Tag: Lake District

Quality Mountain Day 15: Dale Head, Hindscarth, and High Spy

Regular readers will know that I’m trying to complete twenty Quality Mountain Days (QMDs) so I can book myself on a a Mountain Leader course. Every one of these I’ve done so far has been by myself, partly because I enjoy it that way, and partly down to logistics.

After QMDs 13 and 14, my friend (and TIDE podcast co-host) Dai Barnes offered to come with me on my next jaunt. As a result, we spent all day last Friday, and part of Saturday, walking in the Lake District.

Dai's feet

The thing you need to know about Dai is that he goes barefoot almost everywhere. So when I jokingly reminded him that he’d need some boots for our walking trip, he replied by saying that he’d tie some to his backpack, but was planning to go barefoot. ūüė≤

Although Dai has helped out with students at his school doing The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, he’s not a regular mountain walker. That’s good, because if he had been, the day wouldn’t have counted towards my QMDs.

I sent him a map of the route I’d planned for our first day, and said that we could plan the second one over dinner afterwards. The map below is our 21.1km actual route, which took us around 8.5 hours ‚ÄĒ including plenty of stops for food and chat.

QMD 15 route

We actually recorded an episode of the TIDE podcast while walking, so if you’re interested, you can sample that here.

Dai going over a stileMeeting at 10:00, we set off from the car park Borrowdale YHA after I’d checked we had the right equipment. We started walking (and recording) but after about 30 minutes I realised we had taken the wrong path. I hadn’t really been paying enough attention!

So we continued around and down towards Seatoller and Honister Hause. We agreed while we were down there that we’d go up towards Great Gable the next day. From Honister we ascended directly up towards Dale Head. That approach is probably the best for someone like Dai who hasn’t been up there before. It’s a magnificent view.

Dale Head

We had a great moment at the top, as Dai had brought his tiny but very powerful speaker up to play one of his stepson’s latest songs.

After something to eat, we walked along Hindscarth Edge and round to Hindscarth itself. We could see the clouds drawing in, which began to obscure our view of Dale Head. We came down via Scope End, which was zig-zaggy in places. All the more annoying as I’d forgotten my walking poles.

Heading across the river at the bottom of the valley, engrossed in conversation, we merrily kept walking into Little Town. Once we realised, we backtracked a little and went around High Crags. It was around 16:00 by this time, so we didn’t fancy going around Cat Bells and Brandelhow. Instead, we aimed for Black Crags.

Sheepfold shortcut

In an error that I refer to on the podcast as ‘sheepfold shortcut’, we got confused between where we were in relation to two sheepfolds (indicated by the purple arrows on the map above).

Doug descending through the disused quarryThat meant we didn’t have much choice but to make an extremely steep ascent up to get along and round to Bull Crag. It wasn’t much fun, but necessary given that it was late afternoon.

From there, we walked along Maiden Moor, Narrow Moor, and then arrived at a misty High Spy. Given that the light was beginning to fade, we attempted to get down Rigghead Quarries as quickly as possible. The fact that Dai did this barefoot quite frankly beggars belief.

By the time we got past the quarries it was dark enough to turn my head torch on. We walked the last section in single file along the river in pitch darkness, being careful where we placed our feet. Dai did put on some very thin sandals for this bit.

Map and pint

After a shower, a change of clothes, and a couple of very well-deserved pints, we plotted our route for the next day over dinner.

Things I learned:

  1. It’s easy to get carried away and not check your map when you’re having an interesting conversation.
  2. Just because something looks like a path, doesn’t mean it is.
  3. Double-check your equipment before leaving the house, and consider having a list (so I don’t forget my poles!)

After a decent night’s sleep and a good breakfast on Saturday morning, we drove over to Honister Hause and started walking a circular route towards Great Gable. However, the wind and the rain was so bad that I had to put on full waterproofs and we sheltered for a while in a bothy near Dubs Quarry.

