A day of white

The destination for this week’s walk was Grasmere, leaving open a whole host of opportunities and initially I had planned to do the Fairfield Horseshoe. However, looking at the snow, a few of us decided that Helvellyn was a better option for that little bit of extra height.

Start point: Lay-by opposite Swirls car park on the A591, just north of Grasmere, NY 316 169
Summits: Helvellyn (inc. Lower Man), Nethermost Pike, Dollywaggon Pike, Fairfield, Great Rigg
Distance: 9.3 miles / 14.9 kilometres
Ascent: 4110 feet / 1250 metres

Having the luxury of two cars (well, one car and one minibus) meant we could do a straight line walk starting from the shores of Thirlmere reservoir. We were going to park in the Swirls car park but after seeing the price of £5 and realising that we didn’t have enough spare change, we decided to head across the road to the free lay-by. A well formed path leads up beside Helvellyn Gill to Helvellyn Lower Man and eventually Helvellyn. We were in cloud within half an hour, which combined with the snow created some impressive complete white-out moments.

We bumped into a group of guys on our way up who asked for advice on directions (they wanted to head down over Whiteside Bank and Raise but instead were heading down the way we came up). After a quick consultation of the map we told them their best bet was to head back up to Helvellyn Lower Man and branch off from there. They had a map but I’m pretty certain they didn’t have a compass with them, or if they did they were reluctant to use it. Despite our advice they decided to carry on back down the way we came up – personally I think it serves them right if they ended up by Thirlmere and had to catch a cab back to where they started from.

On a related note, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of people on the summit without ice axes, and presumably without crampons as well. Although Helvellyn offers some gentle ascents and the snow wasn’t frozen enough to warrant ice axe or crampons, they are surely still an essential piece of kit with conditions like they were? It could have easily been a lot icier up there.

The summit was very busy as usual, even despite the less-than-perfect weather forecast. Quite a few people had seized the opportunity to make the most of the winter conditions over Striding and Swirral edges, and in fact we nearly decided to descend Striding and come back up Swirral to make the most of it ourselves, however time was pressing and having done Striding Edge just before Christmas we decided Fairfield was a better alternative (though in hindsight we probably did have the time to do both).

Summit of Helvellyn

Setting up the camera's automatic timer on the trig point - quick, before it blows off!

Summit of Helvellyn

Everyone in our group on the summit of Helvellyn - kindly taken by a passer-by

Helvellyn is famous for its flat and expansive summit – in fact the first mountain-top landing of a plane in Britain occurred here in 1926 – and in conditions like we had today it’s easy to see how people get lost. Many a compass bearing was taken and many steps paced out to our next few peaks, before heading down the clear zig-zag path to Grisedale Tarn.

From the tarn we could see the other group from the Hiking Club descending the ridge to the west of Fairfield, however we decided to take the more interesting route up north east onto Deepdale House and then along the ridge running from St Sunday Crag to Fairfield. This is a fantastic route up that I’ve never done before – a small rocky and grassy path is etched into the fell side, as it ascends giving expansive views over Grisedale (we were even out of the clouds for a bit!). The ridge itself was also good fun, offering a tiny bit of very easy scrambling if you pick the most direct lines (the actual path, or at least the footprints in the snow, bypass all of this).

Fairfield itself and indeed the whole horseshoe is a walk that I have fond memories of, being one of the first walks I vividly remember doing on a beautifully sunny day many years ago. I remember thinking then that it was one of the best walks I had been on and that memory has stuck with me ever since. Although the summit today was a white blur, it still felt great to be back up there.

We didn’t hang around for very long as the wind was bitterly cold. Our descent was via Great Rigg and Stone Arthur, bringing us out just up the road from Grasmere, where we joined the rest of our party in the (rather busy) Red Lion – where a glass of coke costs £2.80 but a pint of beer only £2.75 (I know which I’d prefer!).

Mud, wind and rain

What a weekend!

Saturday – Parbold Hill Race

I decided on a spur midweek to sign up for Parbold Hill Race on the Saturday, with a group of guys from the Running Club at uni. I’m very glad I did as it was a fantastic race. A great course, on a mix of road, track and muddy fields, with the odd stream thrown in there. The organisers have done a brilliant job of picking an exciting and fun route which made sure – especially with the recent rainfall – that we all returned caked in mud. I was very pleased with my result, 47th out of around 450 and in a time of 50 minutes. Next month I’m in the Edale Skyline Fell Race so this acted as a bit of a warm up (albeit a very small warm up) to that.

Sunday – Haweswater

On the Sunday I went up to Haweswater with the Hiking Club, an area I really haven’t been to much. The reservoir sits in the valley of Mardale and its controversial construction saw the flooding of the two farming villages of Measand and Mardale Green. In times of drought when the water levels in the reservoir are at a low, the remains of the village can still be seen.

The original plan was to walk the whole ridge from Harter Fell up to Wether Hill but no one else wanted to come on my walk so I tagged along with a group with the intention of Harter Fell and High Street. We headed up the Gatescarth Pass before branching off over Harter Fell and down to the Nan Bield Pass. However we had a rather slow member in the group and the progress was so slow and the weather so terrible that no one apart from myself and the two other leaders on the walk wanted to carry on, so we decided to head back down.

