Friday, January 17, 2014

Gowbarrow Fell & the Mells

Date: 17th January 2014
Wainwright's: Gowbarrow Fell (1579ft), Great Mell Fell (1762ft), Little Mell Fell (1657ft).
Route: Clockwise from Ullswater
Distance: 13.5 miles (21.7km)
Height Gained: 3821 feet (1165)
Time Taken: 8 hours 50 mins
Social Hiking Link: click here

The Route: Anticlockwise from Ullswater

 I had planned a high walk today from Patterdale to St Sundays Crag and then along to Helvellyn, but alas the weather didn't comply. Spending the day in rain, clag & zero visibility didn't appeal so I decided that plan B was in order. I really want to get the eastern fells ticked off and the only remaining areas left unclimbed are the fells around Red Screes and then Gowbarrow Fell & the 2 Mells. I thought these latter 3 fells at least stood a chance of remaining below the cloud so I cobbled a vaguely circular route together and set off in the early hours of Friday morning. The obvious and most popular way to climb them is from Dockray or Matterdale End but I really want to climb all the Wainwrights from 'Lakes Level' and these starting points, being already at an altitude of over 900 feet would have meant climbing less than half the height of each fell. That just didn't seem right & proper and so I parked by Ullswater just to the south of Gowbarrow Fell to tackle them the long way round. My chosen path started along the popular waterfalls walk taking in the impressive Aria Force and High Force before I ventured off steeply right onto Gowbarrow Park.

A misty Ullswater

Aria Force

High Force

                      Video of Aria Force & High Force

Ullswater from Gowbarrow Fell just before passing through the cloud level

 Gowbarrow Park is mainly a high plateau of grassy tussocks which, with all the recent rain, made for squelchy progress. A few craggy mounds rise above the plateau, the highest of which is Gowbarrow Fell summit which is easily identified by its trig point.

Gowbarrow Fell summit

 Unfortunately the summit was just above the cloud level so views were very limited. I therefore headed northwards and dropped down to the road by Greenbank. The next target was Great Mell Fell and there being little other choice route wise, I trod the quiet roads towards this rounded fell which Wainwright describes as being like an "inverted pudding basin".

Great Mell Fell (left) & Little Mell Fell (right)

A typical lakeland cottage en route to Great Mell Fell

 A muddy path seems to wind its way around the lower perimeter of Great Mell Fell but with no obvious tangent routes up the summit (either on the map or the fell). I therefore took a pathless route sharply upwards through the forested lower flanks towards the higher ground. Signs suggested that this is red squirrel territory but they must have been hiding today. Eventually the trees dissipate and the summit is visible as a grassy plateau with a small cairn to mark the highest point.

Nearing the top of Great Mell Fell

A Haunting scene on Great Mell Fell

Great Mell Fell summit

 Low cloud still obscured the view but every now and then a gap would appear giving brief glimpses towards Great Dodd, Clough Head and the lower slopes of Blencathra. This seemed like a good spot for lunch but despite the 30 minute break, views remained limited so I headed back down eastwards eventually joining the same muddy perimeter path. No squirrels seen but I managed to surprise 3 deer which bolted off at an impressive pace.

? Gaiters next time

Colourful Fungi

Gowbarrow Fell now free from cloud

Little Mell Fell

looking back to Great Mell Fell

 The route ahead went through Brownrigg farm, across very boggy fields & a small beck before zigzagging its way onto Little Mell Fell whose grassy summit is adorned with a trig point. By this time the cloud had lifted and I enjoyed clear views towards Gowbarrow Fell, Great Mell Fell and glimpses of Ullswater.

Little Mell Fell summit trig

        Little Mell Fell summit panorama video

Glimpses of Ullswater from Little Mell Fell

An unusual & un-named cairn overlooking Hag Wood

Not likely to need these today

Hallin Fell over Ullswater

Memorial Seat overlooking Ullswater

The impressive panorama of Ullswater from Memorial Seat

Panorama video over Ullswater from Memorial Seat

The view south towards Patterdale from Memorial Seat

Place Fell

 At this point the rain, which had been intermittently drizzly so far, became more heavy and persistent. I battened down the hatches and descended south before crossing the road onto a path which eventually joined the forest track through Swinburn's Park. Beyond these densely forested conifers the track emerges onto a craggy path which looks down steeply onto Ullswater and the high fells beyond. The views here were magnificent and at one point in particular, a spot called Memorial Seat, nearly the whole length of Ullswater is in view. From this point I had intended to descend the steep path to Yew Crag but the rain was getting heavier and the path looked in poor condition so I opted for the more cautious route which continued westwards on a gradual descent back down to Ullswater. By the time I got back to car it was nearly dark. This walk had taken far longer than expected. Another 30 mins and I would have been delving the lower crevices of the rucksack for the head torch.

