An early morning blast up Cairn Gorm…

Distance: 6 miles

Munro Count: 1

Munro: Cairn Gorm

Who with: JP

We arrived at the top car park at Cairn Gorm at around 6.45am, and other than a couple of cars that looked like they had been there all night, it looked like we were the first to arrive.

The forecast the night before was for light winds of 7mph, but there had clearly been a change overnight, with gusts of around 60mph. The air was fresh to say the least, so we didn’t hang around getting our gear together and instead donned our head torches and headed round the back of the funicular, where the path took us up a snowy hill side, Sron an Aonaich.

There had been quite a bit of snow overnight and the last bit was still falling, as we made our way in the dark, up the icy path. It wasn’t long before we needed to put on our crampons, as there was literally no traction under foot. The wind continued to batter us as we pressed on, and there was very little conversation between JP and I, which was unusual. Instead, we both had our heads down, preferring to make progress into the wind.

As the view started to open out, as daylight was beginning to creep in, it was clear that the lifts were unlikely to be operating at their usual time given the conditions. We were making good progress and slowly the conversation started, following us taking a few minutes to admire the views that greeted us. JP, a mechanical engineer, was also admiring the engineering work that had gone into creating such easy access onto the mountain.

I have mixed views about such lifts, in that they are fantastic if you are using them for snow sports, but they do make access onto the mountains too easy, in my opinion. Then the Ptarmigan café came into view, which again is a fantastic feat of engineering, but like Snowdon, for example, I have mixed emotions.

Anyway, we pressed on and following the fence line, we could see the snow ploughs preparing the mountain for its hundreds of visitors that would eventually make their way onto the hill. We reached the Ptarmigan and it was now around 8.15am, and coming daylight. The snow ploughs were still working away on all the ski runs, with one passing us at close quarters, whilst the driver gave the thumbs up. There are worse offices, I’ll tell you!

We were having a leisurely walk and a stretch as you had probably gathered, so we trudged up the final stretch towards the weather station, which sits on the summit of Cairn Gorm. We decided to have some breakfast on the top, albeit being battered by the wind, and spindrift. As we sat there with our mugs of coffee, we had the pleasure of watching the weather dial take its reading. The station was thick with ice, and it is no surprise with such a cold wind-chill of around -21degrees. The day before had recorded winds of 125mph on the top, which is a fair old wind to say the least.

Unsurprisingly, given the temperature, we didn’t hang around long, and instead of walking the horse shoe as planned, we decided (unusually) to go back down the way we came, and spend a few minutes at the Ptarmigan café which would hopefully now be open.

As we descended back down, the lifts were opening, and the area soon became a hive of activity, with skiers and the CairnGorm mountain team buzzing around. It was interesting to watch and see some of the folks who had reached this altitude in a matter of minutes, having walked a few yards from their car.

We decided to grab a brew and people watch for a few minutes, before retreating back down the mountain. A few minutes with so many people was starting to take away from what had been an enjoyable, leisurely walk. JP and I had flowing conversation all the way down, which was back to usual, and were now passed every few seconds by skiers who were enjoying what were now fantastic conditions, which looked as though they would get better by the hour.

The sun lashed the snow, which made for some fantastic views across the range, which made me keep stopping to look behind me. As we dropped back down, the car park came into view and was unsurprisingly full, with only a handful of walkers having passed us on our way down, which surprised me somewhat, on such a fantastic day.

We were back down at the car by 10am, as we had stuff to do that day, but it was a most enjoyable stroll!

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A fantastic, but long day up Bynack More…

Date: Saturday 20th January

Distance: 19 miles

Munro Count: 1

Munro: Bynack More (and A’Choinneach (1017m)

Who with: JP

We arrived in Aviemore on Friday afternoon, after a very snowy drive up from Lancashire! A stunning drive, once we had cleared the blizzards around Glasgow, with some stunning views across Perthshire all the way to Aviemore. Conditions were looking very good indeed.

We had an early start to the day, setting off from our cottage in Aviemore at 6.30am, before parking just past Glenmore Lodge, alongside a number of camper vans, who had picked a lovely spot for an evening stop-over. We donned our gear, whilst trying not to wake our neighbours and left the car at around 7.10am, with our head torches on.

