Thursday, 21 January 2010

You're not the law

I'll get on to 'him' later, but in the meantime a few other rules, regulations and bloody obvious truisms could do with further investigation.

If the average speed cameras on the M6 are working then I'm probably in for a hefty fine a best, if the highways agency processing department are running a few months behind then my best hope is to head for the border (at 49.5 mph). Despite a slightly late start we were in the car park in Kirkstone Pass bang on the allotted hour with only a slight wheel spin into the car park to beat the clock. A magnificent seven turn out with some faces I hadn't seen for a while, it already had potential to turn silly. Today's plan was a kind of horseshoe walk but with a pub right in the middle. (now that would be a good law for all walks).

There had already been some debate about clockwise or anti clockwise as the optimum route. We opted for anti clockwise on the basis the first climb was less steep.

We set off and as we passed Brother's Water, looking at High Hartsop Dodd I was beginning to think 'it didn't look that steep last time I was here'. Mind you, I wasn't climbing it last time I was here.

We should really find a solicitor to walk with us who knows his stuff (I know it could be tricky but they must stop writing letters eventually and they can't all be making it up). I reckon I'm qualified enough at the Bar to be pretty certain that building a cesspit in the middle of a public footpath is a bit out of order. To then encourage your cows to swim in it and fence all the walls around it is just evil. Mikes southern nostrils really weren't up to the challenge. I'm still not sure it's a good enough excuse for the prissy pose though! It's worth double clicking the picture to see his facial expression as he turned back.

Robbo's dalliance prior to the cesspit meant we could record him trying to avoid landing in the stuff.

After the e=mc2 stuff, Newtons Laws of Gravity are probably the best known of all the natural scientific laws. Other than 8 pints + = kebab NOW.... obviously.

Then why is it that I'm always surprised at just how knackered I get going uphill, moreover looking back at the photo's it seems that we reached the top (of what is surely one of the most strenuous climbs in the lakes) in perfect height to weight ratios. Skinny Mike and Ray at the front, party Robbo and Jim at the rear. I was somewhere tucked in the middle ....about 5 yards in front of Robbo. I think we were all relieved when we reached the top, I was also pretty pleased I hadn't persuaded any beginners to join in, I might have succumbed to the punch in the gob law.

And so from here we headed along and slightly up to Little Hart Crag. All going quite well. Two laws were about to synchronise in perfect harmony to put a different slant on the whole day.

1) If you leave your gaiters at home and walk in deep snow you'll be sorry AND 2) never make the same mistake twice.

Rule 1 - For the first time ever I was gaiter free, honestly I wear them with shorts some days, even when I'm just nipping out for a paper, it was inconceivable that I would forget them, especially on a day when I was wearing my 'wide top Brashers'.

Rule 2 - And last week we'd taken a shortcut through the snow only to end up waste deep in it and absolutely shattered after dragging ourselves through it. The trouble is, that it's very tempting to avoid gaining too much height when you can cut cross country and avoid the ups and downs. We couldn't even claim ignorance as an excuse as we ploughed into the first snowdrift and bog mix, still we were 7 blokes and not one of us was ever going to say lets turn around and do the sensible thing. Note for future walks, always bring at least one female along.

With almost perfect timing the snow that had melted through my socks and into my boot also started to squelch and it was getting colder. In another 15 minutes we were starting to split into groups each trying desperately to find a snow free track to Middle Dodd. Well there wasn't one! Mike demonstrated his ridiculous levels of fitness by performing his walking on air trick and arriving at Middle Dodd 10 minutes ahead of everyone. Ray would have been right behind him but for the foot in the hole incident, in all seriousness if he was solo walking he may have been in real trouble. Either he really did jam his boot under a rock buried deep in the snow or he was faking it to stop the lardy brigade overtaking him.

As we left Middle Dodd to make the ascent to Red Screes I was having my own Heather Mills moment, ie I was particularly miserable and couldn't feel anything under my right ankle. My soaking boot had frozen as we'd gained altitude and the temperature had dropped, I normally a cheery sort, but I was having a major sense of humour failure. 15 minutes of gritted teeth lone walking and I reached the highpoint of the day. Still with gritted teeth!

I'm sure Red Screes is a major climb at anytime of the year, but by the route we'd chosen and in the conditions we'd found, it was a heck of a challenge.

Suddenly the pub was in site and the party was about to begin.

For those who don't know, Red Screes is a tad steep on the north side and in the remnants of last weeks snow it was a bit bloomin dangerous stepping down up to your knees. Twisted limbs were only one hidden rock away. New rule, if in doubt, take to your arse! .......whatever you do, don't drink before applying that rule and be very careful what the circumstances are. These were perfect conditions though, steep slopes just enough snow and stacks of straight runs for sledging.