 So that 118 Wainwrights completed and just 11 eastern fells left which are next on the radar. These being; Arnison Crag, Birks, Catstye Cam, Birkhouse Moor, Sheffield Pike & Glenridding Dodd (one long walk or a 2 day wild camp); High Hartsop Dodd, Little Hart Crag, Middle Dodd & Red Screes (a day walk from Ambleside or Hartsop); and Steel Knotts which is the awkward outlier.      

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Clough Head, the 'Dodds' and a Wild Camp

Dates: 15th & 16th November 2013
Route: From Wanthwaite to Clough Head, along the Dodd's ridge route & back via Sticks Pass 
Wild Camp : Birkett Fell
Wainwright's: Clough Head, Great Dodd, Watson's Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Hart Side
Distance:15.6 miles (25.1 km)
Height Gained: 4300 feet (1310 meters)

The Route anticlockwise from Wanthwaite

 So I had a Friday booked off work and intended a 2 day jaunt to tackle the northern branch of Wainwright's Eastern fells. As is usual I watched the weather forecast intently over the preceding days and as is also usual I went anyway despite it looking fairly grim with lots of low cloud expected. I am always very envious of folk who can pick and choose the best days to head off to the fells but for me I have to book a week day off and then pray to the weather gods.

 I parked at Wanthwaite and headed off along the old coach road. After a short while a style appears over the dry stone wall on the right and a slightly obscure path meanders steeply up through the old quarry to emerge on the western flanks of Threlkeld Knotts.

The Old Coach Road

The path climbs up through the old quarry

Views back over Wanthwaite towards High Rigg and Low Rigg

 The summit of Threlkeld Knotts is well worth the short diversion from the main objective of Clough Head. There are fine views over to Blencathra and along the Keswick-Penrith valley. This is also a good vantage point to survey Clough Head which appears steep and impenetrable from this side but closer inspection reveals an indistinct path tracking diagonally upwards from left to right before emerging onto Bennesty Knott and the summit ridge. 

One of the large Cairns at Threlkeld Kotts looking West

Views over Threlkeld towards a shrouded Blencathra ...

.. and looking towards the steep north side of Clough Head, the diagonal ascent path is just visible on the right

Views from that diagonal path at Bennesty Knott

 From the top of Bennesty Knott its a short walk along the ridge to the summit of Clough Head. By the time I got there the cloud had descended and visibility was poor. Unfortunately it stayed that way for the rest of the day. 

Clough Head summit

 From Clough Head a good path leads south to Calfhow Pike before plodding steadily upwards to Great Dodd. I would imagine the panorama from here is excellent but I had use my imagination today.

Calfhow Pike

looking back northwards from Calfhow Pike summit

Great Dodd summit and a Raven

Watson's Dodd summit - the clag continues

 The path then continues to snake its way southwards taking in Watson's Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd. I then descended eastwards towards Hart Side and then Birkett Fell before looking for a suitable spot to make camp. By this time the wind had got up and I was thankful to find a dry stone wall on the east side of Birkett Fell which looked like a great wind break. It was only after following the wall downhill looking for a suitably flat area that I got back below the cloud level again.

 Initially the tent was sheltered from the wind but in the early hours it must have changed direction and increased in strength. The noise levels got up and despite ear plugs I got very little sleep afterwards. Next time I really must remember the Whiskey! 

 The twitter chatter that evening suggested that there might be the chance of a cloud inversion the following morning and so it was with some excitement that I unzipped the tent door at 6am to see what awaited. Alas, no inversion but I could see the silhouette of surrounding fells and as the sky lightened I could see that the cloud base was well above the summits. Even Helvellyn was visible. The wind was still gusting strongly though despite being on the lee side of Birkett Fell. A change of plan was in order. I had initially intended to walk along to Sheffield Pike and then return via Dowthwaitehead and the old coach road but feeling somewhat robbed of summit views yesterday I decided to retrace my steps to Great Dodd and then take a longer route back via Matterdale Common.

