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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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:
Boggy walks are tedious and energy-sapping.
Always use poles to test the ground if unsure.
Stop still for phone calls to ensure I don’t get distracted and wander off-course.
First of all, a bit of background: to get onto the Mountain Leader course, I have to complete and log twenty ‘quality mountain days‘. It’s been winter, so my last couple of QMDs were back in October. However, now spring has sprung, I’m off back up mountains.
My previous four QMDs were in the Lake District, but this time I thought I’d mix it up a little by heading to Scotland. This is a little further for me to drive from my home in Northumberland, but, as you’ll see, it was definitely worth it!
Given that it’s only March, I decided against the Cairngorms, leaving that area for the summer months. Instead, I focused on Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.
The great thing about the Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps app is that you can see routes that other people have added, and use these as inspiration for your own. I decided to go up Ben Ledi on Friday, and Ben Vorlich on Saturday, staying over at Callander Hostel.
I knew I’d be tired on Saturday, as I never sleep that well when I’m away from home (especially in hostels where you can guarantee someone will snore) and I’d have spent a full day walking on Friday. It was for that reason, that I decided to walk further on Friday than on Saturday.
Friday (QMD 5)
The route I planned at home went up Ben Ledi, across to Stuc Dhubh, down the trail, through the trees and round past a waterfall, and then along the road back to Callander:
Driving from my home to Callander took a little over three hours. It was a straightforward journey, with light traffic and wonderful views. On arrival in Callander, I found the hostel, parked my car, and tried to find someone to give them a route card. However, there was no-one to be found, so I sent the route to my wife and told her to call Mountain Rescue if she hadn’t heard from me by 19:00.
Instead of driving from the hostel to the start point I’d originally identified, I walked to it, which added a good half an hour to the overall journey time. The initial walk up the path was pleasant.
However, I soon got to a scene of devastation. The timber forest around Ben Levi is a ‘crop’ and as such is harvested. What is left, though, looks like what I imagine parts of England looked like after the Harrying of the North.
I sat down on a few logs and sent my wife the image below. I put down my hat, gloves, and sunglasses. When I got back up, I must have knocked them off onto the ground somehow, as I realised about an hour later that I didn’t have them.
The route up to the top of Ben Ledi from that point involved some steep sections, but it was the snow that surprised me. I hadn’t expected it to be so deep!
Just before I made the final ascent to the top of the mountain, I sheltered from the wind behind a rocky outcrop. My hands were dirty, so I rubbed some alcohol gel into them in preparation for eating my lunch. That decision ranks as one of the stupidest I’ve made while on the side of a mountain, as without gloves, the wind on my hands then made them feel extremely stiff. I ended up putting spare woolly socks over my hands.
Once I got to the top of Ben Ledi, I followed a trail on my map rather than a demarcated path. The snow got even deeper at this point, to the extent that I had to start being very careful about the route I was taking.
My route took me via a couple of tarns, which were partly iced over and beautiful to behold. I just stopped and looked for a couple of minutes, before the cold wind encouraged me to keep moving.
The purple line on the map below shows the edge of a boundary between areas looked after by different organisations. It’s also, however, a path. I’d intended to head up to Stuc Dhubh and then down the track to Allt Ghleann Casaig.
However, by the time I got to the top of Bioran na Circe, the snow was thigh-deep, so I made my way down the slope towards the two fords. To make this easier, I kept the stream to my left, and the gully to my right.
It wasn’t easy going, and I slipped and slid down. I was thankful to get to the bottom. From this point onwards, I was walking along tracks and roads back to the youth hostel. It took me what seemed like ages to get back, and by the time I was on the last stretch, I had my head torch on. I’d already contacted my wife by that point, but I got back just before 19:00.
As you can see from the above, I use the OS Maps app to track my route. I was out for over seven hours, walked over 18 miles, and ascended over 4000 feet. I was pretty tired by the time I checked into my hostel, staggering out after a warm shower to get some fish and chips.
I slept reasonably well, despite the inevitable snorer, and the two drunken idiots who burst in at 02:30.
Things I learned
Check you’ve got everything once setting off again after resting.
Don’t put alcohol gel on your hands in cold weather.
Plan interesting routes that don’t involve lots of walking on roads.
Saturday (QMD 6)
The route I planned at home took a straight route from the southern shore of Loch Earn up the path to Ben Vorlich. From there, it looked like a straightforward walk to Stùc a’ Chroin, along the ridge, round and up along the river back to my starting point:
I was anticipating a couple of things on Saturday. First, because it was the weekend and a beautiful sunny day, I knew that there would be plenty of people out and about. Second, from the map, I anticipated an easier day than Friday. I was wrong on both counts; there were about the same number of walkers, and it was much harder going than Friday.
I bought provisions in Callander, and then drove around to my starting point. I hadn’t needed my ‘proper’ camera or my waterproofs the day before, so I left them in the car to make my backpack lighter.
My optician had warned me earlier in the week of the need to protect my eyes given my pale blue irises and ‘larger than average’ pupils. Having lost my walking sunglasses on Friday, I was forced to wear my aviator-style driving sunglasses. This was less than ideal.
It was tough-going up Ben Vorlich. Thankfully, I had a couple of individual walkers ahead of me, meaning that the route through the snow was clear. The path was steep, and very slippery in places. It made me realise why people have walking poles.
