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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Bunk off work early on Friday, everything is in hand, and bags to pack.
All the gear laid out checked again, while I’m not planning to be far from civilisation it’s best to be prepared and it’d simply be a ball-ache to have to abort the trip just because I’d forgotten something.
Spare batteries, freshly charged for the camera, head-torch, food, water and sleeping bag. The new Jet-Boil stove would be getting its first real work out too. Indeed the new rucksack, the one I got for the postponed trip to the GR20 would be used for the first time as well. All packed up and the dash over the A69 to Cumbria was completed in reasonable time. To Keswick and down through Borrowdale, remembering earlier journeys down this beautiful valley, Lakes 3000 and the Coast to Coast relay last year. Arriving at Honister Slate Mine at about 6:00 just as the Cafe shut up, bang went my chance of a last minute brew before setting off up the hill.
With only a vague plan of where I was going, roughly towards Grey Knotts or Bandreth I thought, I set off up the old Tramway from the mine car park. It’s a steep pull up to the more solid remains of the tramway itself but the gradient slackens off as you make a left towards Brandreth and the “normal” route down to the Black Sail pass. By the time the light of the evening was making its presence felt the plan was coming together. The sight of Great Gable and Pillar on the far skyline sealed it. The best of the morning light would be here looking at the bulk of Great Gable and Pillar and down into Ennerdale. Vague recollections of a StewyPhoto blogpost came to mind and I was sure that there was some sense in this.
Camp is by its nature fairly basic, no shower blocks, washing facilities or other trappings of civilisation, just the tent. After stopping to take just a few photos, getting the tent up and a brew was a priority. The Jet Boil is a neat pice of kit, a stove pot with integral gas burner at its basic. but the clever bit is in the heat exchanger / windbreak which makes it hugely efficient and phenomenally quick. It packs into itself once you’ve finished, making it very space & weight efficient too. Highly recommended. Coffee and the remaining water goes into the foil bag that contains freeze dried Hungarian Beef Goulash with Noodles. Well at least that’s what it said on the packet. It’s food Jim but not as we know it. I took comfort in the fact that it was supposed to give me 480kcal. according to the details. A hunk of plum loaf to round it all off with coffee. There was a vague attempt to get a photo of the moon and stars in a crisp and cloudless night sky but it was so cold I soon lost all feeling in the fingers and gave it up as a bad job.
Sleeping as usual fitfully even though warm enough, the winter sleeping bag I’d bought earlier on in the year, a replacement for a 20+ year old one now well past its best. Waking as dawn broke to a layer of rime coating the inside of the tent and severe frost on the outside at about 6:30, now keen to be up and going. Brew on with the last of the water, breakfast is the remains of the plum loaf and coffee.
As the light began to strengthen it was difficult to keep concentrating on the task in hand. The light just kept getting better and better. The orange glow coming over the horizon to the south east just begged me to do something. A swift jog to the top of Brandreth catching the orange atmosphere advancing from the East. Blencathra is stunning even at such a distance. A long lens captures a wisp of cloud on the summit, Hall’s Fell. Then back down to the main event and focus my attention on the Pillar group and the views down Ennerdale.
An hour or so later I have enough and while I reasonably pleased the lack of any cloud means the sky is a bit “plain” and given the “The Sky Today” project that’s more than just a bit ironic.
The decision was to go down to the car and think again what to do with the remainder of the day. It was a new feeling, walking back down to the car and still have a day to play with, it was only 8:30. As someone said as I passed them by just as I was approaching the car park at Honister, “That’s impressive, to be coming down while we’ve only just set off..”. Then a leisurely drive down to Buttermere, stopping by the lake at Gatesgarth to take a few pictures by the lake. The sun by now really bright and with little cloud the landscape is full of contrast.
Parking anywhere in the Lakes is a problem at the best of time but Buttermere is a tiny village and the car park equally so and bloody expensive. It puts me off staying there all day and while I had considered tackling Grasmoor from here I decided I’d probably go elsewhere. However a trip to “The Fish” and a pint of “Haystacks” was in order as a reward for the overnight’s work. It was very pleasant indeed, the beer and the autumn sunshine the beer garden behind the inn. It clearly was an awkward time of day though, between breakfast and early lunch and the inn hadn’t any food, the Cafe had though, and a pot of tea and a bacon roll was swiftly dealt with before setting off.
