Clag, Crags and self doubt : an early June wander in the Southern Fells

With the 10 in 10 charity event just two weeks away, Matt (@hillplodder) and I had decided that extra training was required, specifically involving lots of ascent to train the legs. The forecast for Saturday however was diabolical, and true to form it was raining steadily as I got off the train at Windermere. By the time the bus reached Coniston, visibility was next to nothing and the winding roads had almost turned to rivers. With the pub an unwise choice so early on a Saturday afternoon a tea shop was selected and after several pints of tea and a sugary slab of shortbread for me, the weather imperceptibly began to improve and a decision was made to nip up to YHA Holly How to pitch the tents, more rain having been predicted overnight. It never came though, and disappointment loomed large at the lost opportunity for a wild camp. We set off in high spirits on Sunday morning though, walking through Coniston up past YHA Coppermines towards Levers Water. The bluish waters of the tarn reflected cotton wool clouds and the hopes of fine weather to come.


Moody skies above Levers Water

The day that followed was idyllic, with perfect weather for walking and to show off the Lakeland scenery at its best. Up to High Fell, the somewhat hairy traverse of the Prison Band, and over to Swirl How and Grey Friar. Then Great Carrs, Little Carrs and down towards the Three Shire Stone via Wetside Edge and the Wrynose Pass. All against a backdrop of blue skies, perfect white clouds and the good spirits usually associated with such fine weather. I won’t attempt to try and describe the views so hopefully the pictures can do them some justice.

Pike o' Blisco, Red Tarn and Pike of Stickle from the summit of Swirl How

Pike o’ Blisco, Red Tarn and Pike of Stickle from the summit of Swirl How

Tarn we discovered on Great Carrs, not to be found on the map

Tarn we discovered on Great Carrs, not to be found on the map

2014-06-08 14.02.09

White fluffy clouds

Cairn on Grey Friar with the Scafells in the background

Cairn on Grey Friar with the Scafells in the background

Then my first sight of the stone marking the old county boundaries of Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland and the steady climb up to Red Tarn on tired legs. Once up there we scoped around for a camping pitch, not too near the path and away from the boggy patches. We settled on a slightly sloping area near the stream, tents were erected, stoves lit, and then the first trauma of the trip, my brand new Alpkit stove conked out mid boil. After much pointing and laughing Matt agreed to finish heating my semi boiled water on his trusty Trangia and disaster was averted. For the second time in my wild camping career I was lulled to sleep by the sound of a chattering Lakeland beck making its way busily down towards the valley.

Spooky skies at Red Tarn camp

Spooky skies at Red Tarn camp

I awoke with a sense of unease on Monday after a restless night spent slowly sliding streamwards due to the slightly uneven pitch. The happy sunshine of yesterday had evaporated along with my confidence in the night to be replaced by insidious creeping clouds and a nagging self doubt about my abilities to walk in the worsening conditions, with legs still heavy from the previous days exertions. We started off well enough, heading up towards Cold Pike, with coats having been shed due to the warmth. At one point I wondered if this signalled the return of Sunday’s benign weather, but it was not to be. Instead of friendly blue skies and fluffy white clouds, swirling fingers of grey cloud vapour reached up and engulfed the hills one by one, like an unholy mist rising up from the lair of some underworld Satan. The clag slowly encroached on our view of the surrounding hills almost like a creeping blindness, cutting off each peak and rock slowly and deliberately.

Fingers of cloud clag

Fingers of cloud starting to encroach

Like a friendly banter turned suddenly dark by one swift cutting comment, and one’s hopes being extinguished by clouding confusion, so the dark swirling mass of cloud and mist settled about the Lakeland hills, turning light into darkness and hope to disappointment.

Clouds rolling in

Clouds rolling in

But although the weather had closed in and with visibility now zilch, and rain splattering down noisily on our hoods we still had a walk to complete. From the summits of Cold Pike, West Top and Far West Top I could see our next destination was to be the Crinkles. As I looked up at the narrow rocky path that snaked its way up past the ‘Bad Step’ over the lofty peaks, the cold hand of fear clutched at my heart. An enquiry of my companion as to the nature of the terrain to be crossed confirmed my worst fears, there were rocks a plenty, some of them loose and some scrambling might be required. What’s more, those rocks were now dripping wet, slippery and slimy, offering little purchase to nervous boots and hands. An alternative lower route was not to be found, the only way was to go up and over, with me fervently hoping that we’d make it down to the other side in one piece. Fear on this occasion seems to have blocked out some of the finer details of the crossing, but I can recall getting stuck coming down some rocks backwards and having to be ‘unstuck’. Suffice to say that on this occasion I think I reached the limits of my current abilities as far as wet rocky mountains are concerned. After the slippery jaggedness of the Crinkles came Shelter Crags. The rocks here were bigger, but still treacherous from their covering of moss and lichen with gaps to trap an unsuspecting foot, and all the while the rain still battered down relentlessly on us. I’m thankful to say that, for the most part it wasn’t a windy day, however up there amongst the rainy rocks a couple of particularly vicious gusts caught my heavy sodden pack and I could feel my balance going.

Then a welcome descent down towards Three Tarns, and an important decision to be made. Should we continue up towards Bowfell and Rossett Pike to risk a wildcamp in these inclement conditions, or retreat to the Langdale valley and a pint in the Old Dungeon Ghyll to consider our options. A quick glance at the swirling clouds was all that was needed and we started to make our way down the Band towards Stool End. As we headed down I caught sight of some familiar fells, yet more still unexplored. Any residual sadness at finishing early evaporated at the thought that hopefully I’d be up here again soon to continue my exploration. That, and the not unattractive prospect of a curry and a pint of ale in Ambleside later on.

My favourite phallic fell, Pike of Stickle

My favourite phallic fell, Pike of Stickle

Crinkles from meadow by the ODG pub

Not so scary Crinkles from meadow by the ODG pub

Although I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday for its fine weather and stunning views, the rain and discomfort of Monday may well prove to be better training for the tough physical and mental challenge of the 10 in 10.

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2 Responses to Clag, Crags and self doubt : an early June wander in the Southern Fells

  1. A cracking write up there. I hope all goes well for the 10 in 10, for all taking part.

  2. wellycath says:

    Ah, thank you Mike 🙂 Fingers are tightly crossed for the weather for next weekend!

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