I overtook a guy who had a couple of dogs with him, and felt I was doing well. However, life has a way of knocking you down a peg or two and, on this occasion, that was done in quick succession. First, I came over the brow of the hill to see the final ascent involved scrambling through ice and snow. Second, a guy in his early twenties ran past me. Unbelievable.
I did, however, finally get to the top of Ben Vorlich. It felt like an achievement, and the views were stunning. I stopped for a few minutes, and then pressed on towards Stùc a’ Chroin.
It didn’t take long for me to realise I hadn’t read my map very well when planning this route. What I had assumed was a ridge from Ben Vorlich to Stùc a’ Chroin actually involved a steep, snowy descent followed by an even steeper ascent. I sheltered at the bottom of the pass, enjoying my steak pie and bottle of Lucozade.
When I’m out on mountains, I talk to myself in my head. Not in a personality disorder kind of way, just in the sense that I think all of us do: having a conversation as to what’s coming up and what my response is going to be. Usually, I have no problem willing myself on after geeing myself a bit.
However, on this occasion, tired after yesterday’s walk, and surprised at having another steep ascent to make, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I decided to re-route and take what I assumed would be an easier route along the river.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Not only was the way down tricky, but the ground all the way walking down, keeping the river on my right-hand side was extremely boggy. I saw a herd of deer at fairly close quarters, but wasn’t quick enough to take photos.
I struggled through snow on top of sucking mud for what must have only been two or three miles, before turning the corner. I was hoping, but again it was assumption rather than close map reading, that the trail back would be reasonably straightforward. I had only paid attention to elevation, rather than what the ground would be like underfoot.
The journey by the river, however, felt like a walk in the park compared to what came next: walking over snow-covered heather, with small stream underneath. It was really hard-going, and I had to keep an ear out for the tell-tale sound a small stream under the snow. On a couple of occasions, I put my foot down through the snow and heather into a stream.
I was wet. I was tired. I was fed up. The photos all make it look beautiful, I suppose, but I had my head down most of the time, trying to not to stumble. The trail marked on the map was like Blackadder’s four-headed, man-eating haddock fish-beast of Aberdeen. It didn’t exist.
Eventually, I turned a corner and saw something so mundane, but so welcome: a bridge. If there’s a bridge, there’s a path. And from there, I walked down what felt like a motorway back down to my car. I collapsed into the boot, removing my sodden boots and gaiters, tore off a large piece of Soreen malt loaf, and greedily pushed it all into my mouth.
The above information really requires the context given above to understand the impact it had on me as a mountain walker. Despite a shorter route both in terms of length and duration, and the total ascent being less than Friday, nevertheless Saturday’s route was hard.
The drive back home was frustrating, both because of my desire to get home and drink all of the whisky in my house, but also due to the weekend traffic and number of speed cameras in the Scottish borders.
Things I learned
Assume nothing. Check and double-check your route, especially when it comes to elevation and ground underfoot.
Consider buying walking poles. It could save your knees.
Mountain water tastes amazing.
Next week, I’m planning to head back up to Scotland for my seventh and eighth QMD. Can’t wait.
As I mentioned last time, to get onto the Mountain Leader course, I have to get 20 ‘quality mountain days‘ under my belt. Given that I often work away, and I’ve got young children, it can be difficult to get away at the weekends. I’m going to have to be a bit more disciplined about this if I want to get on the course before the end of 2017!
Since last time, I’ve started using the Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps app. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty great. If, like me, you buy a new (paper) Landranger map, you get the digital download of the map through the app included. One of the features of this is the ability to plan a route in the app.
Friday (QMD 3)
I drove over to the Lake District on Friday morning. Google Maps didn’t seem to recognise ‘Helvellyn YHA’ so I just typed in ‘Helvellyn’, planning to course-correct when I was closer to my destination.
What actually happened was that Google Maps took me to the other side of Helvellyn. When I drove back (adding half an hour to my journey) I couldn’t see the road up to the hostel. As a result, and as you can see from my actual route, I started from a car park in Glenridding.
The other difference between my planned route and what I actually walked is that I decided to return to the hostel via Striding Edge. This isn’t a route I’d do by myself if the weather was bad, but as it happens it wasn’t very windy and the sun was shining!
I re-created the route when I got back to the hostel and it estimated that it took 3 hours 10 minutes. In fact, it took over four hours. I’m not entirely sure how the OS Maps app can quote a shorter amount of time for a route that’s 50% longer (see below!)
Here’s a few photos from Friday:
Saturday (QMD 4)
After a couple of beers and dinner with fellow hostellers, I slept well and was up at 7am ready for my next day of walking. I’d planned to go up to the top of Gowbarrow Fell, Little Mell, and Great Mell.
However, this wasn’t feasible given the amount of bracken on the steep ascent on the east side of Gowbarrow. Instead, I pressed on, and took a slightly different route up Little Mell Fell. It was hard work.
This is the actual route I took as I discovered the feature in the OS Maps app that records your route via GPS. I decided to skip going up Great Mell Fell and head back via High Force and Aira Force. That was a pleasant end to my walk.
Here’s some photos from Saturday:
I’ll probably spend another couple of days in Lake District, and then move onto mountains in Scotland and Wales. Given that the Lake District is less than two hours away, these will be longer trips…
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!
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’!
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 — 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!