We laughed

we raced

we crashed,

we snowballed and we had an absolute hoot all the way to the bottom. Definitely my favourite downhill from a mountain so far. And that, should have been that really, the snow had slowed us down so much we wouldn't have time to make the second part of the walk so the escape route via the pub and down the road back to the cars was calling. That was without the intervention of Judge Dread. What a bloke was doing with a pair of binoculars outside a closed (Yes for the second time in 3 weeks CLOSED pub) looking at a mountain covered in mist for hours on end just befuddles me. This is pretty much how the conversation went

'alright lads'........... 'erm, alright mate, hello nice afternoon'

is it? 'I'VE BEEN WATCHING YOU'............'oh'

'Yes, and you were a menace to the mountains, and your sledging was causing a huge avalanche risk' .....I already had him down as a nutter at this point but on he went

'and wearing shiny trousers makes it worse' (this must be one of the great unknown laws of avalanches), I'll certainly remember not to wear my spangly dancing pants when I'm walking in snow in future, you can't be too careful.

The two highlights though were 'I'm a spotter for mountain rescue' NO such JOB

and Rays' 'it wasn't me', that was brilliant! you must have an older/bigger brother Ray who landed you in it all the time when you were a kid.

In the end we just got bored with the lawman and drifted off into the sunset in search of a different saloon.

Luckily halfway down the pass the second one was open and we managed to grab some hooch. The medicine worked well and my foot recovered, I have a new law now; a pint of cider a day keeps the frostbite away, and I'm off to test the theory in my front room. Next time we'll do the route clockwise, sneak up on old grumpy draws and pelt him with snowballs. Unless that's a bit immature?

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Crampon practice on Cnicht

When I say practice, what I mean is 'use for the first time ever'. Best to start on an icy Snowdonia scramble wouldn't want to waste the sharp pointy newness on anything safe!

I think the original plan had changed 10 times before a sensible lowish level walk was posted on walking forum 3 hours before bedtime on the night before the walk. All I had to do was meet at Betwys y Coed Cotswold shop at 9.00am. I was even early 8.50am North Wales ready to go, mind you I did set off in the dark.

You do have to question friendships when the other three travel together and suggest we meet at the Cotswold store in a town that has TWO of them and give you directions to the OTHER one! Still at least I was in my warm car with a few tunes. After realising something was wrong we met up and I followed Robbo's car in mine until the snow got a bit iffy, and then I joined the other chaps.

I should have know something was wrong by the faint blue hue in the car and the fact that they all were wearing hats, buffs, gloves and boots already.' Oh the heatings not working', 'really Robbo, I thought we were acclimatising before we got on the mountain'. This was bearable until the fan was needed to clear the windscreen and the windchill factor must have dipped below -16C. It really was warmer outside.

At his point I was a little concerned about the plan to climb Cnicht in midwinter in icy conditions. It's not a huge scramble, but if it's called the Welsh Matterhorn then it was going to be a bit pointy and steep. My worries weren't assuaged by the fact that the only other people in the car park and therefore climbing it that day were Mountain Rescue. Oh well at least they'd be on hand.

Setting off Mike and Glyno were bouncing with confidence, although one look in Robbo's eyes and I knew he was thinking the same as me. 'who's bloody idea was this'. And he's climbed it before!

The initial path up was pretty clear, not too icy and a few snow drifts, but nothing to worry about, and lots of views of the pointy bit in the distance.

It was a steady start rather than one of those GO UP NOW starts which really helped with the pace. The odd tricky bit was going to be good practice for later, but with the powdery snow we managed to climb within about 80m (I guessing) of the top without putting crampons on. I really should have practised tying them at home first, but at least Mike didn't tut as he gave clear instructions.

This is a top tip for any relative newcomer going walking with the pros (I fell for this one once before by not having a spare everything in my rucksack...I do now) look in their bags before you set off. 'have you got your goggles' was the question that threw me. I wasn't expecting to do a bit of spot welding, I was cramponed to the hilt and ready to go. All three of them had glasses, Glyno had a particularly trendy set which other than the age gap would get him in any dodgy boy band. 'oh you'll need some to keep the snow out of your eyes'. I was planning on staying vertical with my head 5ft above the snow.

Oh yes back to the mountain, in Robbo's words 'the next bit looks interesting' . It was a full on ice and snow scramble to the top, interesting indeed. And it was absolutely fantastic, crampons are's just like they were made for this. Choose your route!