Honister Hause

We started descending, realising we would then have to go up again. So, after three hours, soaking wet, and with plenty of the route left to walk, we decided to call it a day. We’d had such a great time the day before, that spoiling our trip by trudging through inclement conditions on Saturday seemed a bit pointless.

So, after getting back to our cars, getting changed, and saying our goodbyes, we headed back home ‚ÄĒ Dai back down to Oundle, near Peterborough, and me back to Morpeth, Northumberland.


Thanks to Dai for some of the photos featured in this post!

Quality Mountain Day 14: Whiteside Pike, Ancrow Brow, and White Howe (Lake District)

Yesterday, after 24.63km as part of Quality Mountain Day 13, I followed a route that was both similar and different to what I’d experienced the previous day.

QMD 14 - 3D

The similarities? It was a horseshoe route, and around the same overall distance. The differences? The ground was boggier, and I wasn’t following a pre-defined path.

Selside church

As it wasn’t a defined route, I had to find somewhere to park. I decided to park next to the church at Selside, which meant a slightly longer overall walk. I began properly at where the path crossed the A6.

Notice next to gate

Interestingly, there were a few occasions during the route I chose where notices posted last week indicated a change to public rights of way. This was the most interesting one, near the start of my walk. Evidently, the farmer had padlocked the gate and the notice was re-enforcing a public bridleway. I just jumped over the fence.

Heather

The ground was covered with heather and other low-lying vegetation that like boggy ground. I knew I was in for a bit of a hike. It was also clear that I wasn’t going to see many other people, unlike the previous day.

Whiteside Pike

The first peak I ascended was Whiteside Pike (397m). The views were breathtaking, and the climb up there straightforward. I then had to decide how to get across to Todd Fell (401m).

Wall stile

The most difficult thing about this walk wasn’t the length or even the height I ascended to with each peak. It was the ground, which varied between clumpy and extremely boggy.

That mean that even the relatively simple task of getting from one peak to another often involved detours and figuring out the lay of the land.

I spotted a stile built into a drystone wall as I descended Whiteside Pike, and so made my way towards, and over, it.

As I looked over to the east, I noticed that the next valley had very low-lying cloud. Unfortunately, this had dissipated by the time I got round the horseshoe to have a closer look, but it did lend a certain ethereal quality to the walk.

Low-lying cloud

My biggest problem during this walk, as I’ve already stated, was the boggy ground. This made things hard going at times, and also meant that I had problems with my walking boots. I’ve bought gel insoles that are great, but sometimes work their way loose and ‘ruck up’ inside my boots. This causes me pain, so I had to stop three times in total to sort them out.

Walking boots

I was walking with two poles which made life a lot easier. I learned to lengthen and shorten the poles depending on whether I was going uphill or downhill. One of my favourite things to do with them is to use them as a kind of way to ‘pole vault’ across small streams and boggy ground. On one occasion I put my pole into the ground and it… kept going!

Tarn

I made my way up to Cappelbarrow (512m) and then round to Ancrow Brow, stopping to drink and eat occasionally. It was a glorious day, and this part of the walk was the easiest.

Route up to Cappelbarrow

There was a real diversity of vegetation on the ground, including some areas that were almost red with a plant I’ve yet to identify.

Vegetation

As it was a bit of a trudge going through the boggy ground, I took the opportunity to follow trails made by animals and farmers’ quad bikes wherever possible. So my route around to Long Crag (493m) wasn’t as I’d planned, as I didn’t stick to the fence but instead followed the trails.

White Howe

By the time I got to White Howe (530m) I was looking forward to making my descent, getting to the car, and driving home. It had turned into a bit of a slog. I phoned my wife to let her know I was OK and made my way towards what is marked on the map as ‘Lamb Pasture’.

Lamb Pasture

I’m not sure whether it was because I was distracted while talking to my wife, or because of the streams of water that I had to navigate around, but I made a wrong turn which meant that I ended up next to Wolfhowe Plantation.

