Archive for March, 2015

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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