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A Tale of Two Cairns

A Tale of Two Cairns

Postby The English Alpinist » Tue Dec 22, 2015 12:25 am

Wainwrights included on this walk: Arthur's Pike, Bonscale Pike, Loadpot Hill, Steel Knotts, Wether Hill

Hewitts included on this walk: Loadpot Hill

Date walked: 15/12/2015

Time taken: 3

Distance: 14.4 km

Ascent: 816m

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The two cairns of the title are Arthur's Pike and Bonscale Pike. This was a day of navigation in the mist in search of Wainwright summits, and more important still in search of the way down. It was another instalment in my quest to walk all the Wainwrights between October 31st and March 31st. That's 5 months to do 214 of them, 5 months to do 30 walks (or more, if I couldn't manage some of the routes in one go). I had been lax in not getting out in December until the 10th, so the pressure was on to fit them in. I went to 'plan B', which is to split some of the routes in two and make use of 'half-free' mid-week days to squeeze them in. This one was thus against the clock, needing to be done in between dropping my boy off at school at 9 a.m. and being back to collect him at 3 p.m. Taking away journey times from Lancaster, this meant roughly 10.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. to actually walk, perhaps a bit more. 3 hours and a bit; a distance of 9 miles. I was in semi-fell runner mode. A quarter fell runner perhaps (I jogged some of the tops and the descents, that's it).

Steel Knotts summit, looking back to Ullswater.

Starting from St Peter's Church, Martindale - wow, idyllic! - the first peak of the day was Steel Knotts. This entailed an awkward sort of walk along the side of the face on, it almost goes without saying, a wet and muddy trail. I cut this 'short', debateably, by scrambling directly up the face to the top. The only problem was a bit of sweat, though, and there was full visibility at this height and a great view from the instantly recognisable (and magnifcently named) Pikeawaasa outcrop of rocks. From there it was on to the real business of the day: Wether Hill, the highpoint, above 2,000 feet and into the blanket of cloud. The direction to it was obvious enough, but how easy would it be to find the summit?

Wether Hill up there in the cloud.

3 Further.jpg
Showing the strain of the forced pace.

Another question was how much snow would I encounter, just 2 days after my 'Alpine' day on Helvellyn (epic snowscapes). Slowly but surely, I began to pass through patches of it. As I neared the summit plateau, the patches were numerous, but irregular and nothing too deep. The rain and milder temperatures since Helvellyn had done a good job of washing it away. This also made things very wet indeed, although they're probably always wet up there. Wether Hill is not pretty, a high peat moorland which in cloud could equally be Exmoor, the Pennine Way or even Sutherland in Scotland. I was not that lost, however, but emerged onto the top not quite sure of whether I was north or south of the so-called summit. The compass brought me to High Street, also 'so-called' (it was just a trail of water and filth here). I followed this, and simply 'guessed' that I was north of the top. An educated guess mind, by assessing the features, such as they are up there, on my Superwalker map (it really is 'super', I can't stress this enough).

Wether Hill - somewhere on it.

Didn't think much of the summit of Wether Hill.

I was delighted when my guess was proved right, the little pile of stones which marks Wether's summit appearing out of the greyness. I recognised it from other folk's pictures on this site, but in truth they're pretty much the only stones around there. My spirits buoyed by this, I skipped and splashed, occasionally stumbled in semi-frozen peat potholes, towards Loadpot Hill. This entailed a bit of down and then a bit of up, none of which I could appreciate beyond the immediate 10 metres. I expected this summit to be easier to locate, but the conditions underfoot being what they were it was far from clear which mud-trail to follow. I knew I must have missed it when I found myself heading somewhat down again, so I backtracked and did some meandering in the great nothing. Just as frustration was threatening to get the better of me, there it was! Loadpot has an excellent trig point, so there was no doubt about this one. Furthermore, if it wasn't for these few minutes of floundering, I wouldn't have had the sum total of company that day: a fell runner (a proper one, not like me) and his dog appeared out of the void right there. They did an about-turn at the trig, we shared a 'hello there', and then they were gone. The dog, a border collie for the record, didn't so much as look at me.