A reddening sky the next morning


views from the wall near my camp site towards Ullswater

Birkett Fell summit

Birkett Fell looking towards Ullswater

 By the time I walked back up to Birkett Fell summit it became evident that the wind was going to be a torment. I battled against a fierce headwind back up to Hart Side and then along to White Stones.

Hart Side summit at sunrise

Hart Side summit looking towards White Stones and Strybarrow Dodd

White Stones summit looking over Sheffield Pike towards Place Fell and beyond

White Stones summit looking towards Raise and Catstye Cam

White Stones summit looking towards Stybarrow Dodd and Great Dodd

 By the time I got up to Stybarrow Dodd I was struggling to keep balance due to the constant buffeting. I therefore beat a hasty retreat down to Sticks Pass and descended to Legburthwaite before walking the last few miles along the road to the car at Wanthwaite.

Stybarrow Dodd summit looking south towards Raise

Stybarrow Dodd summit plateau looking north towards Watson's Dodd & Great Dodd

Descending Sticks Pass

Looking back up Stanah Gill to Stybarrow and Watson's Dodds

Looking down over Great How and Thirlmere

Views towards Skiddaw from Sticks Pass
Wanthwaite Crags on Clough Head

 So a challenging 2 days in the fells. Following the all day clag on Friday at least I managed some good views from Stybarrow Dodd and a great sunrise on Saturday. Not many eastern fells left now and I reckon I can polish them off over 2 further day hikes which I will hopefully do before the end of the year.

Kit List

Shelter : Tarptent Scarp 1 (1.3kgs)
Mat : Exped SynMat7 UL LW (595g)   
Sleeping Bag : Rab Alpine 400 (970g)    
Stove : High Gear Blaze titanium stove (48g)  + Primus 100g Gas Cart   
Pans : Evernew Solo-set (250g)
Rucksack : Osprey Talon 44 (1.18kg) 

Trekking Poles : Black Diamond trail compact (488g pair)
Fluid : Deuter Streamer 2lt Bladder (185g) and 600ml Sigg bottle (100g empty) + Sawyer Squeeze filter (84g), 100 mls milk, coffee  
Food : Wayfayrer Tai Green Curry, Buttered Bread, Supernoodles,various sugary snacks.
Bits & Bobs : headtorch and spare batteries, Iphone + Anker 5800mHh battery,  victorinox knife, map & compass, basic first aid kit and Petzl e-lite, spork, various fold dry bags, flint & steel, plastic trowel.  

Camera : Panasonic DMC-LX7 & lowepro case.  
Clothes : Ron Hill wicking T-Shirt, Rab 100 wt fleece (250g), Montane Lightspeed windproof jacket (160g), Montane Prism 2 insulated jacket (423g), ME beany, TNF 'E Tip' gloves, sunglasses, Buff, Bridgedale socks & spare Sealskinz socks.  Hard Shell = Mountain Equipment Firefox jacket (320g) and trousers (259g) not used.
Trail Shoes : Meindl Respond GTX (820g pair) .

 Stand out pieces of kit (apart from the brilliant Scarp tent) were the Montane Prism 2 jacket which kept me warm and comfortable in the cold winds and also the TNF 'E Tip' gloves which won't win any awards for durability but kept my hands warm without having to continually take them off to use the touch screen phone. In the future, all gloves will be like this !

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Littering the Fells

Litter in the fells. It drives us all mad and unfortunately, with the rising popularity of fell walking, seems to be a worsening problem. It seems that with increasing frequency I find myself coming back from a walk with the extra burden of having collected other folks litter. After tweeting about the issue recently and reading the responses I thought I would jot down some thoughts.

Little Dodd summit cairn plus some unwanted 'decoration'

Recent tweets after I posted this image of a sullied summit cairn on Little Dodd prompted a deluge of comments. In this example the contents of the bags were a dog owners property and as I was on day one a wild camping hike I really didn't want that particular delicacy in my rucksack for 2 days. Reluctantly therefore, I had to leave it. Its a shame that some dog owners do this. It seems strange to me that if you are going to the trouble of bagging it up then at least carry it down. Putting it in a bag and then leaving it seems to me to be a worse problem that just not bothering to pick it up in the first place. Its going to degrade much more slowly wrapped in a plastic bag, which itself is also a danger to wild life.

