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The Fairfield Horseshoe

The Fairfield Horseshoe

Another day with the doctor
Looking to the Fairfield Horseshoe from Heron Pike
When the call comes from Dr Robert Pontefract, one instinctively knows that an unusual outing is on the cards. Be it spending a night out on Tower Ridge or Great Gully on Craig yr Ysfa or even just dragging a rope and rack around the Yorkshire three peaks to climb a very green ‘Red pencil direct’ you can be sure that returning before nightfall won’t be part of the plan. That is if there is a plan at all!

It went a bit like this…”The weather looks better in the west so we’ll head over towards the Roaches. Bring walking gear too. I’ll pick you up at 8am”. Well, it was 9 before I finally clapped eyes on that bean pole lunatic and west we went…then north a bit until at 1pm we found ourselves in Ambleside where coincidentally were bumped into Peter ‘The Machine’ Machin. It’s a small world.

I wanted a hill, just one and that hill was Pike O’Blisco. Sadly the Langdale fells were smothered in cloud and one hill was never going to satisfy Dr Bob so it was decided that the Fairfield Horseshoe looked like a good bet. Having never done it before I would have been chomping at the bit were it not for one small detail, I had forgotten to bring my head torch. “Don’t worry about it, we’ll  just get a move on” offered the epicure of epics, seemingly oblivious to the fact that we had around 4 hours of daylight to play with and the Fairfield Horseshoe is about 11 miles long! Oh well, what did I expect?
Heron Pike and Windermere
We parked up beside Rydal Hall and trudged up Nab Scar, weary and stiff after four hours sat in the car. In the west the view was obliterated by a stubborn cloud cap but everywhere north and east was bathed in golden light which was only going to get better. This realisation blew away any feelings of fatigue and instilled in us an excitement difficult to contain; for us two photographers that kind of light is an instant cure all so we blasted off over Heron Pike and Great Rigg past bemused looking walkers, reaching Fairfield’s stony dome two hours after leaving Rydal. There we remained for an hour, aware that precious time was being lost but unable to tear ourselves away and milking the golden hour for all its worth.
Next stop Great Rigg

Enjoying a wee dram of Glenfiddich on Fairfield
As the sun disappeared behind the cloud bank we scooted off over Hart Crag, slipping as we went on greasy boulders. On Dove crag we picked up the wall that becomes your companion on the southern arm of the horseshoe and serves as a useful guide in mist, or, as it happens, failing light!

The darkness has slowed us down on our descent but we figured that for two slightly unfit blokes five and a half hours up and down was pretty good going. What a day it had been, but it wasn’t quite over. Of course not, a four hour drive awaited us though not before a fish supper from the Old Smithy. All in all, quite mild for a day with the Dr.
Sunset on Fairfield

Lakeland’s boring giant

Lakeland’s boring giant?
Making acquaintance with Skiddaw
Skiddaw from Skiddaw Little Man
Through a decade of hill wanderings I’d managed to avoid hoary old Skiddaw, and Peter, having started his mountain journey in his teens had successfully got away with it for almost twice as long. It’s a well known fact that Skiddaw is a yawnsome lump; a mountain for ambitious pensioners, not serious hill folk like us!

That was our confirmed opinion but last October I remember coming along the A66 from Cockermouth and seeing it in a completely different light. Gone were the sleek lines and bracken clad prettiness, replaced by a massive grey scree covered hump which somehow caught my imagination. Furthermore, we’ve set up camp beneath the old bugger on several occasions this year and slowly but surely that huge heap has infiltrated our psyche and become an object of desire. Though we were, for a period unwilling to admit it to ourselves let alone each other the truth always has a habit of coming out in the end so when it did we both felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from our shoulders; but if we were to tackle the blighter then by what route? Silly question really, for any Wainwright aficionado there can be only one…these photographs will help tell the story…
On a hot day...late September
As I write this the rain is beating upon my window and I am sat beside the fire with a good single malt (Ledaig if you really must know) which is in total contrast to how it was last week! Here we see Peter toiling up from Dodd Wood in the grip of an Indian summer. We were leaking fluid faster than we could get it on board such was the heat of the afternoon.
On Ullock Pike
And here’s Peter on Ullock Pike. The ridge below is known as ‘The Edge’ and provides some classic fellwalking en route to our first ‘Wainwright’ of the day. It’s also a good place for budding geologists to study outcroppings of Skiddaw slate, the very fabric of the mountain and completely different to the volcanic material of the fells further south, accounting for the smooth outlines of these northern hills.
Longside Edge