Once over the first steep part, the rest was a cautious but not too tricky pick your way to the top.

Like the rest of the day the summit was cloud free and were had great views all round, albeit under leaden skies that were threatening snow.

A few pictures on the summit and due to the extra wind chill we headed off sharpish along the ridge in search of 'a path near a quarry'. It was one of those, just a bit too relaxed for my liking comments and was bound to lead to bother.

We decided to hang a right maybe a tad too early in search of the promised path, all we found were snowfields and crags, and more crags and steep bits and then HUGE drifts. Tiring yes, but great fun, parts of it were technically tricky and I'm sure we wouldn't have ever tried this route but for the snow.

The quick story of one man vs the snow

A bit of fun but not too much trouble

Sod it I'm having a rest

Really I can't stand up anymore

A broken man gets some kind words

Then collapses in another drift

Mike contemplates putting him out of his misery

Broken, dejected and awaiting his fate

All friends again as he's pulled out the last few yards

The early stages of exhaustion are shown in the video at the bottom

It must have taken a good hour and a half to cross all the valleys and ridges between the laughter and the re routing at various intervals. I loved it.

Eventually we made it across to the path only to be greeted with the steepest and longest scree of snow we'd seen all day. We couldn't risk going down in case it turned to ice or one of the cornices gave way over a large drop. Oh well! 180 degrees about and back into the wind, as a bonus it was now snowing. It turned out to be a good option and we were back on the downward path within 10 minutes, only one miss hap as I went up to my wotsits in snow and found I had soaked my foot in a hidden stream. No more leading the way for me!

It was an hour downhill from here back to the car/refrigerator and then a further freezing 20 minutes back to my car just when you need a warm. Still the cider and chips back in Betwys y Coed were very welcome...thanks Mike. I loved my first ice and snow scramble in crampons and I'll be back out to try it again once I thaw out.

Enjoy the video

Friday, 8 January 2010

Day 3 - Time for a Barf

Honestly, my thought process was sound. 'Peter meet us at the hotel, that way we'll all be together if we get stuck in snow on the way to the mountain meet point'. Brilliant, unless of course you can't get off the hotel car park. It wasn't quite that bad, but it did take a good 30 minutes to get back up the hill and onto the main road through Keswick.

Having had a second experience of exec cars in snow we decided to park in a lay by exactly 2 yards off the main A66 about 2 miles North West of Keswick. (or about 11 miles by my GPS measurement...more later). We were at the tip of lake Bassenthwaite and the mist floating across the water was the first sign that this was going to be a good morning for photographs. If you notice any of your photo's on here, they're not, they're mine and I was stood right behind you taking the same picture.

From the car, passed the church along the snowy roads and to the bottom of Barf. The original plan had been to do 5 Wainwrights today but we were at least 45 minutes late already and we were bound to find some deep snow later. The route up to Barf is well signposted and really clear, 15 minutes later about 1/10th of the way up the hill we were already clambering over barbed wired to rejoin the path on the other side of the stream!. Really I'm going to start paying more attention soon.

The climb was at first steep, then steep and slippery, then really silly as we ploughed through thigh depth snow at the forest edge. All good fun though and we'd made a couple of new friends who overtook us on the way up and stole some of Peter's pastilles. The really great news for everyone was that map reading was no longer required as I confidently said 'this way chaps' and followed the footprints. Everything started to slow down now, not because of the steepness but because we were starting to get clear views of a full cloud inversion over the northern lake district.

The sun was shining and the views across the valleys was immense. I could have stayed for hours. Mr Photo chap obviously planned to do so as he started unpacking his rucksack and donning enough gear to open a new Barf outlet store. His picture of us with my battered camera wasn't bad at all, that's that bloody tricky hill Dodd in the background. (with a couple of others!).

Still it was his first inversion ever and he was going to make the most of it. That's if the boys would ever leave him to get on with the job. This picture is taken from the top of Barf 15 minutes later while they were still yacking.

From here a clear walk to the top of Lords Seat and now only one step of footprints to follow, this was potentially tricky stuff. I was further distracted by Craig, now wearing the most ridiculous pair of welding glasses as protection against the should try them out in Courchevel 1850 mate, very popular with the ladies this season I've heard.

A bit more playing around in the snow and we reached the summit somewhat later and a bit more tired than expected.

And then a bit more playing around

The weather was starting to look threatening from the west too.

A bit of astute map reading and we were off on a short cut to Whinlatter, this effectively meant following a fence downhill for a mile or so.....again tricky stuff. We played ten pin bowling, goalkeeping practice and how to kill Photoman with an icicle.

