The Vault Regulars

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The South West Cumbrian Fells Day.3

Day 3. Devoke Water to Seathwaite, Duddon Valley.  14.9 km and  461M Ascent.

Another cold night but not as cold as the previous one. Martin was up early and had completed 3 tops around Devoke Water. Seat Howe, Rough Crag and Water Crag, whilst Sheila and i watched his progress from the comfort of our tents. It was wonderful.

An hour later Martin was back.
We had breakfast and on a beautiful still morning with mirror like reflections of Devoke. We packed up slowly.
 Mirror like Devoke Water
 Our camp site beside Devoke Water in the morning sun.
Martin’s 25 year old Phreerunner still strong, my Duomid just peeping above Martin’s and Sheila in the Moment.
Sheila already packed up and enjoying a last brew.
Just as packing was finished clouds started to roll in fast and change a clear blue sky to a sun beamed grey and silver. "I looks like we have had the best of the day" Martin said. 
Rain on the way?
We had previously arranged that our friend Alan who had dropped us off in Silecroft, was going to try and do a day walk with us if it worked out that his B+B guests were running to time. We waited for 10 minutes at the side of Birker Fell Rd but it turned out they weren't and so we headed off.
Through the intake fields of Higher Ground and Birkerthwaite, spring had arrived, with numerous early lambs jumping around in the warm sunshine.
Making our way to the days first top, (for Sheila and I that is) Great Crag 323m (20) proved a knee deep boggy experience as we crossed 100metres of marsh land. From the summit the extensive ground all around us was a bit of a surprise. It’s a huge rocky landscape and far more extensive than i had imagined.
Heading up Great Crag
My old climbing and outdoor pursuits leader Ralph Blain used to bring his students here to teach them map reading and orienteering. I can understand why, its ideal, not too high, not too dangerous and relatively easy to retreat from if necessary.
Away we went on the next round of summits, most craggy with some minor scrambling involved but easy going. Broad Crag 367m ( 21). Then on the horizon Great Worm Crag 425m (22). I expected to see some “Great Worms” here but all we saw was a lizard or two. This is a green rounded hill with few crags and quite different from the majority of tops. We chose a cross country route until eventually we came to the boundary path which was followed to the small cairn.
Heading up to Great Worm Crag with Green Crag in the background
The boundary path was retraced to our next objective of White How 437m (23). All along the undulating ridge we had splendid views across to Harter Fell. Lunch was taken at a shelter crag below White How and once again the shortage of water was apparent. Sheila found a Petzl head torch but it had laid in the grass for sometime and the frost had cracked the major parts. 

Green Crag 475m (24) was looming large and craggy and it was a bit of a scramble to get up there. Its a superb crag and we were not surprised to see 2 couples enjoying lunch with magnificent scenery.
Martin carefully picking his route down Green Crag
Two more undulating tops brought our round to a close. We went up Crook Crag 451m ( 25) and Great Whinscale 409m (26). The plan was for Sheila and I to leave Martin at the foot of Harter Fell from where we would head off to Seathwaite in the Duddon Valley whilst Martin continued over Harter Fell and on Monday leaving Eskdale on the “Ratty”.

As we stood at the cairn on Great Whinscale, the next top Kepple Crag could be seen with quite a bit of space and height difference between us. We didn’t fancy going so far down only to come back up again to where our paths split. I thought where we were made more sense for us and so it was that we left Martin to carry on to Kepple.
Martins onward route to Kepple Crag and the point where we parted company. 
The top being Great Whinscale.
We contoured north trying not to loose ground and headed for the triangular shaped Harter Fell. 
The fell land between Great Whinscale and Harter is old forested area which is now overgrown so every footstep had to be watched. Numerous small streams and many hags had to be negotiated as well as green swampy pools. 
Heading for Harter Fell
With care we picked our way across to the main bridleway which crosses the watershed between the Duddon Valley and Eskdale. Its an absolute mess this path and i would say that it is now impassable on horseback.
The felled forestry.
Just as we exited the old forestry we decided to stop and make a brew. No sooner had i got the stove out when we had a bit of a shower. It was hard enough rain to don our waterproof jackets but it only lasted about 10 minutes. A couple of mountain bikers walked their bikes through the tree stumps and morass and then a couple with a pair of Whippets passed close by. We were sheltering just above the stream in the lee of the bank whilst we finished our soup.
We packed up and got moving just as another short shower passed through and thankfully this was the last bit of rain. It cleared up brightly as we walked past Grassguards farm and its vicious dogs behind a wire fencing. Then a lovely cart track took us through Wallabarrow and into Seathwaite.