Stream

All that was left to do was to find the bridleway and make my way down to the A6. Due to the speed of the cars going along the road, and how intermittent the paths were, I took a detour to get back to the church. I’m not fond of going through fields full of cows (it’s the way they stop and stare at you…) but I found my way back eventually.

Church from a distance

As I was pretty much out of water by this point, it was a good job that I got talking to an old guy who was busy doing some gardening. He allowed me to fill up my bottle from a tap attached to a bore hole. As he promised, it was perhaps the most refreshing water I’ve ever tasted!

By the time I got back to the car, I’d walked 21.57km. As I peeled off my sodden boots and walking socks, I saw the mother of all blisters on my left heel. From prior experience, I decided to do something about that, especially as I had a two-hour drive ahead of me. I got out my first aid kit, sterilised my scissors, cut a small nick in the blister, and drained it of fluid. I then covered what was left with plasters and drove home.

Things I learned:

  1. Boggy walks are tedious and energy-sapping.
  2. Always use poles to test the ground if unsure.
  3. Stop still for phone calls to ensure I don’t get distracted and wander off-course.

Quality Mountain Day 13: Park Fell, High Street, and Ill Bell (Lake District)

I’m still attempting to get in the twenty Quality Mountain Days (QMDs) I need before I can book myself on a a Mountain Leader course. I contracted to work four days per week for Moodle. As I worked five last week, I took the opportunity to work three this week and sneak over to the Lake District this Thursday and Friday.

QMD13-14-getting-there

I’ll get my excuses in now: I developed a bit of a cold the day before I went, my right knee felt a bit weak, and the Mountain Weather Information Service was forecasting winds of 35-50mph on the peaks in the Lake District. That’s why, instead of plotting my own route for QMD 13, I chose one of the ‘premium’ routes provided to Ordnance Survey Maps subscribers (like me!)

QMD 13
In the event, I modified the 24km route a bit. It ended up being the same length but, of course, the bit I changed as a ‘shortcut’ ended up being the hardest part!

QMD 13 - map

It was easy going at first. I parked at Low Fold, and walked down to Church Bridge, along through Limefitt Holiday Park, and along the valley towards The Tongue. I had nipped up the hill quickly to see if I could see the cairns supposedly on my left (I couldn’t) and stopped for a coffee.

QMD 13 - Troutbeck Park

As I sipped my less-than-stellar brew, I looked up and realised what my ‘shortcut’ entailed: a steep ascent up Park Fell. I girded myself and plodded up it, stopping occasionally to, ahem, ‘admire the view’.

QMD 13 - Thornthwaite Crag

I continued on to Thornthwaite Crag in the glorious sunshine and more to eat and drink. There were quite a few other walkers out and my walking poles made this shallower ascent much easier. The next bit was just a saunter around the corner to the top of Racecourse Hill. Annoyingly, it was just off the edge of my paper OS map, but I’d seen on the online version that it wasn’t much further.

QMD 13 - mist

As I started back from Racecourse Hill, the weather started to turn. I could see it coming in from a distance, so I had to decide whether to continue with my planned route or whether to modify it. I decided to keep going as modifying would mean either walking further or a steep descent.

QMD 13 - Ill Bell

By the time I got past High Street and on to Froswick, I couldn’t see the top of the next summit, Ill Bell. In fact, as I got to the incline to start the ascent up Ill Bell, the girl who was walking in front of me abruptly turned round and decided to go back. I, however, decided to power up it. It’s not often I put on music when I’m walking, but I needed some motivation. Getting to the top felt like an achievement.

QMD 13 - gate and map

From there, walking over to the Yoke, and then down to Garburn Nook was straightforward. I was tempted by what looked like a shortcut down to Limefitt Holiday Park, but when I got there saw that there was a lot of bracken. I’ve been seduced by that option before, and it didn’t turn out well. I kept going.

Six hours and 23.63km later, I arrived back at my car. It wasn’t the hardest walk in the world, given that I stuck to the paths, but I had to make decisions along the way and deal with changing weather conditions. So I reckon that counts as a QMD!

