March 20, 2015

Above the clouds on the Dodds

by backpackingbongos

Some days in the hills provide plenty of promise but don’t really deliver. This time there was no real promise as the weather forecast did not look particularly good, in the end it over delivered!

I spent the night in the Bongo in a small car park 400 metres above sea level, a good starting point to do a horseshoe around Deepdale. I woke with Reuben’s head buried under my pillow, dogs do make good hot water bottles. Even if they smell and wuff in the night whilst chasing rabbits in their dreams.

The skies had cleared during the early morning leaving the van covered in ice. As I stood outside with a steaming cup of coffee a farmer passed, commenting that I was mad to be sleeping out in the middle of winter.

17 kilometres with 720 metres ascent

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 20.26.10

The freezing temperatures overnight meant that the snow was hard and crunchy as we avoided the frozen puddles on the old coach road. The walking was much easier than the day before when soft melting snow hindered progress and soaked through my boots. With deep blue skies overhead and snow underfoot the distant Great Dodd looked much higher than its 857 metres.

P1080842

We crunched ever higher and then I was met with the most glorious sight. The whole of the Eden valley was full of cloud, the snow-covered Pennines on the horizon poking into the blue sky. Waves of cloud were lapping over the summit of Little Mel Fell, obscuring it for a while and then its bald grassy dome would reappear. As I climbed I would stop often and marvel at the sight below me. The cloud was rapidly rising and at one point I thought that it would overtake and engulf me. The cloud finally settled at around the 500 metre level, lower peaks just about rising above it. To the north of Skiddaw the cloud spread towards the horizon where it was met by a wall of Scottish Mountains. The crystal clear air meant that visibility was pretty much unlimited.

Pictures say much more that words can.

P1080845

P1080849

P1080856

P1080857

P1080859

P1080865

There was not a breath of wind and even though I was above 800 metres the sun felt warm, I was soon stripped down to just my baselayer the sleeves rolled up to my elbows. Reuben was panting away next to me.

P1080867

P1080869

P1080870

Watson’s Dodd was the main reason why I had chosen this group of fells to climb. It is only recently that I have decided to tick off the Wainwright’s. Although I have climbed many of the Lake District hills I had previously bypassed this one. I’m glad that I had as I would not have experienced such a stunning day.

The cairn was occupied by a summit hogger so I descended a bit to seek some shelter from a breeze that had started to drift up from the valley. I got a bird’s eye view of the cloud that was beginning to break up, the sound of vehicles drifting up from the road far below their roofs glittering in the sunlight.

P1080876

P1080880

Up on Stybarrow Dodd I could see the many skiers using the slopes on Raise, the Ski Tow in operation. It was busy over there but I enjoyed the solitude away from the main walkers highway as we descended towards White Stones.

P1080886

P1080890

P1080895

My legs were tiring on the long descent to Dockray via Birkett Fell and Swineside Knott. There were numerous ups and downs, the snow wet once again. However the views in the soft afternoon sun were outstanding. Helvellyn looked positively alpine in stature, snow and rock giving it a deep rich texture. Mist was already beginning to form over Ullswater.

P1080897

P1080901

P1080907

Down at Dockray it was tempting to pop in for a pint, a comfy chair in front of a roaring fire would have been magic after a long day. However it was still a mile of up hill back to the Bongo and I knew that if I sat down I would struggle to get up again. I was also ready for curry out of a packet. The glamour of Bongo camping.

March 13, 2015

Mungrisdale Common – a boring hill?

by backpackingbongos

It was close to midnight and the spot where I had planned to park the Bongo for the night was buried under deep snow. I therefore did what I have never done before and ‘wild van camped’ in the middle of a village. Tired after a day at work and a long drive both myself and Reuben slept well, discovering in the morning that even rural Cumbria has a mini rush hour.

The plan for the day was to go and bag a couple of Wainwrights close to Blencathra that have so far eluded me. Souther Fell on the map looks nice and shapely and a bit Howgill in nature. On the other hand Mungrisdale Common appears to not even be a hill, just a spot height on the boggy side of Blencathra. I though that it would be best to explore on a murky school day in the middle of winter. That way I could escape the crowds that were bound to be hogging the no doubt impressive summit cairn.

