Fairfield horseshoe fell race and leader training at Haweswater

Quite a busy weekend! On Saturday was the Fairfield Horseshoe fell race and Sunday I ran a bit of a “leader training” day for the Hiking Club at Haweswater.

Fairfield Horseshoe fell race

The Fairfield Horseshoe race is one of the classic Lakes races and has been running (no pun intended!) since 1966 when it was first organised by the Lake District Mountain Trial Association. With a distance of 10 miles and an ascent of 3000 ft (16 km / 910 m), it is surprisingly runnable. Apart from the initial drag up onto Nab Scar, the ascents are all gradual and there are few rocky sections, meaning a blistering pace was set by the leaders – we were left trailing in their wake after a few miles of frantically trying to keep up!

The start

The start of the race at Rydal Hall, photo courtesy of Lorna

The route avoids the tourist path up Nab Scar and instead heads up the valley for about half a mile before swinging up along the intake wall. This part of the race is flagged, but from Nab Scar onwards we were free to pick our own way between checkpoints. I was in a group who seemed to know where they were going and picked all of the best racing lines along the ridge.

After 47 minutes I arrived at the summit of Fairfield and began the rather long descent over Dove Crag and High and Low Pikes. The wheels came off on this section and I really struggled most of the way down, loosing quite a few places and probably a good five minutes – if not more! From Low Sweden Bridge the race heads back to Rydal Hall along the stone track, which was probably the most painful part of the race. I finished in 1:47:41 in around 100th position out of 300.

After the race, me and Lorna went for a stroll down to Loughrigg Tarn to make the most of the sun.

Loughrigg Tarn

Lorna walking down to Loughrigg Tarn

Haweswater

The club had decided to run a leader training course on our Sunday trip to Haweswater and it fell to me to run it. We had six people interested and I decided the best option would be to take them on a bit of a walk and introduce the basic concepts of navigation and group management to them so they felt confident enough to get out into the hills and practice.

Haweswater

A rather windy Haweswater reservoir

We headed up Kidsty Howes and onto Kidsty Pike. The wind was pretty strong (40-50mph) and it made progress slow in places. We took a few bearings on the way up and I introduced the concepts of back bearings, transits and resections. I demonstrated the use of transits by taking a back bearing from the summit of High Style to pinpoint exactly where we were along the ridge.

The descent was from Low Raise straight down to Randale Beck, giving the opportunity to walk on a compass bearing. I set the aim of getting to a set of waterfalls on the map and fair enough, we got there exactly! After the walk we went to the Bampton Arms in Bampton for a quick drink and to meet up with Richard’s group who had walked there along Haweswater, before heading to Penrith for chips.

I had great fun teaching people to navigate and I think they all got something out of the day as well. I will definitely look into running more days like it in the future.

Low Raise

Heading to Low Raise from High Raise

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.

The day I forgot everything

Ten minutes after setting off to catch the minibus I realised I’d left my camera sitting on my desk. A bad start to the day, but one that at least pretty much guarantees good weather. The destination today was Buttermere and the walk was pretty much identical to Nuttall’s 3.5 (obviously, in the England volume). It follows a diverse ridge from High Crag to Red Pike, consisting of a mixture of rough, craggy sections interspersed with gentle grassy slopes. This is one of those iconic ridge walks boasting good views for the majority of the walk – weather prevailing of course!

Start point: Buttermere, NY 174 170
Summits: High Crag, High Stile, Red Pike, Dodd
Distance: 7.5 miles / 3100 foot

From Buttermere it was a short walk along the lake before the ascent up Scarth Gap. The original path was badly damaged in the floods of winter 2009 and a large portion of it has literally been swept away. A temporary fence has been put in place around the damaged area however, and it can be easily bypassed.

At the top of Scarth Gap we stopped for lunch, where I realised the second item of the day that I’d forgotten. Yes, my lunch! Fortunately I was kindly donated a cereal bar and along with my flask of coffee I managed to keep going until the end. I would normally carry a considerable amount of Kendal Mint Cake in my bag but this all got used up when we got snowed in, in Eskdale, at the end of last year.

