Open5 New Season Starts In The Pentland Hills

Open5 – Opening Round

I’ve been planning to compete in as many of this year’s Haglofs Open5 events as possible or practical. The first of the events was last weekend, 4th November, and was held in the Pentland Hills just south of Edinburgh.

I’d never visited the Pentlands, hardly knew they existed beyond the inevitable drive-by sighting of the Dry Ski Slope from the Edinburgh By-Pass at 70mph. Early research with the OS map didn’t reveal much more than a small group of gently rolling hills with obvious tourist centers scattered around its edges. So with a hotel booked for the Saturday night in Penicuik, another drive-by-knowledge-only name, I planned to get there early and do some “recce”.

Recce

Control Point 23

This is November and by the time I get there, the drive from Newcastle to Edinburgh is always much longer that anyone ever expects, it was already getting dark. Rather than finding the hotel I drove to the venue a few miles further on, parked the car and went for a walk. I wasn’t really looking for any of the control points but I wasn’t surprised to find one at the top of the nearest and most obvious hill from the car-park. The climb up to this vantage point was pretty muddy and steep – food for thought for tomorrow. The views in the orange and golden glow of the sunset – both north over towards Edinburgh Castle and to the south over the Pentlands themselves – were quite stunning. Everything augured well for a cold fine start to tomorrow.

The View South

The hotel is back the way I came and it’s a chance to time the return drive for tomorrow morning. The hotel itself is busy with a wedding party of some sort but everyone’s friendly and the food turns out to be pretty good. According to the manager there’s someone else staying who’s competing too.

Race Day

Up early for breakfast, porridge, what else? this is Scotland.

Where The Wind Blows

Crummock Water

Arctic Blast

The day started out fine, an easy drive over from home, through Braithwaite and over the Newlands pass to Buttermere, there to catch up with Stewart Smith. I’d booked a 1:1 photography workshop with Stewart, a landscape photographer based in the south Lakes, hoping to be inspired and spend some time honing some skills.

The plan was to camp out on or near High Stile or Red Pike over Friday night and there to catch the evening sunset and hopefully the sunrise the next morning. The Weather forecast variously described in the press as an “Arctic Blast” looked OK for Friday but was due to deteriorate from Saturday pm on into Sunday. True to predictions the weather was cold but a little more cloudy than expected. After meeting up at The Fish and grabbing a quick cup of coffee before setting off, we headed up along the far side of Crummock Water below Red Pike heading for Scale Force.

Scale Force

Scale Force near Buttermere

Scale Force

To me Scale Force is one of those things I only sort of knew existed until recently. As a walker and climber who’s frequented the Lakes off and on for nigh on xx years (bloody hell is it that long?) I’d read about many gills and waterfalls and seen some, the kind one sees on top of the fells or running down the sides, Taylor Gill Force for example. However this is a different thing altogether. Cut into a deep green moss encrusted notch like something from Roraima on the side of the hill and low down. Here the atmosphere is entirely different, a different kind of thing than a mountain stream. For one thing Scale Force is the highest single drop waterfall in the Lakes and the volume of water, even in this dry spell we’ve had, means there’s a reasonable flow i.e. something to photograph. Long exposures on a tripod are required to capture it and tight cropping to avoid the flare of the sun at the top edge of the falls.

Red Pike – Home From Home

Home from Home

After a few shots in the gully it was back to the path for the relatively short haul up to Red Pike. It was warm work out of the wind but as we approached the top of Red Pike itself the wind got up a little and with it the cold.

The first task was to find somewhere to pitch the tents, as there’s nothing obvious on the summit itself and we ended up on the southern slope of the fell between it and High Stile. It didn’t seem too exposed at the time and at least it was flat. Stew’s tent had a major malfunction, he snapped a pole. All attempts to repair it failed but rather than abandon the trip we decided my tent was just big enough for two. Camp set, it was then a quick trip to the top of High Stile to catch the best of the evening light.

Stew and the Solway

Red Pike

Red Pike

After an hour or two wandering about the top and watching the sunset spread over the Solway, I think I’d got what I came for and in the increasing wind and cold we set off for the tent, stopping briefly on the way back down for just a few more shots.

By the time we got back to the camp the cold was now really noticeable and hot food and drink were both welcome and necessary. Both our stoves struggled to maintain any kind of performance in the bitter cold. This campsite was proving NOT to be in quite a sheltered a spot as we’d imagined. At this time of year the sun sets quite early and before too long we’d bunked down for what turned out to be a very windy, extremely cold and very long night. The constant rattling of the tent, a lightweight trekking tent borrowed from my daughter, and the bitter cold meant sleep didn’t come easily or for very long.

Crummock Water

Crummock Water

No alarm needed, I doubt if either of us slept properly. The flapping and flattening of the tent in the wind made it near impossible. The cold anchoring us inside the tent and sleeping bags until bladders could no longer resist the pressure to – get up! Everything is frozen solid, water, dregs of coffee, hands within minutes. The stove struggling again to get us going with the necessary caffeine injection. The climb back up to High Stile again brings about a bit of warmth but hands holding cameras and changing filters don’t last long.

The early light starts promising to do something, it’s almost pure blue with the cold crisp air and the white frost on the rocks. In the end however it just becomes too watery to do anything dramatic and we call it a day. I managed to get a few shots of Cummock Water and Buttermere but none really stand out.

The path down from here to the tent is soon negotiated, all the usual boggy sections completely frozen including the small tarns. Once there we quickly pack up and head off to the pub. The long haul along the edge of the lake seemingly much longer than on the way in. The Fish does a decent pint, Haystacks, and turkey sandwiches, all consumed while pouring over the day’s efforts on the Mac. The pub’s WiFi a welcome alternative to the missing 3G in this western valley.