I was slightly concerned that both Craig and Peter knew this was the perfect murder weapon. Time to get a move on.

After more playing around and building snowmen the weather turned even more wintry and it was starting to feel gloomy. Still this is the proud father of Snowmancity

It's a lot more difficult to judge timescales and distance in the snow (no really it is , that's not preamble for another error) so we opted for the forest tracks back to the car 4 miles away (10 by my GPS) rather than an indeterminate sojourn to the top of Whinlatter. I was really enjoying this section of walking, slightly uphill, not too steep in powder snow and pushing on at a reasonable pace. It felt like the middle of nowhere as the snow continued to fall in the silence, UNTIL family bloody jog bods appeared RUNNING through the deep snow. There were at least 3 generation maybe 4, it was difficult to tell by the blur that went passed. Shoulders not quite so perky we made the highpoint and then headed downwards through the forest following a very strange single ski track.

At the bottom we ducked through the go ape area, making monkeys, avoiding the parkie and playing on the toys. The rest of the walk was a very pleasant downhill, oh yes with just one last quick double back for posterity. We were definitely on the right route though as this is the church we saw earlier.

Peter opted for a direct route home as the weather was threatening again, we on the other hand headed directly to the pub....just in case.

And finally check this in close up for a GPS plotted route, honestly I wasn't drunk. Possibly not exactly 13 miles then!

Day 2 - Hunting on the Dodds

I'm a bloody nightmare in hotel rooms because I like it to be dark when I sleep, yes i know that's why we were given eyelids but it's just not enough. Curtains made out of that edible but horrid flying saucer sugar paper are not acceptable....even if they were filled with sherbet. On second thoughts..... And gaps under doors letting in a gazzillion watts of overbearing brightness need filling(I used a coat), and don't get me started on the assortment of red blobs on TV's phones, radios etc. Anyway with an assortment of books, blinds, leaflet holders and coats I eventually dimmed the room to something approaching sunset and drifted off to sleep.

Drifting turned out to be precisely what the overnight snowfall had done and in our executive motors we had bugger all chance of even making the hotel driveway. Exec cars are great for hanging suits in and playing music, that's about all, in winter get a smaller one that actually goes up an incline better than a 1870's locomotive.

Early breakfast and rerouted, Craig announced that today he was taking the cooking pot and we would be fending for ourselves on the Fells. Looks like robin soup could be on the menu after all and I was definitely leading today as yesterdays beans were in full effect. We headed out of the hotel and passed the playground where Craig used to hog the swings from his sister and promptly turned 180 degrees the wrong direction.......deja vu or just bloody useless ( we were actually using GPS at the time!!). Correcting our error we sneaked sheepishly passed the back of the hotel and the strode proudly on towards Latrigg. As we approached the foot of the fell and the forest a signpost showed the beasties within......get in 'wild boar' that had to be tasty.

We climbed Latrigg as Peter had declared a few days earlier 'you could push a pram up there' NOT in this snow and ice you couldn't mate! Still the climb through the snow was worth it as we were rewarded with unexpectedly great views of Keswick. Unexpected because it's not that high a fell (206 on the Wainwrights list ......I would guess...that was a bit geeky). We soon realised that this wasn't the top and headed upwards, well I did. Craig got a straight red for this dive.

From the top we planned a low level route to Dodd and circle back to Keswick later....but not before a hunters lunch. We watched in envy as a Landrover drove easily up a very icy steep hill. Maybe a second hand white one for my next hunting trip.

At the foot of Dodd fell I was a bit surprised to see a distinct lack of forestation, how the blinking heck are you supposed to read maps when they just remove a forest every 30 years!!. Not to worry if in doubt head straight up and we did and then we double backed a bit and then we found a great forest. Bound to be live stuff in here.

The path got smaller and darker and the trees shed a fine rainfall as the sound of us PLODDING on the earth shook them slightly, spooky but fun. Eventually we found the track I'd planned to be on.....honest and headed through the trees and via one last shortcut up to the top via the very clear forest trail.

Again some great views and then the wind picked up and it started to snow again.

There was no chance of a rapid descent off the north side as it was too steep and slippy, Craig suggested we head down a little and find shelter for lunch. Must have bagged some rabbits earlier. And indeed he had, sort of. Out came the bags of finest somethingorother maybe rabbit maybe soilent green. I really didn't mind though as after a thorough heating a bit of warm food was a winner for me.

Stomachs a little filled we headed down and cut through forests (and backtracked one......yes I 'knew' they were our footprints from earlier) and then just took the steep route to the bottom. This was the view looking back at Dodd (on the left) with Skiddaw in the background.