From Scarth Gap it is as simple as following the ridge along until you reach Red Pike. The wind was particularly bitter and I think everybody was feeling the cold. I was very glad for my Rab down gillet I got for Christmas. From Red Pike was descended the steep scree slope to Dodd and then Bleaberry Tarn. A small patch of completely frozen snow posed a few problems on the way down but steps had been cut so it wasn’t too bad. Bleaberry Tarn itself was coated in a good layer of ice, though not enough to walk upon.

The path down from Bleaberry Tarn is particularly knee-bashing and passes through Burtness Wood before reaching Buttermere. The Fish Hotel was closed and so we ended up in the Bridge Hotel and I wasn’t driving this week so I could indulge in a very nice pint of Black Sheep bitter and a well-needed bag of crisps.

Panoramic lakes in the Lakes

Back up at university now and the first walk back of the term saw us in Borrowdale for what MWIS and the Met Office promised would be a rain-free day with cloudless summits. They kept their promise and despite the large amount of dull cloud cover its base was well above the summits and we got some beautiful panoramic views.

The walk itself was a particularly picturesque one, starting off up to Styhead Tarn from Seathwaite, up Great and Green Gable and then back to Borrowdale via Brandreth and Grey Knotts, two hills that were completely new to me. I took my assessment to become a “leader provisional” (LP) for the Hiking Club and am pleased to say I passed so I can now plan my own routes. I don’t have entirely free range however until I gain “leader extraordinaire” (LE) for which I’ll have to show my skills up in Scotland and in more “tricky” conditions.

Start point: Seathwaite, Borrowdale, NY 235 122
Summits: Green Gable, Great Gable, Brandreth, Grey Knotts
Distance: 6.3 miles / 10.1 kilometres
Ascent: 2900 feet

Starting from right at the end of Borrowdale it’s a simple tourist trod right up to the very picturesque Styhead Tarn. I camped here with my Dad when I was much younger when it was blowing a gale, but today it was deathly still – not even a ripple on the water and the surrounding mountains were perfectly reflected.

Crossing over Stockley Bridge

Crossing over Stockley Bridge

View back down into Borrowdale

View back down into Borrowdale from Stockley Bridge

Path to Styhead

The rest of the group heading up the path to Styhead Tarn

Styhead Gill

Styhead Gill

I’m not sure why I didn’t take any photos of Styhead Tarn itself, I regret it now! Lunch was had by the shelter box before we headed straight up Great Gable and then onto to Green Gable. We popped off-course momentarily to take a few snaps of Wastwater – England’s deepest lake at 79 metres, which allegedly boasts a gnome garden. Three divers died here in the late 1990s whilst they were apparently searching for the gnome garden, which was subsequently removed because of the incident. However, rumour has it that gnomes have started reappearing at a greater depth, beyond the 50 metre depth limit that police divers are allowed to go down to.

Wastwater

Wastwater from half way up Great Gable

The group

Part-way up Great Gable, having a quick break

There was a chill breeze on top of Great Gable and we didn’t hang around for long. There were still a great deal of poppies around the memorial plaque from the Remembrance Sunday service at the end up last year. The plaque commemorates members of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District who died in World War I.

Great Gable is renowned for its vast panoramic views from the summit, which certainly didn’t fail to impress.

View from Great Gable

View from Great Gable

It was then on to Green Gable, Great Gable’s smaller and slightly, well, greener neighbour, via Windy Gap which for once wasn’t that windy. There was a large patch of snow to contend with but it was quite powdery so don’t pose any problems. I personally prefer Green Gable, perhaps because of it’s less harsh summit or perhaps because of the stunning views down Ennerdale and to the north.

Great Gable

Great Gable from the summit of Green Gable

Summit of Green Gable

View from the summit of Green Gable

Me on Green Gable

A photograph of myself on the summit of Green Gable

The final part of the walk was over two summits that were new to me – Brandreth and Grey Knotts. Both offer expansive panoramic views over Buttermere, Ennerdale Water and you can even catch the odd glimpse of Windemere. Although the day wasn’t perishingly cold and despite a considerable thaw occurring recently, we still found a small tarn completely frozen over with a thick layer of ice – my ice axe hardly made a scratch on the surface – perfect ice skating conditions!

