Sunday, 17 April 2011

3 days in the Lakes - not a success


A switch round of work responsibilities enabled me to depart one day early for my short trip to the Lakes. I wish it hadn't!

This trip was to be the next step in assessing my fitness levels after all the sessions in the gym this year. I would park at Dungeon Ghyll, carry a heavy pack up to Stickle Tarn, camp there, ascending Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle, then make my way across to Sty head Tarn for two more nights camping and ascents of various summits in the vicinity. none of this actually happened.

A good journey past Birmingham, but then the first smatterings of rain, which increases in intensity as I make my way into the Lakes. A quick stop off in Ambleside and a weather forecast at the outdoor shop does not make for good reading. Parked at the National Trust car park, the summits of Harrison Stickle and Pavey Ark have disappeared into thick cloud. I decide to have a short nap in the car while I wait to see if an ascent and camp will be possible tonight. But it is actually raining harder and I settle in the Sticklebarn Tavern for a couple of beers, some scampi and chips, and a read of the first 100 pages of Ivars Peterson's The Jungles of Randomness in which the discussion of Ramsey theory leads to some doubts about the entire trading programme.

There are not many customers this evening - maybe a dozen or so. A couple of family groups and some climbers. One of the mothers was the sort of person that some people would refer to with the charmless phrase as a "Milf".

There are two fantastic photos of the Langdale Pikes on the wall - one, a winter panorama, is quite exceptional. All the while, the rain pours down. And so, night one is spent in the car, attempting to sleep across the back seat.

The Langdale Pikes - the winter panorama from the wall of the Sticklebarn Tavern


A mixed night's sleep. Awake on a couple of occasions, in part from the sound of rain on the Land Rover roof. The Langdales are still shrounded in thick cloud, but I hatch a new plan to travel round to Borrowdale and, if the wearther clears, ascend to Sty Head from that side and use that as my base for the next two nights as per the original plan.

This seems to have something going for it initally as the drive up towards Keswick reveals some summits are clear of cloud - but a lot aren't!

A typical scene this morning - low cloud higging the hills

Parked at Seathwaite, there seems some grounds for optimism with the nearby hills clear of low cloud and even some blue sky. But the area I am planning to walk into still looks pretty poor. Nonetheless, I decide to carry to heavy pack with all my stuff in it. Perhaps 15-20 kgs in total, and a good fitness test on the 2000ft of ascent to Sty Head Tarn

Lots of other climbers about as well. An arrival much later would have made it hard to park at Seathwaite. Progress is slow of course - I am taking it pretty easy at the start. But actually the carry goes quite well. One rest after the step bit above Stockley Bridge and then on to Sty Head.

The best photo from my trip - taking photos at your feet does avoid the cloud

But things take a turn for the worse as I approach Sty Head as I hit the heavy cloud. Visibility is down to about 5m and the air is heavy with dampness. This is not good at all. A brief stop at Sty Head tarn to assess the situation, and a new plan. Iwill retreat back to the car and drive through Honister down to Buttermere. There are some lower mountains there - perhaps I can do something there instead. The three miles back to the car with the heavy pack are quite hard work, it must be said. And the cafe at the Honister Slate mine is very disappointing.

My best photo of Sty Head Tarn!

The clear view back to Seathwaite - the other way is thick cloud

At Buttermere I notice several things. Firstly, there is quite a nice campsite where I can stay tonight. Secondly, one of the pubs is still serving toasted sandwiches. And thirdly, the summits of Pillar and High Stile are clear. So I am soon back on the hills, but not with the heavy pack, and I am able to get to the top of Pillar in a couple of hours. By now the effect of the morning's walk with the heavy pack is beginning to really kick in and the descent back to camp is not fast. But at least I have now done a mountain, even if it is not the one I intended to do.

I spend the evening stretched out by my tent with views of Lake Buttermere. All very nice. Reading is Tom Hodgkinson's How to be Idle and a bit of Grumbach's 50 days of Solitude by the light of my head torch. Probably asleep by about 8:30. But I did resist spending the night in the pub


The cloud seems heavier this morning and the forecast is worse. Low cloud to stay most of the day. My chosen mountain today is Haystacks - Wainwright's favourite and supposedly where his ashes are scattered (by Innominate Tarn). I am suprised to be asked directions as I start the walk up, from three ladies who want to follow in the footsteps of Julia Bradbury, who climbed Haystacks on a tv show apparently.

How Haystacks might have looked

And how it did look - the summit crags from the approach to Scarpe Gap - towards the right edge of the nice picture above

It is raining in the cloud near the top which is not pleasant but at least I get a second summit. And with this I have decided to return to Oxford. The weather forecast is slightly better for tomorrow, but I have been thinking lots about work stuff and am keen to get back to look at some of this

The view towards Green Crag from below Haystacks. Oddly enough, this summit was free of cloud throughout my ascent of Haystacks. Clearly I should have done this one instead

The M6 has a huge traffic jam just south of Crewe - 22 miles of slow moving traffic and a 90 minute delay. I am home by around 8:00

A big disappointment this trip. Very few bright spots. But at least I was fit enough to the walks, so that's something I suppose.

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