Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Back Where It All Began Day 2

Day 2 – Saturday 6 March 2010

I woke at 5 am feeling really cold in my bag but checking the Silva ADC showed I was being a big girl with the temperature a tropical 2.2˚ C! I reached over and pulled on my PHD down vest and bedded back in to my bag, all the time wondering why I felt so cold. The more I thought about it, the more I could feel cold spots and I noticed the bag wasn’t lofting quite as well as it normally does. Oddly the cold wasn’t coming from the ground despite using a Neoair on a bespoke foam mat. Trying to get back to sleep I mulled it over and remembered that unusually my bag was left semi compressed in the mesh storage sack and then stuffed away two nights before we left. Still confused I did what I always do and had a bar of chocolate before falling back to sleep until 7.30 when I awoke toasty warm! In hindsight I think a combo of a lack of calories and a damp, over-compressed sleeping bag might have been the problem which in turn = user error!

Waking up in the Scarp was a nice surprise as I’d forgotten how much easier it was to manoeuvre inside the tent with all the extra space. Paul was still snoozing so I popped the stove on which refused light because I’d forgotten to put it inside my sleeping bag to keep it warm. Holding the stove for a couple of seconds over a lighter did the trick and soon tea was on the boil and the day was officially starting.

On this trip, for simplicity, I’d swapped my porridge for breakfast bars and whilst its all very convenient I have to say it isn’t an experience I’ll repeat often – I’m all about a nice warm breakfast on the hill in the morning… shoot me!

Popping my head out of the porch I could see a muted orange glow beyond Robinson and hoped the weather would be as friendly as the forecast had suggested. With a slight breeze there was a chill in the air and exposed fingers soon got cold. We decided we’d hung around long enough so checked the map, packed away, pulled on our trusty packs and set off.

morning_light_red_pike Sunrise on Red Pike, High Crag and High Stile from Robinson.

The boggy terrain was still rock solid so we bumbled along the plateau of Buttermere Moss with gay abandon until I noticed a familiar feeling in my knee. In my younger years I would have just carried on with inconsiderate naivety until such time as my knee was too much agony to bear. Now however I’m much less interesting and feisty, so stifling calls for my “mummy” I decided to stop and put a knee support on. Of course its mostly placebo but it works for a time and I don’t knock it if it keeps me happy in the hills!

Soon we picked up the path heading down Robinson and into Buttermere, with Paul leading at a blazing pace that I struggled to maintain because of my knee. There were still a lot of icy patches on the rocky sections of path and foot placement became much more considered at times. It was a gruelling descent for me but soon the path rounded and Buttermere village came into view. The morning was brightening and we could see our familiar ascent up to Red Pike ahead.

We took a photo at the church steps to compare against our original one two years ago and reflected on our experience since then. Passing the two pubs (It was a few minutes early for a pint) we passed two walkers who were keen not to talk to us – fair enough as I wouldn’t talk to me either! Stood at the eastern shore, Buttermere was like a sheet of glass. There was no wind to speak of and save for the hazy overcast sky it would have made a nice picture.

 grasmoor_crummock Grasmoor and Crummock water as we clear the trees on the first stage up to Bleaberry Tarn.

Once again Paul was on some sort of mission and almost ran up the boulder steps and up through the forest. By the time I got to him he was sat beyond the gate enjoying the more elevated views. I decided I needed to step my game up as I wasn’t used to trailing Paul and I didn’t like it one bit! The steep, winding path up to Bleaberry Tarn got the heart pumping and our pace was really picking up. As the path runs closest to the waterfall there was a long solid block of cloudy ice and with no other way past we gingerly slid our way forwards. Getting closer to the tarn there were more rink-like areas but here its easier to skirt around – but naturally much less fun!

frozen_bleaberry-2 Paul testing the Gods on Bleaberry Tarn.

The tarn was completely frozen and Paul (with his ‘stick it to the man’ attitude) practically jumped on the ice and started skidding about! I’m no health and safety jobsworth or owt but he hadn’t even removed his pack and I wasn’t wholly happy until he stopped arsing around and rejoined solid ground. I don’t know whether it was the fear of him falling in or the fact that he had half of the tent and I didn’t fancy having to fetch it. Having said all of that I did film the occasion just in case the ice did give way, needing only a stamped address envelope for my chance to £250!

A choccy bar later and we were on the climb from the tarn to the summit of Red Pike. Sections of the path were frozen and as we got closer we could see the steep snow-clad scree run awaiting our arrival. The poles are pretty good in sections like this and I regained the lead position up to the summit cairn. By then the sun was well and truly out, though a stiff wind reminding us it was still March.

red_pike_scree The steep final ascent of Red Pike.

Resting at the cairn I phoned home, since it was the first reliable signal I’d had for 24 hours, whilst Paul called his mate about a trip to Vegas! Hmmm, I wonder which one of us is currently single!

living_the_dream Beauty and the beast.

Picking up the track it was a clear Microspikes moment so rather than carry the weight in the pack we quickly chucked them on and continued on our way. There were deep sections all over the place where snow had drifted and it was glorious in the sunshine with the huge clouds adding even more drama to the occasion.

pillar_from_red_pike Perfect view of the imposing and spectacular Pillar from Red Pike.