Peter on Longside
These two shots illustrate ‘Longside Edge’, a lovely glacial arête giving a safe but airy perambulation for even the most timid of walkers which is pure joy to tread. I sent Peter on his way to the top of Longside to add scale to the photographs, the second of which is a close up. Indeed, you have to look really closely to spot him on the first one!
On Longside Edge with Bassenthwaite Lake and the North Western Fells beyond
Oh, and did I say that the view over Bassenthwaite Lake to the North Western Fells is rather good?
Heading up to the summit of Skiddaw
After the delights of Ullock Pike and Longside Edge (which can be seen behind Peter) we reach Carlside Col and its tiny tarn which we’ll stop to look at later, right now we’ve got work to do with a lung buster up to Skiddaw’s lofty summit.
On Skiddaw Summit

Blencathra and Skiddaw Forest from Skiddaw Summit

Skiddaw sunbeams
And at the summit we can confirm that the views are extraordinary. Peter has a saying which goes a bit like this…”Better to be on the ugly mountain looking at the handsome ones than the other way round”. Please don’t let the fact that Skiddaw isn’t that ugly spoil the sentiment; you know what he means!
Carlside Tarn
On our return to the vale we had time to look at Carlside Tarn, surely one of the smallest named tarns in Lakeland. We found Foxes Tarn to be smaller but if you know of any others then don’t be shy, let me know.
Derwent Water and Keswick in the gloaming
Beyond Carlside we came upon a rash of white stones possibly quartzite, a very strange discovery amidst the profusion of sedimentary rock thereabouts. We sat there for quite some time as it’s a splendid perch on which to view the Keswick illuminations. As always we are loath to leave the hill those lights below serve only to remind us of the food and drink waiting to make its way into our bellies. So, what about Skiddaw then? Well put it this way, we’ll be back!

Navigationally challenged

Navigationally challenged
A very long day on the Scafell Massif
The Coniston Fells and Harter Fell from Broad Crag
That unknown mountaineering duo Machin and Livesey were back in Lakeland for a big day out. Machin wanted to bag a load of peaks and walk down in the dark; Livesey wanted to get some dramatic photographs during the golden hour, bag a load of peaks and walk down in the dark. This is the usual recipe for an M and L day out with only the multi-pitch rock climb absent; it would appear the boys are getting lazy with age!

Anyway, if I can revert to the first person I’ll start by saying there was one mountain firmly on our wish list. A sin of omission had seen us inexplicably fail to put Scafell beneath our boots and it was high time we bagged the bastard, preferably via the infamous ‘Broad Stand’, though not before lobbing a few other tops into our bag first.

We left Seathwaite in Borrowdale relatively late for a big day and neglected to rush, enjoying as we were the wonderful walk up Grains Gill with Great End towering above at the valley head. And what a grand sight it is, its north east face a winter crag if ever we saw one. Rather than walk around it we went for a closer look and an ascent of Cust’s Gully which we found to be utterly minging. Still, there’s a lot of good scrambling on that face so we found an entertaining route to the summit where a good view of the Scafell Massif unfolded. Time for some peak bagging!
High above Sprinkling Tarn

Scrambling on Great End
Ill Crag came and went, then Broad Crag followed by the roof of England itself where perversely we didn’t even stop to touch the trig point. No, we had other fish to fry. Now then, Scafell Pike is undoubtedly the highest peak in Lakeland but in no way is it the finest. It’s a contestable point but that accolade may just go to Scafell, our next port of call.
We had three options; one, a big descent and re-ascent via Foxes Tarn; Two, a descent from Mickledore to Lords Rake which for the last few years has been regarded as risky due to a detached pinnacle that threatens to collapse just when you are underneath it; our third option was Broad Stand, a notorious accident black spot and a place I had retreated from 7 years ago with my good friend Juggs. Broad Stand it is then!
Mickledore and Scafell from Scafell Pike