Things I learned:

  1. Think carefully about ‘shortcuts’ before taking them.
  2. Sometimes it’s OK to stick to the paths.

Quality Mountain Days 9 & 10: Red Screes, Great Rigg, and Kentmere Pike

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I’m aiming to get on a¬†Mountain Leader course¬†by 2018. To do so I need to¬†complete (and log) twenty ‚ÄėQuality Mountain Days‚Äė. This time around, I headed back to the Lake District on Sunday and Monday.

Journey to Ambleside

The two days couldn’t have been more different, which goes to show how the weather can really affect both your safety and enjoyment when walking at altitude. Sunday was glorious; I wore my sunglasses virtually all day, and enjoyed an ice-cream¬†by Lake Windermere when I came back down. Monday, however, was a completely different story: 40mph winds, incessant (freezing) rain, and low visibility.

Planning

I planned my routes by using¬†OS Explorer Map OL7, and by using the Premium features of the Ordnance Survey website. I’ve found the latter extremely useful since its launch, particularly the 3D mapping¬†feature. It means I (should) know what to expect before I get there.

Red Screes and High Pike circular (3D)

Checking the Mountain Weather Information Service¬†(MWIS), I could see that Sunday and Monday were going to be very different days. It’s actually the first time I’ve opted to¬†go out at this time of the week, a decision we made as a family so as not to interfere too much with our children’s activities. However, as it happened, that¬†meant an extremely difficult day on Monday, with little time for recovery before work on Tuesday.

Sunday (QMD 9)

The route I planned for my first day of walking took me up Red Screes, across over Dove Crag and Hart Crag, round by Great Rigg, and back past Rydal.

QMD 9 (planned)

Usually, I record my actual route using the OS Maps app. However, for whatever reason, my battery was extremely low by the time I arrived in the Lake District. I think that was down to a faulty cable that made it¬†look like my phone was charging while Google Maps was giving me directions, but that wasn’t actually the case. I¬†prioritised being able to make calls in the event of an emergency over recording my actual route.

On the way up I met a retired guy coming down Snarker Pike. We got chatting, and he mentioned that he’d gone up there early to watch the sunrise! I noticed that, although it was dry where we were, he was wearing gaiters, so I decided to put mine on.

QMD 9 - Snarker Pike

A bit further on, I ended up¬†deviating from the route I’d planned after making a mistake.¬†After checking my map and compass, it¬†looked like I was heading for Middle Dodd. I made a course correction to ensure I was going to Little Hart Crag, but that actually took me off in the wrong direction. As a result, I had to traverse the side of a mountain. That wasn’t much¬†fun on the knees and ankles!

Once back on track, I decided to go up the steeper route to Scandale Head. As my detour had added time onto the route I’d planned, and I knew the next day’s walking was going to be challenging, I decided to come back down via High Pike and Low Pike. I didn’t want to be out for longer than I needed to be.

QMD 9 - Little Pike

On the way back down I met a guy using walking poles. I asked him about them, as I’d intended to buy some when I got back home. He said how inexpensive they were, and how much of a difference they made. I resolved to buy some when I got back down to Ambleside.

It was a pretty straightforward route back to the car, the only slightly tricky bit was getting down Sweden Crag. I walked back to the car, and then straight into Mountain Warehouse and bought some walking poles. I was out exactly five hours, from 09:15 to 14:15.

QMD 9 - bluebells and tree

The rest of the day I spent eating ice-cream, reading the newspaper in the pub, and talking to people at the hostel. There was one guy in particular who was really interesting and ended up telling me his life story.

Things I learned:

  1. Double-check before doing a ‘course correction’ just in case you were actually on the right path.
  2. Always wear gaiters.
  3. When it’s been dry for a long period of time, overnight rain can make¬†everything slippery.