17 kilometres with 770 metres ascent

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 19.28.31

I led Reuben out of Mungrisdale without too much of a plan of how I would link the two hills together. Souther fell looms over the village so it made sense to climb it and get the lung bursting climb done first. I found the rapidly thawing snow hard work and picked a route along patches of grass. Reuben thought that the whole snow thing was loads of fun and acted like he has never seen the stuff before.

P1080818

Souther Fell gave a pleasant promenade with higher peaks towering above and views out across the Eden Valley. Reuben got very enthusiastic meeting a Border Collie who did not know what to make of having his face licked vigorously.

P1080821

P1080822

P1080823

I had thought about continuing along the path above the River Glendermackin on the south side but I was worried about the steepness of the snow slopes at its head. Instead I decided to continue up Scales Fell and climb onto the summit of Blencathra. This I later realised was a very wise move. Despite the snow it was easy going up the path and I only needed my microspikes for the last hundred metres when the snow got particularly crisp. Reuben met another Border Collie on the way up who positively encouraged him to lick his face vigorously. They bounded around while I chatted to the owner. The theme of the following couple of days was the friendliness of fellow dog owners whilst many other folks could barely manage a smile.

There was no view on the summit of Blencathra so we crunched along the icy plateau and started the descent to Mungrisdale Common. I made an initial false start when I realised we were heading for Sharp Edge which meant climbing back up before finally locating the correct path down. Snow and mist made navigating rather tricky. I need to remember that the compass knows better than I do.

The land behind Blencathra is about as different from Sharp Edge than it is possible to be. With a covering of often deep snow and with cloud hanging low it certainly felt a wild and woolly place. It was a good yomp to the summit of Mungrisdale Common where I sat on the rather insignificant cairn and ate my lunch.

P1080827

P1080829

P1080832

I have to say that I think that Wainwright picked a rather fine spot to include in his 214 Lakeland Fells. It was probably the weather but I felt that I was in the middle of nowhere rather than in the compact and busy Lake District. I might even come back and spend the night.

The soft snow made walking slow and laborious as we contoured round to the head of the River Glendermackin. There I came across the debris from a large avalanche, slabs as big as a sofa piled up on top of each other. It is hard to say when it happened but I was glad that I had climbed Blencathra earlier in the day. The alternative would have involved traversing directly across the slopes now covered in debris.

P1080836

The River Glendermackin carves through a lovely valley and I enjoyed the long walk along its length back to Mungrisdale. Back at the van I decided that it would probably be a bit rude to spend another night sleeping in the Bongo in the village. I headed off into the hills ready for another snowy walk the following day.

P1080841

March 9, 2015

Compromise

by backpackingbongos

As you may be aware I am particularly fond of heading to cold and damp places where I make myself as uncomfortable as possible. It’s all character building stuff and it gives me something to have a moan about. Unfortunately Mrs Bongo does not feel that peat bogs and midges make a good holiday. She therefore bundled me into a plane for 12 hours and held me hostage in Thailand for two weeks. As you can tell from the photos below it was a bit hellish. Normal service will resume soon.

P1080938

P1080943

P1080957

P1080965

P1080974

P1080979

P1080989

Tags:
February 15, 2015

The fall of Assynt – Caplich Wind farm

by backpackingbongos

Caplichwindfarm-660x496 (1)

Montage of the proposed Caplich Wind Farm

For some reason I have always liked my hill country to be understated and underrated. I do really like the spectacular stuff, the main problem being that everyone else does as well. I’m much happier to be alone in a vast bog where if the worst ever happened my remains will feature in an archeology programme in 2356. ‘What an earth was he wearing?’, the presenter will say whilst sniggering into his beard. Fashions may change but there will always be beards.

For lovers of solitude, vast moors and mountains with character I suggest that you head to the far north of Scotland. Much of this is ‘wild’ land with little sign of the influence of man (and yes I am aware that this area was well populated before the clearances). Settlements are few and far between. It’s a place to go and stand in awe that such places exist on such a small and crowded island. It’s also a place to go and escape the steady industrialisation of the Scottish hills. There are some big wind farms in the far north (especially in Caithness) but so far they have been on the periphery and towards the east coast. You can still turn your back and gaze towards the glorious west.

