Back to the fell running: Two days in Wasdale

The Hiking Club’s final weekend trip of the year – the so-called “Big Weekend Out”, from 22-23 June – this year took place in Wasdale. We headed up on the Saturday morning and returned Sunday evening. The drive up wasn’t without incident, the funniest moment being when an oncoming car driver decided his small car wasn’t small enough to “squeeze” through the (very large, at least minibus-width) gap that Alexandros’ minibus in front had left. Eventually, after a small queue built up behind us, Alex had had enough and exclaimed “let’s do this Greek style” (he’s Greek, you see, ergo a little more confrontational than us Brits), and marched over to the car and said (shouted) something that must have done the trick; because after some sarcastic hand-waving to beckon the car through on Alex’s behalf, we were soon on our way again.

After squeezing ourselves onto the already-packed Wasdale Head campsite, walks were announced and after much faff, three groups set off in opposite directions. Jenni lead a walk over Ill Gill Head and Whin Rigg, Jack went for an adventure down Lord’s Rake, and JimĀ et al. had Pillar plus surrounding hills. I decided that my first “proper” fell run back after injury would be today, and I chose a route comprising Kirk Fell, Great Gable, the Corridor Route and Scafell Pike. I’m not sure why I went for such a long run for my first one back, and it’s probably why I’m still sporting a dodgy knee a few weeks later…

A rather packed Wasdale Head campsite

A rather packed Wasdale Head campsite

The weather wasn’t amazing: Plenty of cloud, a good amount of rain and bitterly cold winds made up most of the run. I was glad to be moving at speed. I had Kirk Fell and Great Gable to myself, only encountering a couple of other runners heading in the opposite direction. This welcome solitude wasn’t long lived, and as soon as I hit Styhead Tarn I found myself battling through crowds of ill-equipped and miserable-looking walkers, with the exception of a small few that looked like they were having as much fun as I was. The situation got worse on the litter-strewn summit of Scafell Pike, as group after group of 3 Peakers appeared out of the mist from all directions. Whilst many groups comprised of respectful walkers fittingly enjoying their achievement, there were just as many raucous parties demonstrating little respect for their environment or their fellow walkers – littering and shouting at the tops of their voices being the main crimes, with some seemingly incapable of having a quiet conversation with their mates standing right next to them without raising their voices to 70dB. Maybe I’m being too intolerant, and I’ll admit that I am biased in the sense that I am set against the contrived 3 Peaks Challenge that bring so much devastation and disturbance to the local communities (especially Wasdale).

Grumbles aside, I enjoyed the fast descent down to Wasdale via the tourist track. I pushed myself not only with a quick pace, but also by keeping my speed up down the more technical rocky sections, and I was very pleased that I don’t seem to have lost any of my descending abilities. I arrived back at the campsite, sorted my gear out and showered just in time for the heavy rain that stuck with us most of the rest of the evening to arrive. That evening, to avoid said rain, we retired to the Wasdale Head Inn and stayed there until kicking out time. The place is apparently under new management, and it definitely seemed an improvement from last time me and Lorna were in there.

The tricky move on Yewbarrow's northern ridge scramble

The tricky move on Yewbarrow’s northern ridge scramble

The weather was somewhat similar on the Sunday, and breakfast was had out of the rain still snuggled in my sleeping bag. I got up and packed away, ready to go for 9am, which is the time we’d agreed for announcing walks. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Hiking Club trips, other people’s conception of “9am” was a little more fluid than mine, and after standing around in the rain for a few hours the last couple decided to eventually get out their tent at 11am. A few of us had decided the evening before that Yewbarrow would be a good option, which proved to be a popular option when we announced the walk. We walked over the ridge-shaped summit from north to south, taking in the lovely but all-too-short scramble from the col between Yewbarrow and Red Pike. It is barely a scramble, but there is one trickier grade-I move that I spotted whilst offering foot- and hand-hold suggestions. Fortunately, the rain stayed off, and we even enjoyed some fantastic views over Waswater.

After getting worried that Jack wasn’t back yet (who went out on his own in the morning and was 3 hours overdue), and subsequently finding him taking a snooze around the back of the pub, we headed back to Lancaster.

Great views back down to Waswater from the descent off Yewbarrow

Great views back down to Waswater from the descent off Yewbarrow

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 TrialĀ 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