Monday (QMD 10)

After Sunday, it was hard to believe that Monday’s weather could be so different. However, I trust MWIS, so had planned a route that I thought would be challenging yet safe. Parking the¬†car at Sadgill, I plotted an anti-clockwise walk up to Harter Fell, then Kentmere Pike, and back down and round to the car.

QMD 10 (planned)

I usually enjoy my walks, even if it’s physically (and sometimes mentally tough). I did not enjoy Monday at all. There were times I could barely see. The four layers of clothing I was wearing were so wet I could wring them out along with my gloves. The wind was brutal and the freezing rain and low cloudbase meant I couldn’t see much.

While I had my phone with me, once I’d put it in the right mode to record my route and took a few photos, I left it alone. There was too much rain to use the touchscreen, and any time I put my arms down from the 90-ish degrees of using my walking poles, water gushed out of the opening to my coat. It was pooling in my sleeves.

QMD 10 - signpost

There were a couple of times on the way up to Harter Fell that I thought I was going the wrong way. It’s easy to get disorientated and, stupidly, I’d managed to leave my compass in the car. It was only after triple-checking my map that I was convinced I was on the correct route. Thank goodness for the distinctive shape of some fields. I probably should have done some pacing, but I was too miserable.

While it wasn’t too catastrophic, I did make one mistake on Monday. I mistook one corner of a field for another, went over a stile, and then realised I was rather close to a very steep edge. I retraced my steps, got my bearings, and got back on track.

QMD 10 - cairn

Everything was going fine, and I was looking getting back to the dry warmth of my car. I could feel myself speeding up, as the BPM of the songs going through my head were getting faster.

As happened the day before, I had to climb down a crag on the way back. This one, Wray Crag, shouldn’t have been an issue. The problem was that it was my first day with the walking poles. They’d been great up to that point, really saving my knees. One thing I hadn’t done, however, was keep checking that the clasps keeping the extendable bits in place remained tight. It was as I used my left-hand pole to steady myself as I come down the crag that it gave way.

I must of only tumbled down a couple of metres, landing on my elbow and hip. I got up straight away, cursing myself for my stupidity. Realising I was alright, I counted my blessings, as if I’d hit my head it could have been very different. I tightened my walking poles, and strode on.

QMD 10 - clouds

Getting back to the car, I looked at my watch. I’d set off at the same time as yesterday (09:15) but got back to the car by 13:45. So a four and a half hour walk, instead of the five hours I’m supposed to do for a QMD. I’m still counting it, as it was extremely challenging for me, I didn’t stop for more than two minutes at any point, and I learned a whole lot.

My phone turned off as soon as I got it out of my rucksack, and wouldn’t turn back on. I was convinced it had irreparable water damage, and had to use my car’s inbuilt satnav to get back home. I dried myself and changed clothes rather awkwardly in the back of the car before driving home.

QMD 10 - valley

Given that I’d told my wife to phone Mountain Rescue if she hadn’t heard from me by 17:00, it was important I got home before that time. Fortunately, it’s only a bit over two hours from that part of the Lake District back to my house. I stopped at a¬†service station for all of five minutes for a coffee, a sausage roll, and a cinnamon bun, and got back home in record time.

Things I learned:

  1. Check. Your. Poles.
  2. Don’t go up a mountain without a compass.
  3.  I probably could do with a waterproof phone.

Quality Mountain Days 1 and 2: Lake District

Update: I created selfie videos to document each day as I went along. I then used a Sony app to create short highlight videos. You can view them here: Day 1 (Friday) / Day 2 (Saturday)


This evening¬†I’ve spent some time¬†planning my first two ‘Quality Mountain Days’. As I explained in The psychology of going up a mountain, walking on¬†Friday and Saturday in the Lake District¬†will count as 10% of the days I need to have under my belt¬†before starting my Mountain Leader¬†award.

I’m aiming to fulfil all of the Quality Mountain Day¬†criteria:

  • the individual takes part in the planning and leadership
  • navigation skills are required away from marked paths
  • experience must be in terrain and weather comparable to that found in UK and Irish hills
  • knowledge is increased and skills practised
  • attention is paid to safety
  • five hours or more journey time
  • adverse conditions may be encountered

This post is to document my planning. I’ll update¬†afterwards with photos I take and any notes/voice recordings I make!

