Distance: 17.8 miles
A few weeks ago while working long hours, I sent a tweet (a message on Twitter) asking if anyone fancied a weekend walking in the Lake District. Phil Turner quickly responded that he would go. He must not of been deterred by the previous trip, which was good fun in the snow.
Fast Forward a couple of weeks and I was sat in McDonalds in Penrith waiting for Phils train to arrive from Glasgow, while trying my best not to murder several unruly teenagers. We didn't hang around and headed straight for the Youth Hostel at Coniston (Holy How) which Phil had booked using his SYHA membership. I've never understood why anyone would join the English & Welsh YH when the Scottish is lots cheaper and is valid in the same places.
The Youth Hostel was deserted, only 8 people including us were staying on the Friday. After checking in we quickly headed to the Black Bull in Coniston for food & drink. I was shocked by Phils choice of Cumberland Sausage platter, destroying my belief that he survived solely on pies. We didn't linger in the pub due to the fact that the walk back to the hostel was unlit and didn't fancy rolling back late.
After a couple of bottles of beer in the Hostel we retired to our bunks and I quickly fell asleep. We were woke at 6:30 by the people sharing our room, they were back and forwards to the shower and spent ages messing about with their bags. Eventually they left and I think both myself and Phil must of dozed back off to sleep, because I woke up and it was 7:45 which is when we'd booked Breakfast. Phil must of heard me get up as I heard him stir in the bunk next to me. We quickly threw our stuff together and headed for Breakfast. We were the only people there except for the 2 doing the cooking. We quickly polished off the fried breakfast and headed for the Langdales, still feeling a little hungry.
We arrived at the National Trust car park and found only 2 cars, by this time it must of been nearly 9am. I expected it to be at least half full. I can hardly remember walking up Stickle Ghyll, before I knew it we were at Stickle Tarn and stopped to take some photos and admire the view which was amazing with clear blue skies (so much for low cloud).We had only seen one solitary walker near the top of Stickle Ghyll but he had disappeared, looking back down to the road I could see a few cars now arriving.
While I snapped away Phil suggested we walk up Jacks Rake, this is something I've had on my to do list for ages but alway been with someone who would never do it. So I happily agreed and headed for the bottom of the Rake. It was slippy near the base of the route as you can see from the photos Stickle Tarn is covered in several inches of ice.
After a quick inspection to make sure it wasn't too icey and Phil telling me about how he'd been up it in the cadets as a kid (can't imagine they'd do that now with Health & Safety) we set off. There were a few icey sections but nothing that posed too much of a problem and again we made good progress up to the solitary tree about 3/4s the way up. We stopped to take a few more photos and admire the fantastic view. Now when we looked down to the head of Stickle Tarn there was an army of people looking like ants scurrying around down there. Many of them appeared to be looking up at us, probably wondering what nutters were walking up there in the ice and expecting us to fall.
It was only a short scramble from the tree to the top of Pavey Ark, we decided not to walk on the actual summit and spotted another couple of walkers once up on the top. We headed towards Harrison Stickle but decided not to walk up to the summit either and headed in the direction of Rosset Pike one of the few Wainwrights in this area I hadn't walked. We descended from Martcrag Moor down to Stake Pass, near Langdale Combe I decided I'd take a few more pictures. Phil probably heard a few restrained choice words when I realised my camera was no longer attached to my waist belt. I'd only bought the Camera 2 days earlier.
While I was standing there thinking how many hours over time it was gonna cost me to replace it, Phil decided we should try to retrace our steps and see if we could find it. I thought I could remember seeing it attached when we stopped for water. It is surprising how hard it is to retrace your steps exactly and couldn't remember where the stream was. We eventually retraced almost all the way back to Pavey Ark where I was certain I had seen the camera attached. We then headed back again in the direction we had walked earlier. We managed to pick up our footprints in the snow (both had Inov8 310s on), it was harder where there was no snow. This time we found the stream and followed it downhill. I was about to give up when Phil suddenly shouted and directed me to where it lay. That was our Search & Rescue for the trip, I'm extremely grateful to Phil for deciding to go back and for spotting it. I think his eye sight deteriorated after this, because he kept thinking sheep and rocks were people!
The Search & Rescue mission had taken nearly 2 hours and several miles of retracing steps up and down hill. So we decided to just camp early at Angle Tarn. If I hadn't lost the camera we would of gone over Bow Fell and possibly Crinkle Crags too on the Saturday. We decided to miss out walking up to Rosset Pike and after tentatively crossing several patches of ice on the Northern side of Rosset Pike and several boggy sections we made it to Angle Tarn to find the sun behind the hills and it was decidedly frosty with thick ice covering the tarn.
There were several people in the area, but by now we just wanted to get the Tent/tarp up. Phil had brought his Trailstar, so he could show me how to pitch it, I am waiting for mine to arrive from the States. It's incredibly easy to pitch, taking only a few minutes, even while explaining it to me and having to push the pegs into the frozen solid ground.