The wind was gusting quite strong and as we passed through Wallowbarrow farm we saw a tent resembling a kite. It was off the ground by 6” and only being restrained by absolute sheer luck. I recon another 5 minutes and it would have been destroyed as it was swept down the valley.
A quick decision to rescue it was made because nobody was around. I didn’t contemplate it at the time but if we had been caught in the act then we may have been accused of stealing the thing.
Sheila recovered the tent and peg bags which were in the beck about 30yds away and the pegs were all over the field. We repitched the tent and noticed it was a brand new Exped job.(not sure of the model, i should have taken a photo but that wasn’t important at the time.)
We put rocks on the guy lines and was satisfied that it would stay there until the owners returned. I also noticed that the 1mm dyneema peg loops had cut through. Obviously this is what set the tent moving more and more as the lines gave way due to friction.
Exped and purchasers of this gear be warned. Upgrade those loops now. 3mm dyneema i would suggest and sod the extra few grams it will weigh..

The River Duddon at Seathwaite.
Seathwaite was quiet and only a few cars outside the Newfield Inn. Our friends Tina and Alan were expecting us and the aroma of the roast dinner filled our nostrils. The G and T went down a treat too.
We toasted Martin who would have been camping near the summit of Hardknott Pass.

Thanks Martin for planning and inviting us on this trip, it was superb. Thanks to whoever was looking after us with the weather. And finally thanks to T and A for all you help and friendship.

I took 97 shots over the 3 days. A slideshow is available here for anyone interested.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The South West Cumbrian Fells Day 2.

Day 2. From South of Stoneside Hill to South East side of Devoke Water. 19.3km with 723m of Ascent.

After what had been a very cold night for Sheila and i we arose to a most pleasing day. The cold was noticed more due to the fact that our sleeping bags were not rated low enough. Martins coped well. A Rab Neutreno endurance.(Not sure which one)
Sunshine, no cloud or wind resulted in a leisurly breakfast before setting off.
Only base layering was needed as was quickly recognised on the way up the small hill of Stoneside  494m(8), but this was not to last long. Here we saw a group of people heading away from us.  A few minutes later our paths crossed and we assumed they were about to do a lightweight ascent of Black Combe.

Crossing Corney Fell Rd and following a boundary wall we soon arrived at Great Paddy Crag 532m. From here we dropped west off the top crossing a couple of walls and leaving our bags for a return pick up from Kinmount Buck Barrow 535m (9).
Kinmount Buck Barrow
Skirting the lower heights of Great Paddy Crag we picked our way up Buck Barrow, 549m. (10). From this top our next summit was a little distance away, Plough Fell at 448m (11). Our bags were once again left for a return route. 12 minutes later we were on Plough Fell.

Rucksacks donned and a quick look at the map, we headed for the watershed between Buckbarrow and Logan Becks and then a steady walk on a narrow grassy track to gain Burn Moor. 543m (12).
For quite sometime the cairned top of Whit Fell had been prominent. The wind was picking up and become stronger by the hour. Again the lack of water was a bit of a worry. Great views from the Trig point on Whit Fell. 573m (13).
Well wrapped up against a strong wind on Whit Fell
Dropping sharply off Whit Fell and crossing the old pony track between Waberthwaite and Bigert Mire we made short work of passing Fox Crags and Holehouse Tarn. Still no running water. It was now obvious that we had to save what water we did have for a lunch time brew, so once we topped Stainton Pike. 498m. (14) we found a relatively sheltered spot for a stop.
On route to Holehouse tarn
Lunch over we followed the high crag line to the watershed marked as spot height 437m where we once again dropped our sacks for the long drop and up to Hesk Fell.474m(15) The moorland was rough tussock grass with deep man made gutters (drainage). Numerous times our boots were trapped in the grass leading to witty comments as we fell over.
On our way up we crossed paths with 3 fell runners who's  route was obviously going to pass directly up to our rucksacks. We stood and watched until they passed. They stopping briefly, only to reflect as to why 3 rucksacks had been left in the middle of nowhere.

Great views were had from Hesk Fell 474m . And especially good to be able to view all the summits right from Pillar around Scafell, Bowfell, the Crinkles and more.
Hesk Fell with great views of the central lakeland fells.
We made our way carefully back to our sacks and on route I could feel a hot spot on my right heel. It was a blister and not just grass in my boot as I had hoped. What a time to get a heel blister. Luckily I had blister plasters and once applied it caused me no problems.
Onwards we  completed the round taking in Yoadcastle 494m (16). Woodend Height 487m (17). Quite a severe drop off followed to get to level ground where we crossed more rough boggy ground to achieve The Knott 331m (18).
The wind was fierce, we couldn't stay long on the tops now and I admit it was pleasing to know that we were heading down to valley level for some respite. Still no water. Our route contoured around Birkby Fell until we picked up the footpath which would take us to Devoke Water where we had planned to camp.
Cairn on White Pike with Devoke Water behind.
The last hour and especially the boggy footpath was draining my stamina. I think the lack of water, the hot sun and the fierce wind had resulted in a touch of dehydration. I got to that point where i found myself not trying to avoid the boggy bits but ploughing straight through them. Sheila was fine. Huh.