Day 1: Friday 22 April 2016

Dale Head and Fleetwith Pike (Friday 22 April 2016)

Weather forecast from the Mountain Weather Service for Friday:

  • Wind?¬†Northeasterly 15 to 20mph
  • Effect of wind on you? Small
  • How wet?¬†Risk snow & hail showers later. Substantially or completely dry, but later afternoon and evening, risk showers, of soft hail, or above 600m snow.
  • Cloud?¬†Very little
  • Sunshine and Air Clarity?¬†Bursts of bright sunshine, mainly morning. The air very clear.
  • How cold? (at 750m):¬†1 to 3C, highest west Lakes in afternoon.

I get back home to where I live in Morpeth, Northumberland late on Thursday night, so I’ll be up early Friday morning to pack and then¬†drive¬†the 2.5 hours to the Lake District. I’m going to give the above route plan (created using a photo of an OS map and Skitch) to the YHA Borrowdale staff with the time I left and the time I expect to be back.

While I’ve walked up to Dale Head before¬†(last year when I did the Mountain Skills course)¬†this will be the first time I’ve been up there by myself. In fact it’s the first time I’ll have been up¬†any¬†mountain alone. I’m planning to push on, past Yewcrag Quarries and over onto Fleetwith Pike. It may be quite exposed and windy over there, so my backup plan is to abort that small circle part of the route and head down the dismantled tramway.

Either way, returning via Honister House should be pretty straightforward and the route should be reasonably flat once I’ve got down to Lowbank Crags. If I’ve worked this out correctly it should be about 14km.¬†That should be quite enough to keep me going for the five hours I need to be out and about for it to count as a ‘Quality Mountain Day’!


Day 2: Saturday 23 April 2016

Dodd, Skiddaw, and Little Man (Saturday 23 April 2016)

Weather forecast from the Mountain Weather Service for Saturday:

  • Wind?¬†Northerly 20 to 25mph, strongest Pennines
  • Effect of wind on you? May impede walking some higher areas. Notable wind chill for late April.
  • How wet?¬†Snow and hail showers. Light showers or flurries developing, snow or soft hail to low levels, spreading increasingly from north by afternoon.
  • Cloud?¬†Mostly very little
  • Sunshine and Air Clarity?¬†Occasional bright sunshine. Visibility superb, but much reduced during showers and where also in cloud.
  • How cold? (at 750m): 0 or -1C

I want to get out, get up, and get home as soon as possible on Saturday ‚ÄĒ especially given the¬†snow flurries forecast for the afternoon. I’m¬†planning to park in Millbeck, then walk through Lyzzick Wood and up Dodd.¬†This should give me some indication as to whether it’s safe to head up towards Skiddaw via Carl Side.

If it is, I’ll go that way, stopping off to test my micro-navigational skills by finding the cairn indicated on the map. Instead of taking the main path to the top of Skiddaw, I’m going to take the smaller track and see if I can keep on it. I’m hoping that visibility will be good enough to take some decent photos from¬†Skiddaw Man.

After something to eat, if I can see the weather coming in, I may retrace myself and come down the track that follows Slades Beck. However, the plan is to keep¬†going and make my way to Little Man, finding the two cairns shown on the map. From there I’ll follow the path down and round to Applethwaite, then back to the car. All told, that’s around 11km, but will be more challenging than Friday¬†due to the weather.


Note: many thanks to Craig¬†Taylor for responding so quickly and comprehensively to my Twitter DMs. I wanted to check that these¬†routes seemed reasonable and he gave me some ‘old-timers’ advice that should¬†ensure¬†I have a safe and successful trip. Having done the Mountain Leader qualification himself (and been in the army) he’s been a great source of encouragement and support, loaning me some books last year to help with my understanding of what’s required!

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