The start of the snow

Snow forecast and bags packed, I spent last Saturday hiking in the Lake District. The challenge, 10.5miles, 5 Wainwrights and not much light.

I find the hobby of hiking in England is closely followed by the hobby of weather forecast monitoring. I feel I have it down now; I consult an array of websites, compare their forecasts, wind speeds and precipitation probabilities. I read them all, then I ignore everything and go anyway. It’s too much fun and I enjoy it too much for rain to stop me.

During the run up to the weekend it was looking good, however sometimes you can tempt fate by making plans. Only letting people know what you plan at the last possible minute almost means that it wasn’t going to happen anyway. Given the forecast I did have to prepare a little further in advance, getting some think gloves sorted and my crampon bag sorted. However apart from that I felt prepared for any weather the Lakes would throw at me. It was going to be a good opportunity to test out new kit and I felt confident in everything I had that I really didn’t mind what the weather was going to be.

Reaching Thursday of that week I could see the forecast at the summit of Stybarrow Dodd (1 of the 5 Wainwrights I planned to tackle) was -6C with the wind providing a temperature feeling more like -19C. However, no cloud was forecast, just sun. It was going to be a classic winter hike.

I mentioned to my Dad and brother I was going up to hike and they decided they would join.

Preparing for a day in the hills

The night before my hikes I have my entire bag packed and have my water bottles ready. Only a flask and my lunch are left to pack in the morning before leaving.

Laid out on the bed the equipment mounts up, in addition to walking gear I often walk with 3 lenses and a camera body. The pile of equipment is refined, how many gloves are needed, will I need a baseball cap in winter (unlikely). Do I need a spare hat etc.

Most of the time it’s a mental checklist I go through as things go in my bag. It has become a methodical process with items being in very similar places each time, so even on top of a mountain in a gale I can reach into my bag and quickly find items I require without seeing them.

Day of the walk

Meeting at the small car park near Dockray we set off down the road toward the small farming settlement of Dowthwaitehead. From here the route starts to climb until you reach a drystone wall allowing you to skirt its edge toward Birkett Fell. From this lump you continue the ascent another 20metres to the summit of Hart Side at 756m. Hart Side is deceptively challenging, the gradient is not enough that you feel it should be hard, but it just keeps going and going, in the snow it is more difficult still as the constant adjustments made with muscles for balance take their toll.

ascending-hart-side

However even from this low altitude we were starting to see the signs of winter.

icicles-hart-side

The higher we climbed the more exposed we became and the more the wind took its toll. By now we all only had our eyes exposed to the elements, the minimal amount. The wind when it is that cold stings your eyeballs. So with the snow crunching beneath our feet we ascended further. Up to the minor peak of Birkett Fell, and across to Hart Side.

Once at Hart Side we have reached about 750m which is decent going and puts us in a great spot to get up to the next few peaks which roll along the large and open ridgetop. Walking at a fast pace across to Stybarrow Dodd, then on to Watsons Dodd. Looking back as we go.

looking-back-to-watsons-dodd

Continuing our journey and maintaining our pace set across the last two mountains, the wind becoming easier in the lee of a mountain we made the most significant peak of the day Great Dodd in great time. It was before we expected and because of this we were able to do the entire planned route. The additional fell of Clough Head would also be ticked off marking my 117th Wainwright.

looking-out-from-great-dodd

At this altitude we were starting to see signs of a proper winter, ice forming off the back of the grasses poking out through the snow. Still not full enough snow and ice for crampons but a good taster for when it arrives in full force.

iced-grass

As we made our way my Brother and Dad went on ahead, I stopped back to take photos and couldn’t resist taking this shot. When the mountains and the sky meets it was just them standing there. I almost visualised this in black and white, but it was a very spare of the moment shot as the whole thing only lasted about 10 seconds after seeing it before the moment passed.

snow-fields

Hitting the last summit of the day was tiring, unlike summer your clothing holds you back. Not in that it restricts movement, but it just weighs more. The pack weighs more. It all seems to weigh more on the mountain too. I feel like I have to be stronger and want it more in winter, I guess that’s what draws me to the mountain areas all the time. The want to be outside, the want to conquer, achieve and improve. Not just to be faster, but walk and climb smarter, make better decisions. I hope it transfers into the rest of my life like I think it does.

Descending from Clough Head we started to lose light. Sunset is 4pm at this time of year. The time at Clough Head summit is about half 3. I take one last snap before our decent and the light begins to fade.

blencathra

This is a rare experience for me, most people only join me in Summer, so I am more cautious in winter and tend to ensure I am off the mountain by sunset. So watching the sunset and the colours change was fantastic. I loved the way the mountains changed shape in the light and the light accentuated new areas of the buttresses and crags.

blencathra-at-night

A fantastic 11.5 mile round with some excellent views. Hoping to squeeze another in before Christmas, we shall see what the weather decides.

Thanks for reading.