Broad Stand

On Broad Stand
I’ll admit that I was feeling a little apprehensive as we stood at the foot of our ‘scramble’ so before I lost my nerve I squeezed through ‘Fat man’s agony’ and scooted left, then up the delicate slab to the crux step, a 7ft high corner which has been polished to a high sheen. It was leaning past the vertical, slippery and on getting to grips with it I didn’t like it. The thing is, if you come off it then bad things will happen. Maybe we should have brought a rope! Peter joined me and threw himself at it, almost pulling over the top before coming to the conclusion that he was about to fall to his death. Fortunately a bit of combined tactics proved effective in preserving Peter as we all know and love him.
Taking stock we were both surprised at how this short piece of moderate climbing had proved to be a real stopper. I related a line I’d read in a book which stated that “Broad Stand is not to be attempted by walkers and can sometimes be an insuperable obstacle even to experienced climbers”.

Carefully we descended back to Mickledore and considered our remaining options. In the end we plumped for Lord’s Rake, affording the pinnacle great respect until we were safely above it. Half an hour later we were on the summit of Scafell and rather than enjoying a wonderful sunset we were putting waterproof jackets on and speculating on our future. The plan was as thus; we would descend the Foxes Tarn path (which in hindsight we were glad we hadn’t ascended), climb up to the pike again and go down the Corridor Route back to Borrowdale via Sty Head. Simples!
Pike's Crag with Kirk Fell Beyond

Lord's Rake
Back on Scafell Pike it was almost dark but there was nothing to be gained from rushing around so we had a short break , revelling in having the place to ourselves before setting off again. The well cairned path took us down to Lingmell col past an endless stream of three peakers, most of which seemed to be in as good a mood as we were. However, unbeknown to us our mood was soon to change. Try as we might we just couldn’t get established on the Corridor Route. For a good hour we floundered, following bearings that led into blind alleys, climbed low crags, finding cairns on nonexistent paths. With every passing minute the prospect of a fish supper and a few pints was growing more remote until we had to admit to ourselves that blundering around in the vicinity of Pier’s Gill was not the best thing to be doing in the dark.

We had two options. We could go to the summit of the pike for the third time and return to Borrowdale over the tops or descend to Wasdale and with a bit of luck get to the pub for some refreshment. The thought of a pint and maybe some food won out but we would have to be quick.

With five minutes to spare we stumbled into Ritson’s bar, ordering a pint of lemonade each and a packet of delicious crisps to share. I’ve never been a fan of the Wasdale Head Inn but this night I would happily have stayed there for hours. Sadly, it couldn’t be. Though wet and weary we were unceremoniously booted out into the night and commenced our return journey, in turn startling and startled by sheep and cattle as we stumbled through the fields of Wasdale Head.

Soon we would come upon the motorway to Sty Head; some time passed until we realised we had somehow missed it and were still on the lower path beside the beck. The map suggested that further on we would find some zigzags that would take us up to Sty Head. We searched and searched in vain. Dejected we collapsed onto the boulders, switched off our head torches and sat quietly as into the profound darkness we were enveloped. So black was the night that each to the other was invisible; only the sound of laboured breaths giving reassurance that we were not alone in our ordeal and, as mellow dramatic as that must sound, it is truly how we felt.

It was during this time that I began to feel at one with everything around, above and below me. Peter did too, and were it not for the rain we would have remained on that lonely hillside until the break of day. Far, almost impossibly high above us on the summit of the pike we observed tiny lights and camera flashes but no sound did we hear. Higher still the international space station (or maybe just a satellite) floated silently across the sky, a juxtaposition exhibiting tremendous perspective, speaking eloquently of that part of the human condition which reaches out to the unknown, be it the universe, a mountain top or just some lowly wrinkle in the earth’s surface.

Our reverie was unfortunately broken by the realisation that we were still a long way from our tents and no amount of philosophising would bring us closer to them. We decided to “stop fucking about” and give up on our fruitless search for the zigzags. We struck a course straight uphill with a painful slog and some scrambling on greasy rock putting us within spitting distance of Sty Head. I don’t mind admitting that when we hit that path I felt a lump in my throat. Peter and I had planned to come down in the dark, indeed it is part and parcel of our days out but after such a monumental error in our route finding I’d had more than enough and felt incredibly relieved.