On a lovely cold (-5 degrees C) and crisp morning, we made our way on the footpath heading towards Ryvoan, through the lovely woodlands surrounding the Glenmore Lodge training centre, with only the crunch of the snow underfoot for noise. As night was slowly turning to day, we headed through the silhouettes of the surrounding hills, passing the small loch on the right, before following the right-hand fork in the path (the left heading towards Ryvoan Bothy).

The silence was deafening, and we heard a number of deer in the woods, snapping branches as they moved. Our path started to gradually climb, south of Loch a’ Gharb-choire, and the light started to increase, leading to a beautiful vista across the Eastern Fells, a number of miles in the distance. A stunning morning indeed, and with only a light wind at present, it was looking good for the day ahead.

We reached the footbridge, which offers a dry crossing of Strath Nethy, which are two features that will be prominent in this blog post! Upon crossing the footbridge, we made our way up the path in what was soft snow, but relatively good conditions. We were lucky enough to see a Ptarmigan and a few mountain hares on our travels.

As we gained height, the snow started to get a bit crisper, as we ascended the path on the East side of An Lurg, which leads on towards Bynack More. The wind was increasing steadily as we gained height, and the conditions were glorious, as we ascended. We stopped by the distinctive rock, in the shadows of Bynack, to put on our crampons, in preparation for the ascent.

It was here we had a bite to eat, and met three ill-equiped (in my opinion) walkers, who had spent the night in Ryvoan Bothy, and were planning to ascend ahead of us. They had no winter gear on, and they lacked crampons and ice axes, which I would have said were a MUST in the conditions. They were not for heeding our advice though, so they pressed on.

We made our way up the steep, final section of Bynack More (1090m), before summiting, where the conditions were starting to worsen, as the winds were increasing and the clouds starting to move in. This brought visibility right down to only a few metres at times.

Conditions were far too windy to hang around, and we still had a good bit of the walk to go, so we crossed the plateau towards A’Choinneach (1017m), after passing the Barns of Bynack. It was here where the snow was sitting at quite a depth and progress started to significantly slow, in what were now white-out conditions. After a very slow slog up our next summit, the wind was gusting at over 60mph (I estimate), and the light was beginning to go, with us having about 2 hours daylight left.

We had our head torches though and are confident with a map and compass, so we were not worried, instead making a call to my wife to inform her that it would be a late finish! We followed the path on the map that dropped down off A’Choinneach (1017m), to the Saddle, at the top of Strath Nethy (I said this would be a prominent feature in the blog post!), above the loch.

We soon realised that the going was to be very slow, in what was very deep snow, in the valley. Even with our best efforts of picking our route, the snow conditions were hard going, and we still had about 7.5km to get back to the footbridge! This was somewhat de-moralising, and we pain-stakingly followed the River down to the footbridge over boggy, snowy and wet conditions.

We FINALLY, albeit extremely tired, made it back to the path by the footbridge and retraced our path, along the 4-5km path back to the car, under a fantastic night sky – full of stars, and constellations. We saw numerous shooting stars, which would have been enjoyed much more, if it hadn’t been such a long day!

We arrived back at the car at midnight, so a VERY long day, considering we set off at 7.10am! It was now -6 degrees C, and our neighbours in the camper vans were back in bed. I put the car on to warm up and de-ice the windscreen which was frozen solid. I had taken off my crampons a while back, after reaching the footbridge, but JP kept his on, and they were now frozen solid. He ended up taking his boots off with his crampons still attached until they defrosted. All good fun!

JP and I, both consider ourselves to be experienced in the mountains, and have a good deal of experience in winter, but as we ‘slogged’ our way through the valley, we discussed how others may have panicked or been tempted to call Mountain Rescue, knowing that darkness was approaching. It raised the question of the chaps we met earlier who did not have the correct winter equipment with them, instead having small rucksacks, which couldn’t possibly have had everything they needed for a ‘just in case’ situation. Would they have been ok? Could they have navigated in the dark, or with literally no visibility in white out? The easy thing to do is panic, or to call Mountain Rescue, but for us, it just raised the question of being prepared (both equipment and skills wise) before venturing into the mountains, not just in winter, but anytime, although winter makes the hazards and consequences far more real.

We knew that we had the skills, and it was just a case of getting our heads down and trudging on, but even for us, who were experienced, well equipped and with the right skills, it was a very tough day. For others it may have not been such a positive ending, and even during the week we spent up in the Cairngorms, there were three major Mountain Rescue call outs, with at least one fatality. Even reading these stories, people still take unnecessary chances in winter, and venture onto the fells ill-equipped. Accidents happen to the most competent, but some situations are very much avoidable.

A week in the Cairngorms…

To say that I am excited for my week in Aviemore, which begins on Friday, is an understatement to say the least!

For the last few years, JP and I have been to Glencoe, and in more recent trips my dad has come along too, not so much for the winter walking, but for a free week in a cottage, in a lovely corner of Scotland! Anyway, this year’s trip is a slightly different dynamic again…

My wife and I welcomed our son, George, into the world on 7 February 2017, and he is nearing one year old now (not sure where 11 months has gone!), and as a result of this my wife has been on maternity leave, and remains so until early February. So, I asked my wife if they would like to join us on a trip up North for the week. She said yes!!

My wife will happily enjoy a walk, but is a reluctant fell walker and Glencoe in winter offers little to those who do not enjoy the winter fells. We decided upon Aviemore, as there is a bit more going on for them, whilst JP and I were walking. There were obviously compromises to be made to have my wife and son with me for the week, but these were worth it for me. Following some hard fought ‘negotiations’, we have decided that 3 days winter walking for JP and I, along with 3 days of ‘other’ activities as a group was a fair compromise. This balance will give us some time to venture around the area and visit some of the lovely places in the Cairngorm region, whilst also letting us explore some of the lowland valleys, which I would not normally take them time to discover – instead heading up, up, up into the mountains! So, I am looking forward to this slightly different balance in all honesty. I have also packed the sledge, and we would like to take George up Cairn Gorm on the funicular and have a play in the snow, which he will love (as will I)!

It is our fourth wedding anniversary when we are away, so I definitely need to take her out for a meal to say thanks for putting up with me in general, but also thanks for letting me enjoy a few days in the Scottish mountains. : )

Whilst trawling Twitter and seeing the copious amounts of photos of the adventures of the folks that I follow, there were plenty photos of their Cairngorm adventures to wet my appetite. With its white winter coat well and truly on, and the forecast for snow, snow, snow, it looks like for once my timing will be just right! However I am nervous about trusting weather forecasts, especially not for the best part of a week into the future!

The BBC Weather app is suggesting lows of -6 degrees Celsius in the night, which should make for some good snow conditions, although, can also present other significant risks. There have been avalanche warnings and so it is always important to check the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, www.sais.gov.uk/ before heading into the hills. I also like to use a few different weather forecasts, and look at the local mountain forecasts, in addition to standard weather forecasts, but it is personal preference. There is no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing/equipment, so it is always worth ensuring that you have the right gear, it is in working order, and you know how to use it. It is safe to say though that the snow is coming down HARD!

Just as an aside, and whilst we are on the topic of safety in some guise, JP and I, did a fantastic Winter Skills Course, in Glencoe, a few years ago, which I would highly recommend for any relative newbies to the winter fells. You can find out more about the course on an earlier blog post that I did. I considered (and still do consider) myself to be a competent and experienced mountain goer, but having done a bit of winter walking prior to the course, I learned a lot in that week, and still use and continue to hone much of what I learned, during every winter trip out (navigation tips, subtle techniques of using ice axes and crampons, and safety on the winter fells (interpreting forecasts etc.). I’m not sure who said it, but ‘Education is the gift that keeps on giving’, and that is certainly true in this case!

JP and I, have not fully discussed the three walks that we will be doing, and so this will no doubt be a topic of conversation on the drive up, whilst sifting through the maps! One thing that is for certain is that we will be heading up to the Munros above Aviemore, probably setting off from the car park at the Ski Centre no doubt. I will obviously be doing blog posts, as usual, for each of our walks and so watch this space…

Most of our walking (both winter and in other seasons) tends to be in the Lake District, as you will have seen from my previous blogs, which is due to the fact that it is only an hour’s drive from where we live (lucky us!). It is also very handy that my dad has a static caravan, near Ambleside, which offers the perfect base from which to enjoy the Lakeland fells. But….Scotland is that bit different. It is wilder, more rugged, exposed and you really can find your own piece of wilderness there. It does however come with slightly increased risk due to this remoteness in my opinion, as you can quite often not see anyone on the winter fells, due to sparsely populated areas of Scotland. That is not to say that you cannot also do the same thing in the Lake District, but due to the more compact nature of the Lakeland fells, and the increased accessibility of the area to large cities, you tend to find that as a rule, you are more likely to see others on your Lake District adventures than those in Scotland. Both locations however, require respect for the environment and the changeable weather that you can find yourself in, so it is important to be prepared ahead of any trip, as you can easily get into difficulty in wither setting.

The best thing of all about Scotland, is that there is so much to explore, and in the same way that I completed the Wainwrights the first time (now on my second round) to explore all the corners of the Lake District, I am already doing the same thing with the Munros to explore Scotland. I was brought up visiting all over Scotland in our little ‘tourer’ caravan, which we used for dozens of family holidays north of the border – exploring all areas of the Highlands. My dad enjoyed fishing, and so we used to wander up finding hill lochs, in what felt like the back end of beyond when you are a young lad. These trips gave me the love for those wild places, and wet my appetite to explore them further, and so the Munros are helping me do just that and I can’t wait! I am looking forward to discovering them again with my own family now, and creating our own little adventures that George will look back on fondly, as I now do.

So, with another couple of days left at work, it just leaves the job of packing, which I still haven’t started. It is usually just my own ‘outdoors’ gear to sort, but this time this part is likely to be the easy bit, with George’s gear being the real challenge! The lad doesn’t travel light, and no doubt there will be a truck full, which will no doubt include the kitchen sink!!!

The Coledale Round, in winter…

Date: 6th January 2018

Who with: JP

Following our night under canvas, we left the Scotgate campsite in Braithwaite at around 830am, slightly later than planned, due to Sir Faff-a-lot, JP!

We headed through the village towards the small car park, at the bottom of Whinlatter Pass, and it was from here that we began to climb up towards our first summit of the day, Grizedale Pike. On what can only be described as a perfect winter’s day (Again! We have been lucky with the weather these last couple of months). On this route, you are straight into the climb, and soon start gaining height, with some fantastic views over Bassenthwaite and towards the snow-capped Northern Fells of Skiddaw and Blencathra.

We began to feel the wind picking up, as we climbed, and the morning clouds soon dispersed, leading to blue skies and a couple of happy walkers. We followed the path and meandered our way up alongside the nearby tree line and we soon started to over-shadow the valley floor below. We had met a few people, who were also taking advantage of the fantastic winter conditions and there were a number of walkers following us on our route.

We were soon into the snow on Sleet How, and the air was very cold with a real wind chill, with much lower temperatures than I had been expecting. We have done a lot of winter walking and are used to the temperatures in these conditions, but there really was a bite in the air. It may have been the fact that I was just getting over a bad cold, but the cold air was really hitting my chest.

As the route became increasingly icy on the final third up Grizedale Pike, we decided to don our crampons, which soon aided our progress. The number of fellow walkers was increasing now, and we could see them ascending from all directions to enjoy the conditions. We summited Grizedale Pike, where we saw two lads who were pushing their mountain bikes up the final section to the top, no doubt ready for the long and fun descent! JP and I enjoy getting out on our bikes and so it was one for the ever growing ‘to do’ list…

We didn’t loiter on the top, due to the blustery wind conditions, which were cutting, but we dropped down just a few metres in the direction of Hopegill Head, until we were just out of the wind, by the small shelter that resides there. It was here we stopped for some hot coffee and a bit of a snack, although we soon began to feel the cold, especially me following my cold, so we continued on.

We dropped down, before removing the crampons, and continuing up directly into the hammering wind, which must have been 50mph + and extremely blustery. As we plodded up towards Hopegill Head, we were battling against the spin-drift repeatedly thrashing us, but carried on to reach the top, before dropping down over Sand Hill to Coledale Hause. It was at this point that the cold had really got to my chest, and I couldn’t contain the coughing, and as we were heading to Aviemore in a couple of weeks, we made the decision to drop back down into the valley and back towards Braithwaite, rather than continuing on over Crag Hill and Sail. It is the first time that we have cut short one of our walks, but we must be getting more sensible with age! Whilst disappointing, as I love the Coledale Round, it was the right decision, as I wasn’t walking at my usual speed and could feel that I wasn’t 100%. Hopefully, I will be back at 100% before we make the trip up North for a week of Scottish fun.

We followed the path down towards Force Crag Mine, passing Pudding Beck and Low Force on the way, which was living up to its name and in full ‘Force’ producing a magnificent waterfall spectacle. As we continued down, I knew I had made the right decision not continuing over the tops, and instead, as usual our conversation was in full flow, putting the world to rights.

We crossed Coledale Beck and followed in the shadows of Grizedale Pike, this time looking up at the massif, as opposed to looking down into the valley as we were doing earlier in the day. We ended up at the car park where we had begun climbing this morning, and soon dropped back down into Braithwaite and towards the campsite.

Upon unloading all of our gear at the tents, we decided to nip into Keswick for some bits of supplies ahead of our trip to Scotland. We enjoyed a quick pint at the Dog and Gunn and then came back for a shower, before heading out for a few more pints and a well-earned Steak and Ale pie at the Royal Oak….that will sort my cold out!

I have done the Coledale Round before with my wife and Susie, our Patterdale Terrier, but JP and I will no doubt return to finish off what we have started at some point in the future. The fells are not going anywhere anytime soon!

Introducing a friend to winter camping (softly)

Location: Braithwaite (Scotgate Campsite)

Date: 5 – 7th January 2018

Who with: JP

After a number of years talking about winter camping with my friend, JP, I finally managed to convince him (grind him down) that it was actually good fun, and we should give it a go! I had done quite a bit of winter camping a number of years ago and with one thing or another (mainly lack of time, and the fact that my dad bought a static caravan in the Lake District), it was something that had dropped off.

So, what better way to ‘ease’ him into it than on the first weekend of the year! The forecast was showing that we were going to be very lucky with the weather, however, I am always sceptical of always trusting the forecasts (from experience). It was due to be dry, bright – even with sun, but cold!

We arrived after work on Friday, and obviously in the heart of winter, it was dark. JP had to work late conveniently, and being the good lad that I am, I offered to have his tent up for when he arrived, so I arrived at Scotgate Campsite, in Braithwaite, as the leading party, at around 530pm.

I thought I would be kind on his first winter outing, so I chose Scotgate campsite, due to it being in a good location (5 mins drive from Keswick), with good facilities, and with at least one good pub about 2 minutes’ walk away.

It was already heading down to 1 or 2 degrees, even in the early evening, and so I kept busy putting up the tents and sorting our gear out, ahead of tomorrow’s walking. There were no other campers on the first night, which was no great surprise, but would definitely be the first thing that JP noticed! There were plenty Campervans though, many of whom would no doubt have their heating systems in full flow by now…

Time went pretty quicky (I can soon fill a couple of hours ‘faffing’ with my gear), and JP finally arrived, shortly after me just having finished the tents and getting our gear ready for tomorrow’s walk. Like any predictable creature, JP’s first observation was the lack of other campers, but I told him that they were on their way…

As this was a soft introduction to winter camping, part of the negotiation had included going for tea at the local pub, so that’s where we headed, the Royal Oak, in Braithwaite Village. I had been challenged to do Dry January by my wife, who thinks that I partake in too frequent a beer (possible truth in this), so I was on the soft drinks and my will power was truly tested, with JP enjoying some nice ales with our Gammon’s.

The time had come to leave the warmth and comfort of the public house and wander back to the tents. I got to work on the hot water bottles for us to put in our sleeping bags….another little luxury.

I had a foam roll mat, then an inflatable camping mat underneath my sleeping bag, which was only 3 season. JP had the option of his fiddly camp bed which needed building of his foam mat. My advice was to put the foam mat down and then invest 10 minutes building his camp bed, which raised him off the floor, which is where the cold comes up from in my experience. JP however, having had a few pints, had lost some of his energy levels and wanted to collapse straight into his tent i.e. just use his foam mattress. I strongly advised he invested the time in getting himself set up, but he knew better…

With temperatures supposed to drop to -1 degrees, he had made his bed, so to speak, and now he must sleep in it, as the saying goes.

….Morning arrives (6.00am).

‘Morning’, I hear from his tent. ‘Morning’, I reply. ‘How did you sleep’, to which he responded ‘not great, I was bloody freezing for part of the night!’ We were heading up to do The Coledale Round, above Braithwaite, that morning, so we had to get moving. He soon acknowledges that I may have been right and learnt the hard way that he needed to get ‘off the floor’ and use his camp bed on the second night.

I broke the news to him that it was around Zero degrees last night and that it was due to be -4 degrees tonight (due to today’s forecast of sun and clear skies), but he didn’t seem deterred. As we got walking, and as usual you start talking, he said that he did sleep for most of the night, but he wasn’t comfortable, but he wasn’t put off which is good.

We had a fantastic day in the fells, on what was a near perfect winter walk, with the strong winds being the only negative, but that’s me being picky! Having returned to the campsite just after 4pm, we made the decision to nip into Keswick to get some bits from the outdoors shops, before we head to Aviemore, in a couple of weeks.

In Keswick, I get a call from my wife who has realised that she is out with her friends next weekend, and wants to drink, so offered me a free pass that I could have a drink tonight if I fancied it….but was this a test! After a mulling over her offer, I decided to accept, whether it was a test of not, and would enjoy a few ales tonight (a must after a day on the fells, in my opinion)!

So, we nipped into the Dog and Gunn public house in Keswick, for a flier, before heading back to the campsite. My Dry January lasted all of 6 days!

We got back to the site, and enjoyed the campsite’s facilities of hot showers to warm us up, on what was already a cold evening. After a clear day, it was always going to be cold, and the weather forecast appeared to be spot on for once (cynic). It was around 745pm at this point, and we were both ready for our tea, so we made our way back to our local, the Royal Oak, which seemed a lot better this evening (although that may have been because I was sampling the local ales!)…

The night soon went, and the conversation didn’t let up, although I tend to do more listening than talking in the company of JP (nothing I don’t say to his face)! We called it a night, and after a quick wander around the streets of the village, under a beautiful star-filled sky, we headed back to the tent.

The now usual routine of me sorting boiling the water on my stove began, so that we could fill the hot water bottles, and in the meantime, instead of being a professional ‘faffer’ JP had decided to build his camp bed, so that he was a good few inches off the floor ahead of tonight’s camp. Wise decision.

We got settled down in our respective tents, and I was soon warm and cosy, as was JP, which he was pleased about. The forecast suggested that between midnight and around 5am, the temperature would gradually drop from -1 to -4 degrees. I slept like a baby, although in all honesty, I think the time has come for me to invest in a 4 season sleeping bag, instead of making-do with a 3 season one.

Morning arrived, and I got up to make a coffee, with JP stirring in his bed…he was more positive this morning and said that whilst he got cold at around 430am, he had slept much better and that he had been warm and happy for much of the night. I can concur with this, as unfortunately one oversight from me was that I had put the tents up too close together, although with JP’s snoring, I think 500 yards apart would have been too close!

There was a heavy frost on the tents, and it didn’t look like shifting anytime soon, so we had a brew and had some porridge in the meantime. JP also commented on the suitability of his sleeping bag, which, as a Mechanical Engineer, he had decided was the root cause of his coldness. He hadn’t been put off from future winter camping though, and even said that he had enjoyed it, so I took this as a victory, as he is my main walking companion.

He said (as will I) that he will be investing in a more suitable sleeping bag for the winter conditions, but would be happy to come winter camping again! Next time though, I will slowly start to take the stabilisers off, and decrease the luxury level, but one step at a time hey! Don’t tell him though….

It was during this weekend that we discussed a few more little ‘adventures’ that he would try in 2018, so I will keep you posted on developments!

A winter jaunt up Harter Fell

Distance: 11 miles

Fell: Harter Fell

Who with: JP, and my best mate, Susie, the Patterdale Terrier!

On what was a fantastic winter’s day, we parked at a cold Kentmere at about 8am, where we started our day. The forecast looked like it was going to be accurate, with a dry, cold and crisp  morning although a relatively strong wind in the valley’s.

We made our way down the road to Brockstones farm/ Hallow Bank, before turning off the tarmac about 15 minutes in and taking the footpath over past Stile End and Tom’s Howe down towards Sadgill. The path was extremely icey and proved slow going, and it seemed too early to put our crampons on….much to JP’s disappointment! The views over towards Longsleddale opened up, as we started descending towards Sadgill, and the sunshine brought out the fantastic winter colours on the fell side.

We headed further up into the snow covered valley (towards Haweswater), in the shadows of Goat Scar and Kentmere Pike. Heading up towards Gatescarth Pass, having still not met another sole on the walk, we bumped into our first walker enjoying the break in the winter weather. As we continued to ascend the pass, the conditions soon became more wintry with the snow depth increasing with every step.

We arrived at the crossroads, where we headed West up towards Harter Fell, which was today’s summit. Straight on led down towards Mardale Head, whilst heading East would have took us up the steep bank of Branstree, a fell I have done a number of times – providing excellent views (on a clear day) over the Eastern Fells.

The ascent from the pass, up towards Harter Fell can only be described as a ‘trudge’, with some steps leading to us slipping into thigh depth snow holes. It was here that Susie, my little mountain goat, was battling furiously to make progress, but she did….and quicker progress than JP and I. We took a breather for Susie (honestly!!), and she enjoyed half a pork pie (athlete’s diet) to keep her energy levels up, before we continued on. We noticed a slight trail of blood, which upon examining Susie’s paws, we noticed that she must have cut her paw on the ice. Susie has since been bought a set of Ruff Wear boots (£70!) to ensure she doesn’t get any further cut paws! It was here that JP finally got to put his crampons on, so he was happy!

We arrived at our destination summit, Harter Fell, which offered fantastic views in every direction, especially towards Blea Tarn and Haweswater and whilst the wind had increased significantly bringing a wind chill, we paused to soak in the views, although it was too cold to spend more than a few minutes here. Having bumped into a few more fellow walkers, and exchanged a couple of very brief ‘hellos’, we made our way down Nan Bield Pass towards the shelter, before heading South towards Kentmere Resevoir.

From here, we followed the path down for 3-4 miles towards Kentmere, on what led to us slowly dropping out of the Wintery conditions into the damp and boggy valleys of Kentmere. The sun was starting its descent behind the Lakeland fells, and with a lovely sunset, the temperature was falling quite rapidly with the remaining light.

We arrived back at Brockstones farm to complete our circuit and re-traced our steps from the morning back down the road towards Kentmere village, where we were parked. Upon arriving back at the car, Susie proceeded to lie down in the grass for a rest, so I knew she would be having a sleep on the way home!

Another cracking day in the Lake District fells, and a route that I will definitely do again.

Nick

New Year: New Start

Firstly, Happy New Year!

It has been a while (understatement 1) since my last post, but it has been a busy time, following the birth of our beautiful son, George, which has significantly reduced the number of times I have managed to get into the fells/mountains (understatement 2), but I wouldn’t change it for the world!

It is very different though, and there is no such thing as lightweight outdoors with a baby in tow, but now George is nearing his first birthday, he is getting a little bit more robust, so hopefully 2018 will allow us to get outdoors a bit more. To be fair, we have done a lot of walking, but not many summits! The mountain bike has been getting a bit more use, in the absence of getting up in the fells, as it only takes 2-3 hours as opposed to a full day. Time is very much a limiting factor, and will continue to be for a number of years I suspect…

My blog has been a casualty of a busy time, which we are still adjusting to, and a significant change to priorities, although this is something that I am keen to change in 2018, and something that I enjoy. I haven’t got any New Year’s Resolutions, but if I had, it would probably be to try to get on the tops a bit more (with George on my back obviously)!

Looking ahead to 2018, I have a few things lined up, with a couple of nights winter camping in the Lakes in early January, followed most notably by a week in Aviemore later in the month, so hopefully this bodes well for the rest of the year (if my good lady lets me!).

I could also do with getting walking more to help shift the additional weight I have gathered over the festive period from over-indulging in beer, whiskey and mince pies!

Hopefully, this is the first of a number of blog posts in 2018, which you will hopefully find interesting, so…

All the best for 2018, and I hope you have many enjoyable days in the mountains!

Nick