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Winter Wildland in the Far East.
by The English Alpinist » Sun Jan 03, 2016 11:02 pm
Wainwrights included on this walk: Branstree, Grey Crag, Harter Fell (Far Eastern Fells), Kentmere Pike, Selside Pike, Shipman Knotts, Tarn Crag (Far Eastern Fells)
Hewitts included on this walk: Branstree, Grey Crag, Harter Fell (Far Eastern Fells), Kentmere Pike, Selside Pike, Tarn Crag
Date walked: 31/12/2015
Time taken: 6
Distance: 21.1 km
Ascent: 1495m1 person thinks this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
It turned out to be a walk of 4 quarters. Part 1 was the ascent of Harter Fell, a classic Lake District walk up past a tarn, Small Water. This was stony and secure walking. Several curious stone shelters adorn the rim of the tarn, quite long and coffin-like. They'd be useful protection if stuck out there in a storm. By this point very strong gusts of wind tested my balance and composure, but it was fine and the views down Haweswater were terrific. Also in the other direction down Longsleddale on reaching Nan Bield Pass, and of the various impressive peaks of the High Street range where I walked on my most memorable day so far a week ago. I was wary of getting blown off my feet on the upper reaches but it proved no worse. The summit of Harter lived up to Wainwright's description, a definite change of tone from the ascent.
Part 2 comprised a long ridge walk, taking in Kentmere Pike and Shipman Knotts. It's usually a lot easier once on the tops, but consistently unpleasant peat-haggy ground detracted from the pleasure somewhat. Visibility was come and go, treating me to some glimpses of the Kentmere valley and the distinctive Ill Bell ridge (walked on leg 9 in pretty similar conditions). Setting out from Harter Fell, after investigating the choice of summit cairns just to be sure, I came upon what was apparently a witch's broomstick planted in the ground. Very atmospheric, with mist and marsh and all. What on earth was it there for, except to claim this bleak area of the district for paganism? It was not necessary as a waymarker, because there was a fence to follow the entire way. Who knows. I moved on. The summits of Kentmere and Shipman Knotts were easily attained. My enjoyment of the views from them was tempered by the prospect of descent and re-ascent into the grim-looking greyness of, well, 'Grey Crag' and Tarn crag across the valley. That and the fact the rain had come in now, blowing directly at me. The plus-side of that was that it would be blowing behind me on most of the return walk, which was partly why I'd decided to get this direction done first.
I was making okay time, but didn't want to flirt with darkness too much in this weather and on fells unknown to me. This point of any walk tends to be my lowest ebb, being the farthest point away from the car and having no choice but to respool the distance if I wanted to get back to it. I was not overjoyed about the prospect of climbing back up to the tops. Alternatively, I could just walk up the valley and return via the Pass at Gatesgarth, a very good track. That would mean abandonment of the 4 remaining Wainwrights of the day, which would only leave them needing to be done another time (comprising another car journey out there of course). The weather wasn't that bad, so no excuse. I plunged directly down the flank of Shipman Knotts to Sadgill, hopefully saving time, taking me through lots of soaking moss and a trespass through a plantation (sorry). I emerged at the farm, probably another trespass (sorry), and from there across the little stone bridge. I ascended the lower flank of Grey Crag through a soaking sheep meadow, before joining the proper access path, was was not one iota more pleasant than being on no path. This down and up adventure was part 3 of the day, and the hardest physically. So much for shortcuts, it might have saved no time at all and definitely no energy.
I have no views to report whatsoever on Grey Crag and Tarn Crag, only incessantly wet ground which seriously is possibly the worst in the whole district. This is what I thought, anyway, until I reached the col below Branstree. Here it was an utter swamp, which in fairness is marked in blue shade on the Superwalker map (this feature never lies). On top of this joy, sleet was constantly driving in now from the South West, probably meriting the term 'light snow' rather than the forecast 'snow showers'. The route followed reassuring if unattractive fences the whole way to Selside Pike, last of the day. It was impossible to get lost at least. They were also invaluable for shimmying along to cross swamps, but when doing this you have to be careful to avoid flipping over and plunging right in. I once more resisted the temptation to go via Gatesgarth Pass, which is not all that low anyway, and I ventured on up to the wastes of Branstree, swathed in grey. I must give some credit to the Survey Post on Tarn Crag, though, a unique structure (notwithstanding the fact there's one just after Branstree too).
On the way up the steady slope of Branstree, winter blessed me even more fully. The sleet was now proper snow, blasting in from my left, and crusting me in ice on that side. I was warm enough in my gear, though. I was doing the walk only in my ankle boots. This gave me nimbleness at the expense of the dry feet my expensive winter boots might have provided (though even they might not, in such mush). I'd changed socks and insoles on Tarn Crag, and they too were soaked through in a few minutes. My feet were warm enough if I kept moving and I didn't have far to go, so I resolved to just try and enjoy the quasi-Siberian thrill of it all. The cairns and survey post around Branstree added to the grand desolation. The main worry was the thickening snow, which I was slithering in a bit. If it got much worse I might struggle to get through, and down. In the event, it was easy enough with care, and I headed directly down from Selside Pike just to get the hell out of there rather the swinging down the official Old Corpse Road. Maybe I just didn't like the name. It didn't take long to emerge from the cloudline, and then the snowline.
My reward, which will stay in the memory forever, was a sighting of a stag about half a mile away. I didn't realise it was the male of the species until downloading the pictures later, and seeing the zoom I had done.
Didn't see a human up there all day, by the way, although there were 3 other vehicles parked along the reservoir.
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by ChrisW » Sun Jan 03, 2016 11:58 pm
by The English Alpinist » Mon Jan 04, 2016 12:15 am
by Mal Grey » Mon Jan 04, 2016 10:05 am
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