At last we knew with certainty where we were and though we still had a few more miles to endure it would be a straightforward walk requiring us to put one sore foot in front of the other and nothing more. On those last miles we spoke little but both knew that our day had been a little bit special and come the morning we would laugh about it.

When our journey finally came to an end it was 3.30am and we had been on the go for 17 hours. There’s a moral in this story somewhere, but please dear reader, if you find it then spare us your wisdom, for it would be casting pearls before swine!
Looking to the Scafells from Great End

Photography on the faint trods of Eryri

Photography on the faint trods of Eryri…

…and a couple of more popular locations!
Elidir Fawr from Moel y Ci
The past couple of days were meant to be filled with adventure on the mountain crags of Eryri; days spent ticking classics which have so far inexplicably eluded us. High on Grooved Arête we would look down on tiny cars travelling through the Ogwen Valley and smaller still, climbers far below on Tryfan Bach with our hands grasping holds of burnished rhyolite and our faces caressed by the zephyrs of an Indian summer.  Idyllic, I’m sure you’ll agree.  Sadly (if you care to look upon it that way) our holiday coincided with a visit from the back end of hurricane Katrina which I found to be a considerable bummer! The thing is though, sometimes it’s nice to return to origins and forget all about the acquisitive side of climbing, getting back to basics with a camera, some good honest bog trotting via a touch of heather bashing plus a dash of bracken bothering for good measure…and I’ll tell you why.

It’s September and the vegetation is on the turn, the air has a freshness not felt for many a long month and the light is starting to come good for the pursuit of mountain photography so, this time let’s just stick to walking the hills at the beginning of autumn, that fleeting but most heartbreakingly beautiful of seasons.
Tryfan from Moel Siabod
Before we set off let me tell you about a curious phenomenon we witnessed on our way through Nant y Benglog. The aforementioned Katrina was giving it plenty and upon rounding the foot of Tryfan’s north ridge we were surprised to see an enormous plume of spray issuing forth from the environs of Cwm Idwal, clearing the A5 and coming to rest in Llyn Ogwen. We just had to investigate and were soon struggling to stand upright on the path to the llyn. Once there it was all we could do to remain in contact with this wonderful planet of ours though once or twice we failed to do even that! Still, I managed to secure a couple of half decent snaps before escaping the maelstrom with my better half hot on my heels.
Y Garn

Pen yr Ole Wen
Cnicht

Ok folks, don’t tell her indoors but I was secretly thrilled when the weather forecast told of high winds interspersed with sunny spells and soggy interludes. Indeed, I wanted to go out and take some photographs while she who must be obeyed was keen on watching me poo my undies leading some exposed route or other in the Pass of Llanberis! “Never mind” I said, “We’ll go to Cnicht. You’ll like it there” and do you know what? She did. And what’s not to like eh?

Now then, rather than bore you with a blow by blow account of what in truth is a fairly tame hill walk I’ll take you with me instead. So, without further ado let us with a little regret leave the enchanted valley of Nantmor and find our way up into an aqueous wonderland.
Scots Pine above Nantmor
Before long the path becomes faint and beyond Bwlch y Battel we come to a beautiful pool festooned with small islands. It’s tempting to tarry but we have hills to climb so on we go, up onto the higher ground where, upon reaching the crest we find another secluded fold in the landscape containing industrial relics. Men once worked their nethers off here but now it is quiet and nature is reclaiming the old workings, amongst which we’ll sit for a while, considering our transience and imagining the ghosts that inhabit this place.

Then onwards; a steep pull onto Cnicht’s west ridge where we drink in a spectacular view. Across the deep trench of Cwm Croesor we have Moelwyn Mawr and scanning the horizon from left to right we take in Tremadog Bay, the Hebog group, Nantlle Ridge and the mighty Snowdon Massif before our eyes come to rest upon a shapely pyramid. Hewn over many millennia from the living rock and displaying an archetypal mountain form, our Cnicht is a magnet for even the most footsore of travellers and we are no exception. The going becomes more airy with every step until our way is seemingly barred by a precipitous little crag buttressing the summit cone.
Looking towards the Ffestiniog hills from Cnicht

Scrambling on Cnicht
We know there is a good path just out of sight and also a scrambly groove for those who like to clamber but it won’t hurt to have a little look at this ‘other’ way will it? Of course not and we’re glad we did. You should too if you have the experience and the rock is dry.