Ice skating

Testing the ice on Giillercomb Head

Summit of Grey Knotts

View from the summit of Grey Knotts

From Grey Knotts we skirted down around the contours to descend back into Borrowdale via Seathwaite Slabs and after a short minibus journey found ourselves in the Scafell Hotel for a welcome pint, or in my case coffee as I was driving the minibus back. Whilst being on the upper end of the price range when it comes to pubs in the Lakes, the Scafell Hotel has a lovely bar with a big log fire and I highly recommend it – perhaps because last time I was in there I knocked an entire pint over and the barman replaced it free of charge! They also have a rather addictive game of trying to balance a 10p coin on a lemon in a glass of water without it falling off, for a free pint. Of course it’s nigh-on impossible to do and most people end up loosing their 10p (all proceeds go to Borrowdale School I believe), but I’m told that it can be done.

Anyway, I shall leave it there. Off to Buttermere next weekend and then Steall Hut in Glen Nevis the week after that. Should be a busy month!

A sunny Sunday stroll over Striding Edge

This was a walk I did with the Hiking Club at uni on 12 December 2010, but I enjoyed it so much (and got quite a few half-decent photos) that I thought I’d post a bit about it here. Helvellyn is famed as the second highest mountain in England, and that fame certainly makes it a popular choice. I’ve been warned that during summer Striding Edge becomes the Lake District’s equivalent to the hiker’s motorway that is Snowdonia’s Crib Goch. Understandably so though, as it is a beautiful and rewarding ridge with an equally rewarding summit at the end.

Start point: Glenridding, NY 385 169
Summits: Birkhouse Moor, Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Raise
Distance: 8.9 miles / 14.3 kilometres
Ascent: 3300 feet

Believe it or not, this was my first ever time along Striding Edge and on top of Helvellyn. It’s one of those hills that I’ve had in my sights for years but have never got around to. As such I was very-much looking forward to this walk and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint. The area had been in full winter conditions the week before and I was initially annoyed that the majority of the snow had thawed when we got there, but in hindsight it was probably for the best that my first time over Striding Edge wasn’t laden with ice axe and crampons.

Although there were clouds in the sky, the sun still shone through and we got a fantastic view out over Ullswater whilst making the ascent to Birkhouse Moor. Unfortunately this was marred somewhat by a dirt-biker that was up there churning up the countryside.

Ullswater

Ullswater and Glenridding from the ascent to Birkhouse Moor

Striding Edge looked absolutely stunning bathed in the sunshine, a sight that no photograph can do justice to. It was a real pleasure and I felt almost a privilege that my first time across the ridge was in such glorious weather. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, despite patches of verglass making it a little tricky. We thought that crampons might be needed for the final slog up to the summit but as it turned out convenient steps had been cut in the snowy areas.

Helvellyn, Red Tarn and Swirral Edge as seen from the base of Striding Edge

A few of our group headed off up one of the gullies on the face of Helvellyn – not for the faint hearted!

Striding Edge

Striding Edge in the sunshine

Striding Edge

Looking back on Striding Edge

Helvellyn

The final drag up onto Helvellyn

The summit of Helvellyn offered some lovely views back over Striding Edge and Red Tarn. It was, as predicted, rather busy up there.

Striding Edge and Red Tarn

The view of Striding Edge and Red Tarn from the summit

Summit of Helvellyn

View from summit of Helvellyn

Summit of Helvellyn

Cornice on the summit of Helvellyn

Apparently a girl from the University of London fell through a cornice on the summit of Helvellyn a few weeks before we were there. She was okay, but unfortunately in subsequent weeks two men fell to their deaths on Swirral Edge, unrelated incidents whilst the ridge was in full winter conditions. These tragedies highlight the danger mountains can present, as well as the care that needs to be taken.

Shelter on the summit of Helvellyn

Shelter on the summit of Helvellyn. Those snow patches were as icy as they look!

It wasn’t long before the clouds came in however, and by the time we’d finished our lunch we were completely immersed. From Helvellyn we went on to Raise. The clouds did clear but it was dark by the time they did, so no opportunities for photographs. It was a rather bright night and despite the darkness we managed to finish the walk without needing to reach for the head torches!

We finished in the Traveller’s Rest pub, which – to my dismay – boasted beers from one of my favourite breweries, Hesket Newmarket. The dismay was due to the fact that I was driving the minibus back and couldn’t drink, hence ending up with a cup of instant coffee, which along with the log fire, was still very welcome after a long cold day in the hills.