Anyway across the fields and along the river, we arrived back in Keswick just as dusk arrived.

Pretty bloody perfect, except I now had a need for real meat.

We were saved later that evening with an enormous portion of World Famous Cow Pie in the George Pub. Maybe one more pint and off to sleep! we were meeting Peter in the morning to take on Barf and I didn't want that to arrive too early.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

A very slippery Circle

The big trick in the snow is to stay warm, even as a kid if i got cold I'd stop playing out and warm up my pained fingers in front of a coal fire..........while crying. Cold fingers getting hot is second only to an abscess and soooooo far ahead of childbirth in the pain stakes.

Me and Craig were planning to be up in Keswick for three days ticking off a number of Wainwrights in the process of plodding around. Day 1 was a reasonably early meet up at Castlerigg stone circle walk 5 miles and then head off to Lattrigg. In truth the chance of both was looking a bit iffy even during my usual preparations for walking. I'd spent at least 5 hours the previous night with clothes, maps, food, bags, boots, cash, tickets, got so bad that my youngest daughter lost it in the end with a great put down.....

'stop now dad! What are you doing? entering a sandwiches and best routes competition'. (you need to adopt sarcastic inferences for that part).

I stopped immediately. Until the little blighter went to bed and then I just threw everything else in the car. Normal service resumed.

The forecast overnight snow was a small threat, but hey I've got a car that's issue for me. At least I thought so until I arrived at the M6 north of Lancaster, it was down to one very snow covered lane and as the BMW 30 yards in front of me glided off onto the hard shoulder I gripped the wheel just a bit tighter.

Craig on the other hand and in the dodgiest snowmobile ever, had gone over the A66 in double quick time and was sunning it in Penrith. About 45 minutes late I arrived in Keswick and promptly slid backwards on the first hill...time to park up. Another friend Chris and his pal Bill were joining us for the day and had also (thankfully) struggled on the same hill so parked up behind me. Oh and there was Craig's car. Gear on, we headed to the circle meet point in the falling snow.

I've never seen Castlerigg stone circle before, but its definitely worth a visit, 4000 years old too.

We took pictures and fed the robin

Chris was having the usual bloke phone nightmare. Ideal for texts and speaking into, beyond that bloody hopeless. 10 minutes later he'd found the camera

Now I've explained the haphazard nature of my packing and then the phone call 15 minutes after leaving home had thrown me out of kilter. Ok so I left all my fruit and snacks that I'd bought 'just in case'. As a consequence a few other things were to go astray. I'd left my GPS in the car, well I had until I was halfway around and Chris spotted it in my rucksack pocket....he hardly mentioned it again.

My map reading for the day could at best be described as spontaneous and at worst bloody awful. Dropping the map on the floor and leaving it 500 yards back along the track didn't really help. We got to a saddle in the hills and I picked the wrong directions by 180 degrees. This is the view from the saddle, it's probably Thirlmere, but honestly it could be Loch Ness

We then came back down via a slightly different path to exactly same point, I refused to believe the footprints were ours and wanted to go 180 degrees wrong again. Still Bill was a tracker so thankfully he identified our boot prints, in hindsight the clue was probably that we were the only people on High Rigg Fell that day. Still at least I wasn't wearing this hat.

From the top we headed down out of the wind to find a spot for lunch near St John's in the Vale Church. Or better still as Chris pointed out 'they are a sanctuary' therefore 'inside the church'.

I'm not sure how far his sanctuary line would have gotten him had the old Vic caught him in the pulpit delivering a sermon according to St Chris of Stockport. Usual fodder for lunch except for Craig who had the beaniest bean soup I've ever seen, he did confess later to adding extra beans. There was sure to be payback at some stage. Lunch over we headed over Low Rigg and via a circuitous route back to the Stone Circle.

Looking across at Blencathra (probably) in sunshine.

Throwing walking poles over stiles seemed to be the order of the day, until Chris threw his first and we went for the walk up the wall passed the style without the going over it option. For a brief moment he nearly bought it...

I went walking (very tentatively on an iced lake).

And after this we dodged the boy racers sliding around the country lanes in their mums cars. As we passed the parking spot next to the stone circle it was filled with a few mini buses, I think we were all trying to figure how they made it up the icy road and the hill that had defeated us earlier. Perhaps a further clue in this photograph.

It wasn't he most strenuous of days out, but really good fun with some top banter. We retired back to our hotel for a swift beer, a bit of a warm and a chat. Did I mention Chris was red carded for falling over on a pavement? Just after this picture was taken.

He's a bloody liability Bill, it's a good job you were there to look after us all.