A few years ago I did a week long coast to coast from Evanton to Ullapool during some glorious spring weather. The highlight of this was standing on the summit of Seana Bhraigh, one of the remotest mainland Munros. It really was one of those ‘wow’ moments. The view to the north and west translated to an olde worlde map would have had the words ‘Here there be dragons’, written on it.

The mountains look like the backs of dinosaurs have broken the surface of the earth, small but individual peaks that have bags of character. There is one giant that rises above them all, Ben More Assynt being one of the few Munros of the far north. There is no landscape on earth that is similar to this.

There is now the real possibility that in a few years when standing on Ben More Assynt that the view will be dominated by 20 turbines, each 132 metres high. In old money that is 434 feet, amongst the largest ever to be built onshore. It will no longer be the periphery of this stunning area that will be in industrialised. They will be slap bang in the middle.

In my mind the Cape Wrath Trail has been the long distance path to walk if you want to see the wildest parts of the Highlands. This proposal would be your companion for many miles as you head towards and away from Oykel Bridge. The skyline bristling with huge moving towers only three metres lower than the London Eye.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 17.55.26

Map showing position of the proposed Caplich wind farm. The machines are slowly spreading towards the glorious Assynt hills.

The environmental statement is here.

The west is falling.

February 14, 2015

Kinder – A night with a mermaid

by backpackingbongos

Mild weather and rain during the week had washed away most of the snow in the Peak District. A disappointment considering the amount that had fallen the previous weekend.

I had received an invite from Geoff and Chrissie to join them on a short backpack from Hayfield to Kinder Scout. They had just received a labrador friendly tent and were keen to test it. By the time I had driven over, eaten their food and drank their coffee it was late in the afternoon when we finally set off. Just three short hours before it got dark.

With it being their local stomping ground I left my map in my pack and followed them to Kinder Reservoir via a circuitous route through Little Hayfield and along White Brow.

P1080788

P1080790

From Hayfield I have always gone up Kinder via William Clough or Sandy Heys, so it was new territory for me as we followed the path around the northern side of the reservoir. It was then pathless as we headed up the Kinder River.

P1080793

P1080795

Geoff set off at a cracking pace along the river to Peter Nook woods, Chrissie following behind. Reuben thought that it would be better for us to have a slow amble up the path along the upper edge of the woods. The tortoise got to the Mermaids pool ten minutes before the hare.

P1080797

I arrived at the pool exactly at the same time as another chap with his Labrador, he having the same idea of a nice quiet wild camp. I however was intent on a grassy shelf a couple of hundred metres further on. The area surrounding Mermaids pool is a bit on the soggy side to be honest.

Chrissie and Geoff managed to get their brand new tent up without too much fuss, good going considering that there was a keen wind and they had only pitched it once in the garden. My Wickiup gave me a bit of trouble to start with. Being tall it is difficult to get the flysheet on when fighting against the wind. Reuben chose to shelter behind a tussock rather than offering any help.

Because of the windchill it was not an evening to sit outside socialising so we hung out in our individual tents. The most exciting moment being when Tilly came along to say hello and knocked over my coffee. Reuben is currently being trained to return the favour.

P1080798

P1080802

P1080804

The wind had died down by morning and there was the beginnings of a blue sky. The mermaid had not come along and drowned me in the pool during the night, as per the legend. My only mermaid reference point is Daryl Hannah in Splash so I’m sure it would not have been an entirely unpleasant experience.

We did not pick the easiest way onto the plateau, taking a direct line up impossibly steep slopes. The remaining slushy snow was best avoided. My asthma inhaler just about managed to keep my airways open as my lungs worked overtime on the near vertical grass.

P1080807

P1080808

P1080809

The going was much more pleasant on the path that winds its way along the edge of the plateau. Chrissie and Geoff put on their microspikes but I found picking a route from boulder to boulder much easier. Reuben and Tilly with their built-in spikes and Four Paw Drive had no problems at all.

P1080813

P1080814

Kinder Downfall had the appearance of a set of giant organ pipes, great icicles hanging from the rocks. It was undergoing a transition from being frozen to its more usual liquid state. We took the three Knolls path back down to the valley just as cloud and mist swept in from the west. The plateau was soon hidden and a Peter Kay rain fell. Luckily we were dressed in Paramo so we were all snug, warm and dry and in the Paramo comfort zone.

Cheese on toast back at chez Crowther set me up nicely for the drive back home.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,662 other followers