The clouds started to clear a bit on the way down and I managed to get a few photographs of the very swollen Mardale Beck.

Haweswater in the distance

Haweswater in the distance

Mardale Beck

Mardale Beck

Walking down the Nan Bield Pass

Walking down the Nan Bield Pass

It really was very foul weather, even my GoreTex jacket didn’t withstand the downpour and in fact my boots are still drying out, nearly a week later (and that’s after being stuffed with newspaper). I think a good Nikwax-ing session is in order.

We stopped off at Bampton in the lovely but quite eccentric Mardale Inn – you’ll understand the “quite eccentric” part if you ever frequent the gent’s toilets in there! Next week (or, as I write this, tomorrow) we’re off to Grasmere and at the moment I’m rather tempted by the snow sitting on the top of Helvellyn, but we’ll see.

A weekend in Glen Nevis and a day on the CMD Arete

I’ve been waiting to climb Ben Nevis for years now and I finally got my chance this weekend with the Hiking Club’s trip up to Steall Hut in Glen Nevis. The hut itself is owned by Lochaber Mountaineering Club and is a rather basic cottage, boasting gas and running (cold) water but not much else. Apparently they had a generator but it got stolen a number of years ago. It’s the perfect kind of place for me, in a beautiful location a few miles walk up the glen from the end of the road and across the river by a wire bridge. I think I may have fallen in love with the place.

The wire bridge

The wire bridge. Crossing it upside down is optional!

Steall Hut

Steall Hut in Glen Nevis

The journey to Scotland wasn’t without incident. We had particularly high winds and the going was very slow up the M6 and M74 – down to 40mph in places. The amount of cars pulled over on the hard shoulder because of the winds was unbelievable. Because of this we didn’t get to the hut until 2 am and weren’t in bed until 3 am after settling in and having a wee dram of whiskey.

Day One

Up early-ish the next morning to see a noticeable change for the better in the weather. The wind had died down and the rain had disappeared, which was good as the plan was to ascend Ben Nevis via the CMD Arete – a route that I didn’t fancy in the howling winds of the night before!

Start point: Steall Hut, Glen Nevis, NN 178 684
Summits: Carn Mor Dearg, Ben Nevis
Distance: 7.7 miles / 12.4 kilometres
Ascent: 4480 feet / 1370 metres

The route started following the well-trod path up Glen Nevis alongside the Water of Nevis, before branching left up one of its tributaries just before Steall ruins. This brought us into a quite stunning flat bottomed valley between the CMD Arete and Aonach Beag. At this point the sun came out and gave some quite magical views over the Mamores to the south.

The Mamores

Sun breaking through the clouds with views out over the Mamores

The Mamores

Looking out over the Mamores

The valley raised to form a col between Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Mor, giving even more spectacular views. The snow had started to harden at this point and it was time to don our crampons and brace our ice axes.

The Mamores

The Mamores from higher up in the valley

The route up to CMD was particularly steep and hard work. 400 metres vertically were climbed in 800 metres horizontally, which would have been tough even without the snow and ice. The views from CMD over its Arete were worth it, although the wind was so ferocious up there that we didn’t hang about for long. Fortunately it died down somewhat whilst we were on the Arete and I managed a couple of photographs towards the end. The snow conditions were ideal for me, nice and frozen making the crampons as effective as possible. There was a lot of water ice frozen on the rocks but it didn’t pose too much of a problem.

The Arete is a fantastic ridge, narrow enough to offer fantastic views and a little bit of exhilaration but wide enough to make you feel comfortable. It’s long as well, which adds to its appeal. I’ve never been up Ben Nevis before but I’m very glad that my first time was via this brilliant route.

The CMD Arete

Crossing the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.

CMD Arete

The end of the CMD Arete from half way along

The ascent to the summit of “The Ben” saw our first cloud of the day and make navigation rather tricky in the near whiteout conditions. Fortunately we have an extremely competent leader within the group who was able to pace out our ascent and descent with pinpoint accuracy.

Summit of Ben Nevis

Myself on the summit of Ben Nevis. Apologies about the quality, but it wouldn't be the same without a summit shot!

The descent down was in the dark and followed a short ridge emerging at the start of the flat bottomed valley we started the walk in. It was then just a case of retracing our footsteps back to the hut for a few beers, some home-brewed blackberry wine and dehydrated vegetable tikka and rice (yum yum!). Unbelievably we were out for 11 hours!

Day Two

The next day we took it easy and took a leisurely wander up the glen, having a look at Steall waterfall along the way.

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall across the Waters of Nevis

Glen Nevis

Looking down Glen Nevis towards Steall Hut

Inside Steall Hut

Inside Steall Hut

Steall Hut

Steall Hut

Overall we all had a fantastic weekend and will definitely be returning next year. I highly recommend the hut to anyone wanted a bit of peace and tranquility – it’s a fantastic place to get away from the stresses and worries of life.