All too soon we’re stood on Cnicht’s small summit and a new set of delights await us. Cnicht is a very fine little hill but what lies beyond is the reason I am so often called back to be with her. A boggy hinterland of low hills and countless llynau stretches out all the way to Moel Siabod and we can’t wait to explore it. So what are we waiting for?
The summit of Cnicht

Cnicht's eastern top
Once off the beaten track we’re welcomed into a whole new world; a world where worries are distant; a better world and one I am always reluctant to leave. Is there a better place to be than beside Llyn yr Adar? I doubt it. It may not be the most beautiful llyn in Eryri but it is the one that calls most insistently to me over the miles that in everyday life keep us apart. I love it here and were my ashes not destined for old Siabod then here they would be sprinkled. But then again, wills can be re-written!

For the rest of the day we’ll wander at will over hillocks, through secret recesses, beside shy pools and larger bodies of water until our feet are wet and our bellies rumble as only they can after a satisfying day out in mountain country. Then we’ll squelch back down to Nantmor past Llyn Llagi and through a maze of natural rock gardens and at the car we’ll know that one day we’ll be back, but before then we’ll return in our mind’s eye to Cnicht and experience its magic all over again.
Moel Siabod from Y Cyrniau
Over the coming days and nights there will be more quiet and some not so quiet places we’ll go to but I’ll leave them to your imagination, though, if imaginings are not your thing then please enjoy these images and let them inspire you to get ya boots on!
Morning light in Nant Ffrancon

Moel Siabod

Rhaeadr Aber

Y Berwynion from Crimpiau

The Eastern Carneddau from Moel Siabod

The Crimea Pass from Daear Ddu

Tryfan

Cymric badlands from Crimpiau

A quick trip up the little Glyder

A quick trip up the little Glyder

Bristly Ridge
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At the West Beach cafe in Llandudno, Lucie and I were sat wondering how much more excitement we could reasonably take before sensory overload transformed us into a pair of dribblers. We’d walked the prom, explored the pier, ridden the speed boat and taken a cable car onto the Great Orme which had made me come over a bit queer if the truth be told, I’m not overly keen on heights!

What were we doing in Llandudno you may ask? Well, after a soaking on Snowdon’s south ridge the previous day we opted to hedge our bets, observing the mountains from a dry vantage point and in that respect the Orme served us well. Our day could easily have been completely lost to the fleshpots of that fine Victorian resort and sore of leg as we were it wouldn’t have been such a bad thing but when, from across the bay we observed the cloud lifting to reveal the Carneddau giants there was only one thing on my mind; “Let’s get some grub inside us and leg it to the mountains”!
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So, with half a day to spare and ill equipped as we were with nary a map or compass between us  (quick, someone call the hill police!) we needed a quick fix and I knew just the thing to rouse my good lady from her candyfloss induced stupor…Eryri’s preeminent grade 1 scramble, Bristly Ridge.

The short but steep path up to Cwm Bochlwyd always hurts but I endure it in good grace for I know my reward is near at hand. I adore that cwm, I really do and it never fails to rejuvenate whether I’m hopelessly tired, hung over or just plain miserable such is its power to heal; it’s a panacea to most if not all of my ills and so it was this day.

The bouncing Czech likes it too so after crossing Bochlwyd stream we found ourselves bounding giddily along with rare vigour, my good self waxing lyrical about a scary gully and spires of perfect rock soaring into the sky, tearing the ragged cloud cover to shreds. The bouncing one just rolled her eyes until to the foot of our ridge we came where she pointed an accusatory finger skywards. “There’s no way up there easier than Vdiff”, her words delivered with a conviction usually reserved for occasions when I really should be doing some domestic chore or other. “Au contraire ma cheri, walk this way and all shall be revealed” I declared in an attempt to sound as exotic to her as she does to me, failing miserably in the process and inspiring more eye rolling accompanied by a barely stifled snigger.

Suitably humiliated I bounded off towards Sinister Gully, or at least what I have mistaken for Sinister Gully for the last umpteen ascents! Apparently, according to Steve Ashton’s book, ‘Sinister’ can be found to the left of the big obvious fissure I have always climbed, our gully has no name but deserves one; until a better suggestion is put forward I propose we call it ‘The Grotbox’.

I’ve always thought The Grotbox was a little bit hard for a grade 1 scramble and laugh if you must but I think there is a wee bit of real rock climbing at about diff halfway up. The foreigner concurred, and not a little rattled saw fit to shun my sage words of advice in an expletive riddled tirade. Well that’s the last time I cast my pearls before swine…ahem!
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Anyway, we were soon enjoying the ridge proper and sharing each and every bristle as cloud swirled about us. The somewhat Jurassic atmosphere was augmented by the fact that apart from across the bwlch on Tryfan’s rocky skull there was no one else to be seen. Now then, solitude + spiky rock formations + a camera = Lucie throwing shapes; an equation that meant I had to endure a series of silly poses in improbable places though I draw the line at planking and chastised the poor girl as she threatened to cheapen the good name of Castell y Gwynt. I do put up with a lot but that’s taking the piss!
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Then a funny thing did happen. Rather than descend the way she went up, I watched, incredulous as Lucie disappeared down the ‘other’ side of the Castell at the very moment the clag saw fit to envelope us and everything else in the vicinity. As said earlier, I had neither map nor compass; not a problem for me, I know the Glyderau like the back of my hand but Lucie? You can guess the rest!
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We were eventually reunited somewhere in-between Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr where I decided to call a halt to the proceedings. We’d had far too much fun for one day, I was getting hungry and as it happens so was Lucie; hungry for more scrambling that is! Being a generous man and all round fantastic fiancé I ushered her off to Y Gribin where we indulged in a little more hands on action to round off what had been a fun and varied day. Next time I think we’ll try Pwllheli!

Three Czechs on the roof of England

Three Czechs on the roof of England

A wet and windy introduction to the hills on Scafell Pike

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The word was that Lucie’s brother Vlastik (aka Vash) and two of his friends were planning a visit to the Lake District with their sights firmly set on Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. At this I had mixed emotions. While I was extremely excited that maybe three more souls would find themselves falling under the spell of our hills the weather looked lousy and I feared that three beginners may find themselves hopelessly lost on the balding pate of the Pike.

I had two choices; I could let them get on with it and say a little prayer for their safe deliverance or I could offer my services as a guide, a not altogether altruistic measure but one which would enable me to sleep easy with the knowledge that they were safe and sound at the end of the day. As it happens, sleep easy I didn’t but the tale of a tent filled with water is probably better left for another time.

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So there we were, Tomas, Zdenek, Vash and I greeting a filthy morning in Great Langdale with at least one of our number wondering what to do for the best. My original plan had been to beast the boys on an ascent from our base; however, after some sober reflection it seemed a foolhardy plan, especially after inspecting Tomasz and Zdenek’s footwear which, while perfectly suited to skateboarding was hardly up to the task of a trek across eleven miles of rough and sometimes boggy terrain. Despite the deluge the boys were not so much still game as champing at the bit to bag the big one. So as not to disappoint I had a rethink. Now, while Lucie had warned Vash about the perils of ‘Old Rosie’ cider at the ODG she had neglected to mention the peculiar delights of the Hardknott Pass so after asking if his car liked steep, twisty roads and receiving an affirmative response we set the new plan in motion,  albeit slow motion!

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After a protracted journey over both the Wrynose and Hardknott passes we arrived in Wasdale where the rain had (temporarily) come to a halt and though mountains were beheaded there were occasional glimpses of tantalising light through breaks in the cloud illuminating small sections of fell in shows of extravagant colouration. As is the (often misguided) optimism of the compulsive fell walker I hadn’t given up hope of a view, however fleeting from the summit. I’ll tell you now, it didn’t happen! Before setting off I gave my companions a short briefing and asked if they had any last requests; none were forthcoming apart from Vash’s plaintive plea that once the day was done could we perhaps find a different way back to Langdale!

With the formalities out of the way, off we trudged with trainers splashing through puddles and jeans wicking water up to who knows where. Our first obstacle which at first acquaintance seemed insuperable was a raging Lingmell Gill, in spate and threatening to scupper our plans. However, an exploratory mission up stream provided a solution and we crossed dry shod. I say we, but…
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And then onto Brown Tongue and into the cloud where we said goodbye to the view down Wasdale and hello to a world of opaque, vaporous grot. Still, you don’t miss what you’ve never had so as the boys were completely oblivious to the looming presence of Scafell Crag and the grandeur of Hollow Stones I didn’t see anything to gain from mentioning them and instead just encouraged the boys onwards and upwards knowing that the crux of our route would soon be underfoot.

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The Mickledore screes hold two very vivid memories for me, the first involves my inaugural ascent of the pike and twenty minutes spent scrabbling around for purchase, convinced that my demise was imminent. The second is of a young lad cart wheeling down them like a rag doll much to the horror of his father who had declined the use of our rope after we had seen them in difficulties minutes earlier. So, the next bit had the potential to be ‘interesting’! As it turned out we had no problems at all, on the contrary in fact with the boys really enjoying the short gully scramble up to the ridge. I must confess that as I didn’t remember the gully from my last visit I had a nagging concern that we might have found Lord’s Rake by accident, though of course I kept my thoughts to myself keeping in mind that if we found our way up Scafell they would be none the wiser!

The ascent was all but in the bag and before long the trig point and huge cairn appeared through the clag. Handshakes and pats on the back were exchanged and the atmosphere was one of celebration, a great moment indeed leaving me feeling justly proud of such a hardy bunch. Then, right on cue the heavens opened spectacularly and that’s not all. No, there was beer too and knowing the Czechs as I do I shouldn’t have been surprised though sadly they’d hauled up some Belgian muck, not the delicious nectar from their homeland and as such I chose not to imbibe. On England’s stony roof we must have looked a right motley crew with our assorted hill-wear, lager and soggy cigarettes but care not did we for it was mission accomplished; I got some navigation practise and the lads fulfilled their ambition. All that remained was to follow the cairns to the Lingmell Col and back down where once below the clag we were treated to a fantastic view down Wasdale with the light doing all manner of marvellous things.

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At the car we changed into some dry clothes and talked of our options for the return to Langdale and at the suggestion of the coast road Vash’s ears pricked up. Being an island race we brits take the sea for granted but to the landlocked Czechs it is something really special so a trip to Saltcoats (where, incidentally, the weather was in stark contrast to that in Wasdale) proved to be a real treat for all present, me included as I was quite taken with the view of Black Combe which I endeavoured to capture in all its sombre glory.
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What next? Well, they’d been up the pike, seen the sea and to my mind there could only be one suitable way to end our trip, and it wasn’t sitting in a bath masquerading as a portable abode swatting midges, oh no, that wouldn’t do at all. The only fitting finale would be a night in ODG where big steaks were washed down with pints of Budvar for them, Old Rosie for me and a large side order of banter with anyone who would listen. Apart from the inclement weather it had been a perfect day and I hope my friends return to Lakeland one day to put the hills beneath their trainers and hopefully drink in the views that were so sorely missed on this occasion. Well done lads, see you next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A diff day out on Dow

A diff day out on Dow
Juggs’ return to the hills
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It’s been 18 long months since Juggs has been out in the mountains and his exile has been a painful one. Arthritic knees and a double hernia operation have curtailed the boy’s activity and how he has coped with it all I can’t start to imagine. Happily he has been feeling a bit more like his old self lately so thought he’d dip his toe back into the water with some nice gentle hill walking…I had other ideas!
If Juggs was to join the bouncing Czech and I then he’d get the walking he was after, of that there was no doubt, but not before a long mountaineering route as a warm up. For his return I thought a route on Dow Crag in the Coniston Fells would be in order and ‘that’ route would be C Ordinary, a 3 star diff that I had been lusting after for a long time.
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The walk in on the Walna Scar road proved a gentle reintroduction to muscles depleted through the intervening hill famine and the Juggs strode around like he’d never been away. The air was cool and across the blue sky above sailed billowing vessels of vapour, perfect conditions for our kind of fun. Good conditions too it would seem for path repair work and the ferrying of loads by helicopter from one side of Goat’s Water to the other, a noisome but necessary pest which would accompany us throughout the duration our climb making communication a difficult task…I’ll say no more.

Of course we’ve all seen pictures of Dow Crag and read about how it is subservient only to Scafell Crag in terms of the grandest object in Lakeland but to those who have never seen it in the flesh-and we were in their number-the reality can leave one feeling a little queasy; it’s a big mother and steep too and what a setting; Goat’s Water, copper blue and cradled in the arms of Dow and the Old Man of Coniston forming a stony, desolate bowl seemingly forsaken by the genteel valley below and cast aside to fend for itself far from sight and mind, the very epitome of my kind of place.
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So, C Ordinary Route; Dow is composed of a series of individual buttresses separated by deep gullies and named A through to F. Our climb, not surprisingly lay on C Buttress, a slim pillar of clean rock which curiously peters out at about half height of the crag, so considering that C Ordinary is 110m one can get a good idea of Dow’s scale, it truly is a tremendous precipice and one we would shortly be getting to grips with.

As our route was 8 pitches long and we were a rope of three I decided the run the first two pitches together to save time, and a delight they were too. Juggs followed despite a painful knee and the Czech duly bounced up after him. Due to his knee (or so he’d have me believe), Juggs said he’d rather not lead, a disposition shared by my Lucie who had quickly discovered that Dow can be a cold crag and was suffering with numb fingers (or so she’d have me believe etc, etc). Fine, if you want something doing…
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The next two pitches were also strung together and passed without t anything other than sheer pleasure. My 2nd and 3rd respectively followed in due course and we found ourselves on a small stance on the edge of the buttress overlooking a cavernous gully; here, things got a little bit more interesting. I set off and was soon at an exposed slab trying hard not think about the drop and the deafening roar of the helicopter below, as a side point we’d by now resorted to sharp tugs on the rope as a means of communication. Anyway, I grasped a big hold and pulled on it in order to gain the slab. Once committed to the move my mind reeled in horror as the hold started to come out of its socket, for its attachment to the face was by mud alone. I kept my cool and transferred my weight over to my right leg and rocked up until I could release the hold and get back into balance. A hairy moment that, through a lack of protection below me had me fearing that I’d soon be testing Lucie’s anchors. At the first opportunity I slammed in a big nut and scuttled up to the safety of a large ledge to recover from the shock. Of course neither Juggs nor Lucie found the loose hold, the only thing they found was extreme pleasure in the exposure that minutes early had threatened to rip my trousers off; oh how they laughed!
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With two pitches remaining I got my head together and led off again, traversing onto the very edge of things and then up a wall to a huge flake offering an off-width crack as the means of ascent, “Great, this is all I need” I belched manfully (I was later told that I actually sounded a bit like Mickey Mouse at this point in the proceedings). The off-width was a bit of a thrutch but it went with a bit of bullying and soon I was at the final stance praying that my two cohorts would be polite enough not to test my belay.
All passed without further drama and all that lay between us and the end of the climb was a scary bulge followed by a short steep wall and with them behind me I felt a surge of elation as I gained easy terrace and the termination of all difficulties…Phew!
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Now, did I mention that C Buttress only reaches to about half way up the face? Climbers finishing C more often than not take the grade 3 descent of Easy Terrace but being of a mountaineering bent that, for us would never do. No, we had to go to the top of the mountain before our day was done. To do so we picked our way unroped through steep, exposed and sometimes greasy terrain until the narrow summit ridge was beneath our feet. What a feeling, beings believing, as the song so unsubtly would have it but that’s what it’s like folks especially when on reaching the top a view of supreme beauty meets your eyes, and in that brief moment I had a new favourite mountain.
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We spent a while on Dow’s pointed top before moving down to Goat’s Hause where we sunbathed, ate and looked to the Scafells, planning new adventures for the future. Then, rather than descend we took in ‘The Old Man’ where the light ran riot in a pageant of colourful loveliness.
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We couldn’t think of a better way to end the day, but we found one, fish, chips and a couple of cans at Tarn Hows in the gloaming, our bodies feeling older by the minute but our hearts still childlike.
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