A selection of comments on Twitter :-

"Scruffy peasants ..... what in the hell possesses them I'll never know"
"It's like they don't intend to come back & they do it everyday but not in their own houses, just outside" 
"its an all to common sight. Lazy inconsiderate people leaving their c**p for someone else to pick up! Drives me mad"
"Idiots" "or worse!"
"Grrr! these people aren't true outdoorists"
"Unfortunately we will never be able to stop littering but we can embarrass them to picking it up"
"That boils my piss - Grrr"  - my personal favourite :-)
"It appears that even our wild places are not safe from the scruffy peasants"
"I frequently come off the fells with pouches full of rubbish ..."
"I carry a rubbish bag too. Usually pick up discarded drinks bottles"

I think the perpetrators fall distinctly into 2 types. On one hand there are the deliberate litter bugs. These are the type of folk who we all see throwing their flotsam out of car windows with no sense of a moral compass. I'm not sure if anything can be done about such people, they are likely beyond help. On the other hand though are the folk whose hearts are probably in the right place but are just ignorant of their actions. A classic example of this happened yesterday when descending Sticks Pass in the Lake District after a wild camping trip. From a distance down the path I saw a man and his wife fiddling with their packs and shedding gear as they were obviously warming up on the ascent. When I finally passed them the man said causally to me "By the way, if you want an orange I've left one by the stile down there. Its OK, its perfectly fresh". Weary after a sleepless night (that's my excuse for not being on the ball & challenging him) I just said "thanks" and continued down. Sure enough when I arrived at the stile there was a large orange on the ground right by the path. I looked back up but the couple were out of sight. Scratching my head it suddenly dawned on me that he was obviously trying to lose some pack weight and the orange must have been considered a heavy item. I can only imagine that he genuinely thought he would be helping a weary hiker by leaving it by the path, or maybe he just thought that because it's an orange it will eventually degrade so no harm done? I believe this second type of person is misguided but not beyond help. Perhaps by raising awareness we can all educate such folk.

Some litter collected from my Stony Cove Pike walk 2 weeks ago

I have to say that I have heard the biodegradable excuse before and it just doesn't cut it with me. One could argue that native fruits; apples, pears etc will degrade fairly quickly over a few weeks or be eaten by birds. Fair enough, but the fells aren't the natural habitat of fruit trees and if we all dropped our apple cores then the fells would be littered with them. Do we really want that? I have many times passed large groups of 20+ hikers having their lunch at popular rest stops in the fells. Image if they all dumped their half eaten fruit, orange peel and sandwiches. It wouldn't be long before the smell of rotten food would be a familiar accompaniment to fell walking. Not a pleasant prospect. Non-native fruits & other foodstuffs present a worse problem. The peel of oranges and bananas take much longer to degrade in our climate and will be an eye sore for many months, especially in the winter when soil microorganisms and fungi are less active. Also, local flora & fauna can be adversely affected by non-native species. Sheep in particular have been known to choke on banana skins. Not convinced? Here is great article highlighting the problem on Ben Nevis where in September 2009 the John Muir Trust found up to 1000 banana skins on the summit plateau

This was the largest item found this weekend. It's a burst balloon which probably blew into the fells. No malice here and its easy enough for me to take it home and bin it.

Of course the vast majority of folk are respectful and courteous in the fells and I have seen many more examples of good behaviour than bad. Unfortunately the thoughtless minority can cause a disproportionate amount of heartache. One only has to look at pictures of Everest's south col to see what results from a lack of respect in the mountains. Closer to home, '3 peakers' make a considerable mess on Scafell Pike every summer necessitating an annual clean up by a team of local volunteers. 

I think that the old adage to 'leave nothing but footprints' is commendable. Or even better 'leave no trace' which to me represents the right mindset when out enjoying our great outdoors. If you agree then maybe on your next hike take a small litter bag just in case, and if you do happen to come across any of the 'type 2' perpetrators then remember that they might just be amenable to some constructive education and then that's one less banana skin for us all to slip on - so to speak :-)

Thanks for reading. Comments are welcome as always.