The Day’s Yet Young
A quick drive over Winlatter pass in time to get to the summit of Skiddaw in time for lunch? It turns out to a be very warm, the south facing slopes of Skiddaw, with plenty of tourist traffic, some having more of a struggle than others. There’s a bunch of school kids, all weighed down with huge rucksacks and way too many clothes, dying in the heat in a mass of sweaty exhaustion. I’m, in contrast, just running shorts and a single long sleeve lightweight top and only add another layer when I get to the summit and stop to grab some food. The kids will remember this day but for all the wrong reasons!
Haglofs Open5 – Peak District
A chilly start to the day and the last in this year’s Open5 series. The start was in the picturesque village of Alstonefield, somewhere between Ashbourne, on the southern edge of the Peak District and Buxton. It’s actually in Staffordshire and not Derbyshire as I thought.
By the time I arrived, just after 8:30, the car park was already busy and filling up fast. With transition in the same field as parking as well as the catering van and the sun shining overhead the day was looking great. With a big mug of tea and water for the day bought from said catering van it was off to Registration to see what delights had been cooked up for us for the rest of the day.
Registration found and signed in, SI Card attached and the first look at the map. It looks daunting, the Peak District isn’t a high up as the Lake District but by the look of those contour lines it more than makes up for it in steepness and there’s lots of “steepnessess”! Back to the car and set the bike up properly. After a glimpse at the map I’ve stuck with the decision to run first and by the look of the bike route there’s quite bit of road and hard track in the form of the old railway line and what with the dry weather, those tyres need pumping!.
There’s a huge mixture of anticipation and panic and doubt at this point in the proceedings. You have the map and begin to know the terrain but only from a theoretical point of view, you haven’t yet experienced it. Nor have you the complete information required, you don’t know where the dud controls are! the pointless ones, the ones that can make or break your route planning. Then there’s the weather but at least this time, unlike many of the events this year, the weather is set to be “kind”.
Right, last minute checks, gloves, skid-lid, food, drink, shoes (i’d opted for SPD’s this time) all stashed in transition beside the bike. Better be off then. “any last minute questions? asks the Start Marshal, nope, gimmie the control list! let’s go! Bollocks! It might be my imagination or my determination to do better this time but the “duds” seem more significant this time around and really muck up my proposed south westerly leg on the run.
Now I’m off and tracking, that first few moments trying to make you have the lie of the land and are on the right track. Two other runners going my way and we start to run as a small group. Big mistake! we end up off track and almost half a mile re-route to the first control.
The next few controls are off to the left of an obvious road / track and necessitated an out and back approach. One, two, where’s the third? I’d run past it and lost 5 or more mins in the process. It’s not the time in the end, that kind of loss isn’t going to affect my overall score but the loss of confidence hits home. The last control on my list is on the roadside at the bottom of the long hill back up to transition from the river. That hill was hard in the heat and my platypus is empty and legs showing the first signs of cramp, back in transition almost 15 mins over plan.
No hanging about this time, change shoes, food and top up the platypus with juice and electrolytes in a hope to stave off the cramp. Another look at the map and plan, this time I have to do better, last time the bike leg was a bit of a poor show. Well I started well enough but I crashed, not once but twice. The first time coming to a stop at a gate going to CP18. That dry-stone wall was hard!. The pair behind me check that I’m OK and speed off into the distance. The second time was out of sight from anyone and that’s a plus because the rock I tripped over was tiny! Up and onwards, by the time I reached the railway line and heading towards CP14 the cramp was back, with a vengeance!
The next few controls are all along the railway, the hard packed track easy going and fast.
The crowds of people walking and riding, sympathetic to we competitors some cheering and shouting words of encouragement. The cramp is really getting to me now and I abandon hope of CP3 and 4 and 50 odd points and set off back up the hill to the finish. It’s a long way back, that’s it I’m done, done in.
So another one done, harder than the last one, more points than the last one (could do better), better weather, more friends, more fun, more to do next time but there will be a next time!
Thanks to James Kirby for some of the photos.