halloween, but fortunately nothing scarier than sheep) I spent most of the evening curled up in the corner of the common room trying not to giggle at them too obviously.

The Sunday forecast had been slightly better, but looking out the window the mist seemed even thicker than Saturday. I was feeling more determined, though - apart from the waste of a weekend, I badly wanted not just to get to 107 this year, but to do it on Swirl How rather than slinking off to Holme Fell (which was where I should have been on Sunday, if I'd done the Coniston hills the day before). So I gave up thoughts of an early start and sat it out until 10 in the hope of improvement, then headed out to the track.

Misty track

Despite the continuing mist, it was actually a very different kind of day - white rather than grey and dry rather than drizzly, and the streams were down quite a bit.

I went back up by the main track, despite a bit of confusion finding a path up from the quarry to the higher track - it was easy on the way down! The dam was looking moody and artistic again, but there seemed to be slightly less water about.

Levers Water dam

The path round Levers Water and up to Levers Hawse was marked as intermittent on the Wainwright maps, but my experience is that a lot of those paths have become clear since they were mapped - I just knew that I had to be carefully not to go over anything that I couldn't follow back. And it was fine - narrow, but clear enough, winding its way along not far above the water - not that I could see where the water was.

By the stream the path turned uphill, and from there the climb seemed endless, the trudgy kind I hate, steep and then flatter - where I did lose the path, but found it again - then even steeper. Keeping me going were the occasional moments when the whole world lit up brighter white as the sun came out invisibly somewhere up above, and the tantalising line in one of the forecasts that the higher fells might be above the mist - if I could just get up there, there was a definite chance that this was going to be a wonderful celebration.

I came out on the ridge still in dull mist, but at least it was more or less flat, which by that point was all I really cared about.

On the ridge

By the start of the summit plateau the shape of the sun was showing, and by the cairn the sky overhead was definitely blue, but there was still nothing to be seen around me. There were some people already sitting behind the cairn, and I was quite glad to know that I wasn't the only person daft enough to be out.

Swirl How summit

I started to sit down on the next rocks along to eat my lunch, but got distracted by the first Brocken spectre I'd ever seen - it ate its lunch all the time I was eating mine (at least whenever I was undistracted enough to eat).

Brocken spectre

It was about 10 minutes later that the first edge of hill appeared - far more exciting than if a hundred hills had been visible all along!

The first hill

From then I was bouncing about watching the hills appear - Grey Friar, Dow Crag and Buck Pike, the very tops of the hills beyond the Duddon valley, the tops of the Scafells, the Old Man.

Inversion over the Duddon valley

I hadn't been sure that I would make it over to Grey Friar as it was supposed to be a bad place in mist, so with it clear I set off quite quickly downhill - a great broad slope with no path, but it didn't matter. Halfway down the slope the Scafells were half in and half out of the cloud, quite dramatically.

Scafells in the cloud

Near the low point the paths which had been coming down from either side joined and led up to the summit - there were two choices here, a northern one with a wonderful view over to the Scafell range, now almost out of the clouds, and a slightly higher southern one looking to Brim Fell and the Old Man and Dow Crag.

Grey Friar summit

Scafell range

Matterhorn rock made me giggle, as I was expecting something a bit... bigger - but it did have a very distinctive shape. The weather was glorious now, basically t-shirt weather - I did keep my fleece on, since the pockets were useful and it felt a bit wrong to be going about in a t-shirt in November - but I really didn't need to. It was quite hard to believe it was the same day as the start, or the same weekend as the day before!

Matterhorn rock

Coming back up the slope to Great Carrs felt much quicker and easier than the climb to Grey Friar - it was hard to believe it was more ascent, even though it had to be. The cross of the memorial shows on the skyline for quite a way below, and I found it quite moving - death in enemy territory is deeply tragic, but something those men must have always known they faced, here it's that feeling of 'so close'.

Great Carrs memorial

Great Carrs summit is perched on the edge of the ridge, and wonderfully dramatic cloud was filling up the valley below and lapping at Wetherlam like a tide.

Great Carrs summit

The way from Great Carrs back to Swirl How is just a slightly uphill wander, but Wetherlam is very different, a great rocky dip down to Swirl Hawse.

Over Swirl Hawse

I fell over a rock and banged my leg on the way down, and a great black cloud was eating up Swirl How and the sun behind me, like a Norse myth, but Wetherlam was still in sunshine ahead.


The Wetherlam side was definitely gentler, but it wasn't very clear where the best place was to turn off for Black Sails - I overshot a bit and had to turn back on myself slightly more than I expected.

Black Sails summit

I was expecting to go back down to the main path, as both maps suggested quite a lot of bog between the two summits, but heading off the summit I found a tiny thread of path which led up to join the main path just below the summit - a stony place, with a delicate cairn.

Wetherlam summit

From here the north and east was a great sea of inversion again, with the Fairfield horseshoe and the gap to the Helvellyn range showing clearly, along with the tops of the Scafells, and a slightly unexpected Pike o' Stickle, which I would have thought was too low.

Pike o' Stickle

The way down was a long descent in the slanting light, a bit muddy in places but nice and gentle.

The way down

About halfway down there was a stunning light show as the sun vanished behind the Brim Fell ridge - but although I knew the sun was still technically in the sky, it hiding seemed to act as a fog switch - it came creeping back almost straight away, and I started to realise just how much I was racing the light.


I think I turned off the ridge a bit too early, as I was worried about turning off too late - the path I took started off well, but faded out and vanished in a boggy patch further down - having prowled around a few of the ways it might have gone, I was greatly relieved when I found footprints again, and even more relieved a while later to see a good path running across in front of me, even if it was on the other side of a wiggly pool, and even if that meant I wasn't nearly as far down as I thought I was. There was a decent path and stepping stones leading over, and from then I could be sure of the path and fairly sure of where I was going, even as it got darker and mistier - it still was quite a relief again, though, to hear a vehicle not only moving but quite definitely moving along a gravel road, and to finally see something that was unmistakeably the Coppermines valley - mist is strange, the way it steals the world away.

And then I just had to hurry down the track to get the bus, very pleased with having snatched that day out of what looked like a terrible one - and only a bit unsure what I'm going to do about Holme Fell and Black Fell, which are now not at all near anything else!

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Posts: 1503
Munros:19   Corbetts:9
Grahams:7   Donalds:26
Sub 2000:54   Hewitts:133
Wainwrights:214   Islands:34
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Location: Edinburgh

Re: Halfway with the spectres on Swirl How

Postby ChrisW » Sun Nov 29, 2015 9:29 pm

What a great reward for taking a chance on the mist, some nice shots. I really like Matterhorn Rock (didn't know about that) it does look pretty sweet but as you say perhaps a bit more size would help. :clap: :clap:
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Re: Halfway with the spectres on Swirl How

Postby nigheandonn » Fri Dec 04, 2015 11:18 am

Matterhorn rock was just a little note on the Wainwright summit map - and probably about knee height! Very pointy, though.

I couldn't believe the difference between valley level in the morning and the tops in the afternoon - it was like being in a different season, never mind a different day! One of my best hill days, I think, after worrying the whole weekend would be a write off.
User avatar
Posts: 1503
Munros:19   Corbetts:9
Grahams:7   Donalds:26
Sub 2000:54   Hewitts:133
Wainwrights:214   Islands:34
Joined: Jul 7, 2011
Location: Edinburgh

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