These stones, I believe, are called 'Lowther House'. There was nobody home.

Loadpot Hill summit.

Things were going well, but I had a sneaking suspicion the last two summits of the day could be a problem to find, despite being lower. They were not even Hewitts - Arthur's Pike and Bonscale Pike - but were still up in the level of today's cloud blanket. They might as well have been Munros as far as visibility goes, though thankfully nowhere near as far to descend. I kept an eye out for a stone circle marked on the map, which I never saw. Pity: if I had, it would have added even more eeriness to the eerie atmosphere, moreover pointing me in the direction of Bonscale. After a while, it became obvious I had gone too far for both of them. The ground was sloping away as I headed in a north-westerly direction, and I reckoned I was still on the High Street and not the path to either cherished Wainwright. I backtracked, and with some desperate use of the compass and half-guessing the correct path-cum-sheeptrails, I came across a cairn that looked big enough to be more than a mere waymarker. At this point I still was not sure which of the two summits - if either - it was, but reckoned it was probably the further one (Arthur's).

I backtracked some more, but if not for the compass would have had no idea whether I was going back, forwards or sideways. I headed on a SW bearing, which had to bring me onto Bonscale Pike as near as damn it. It had to be there somewhere. It couldn't have 'gone away'. The worst thing, though, was that I was running out of time. I had about 45 minutes left to be back at the car, and wasn't even sure of the way down (although it had to be westish). At times I was on no path at all, cussing across the bumps, mosses and bogs, but then saw something which looked promising, a genuine gravel trail. It was a last, tired fling. About 10 minutes along it, which was all I could afford, I came upon a tiny cairn. It was a vain hope, but it had to do.

8a Arthurs.jpg
Analysis of the cairn in the inset photo gives me 95% certainty I had hit the summit of Arthur's Pike.

Bonscale Pike summit: the top stone in my photo and the inset is identical in shape, and both even have the groove on the right edge.

The descent proved straight-forward (but moist of course), heading south a bit before I turned west, to make sure I avoided Bonscale's crags. One of life's uplifting sights is seeing the valley below - the correct one at that - taking shape out of the clag. I had precious little time to enjoy the vista, and I was back at the car 15 minutes later than I had wanted to be, hot, thirsty and achy from forcing the day. The diminutive and pretty Hallin Fell, despite being right there on the other side of the church, would have to wait for another day. However, this tale has a happy ending: subsequent research has proved to my satisfaction that I had indeed found the summits, exactly :-) I'm quite proud of that. The less said about my driving home the better, but I managed to collect English Alpinist Junior a mere 5 minutes late.

Howtown bay below - good to see.

St Peter's Church with Hallin Fell behind.

Some notes to self:

Think about swallowing your old-fashioned pride and get GPS.
Always research ALL the summit cairns BEFORE the walk. Sheer laxness.
Don't 'squeeze' in a walk like this, ever again.

A last look at Howtown, and Bonscale behind where I had descended.

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The English Alpinist
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Joined: Oct 27, 2015

Re: A Tale of Two Cairns

Postby trailmasher » Tue Dec 22, 2015 9:05 pm

Good report, good pics done and taken on a pretty miserable day :clap: Done on a good day the views are great :) Well done :clap:
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Re: A Tale of Two Cairns

Postby ChrisW » Wed Dec 23, 2015 2:11 am

Great stuff TEA you certainly set yourself a good target there and did well to meet it (all but 5 mins anyway)

I'd recommend a I bought one when I got to Canada as I found the forests here to be very deep and often difficult to navigate off trail, and I have to say I've come to rely on it very much....so much easier than map and compass, I've had to remind myself a couple of times to use the map and compass just to refresh my memory should I ever really need it. :lol:
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