We found a good spot on a small headland next to Hall Beck. The fierce wind was now at valley level and putting the tents up was done with care and all hands.
Eventually we settled in to make tea which for us was homemade beef stew, followed by apple and custard and rounded off with a cup of hot chocolate. I was feeling a little more human now after some calories and liquid and a good evenings banter was had.

As is usually the case, the wind eventually died down leaving us with a calm evening and tremendous sunset over Devoke Water. The last sounds of the geese on the water set the scene for a peaceful transition to sleep.
 Devoke water at Sunset with Seat Howe to the right.
Tarptent Moment and Devoke Water at Sunset

Monday, April 21, 2014

Far South West Cumbrian fells. Day.1.

Some readers may be wondering why i havn’t yet published my TGO Gear Pt.3. Well i was just about to, when i read Gordon Green’s posting here, about the Rab Boreas. And it completely threw me.
I have a Rab Boreas and we have never got along. Then after reading Gordon’s posting and deciding that it had good potential, i bought a Marmot Dri-clime vest and received it in good time to give it a good testing prior to the challenge.

So this Easter Sheila and i along with organiser Martin B set off to walk from Silecroft in South West Lakeland to Seathwaite in the Duddon Valley and covering 30 tops. Martin and ourselves were to split at the foot of Harter fell where he would continue for a few more tops and head to Dalegarth Station the next day to catch the train.

Day One. Silecroft to just South of Stoneside Hill. 14km with 850m of ascent. The numbers in brackets are the accumulative tops.

Thanks to our friends Tina and Alan for driving Sheila and I to Silecroft to meet Martin arriving on the 12.00 noon train. Greeting done and goodbye’s said we set off to our first top which just happens to be the steepest. Black Combe South Top at 566 metres
It was particularly warm with bright blue skies as we made progress higher. Quite a few day walkers were on the trail along with a couple of mountain bikers and a pair of noisy ATV’s. At some points the trail was particularly eroded due to these vehicles.
At around 300 metres and with good views of the massive wind farm in Morecombe Bay we sat down  for lunch.
Carrying full TGO challenge kit with 3 days food included, it was a shock to the legs to carry it all up this steep slope. Somehow, we think it was down to paying more attention to the ATV’s, we missed the off shoot path to gain south summit first before the main trig point summit. But it was no tragedy.
Sheila decided to have a seat at the trig point 600 metres and keep an eye on our rucksacks whilst Martin and I strolled back to the south cairn.(1)
 The start of the walk in Whicham valley. 
 Martin on the south cairn of Black Combe
Martin and Sheila enjoy the top of Black Combe (2)
Clear views of distant fells provided joyous walking on our way to Stoupdale head via White Combe head. Once Stoupdale head (3) was reached, just a small cairn of a few stones we headed south on a broad grassy ridge to the much larger cairn of White Combe 415m (4).
Here we met a couple who asked us where we had come from and where we were going with backpacks. We skipped all the in between bits but told them we were heading for Harter fell, way to the North. So they were a bit perplexed when we set off in front of them heading south east to achieve the top of White Hall knott 302m (5).  WHK is a particularly fine little top gained by a pleasant narrow-ish ridge affording good views across to Barrow and Walney island.
On White Hall Knott.
I believe WHK is the remains of a volcanic plug.

At this point we could see Whicham Beck which was to be our spot for overnight camping. We would be there in about 15 minutes. Apart from it being a little early in the day we could also see that the spot would be in the shade before too long. A decision was made to go back up to White Combe (6)and back up to Stoupdale head (7) and carry on the start of what should have been Day2.  
Well it was a bit steep going back up and it was definitely hard work. The legs were screaming a bit but once the top was achieved and the views north came into view we knew it was all worth it.

What was very noticeable and becoming a bit of a concern was the lack of water on the fells. We had come across none. I was feeling the need for some liquid refreshment as it was still a very warm afternoon. We had a 5 minute break at the top before setting off following the fence line across open boggy moorland to a very welcome and fine pitch just south of Stoneside Hill. 
A quick look at the map showed a stream just after the fence line but on achieving this the stream was dry with only narrow pools of water showing where it normally runs. 
However just as we found a decent spot for the tents a small clear spring was close by which was very welcome indeed.

We had the best of the sun for the remainder of the day and as the haze over the sea lifted the Isle of Man began to get clearer. By the time we had a sunset the IOM seemed within touching distance.
 Camp spot Day1 
 Sunset Day1.
 Sunset and the Isle of Man. Day1.
The evening was fine with no wind at all we decided to sleep with out tent doors open so that the stars and moon could be observed. We drifted off to sleep and a point came during the night that i felt pretty cold and looking across to Sheila’s tent it was obvious why, a chilling frost had formed on the tents and the ground was white.
In the morning Martin said that he looked at the thermometer and it was minus 2C so it could have dropped a degree or two less than this. It convinced me that i wasn’t going to take the Rab summit sleeping bag on the challenge and so i will now take the PHD Minim 500.
A very chilly night probably below minus 2 degrees C.
Day 2 to follow.

Friday, April 18, 2014


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