After seeing how it was done, I quickly pitched the trusty Akto and scattered the contents of my bag inside to make it feel like home. Then blew up the Neo Air, hoping that the replacement I had very quickly received from BPL.co.uk wouldn't deflate like the previous one. I chewed on a cuppa tea I'd made with dried milk that didn't disolve, then I must of drifted off for a few minutes. When I woke there were several people descending from various directions towards us. Shortly afterwards 4 people started pitching a couple of tents quite close to us, at least one of them must of been a wildcamp virgin and we could hear him being instructed on various things.
Another group of people pitched some tents slightly higher on the other side of the beck. The group camped next to us continued setting up their gear. Initially they appeared to talk quietly but this became gradually louder as it got darker. I made the unfortunate discovery that I'd left my headphones at home. The group spent the next 4 hours or so laughing and shouting between their tents and you would think trying to create a strobe light show with head torches. I was contemplating on using the ice axe for purposes other than it was designed, when they must of decided to go to sleep. I thought it was just me being tired but Phil said the same thing the following day and he had headphones on.
After several hours of broken sleep I must of managed to get a couple of hours and woke to a cold morning with the light starting to break through the darkness, I lay for a while with the door and inner tied back while waking up. I'd left the water in the porch and it had mostly turned to ice, so tipped it into the pot and started making a brew. The gas stove went out and I realised it must of been the temperature and being placed on the icey ground. After warming the gas and placing something under it, I soon had my cuppa minus the powdered milk. Phil appeared too after hearing the stove, I was busy trying to defrost my shoes above the stove while my brew boiled. The shoes had frozen solid, the temperature had got down to -4. Luckily I'd been reminded to undo my laces and shoes as much as possible the previous night, I would of forgotten.
While I devoured my breakfast of a sausage roll and continued to wake up, the other group started to stir. We quickly packed up the gear or rather Phil did, while I continued to chew on my frozen Sausage Roll at the same time.
We made good progress up to Ore Gap, spotting various tents on the way up and in the distance. Once at Ore Gap we stopped to take some more pictures and admire the view with an inversion in the valley and cloud capping most of the higher fells. We made it to the top of Bow Fell at 9:30, the first people of the day it appeared. Again we stopped to admire the view which looked like a bed of cotton wool in the valley. We still didn't see anyone as we descended to the Three Tarns glissading once or twice.
The low cloud which had been forecast for the day before decided to make an appearance and covered much of Crinkle Crags. I mentioned to Phil about going down the bad step, I couldn't quite remember which number crinkle it was was from this direction so each time we neared a summit I thought it would appear, with the cloud/fog it was hard to tell how far we were over. Somehow we (me) made a navigational detour and managed to make a 180 degree turn (we have no idea how), we then decided to descend off the side of Crinkle Crags hoping to reach the car and pub for lunch. We followed some cairns on the descent which was quite steep and I thought it looked different but put it down to the cloud. I even looked at the new Outdoors app I'd downloaded on the iPhone which told me I was West of the Long Top but didn't believe it.
We continued to descend and both of us thought the valley looked wrong but were still restricted due to cloud. We put crampons on while we checked out a Gulley that we thought about descending but Phil made the wise decision that it was too dangerous (incredibly steep we later noticed from the bottom). We gingerly crossed the gulley. By this time we realised our error and that we were descending into the wrong valley, but decided it was quicker to descend and walk up the marked path back to the Three Tarns. We made our way down another slightly less steep slope, which had rocks to help descend. I went first trying to kick steps in and slipped, I am happy to say my first real self arrest was textbook perfect (in my eyes). A minute or so later I saw Phil slipping and wizzing by me, he had a slightly different technique of stopping which gave me visions of a broken leg, but I need not of worried. Once down into the valley Phil took compass bearings to check we were going the correct way and I decided to test the Outdoors app properly and believe it.
It was an incredibly long slog up the icey slope to return to the Three Tarns, I was tired by the time we got there. I think Phil felt the same and we stopped to share the Pepperami I'd saved. It's surprising how much better I felt afterwards, maybe knowing that there was no more ascent also helped. We then headed down The Band heading for the car and pub at the New Dungeon Ghyll, it always feels like it takes quite a while to descend this way but you do get to look along the fabulous valley, which still looked magical even with the cloud. The last mile or so from Stool End farm to the car I could feel the bag on my shoulders probably because I knew we were nearly back and I couldn't wait for a nice meal and a pint.
To my horror Stickle Barn was closed for renovation, that soon passed when Phil pointed out the Walkers bar at what I always thought was just a hotel. I must of stopped there nearly a dozen times and never noticed it, always going into Stickle Barn which is the closest to the car park. This post has become incredibly long, so will just say Phil enjoyed his Pie and I made sharp work of the homemade burger and pint. I was going to add a quick gear review and lessons learnt which there were several but will do this in a seperate post tomorrow. It was another excellent trip with Phil. Even though it may of sounded like it was eventful, it only added to make it an great weekend and a good test of gear and skills. You can see more of the photos from the trip on Flickr here and the strange route below: