Saturday 10 April 2010

Back Where It All Began

DAY 1 – Friday 5 March 2010

Nostalgic sentiment (some might say destiny), took us back to Buttermere to re-sit our backpacking proficiency exams in March. We’d taken this test once before just over two years ago, when (like most exams….or at least mine) we rocked up after a night of heavy reading and last minute panics to try our hands at camping in the hills for the first time. Our test results were documented in my first ever trip report here:

honister_pass Our start point at the Honister Pass

It was hard not to go back and do it all again, not least because our packs were so heavy the first time around that we had to cut our second day short. I’d mentioned it a while ago, Paul was keen and all of a sudden we were parked just before the slate mine on Honister Pass, donning packs at least 7kg lighter than two years ago! Back then we had too much gusto and not enough sense: Paul was wearing his dad’s trousers and waterproofs, we had 1kg foldaway stools and the only piece of ‘lightweight’ equipment between us was my Isofly stove from MDB.

Today, the weather was windy with huge clouds rolling around and not too cold, despite the snow on the tops. This time were doing the route a different way and starting at the Honister slate mine and going anti-clockwise over the tops around Buttermere Lake and back to the mine over two days (Route taken from Geoff off of V-G).

The ascent up Dale Head was an energetic start to the route and was littered with false summits to keep us guessing. We passed a large group of young backpackers making the same ascent, who seems to stop low down with just about everybody waving a map around and going nowhere fast. We continued on the ascent meeting our first patches of snow which, as always, we had to jump about it in like a pair of morons! That feeling of freedom and fortune began to set in, egged on by the fact I wasn’t sat in a world of liability clauses and contract schedules.

base_brown_glamaraBase Brown, Glamara and Great Gable strike a pose.

The views south-east were stunning with the likes of Glamara and Great Gable covered in snow and the cloud base just teetering above the tops. Every now and then the sun would make an appearance giving a burst of bright light across the terrain that was nothing short of blinding at times. Note to self: pack sunglasses!

I was back in the layering game with my clothing for this trip and yet again it proved itself as versatile and flexible. My Montane wind shirt proving its measly weight isn’t its only party piece.

ascent_dale_head Paul modelling his 1 hour old Microspikes on the hard stuff.

We were soon well and truly in the deep stuff and although hardened by a good freeze/thaw cycle there were deep sections bridging hidden rocks which seems to pull you in unexpectedly. What with this and the hard crust on the incline we donned Microspikes (because we could) which excelled in the conditions. Soon we were at the trig point on Dale Head and the reward was clearly the views. It was both dramatic and imposing and I just wish I could get out more in winter. We stood around getting buffeted by the wind just trying to take it all in. We posed for the obligatory “look at this pair of twerps on the summit” photo and explored the plateau whilst there was no one on it!

valley_to_newlands The view down the valley to Little Town and Newlands from the summit of Dale Head.

The valley below Dale Head Crags running north to Newlands would make a nice low wild camp spot, so I made a mental note and we pressed on. We weren’t in any hurry today as we had an easy walk west along Littledale edge, onto Robinson and finishing up at Buttermere moss to camp. It was great to know we could take it all in, though we were quietly excited about using the new Scarp 2 for the first time!

hindscarth_edge A wintry Hinscarth Edge.

We happened upon a retired couple from Cockermouth who were attempting to climb all of the Wainwrights before the chap’s 65th birthday. They were doing incredibly well having climbed 103 since May last year. They owned the campervan parked next to us and had just popped over to ‘do’ Robinson which they’d missed previously due to bad weather. They let us know the conditions ahead were much the same as we’d had along the ridge and took great interest in the Microspikes we were both donning. They seemed impressed when we gave a brief demonstration and seemed quite concerned that we’d be camping in these conditions! Assurances were given, we said our farewells and we continued on our merry way.

to_hindscarth On our merry way….

Checking the time it dawned on us we’d still been moving far too quickly and we had some considerable time to kill before making camp. At the next climb before Robinson we sat down for a late lunch and a brew to just take in the views. As soon as we stopped the cold set in and down jackets came out with urgency! To counter the extra weight of the Scarp 2 over the Seedhouse SL2 we’d chosen to rely on just one stove and the Caldera Keg had made the cut. It happily boiled our water in no time and we watched people move from the eastern descent of Robison to Hindscarth. Their small dark shapes against the snow giving the hills some much needed scale and perspective.