Two guys had ascended from Ennerdale and asked where we had come from and seemed to prophesize of treacherous conditions ahead – Gamlin End below High Crag in particular. I couldn’t see it myself – Gamlin End is a south east facing steep section which, even in snow and ice, could be tackled by the scree run to the left of the path. The younger chap of the two seemed adamant as we walked along at similar pace, with ice axe, sturdy winter boots and a wrist mounted GPS guiding him across the ridge.  It was pointless arguing, he’d already eyed up our whacky lightweight packs and Microspikes and (albeit by facial expression) poo poo’d our claims of camping out the night before. Paul and I had both had enough and dropped back to let them get ahead. The view from the ridge was incredible from both sides and out of the breeze it was positively warm in the sun.

cornicePaul demonstrating how to avoid a cornice! 

There were cornices a plenty to add to the mix of deep snow, ice, views and sun and I was in a good place. We checked our progress and our timing was ahead of schedule yet again. We’d moved far quicker up onto the ridge than planned and now despite trying to hold back we somehow had marched along the ridge to High Crag in no time.  Pillar was looking particularly dominant across the valley with Great Gable and Kirk Fell chipping in.

great_gable_from_high_cragTaking in the scene of Kirk Fell, Great Gable and Green Gable.

Soon we’d caught up with the guys from earlier and as they took the path down Gamlin End, Paul and I opted for the  fun option: scree running!  As suspected the conditions were perfect, no ice and just a few small sections of persistent snow. Paul shot down first with me following 30 seconds behind. The childish whooping that seemed to come from the vicinity of my gob shall not be discussed further! It’s just great fun, especially when your sat down, shoes and socks off soaking up the rays by the time Captain Sensible and his friend had caught us up. I tried my hardest to stifle my smug grin as they passed but there were no hard feelings.

The sun was hot as we sat drinking tea and eating our lunch. Lemon and coriander couscous with spicy chorizo and chilli flakes is a mountain favourite of mine now. Its home-made (but can be bought in a variety of flavours), cheap and filling – if not a little lacking in the calorie department.

Whilst my knee was clearly not in a good way I was enjoying myself too much to care. I adjusted the support, necked some ibuprofen and donned the pack again. I felt rejuvenated and was looking forward to clambering up Hay Stacks but for some reason Paul doesn’t like Hay Stacks that much and says its because it damn near killed his spirit for backpacking the first time we did it! Today he wasn’t hindered by his heavy pack and as a result bolted on up. We passed a couple taking their time on a more difficult section who openly pondered the benefit of my poles and we chatted for a few minutes about who had the most pathetic knees. I think I might have won that one.

With time to kill we explored Hay Stacks a bit more than last time, finding quite a few other people doing the same. Compared to the rest of the trip it was a mountain motorway up there: There was a photographer and his mum at Innominate Tarn, a group of lads in shorts, two men with a dog and the couple from earlier who’d found their way up. We eventually sauntered down to the frozen tarn where once again, Paul selfishly risked the tent like the childish buffoon he his, to which I could only respond by getting the camera out again to increase my chances to win £250. He wasn’t quite as confident as before though and the cracks and bubbling water soon had him retreating to the edge.

frozen_innominate_tarn  “That’s it, right a bit……bit more”.

Hay Stacks is pretty rocky and boggy but I wanted to look around for a place to camp that wasn’t as obvious as by the tarn. Dry, flat spots are pretty rare and I didn’t find anywhere I’d want to pitch a tent – better luck next time maybe? Timing-wise we could relax. We were way too early to pitch anywhere and as we didn’t plan on pitching on Fleetwith Pike, we had more time to kill. We highlighted Blackbeck Tarn with a view to pitching somewhere around there or Green Crags overlooking Buttermere for a romantic pitch for two!

buttermere_from_blackbeck Buttermere and Crummock from the path crossing the beginning of Black Beck.

As before our bumbling around wasted little time and we were soon at the Tarn filling up our reservoirs and scouting for a pitch. The tarn was frozen here too and no prizes for guessing what happened next! We dropped the bags out of sight of the path which crosses directly over Black Beck. Wondering around Green Crags we looked for a suitable pitch and soon Paul called out with a possible place. Looking at it from every angle we decided whilst it wasn’t flat, was covered in sheep doo and would be a real squeeze, that we’d try it anyway. Retrieving the bags, we passed the photographer from before and a group of guys and girls who tried their hardest to break the ice with whatever rocks they could find. Paul said nothing but I think he was crying inside.

frozen_blackbeck_tarn 3rd tarn lucky – This time its Blackbeck.

Back at the pitch it wasn’t looking good and try as we did the big fat Scarp 2 was not going to fit. Even if it had, it was one of those pitches where you only had one chance of getting out of the tent without seeing your life flash before you! A bit disappointed we continued our search but any flat spots big enough for the scarp were either boggy or just boring. With that we retreated back to the tarn where it was now fairly safe to pitch without being seen.

buttermere_from_green_crags Sit mat, White Russian, twerp spoiling the view – DONE.

With the tent up and a faint sunset arriving we grabbed our second flask of White Russian and headed for Green Crags with our sit mats. It was a great spot and we reminisced again about our first night wild camping near here two years ago. This time around we were far less tired, more comfortable and in a fit state to enjoy the view to fullest extent. It’s at times like this when the benefits of going lightweight become apparent: We’d moved faster, easier and with more comfort than our previous time here and this time we’d already done one night in the hills.

room_with_a_view Just inserting this picture gives me pangs!

Whilst we sat taking in the views and talking crap two chaps wondered close by, who seemed to be looking for a pitch. They didn’t see us but we assumed they must have passed by the tent and decided to try further on. We saw no more of them and for that I was happy as I can’t imagine what it would be like to share a spot like that with strangers.

blood_stained Our final view from Green Crags as the sun sets on our final night of the trip.

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?