Saturday, June 14, 2008

Saturday 14th June: Hill Walking

Planned a walk with Pam, first decent hill walk for ages. As neither of us had been walking for a while we decided against an all day epic, the original plan was to do the Kentmere Horseshoe but I think it was too long for a first walk back. We decided on a route starting from Honister Slate Mine on Honister Pass (cut out some climbing!). The route was to take in Grey Knotts, Brandreth, Green Gable, Great Gable, Fleetwith Pike then back to Honister Pass. Around 6 milesish, so not too silly.

We decided to set off around 8am to miss the fuel protest and stay up in the Lakes all day to make sure we missed it all, if necessary have some retail therapy in Keswick to pass some time! As I hadn't been walking for some time it took a while to remember what kit I would need. I had checked the mountain forecast and it was for showers in the afternoon but temperatures on the summits would be around 5 or 6 degrees. I decided against my full waterproof trousers and chucked my wind proof ones in only but as usual took my GoreTex jacket and put it at the bottom of the bag. I also chucked in windproof gloves, some glove liners, a hat and my thin running gloves (I hate cold hands), I also put in a thin fleece. I would wear converta pants, a t-shirt and arm warmers and a gilet to set off and add take off layers as needed. I found the map for these mountains and realised it is the only Lakes map I haven't changed to the more durable laminated ones, it has been well used and promptly split down a fold when I put it in the map case, new map then. I put the compass and my camera in the hip pockets of the rucksack, once more check to see if I could think of anything else then went to bed.

In the morning I made up a bladder with two litres of water (which I drank b*gger all of, naughty) and four butties with peanut butter and jam, which sounds grim but is something I will eat even when tired. I've made up lots of interesting concoctions in the past with sensible things like chicken, salad, avocado etc but I always loose my appetite walking and can never face them, PB and jam seems to work for me though. I took some salted peanuts and a few nutrigrain bars too. As usual my rucksack felt lovely and light until I put the water in but its not too bad once actually on my back. I had a change of top and my Tevas to change into after walking. Pam picked me up, the drive was pretty uneventful, the motorway was very quiet even for that time in the morning, probably people avoiding the fuel protest. I was interested to find out what Honister pass was really like, it is a famous pass for torturing yourself on a bike and on the map it had double chevron sections, unlike Wrynose and Hardknott which has triple chevron sections. At the bottom of the pass there was a sign saying up to 25% but it seemed to be only a few short sections really, I didn't think it was too bad a hill but then I was in a car I'd probably be cursing it on a bike. We parked up at the slate mine as there was plenty of parking though 4.70 for all day parking was a bit eye-watering.

We got ready to walk, using the YHA loo which was open at that time (wasn't when we came back which was a bit traumatic!) then "relocated" a gentleman who hadn't taken the left turn at the bottom of the pass to Seathwaite, he hadn't realised he had climbed up to Honister though all was not lost as he just decided to do his planned walk in the opposite direction. We set off up a fairly direct and steep path to the first summit, Grey Knotts. There would be no navigational challenges at this stage of the walk, we just needed to follow the fence. Like Pam I prefer to have steep climbs and gradual descents, I'd rather get the bulk of the climbing out the way at the beginning of the walk and have a nice easy potter back at the end rather than taking a gradual climb and a quad destroying descent down. My legs were quite tired from last nights run so I just took it nice and easy, no point getting too far ahead anyway, may as well walk on my own if I did that. Pam had brought her Wainwright guide for this area and the summit of Grey Knotts was supposed to have good 360 degree views, which it most definitely did. I stood on a little outcrop of rock and got the camera out and took a 360 degree series of shots with the intention of stitching them together eventually to make a panorama. It was here I noticed how windy it actually was and how bloody cold that wind was, my hands were frozen by the time I'd finished and I had to dig out my thin gloves. We had a look at Wainwrights detailed description of the view and could pick out Hellvellyn, Dollywagon and lots of others. It was worth bringing the book for that alone as my mountain identification is pitiful.

It was pretty cloudy over towards the Gables and the wind was quite strong here so we did wonder how strong it was going to be at "Windy Gap", the pass between Green and Great Gable (answer: very). As I was getting quite cold (tshirt, arm warmers and gillet only at this point) we pressed onto the next "summit", Brandreth. AW was quite dismissive of this little lump and once we got there it was easy to see why, even though it was really close to Grey Knotts it afforded none of the excellent views of the former. We didn't stop and carried on towards Green Gable. it was here that I started to notice lots of little groups of fell-runners no more than about 4 or 5 people to each one, I decided early on they weren't in a race as a) They were all wearing too many clothes, not the regulation skimpy shorts and vest b) There were no numbers in evidence and c) They weren't travelling that quickly for fell-runners. On the walk between Brandreth and Green Gable we passed several of these groups. It was getting colder and windier as we were getting higher but at least the climb up onto Green Gable generated some heat and my fingers warmed up at last. We decided to press straight onto Great Gable and have some food once we summited.

We dropped down to Windy Gap and were suitably windswept when we started the climb up onto Gable itself. I don't know what I expected this "path" to be like, it was more of a scramble with lots of loose stone and people moving up and down (more little fell runner groups). I ended up putting my map away and felt happier being able to use both hands. The steepest section was over quite quickly then we headed to the summit. We sat down in the lee of the wind and had some food and got the Wainwright out again to check which mountains were which, though the cloud was annoyingly swirling around the Scafells. I took a picture or two and then noticed a very, very, very black cloud heading our way. I was also getting cold again so I took the opportunity to do a bit of a quick change, gillet off, fleece and Gore Tex on. It was a good decision as a minute or two later is started to hail - so much for showers in the afternoon. We decided to move before things got too wet as we had to drop back to Windy Gap. I left both hands free and descended not too badly though I am a bit out of practice at it. Another group of fell runners came down and we asked them what was going on - Bob Graham Round attempts! It was so obvious to me once he said it. The guy I was talking to was pacing this leg for the chap behind him. They "only" had to get to Honister then do DaleHead, Robinson and Hindscarth and it would be over. The guy behind him looked fresh as a daisy considering he'd been going since 6pm the night before. Apparently this is a popular BGR time due to it being near the longest day and there was also a full moon which made the night navigation sections easier. The pacer also told us that Ennerdale fell race was being held and we may see some of them as we descended Windy Gap. We wished them luck (don't think they really needed it) and started the descent down Windy Gap to see some fell runners take the steep direct line of Green Gable, an impressive sight.

The path down Windy Gap is steep and very loose, it took us a while to descend it as we were stopping frequently to let the runners slide past. It is definitely one of those paths that are best done at speed as we were having a lot more problems than they were trying to stay slow. As we hit the bottom of the loose stuff one guy stopped to empty his shoe of rock and we asked him how he was doing. He very chirpily replied that he was on the way back now, the race is 23 miles with about 7000ft of climbing with rather a lot of it still to come from what I could see (Kirk Fell and Pillar are not midgets). After finishing with his shoe, he stood up, did a few star jumps (as you do) then tore off towards the climb up Kirk Fell, we did give him a round of applause.

From there we just had a gradual descent down to the car though we did have some good views of Haystacks, Buttermere and Ennerdale which seemed to be permanently in sunshine today. We had been out for around 5 hours which was good considering it was such a slow pace, the guide time was 6. We headed into Keswick for a post walk pint (which went straight to my head, glad I wasn't driving), toilet stop then some shopping. I bought a new NW Lakes map and a lightweight waterproof jacket which would have been ideal today. Then we decided to have some fish and chips before setting off down the road.

The M6 was practically deserted on the way back. Need to plan another walk for when Jez and I are off next week.

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