Packing away and continuing on it was clear we would hit Robinson earlier than planned but we’d hardly seen anyone all day and we were happy to camp early if we found the right place. Blue sky was starting to break through more frequently now giving some great views across the fells.

robinson_summit Awesome views from the summit shelter on Robinson.

Somewhere from the summit of Robinson we lost the path in the snow so we made a slippery descent down to Buttermere Moss, once again letting the Microspikes take the strain. The snow here was deeper and fairly soft but was short lived as we dropped down to pick up the path. We stopped at a good spot above the plateau below to search for a running water source and gauge the lay of the land for a camp spot. Anything outside of freezing leaves Buttermere Moss a squelchy and arduous crossing! We pondered and procrastinated until we gave up being stubborn and pulled out the map. We located a flat section above Goat Crag with a view to gathering water from Goat Gills and marched with that plan in mind.

Fortunately the wind dropped the further we did and we were happier with the conditions as feet hit frozen bog confirming that we’d have no issues losing shoes in it today!

The spot we picked on the map was pretty much perfect and mindful of time we dumped bags on the sport (as if in some way to claim it as ours!) and made the unrewarding drop down to further spur of Goat Gills to fetch our water for the night and following morning. By the time we dropped down to reach it my left knee wasn’t happy and I was immediately concerned about the route ahead for the following day. Sometimes I loath my useless body.

By the time we filled both Platys and fought our way back up to our chosen spot we used all of an extra 10 mins so we bit the bullet and unpacked the tent. We were happy that although it was only 4.35 it would be dark in an hour and our position was hidden from all but the opposite fells.

What followed next can only be described as a kind of tent to ground mating dance as we measured up the best spot and to avoid the slight slope to one side. This was the first time we’d used the Scarp 2 since Paul received it it went up like a dream. So quick and easy to get a perfectly taught and stable pitch. Despite only having a slight wind we decided to use the cross-poles, primarily as we’d carried bloody things all that way so we were damn well going to use them! Having a porch each was luxury enough but climbing inside I couldn’t believe how much extra room we had, despite Pauls earlier claims. It was going to be a good night.

buttermere_moss_sunset Fiery clouds licking the top of High Stile and High Crag from the pitch.

Winter nights are long so despite being ravenous we decided to delay the evening meal and wolf down some chocolate instead. Paul pulled out his show piece of a dark chocolate Toblerone whilst I with a 75% cacao Green & Blacks. You need a little luxury in the hills when it comes to chocolate! Despite our childish excitement at these coveted treats, the best was still to come in the form of a hipflask full of White Russian with our own little twist just to pack more punch (If I tell you I’ll have to kill you….).

It was great to be able to explore for a bit and take in the views from above Buttermere. It seems like no time at all before the sun was setting and we were treated to some particularly pink reflection through the cloud. The rest of the night was spent cooking, eating, sipping White Russians and chatting til late and then my IPod went on until I dozed off.

It had been an easy day for a change but any night spent in the hills is infinitely rewarding and besides, we had a nice long one waiting for us just a few hours away…..

scarp_sunset Sunset from the pitch on Buttermere Moss – A possible Scarp 2 promo shot?


Martin Rye said...

How far have you come in such a short time. What next? TGO Challenge?

Walk Dartmoor said...

Stunning pictures, please dont post any more pictures like that of the Scarp! It makes me get my credit card out and wave it around in the direction of the Henry Shires website. ;-)

Which microspikes do you use BTW? I want to get some Kathoolas for next year and cant decide which sizefits a 10 boot.

Marcus said...

Hi Martin,

I think we've done OK, especially when you consider that Paul and I met at work and just happened to find that we both really fancied getting out in the hills. The rest is history. I've had a huge turnaround when it comes to doing this on a budget - which I'd say is the biggest shift since I started. Now, if something isn't ridiculously priced and adds value - its purchased!

On that note Shamus.......!

I went for the medium Kahtoolas and I'm a size 8. Annoyingly you might be at the top end of a medium but the very bottom of the large?

Walk Dartmoor said...

That was my worry really.


WRT Budget expansion, we all seem to do that. There are just too many 'nice things' to take on the hill... Henry Shires ... No No No I mustn't!

James Boulter said...

A good looking trip. Have to say that I may have to get a pair of micro spikes for next winter, looks like there was still a fair amount of snow about for March.

Alan Sloman said...

A great post - thoroughly enjoyed reading it from the warmth of Mission Control and a cup of coffee.

minimalgear said...

great trip report-I love that area.