Above the clouds on the Whinlatter Horseshoe

by backpackingbongos

Being a sad hill bagger type I noticed a clutch of unclimbed Nuttalls, Wainwrights and Birketts on both sides of the Whinlatter Pass. Rather than doing a series of there and back day walks to collect them I planned an inelegant backpack that would take them all in. For want of a better term I have called it the Whinlatter Horseshoe. Well I thought that it was a horseshoe shape until I actually traced it on a map. It turned out to be the shoe of a psychotic Shetland pony.

Total distance – 31 kilometres with 1840 metres ascent

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(Click to enlarge)

Day one

The footpath sign was correct in indicating that it was a no through route. The right of way simply stopped at the edge of a field with no way forward. It had however done the job of depositing myself and Reuben within access land at the foot of steep slopes that would eventually lead us to the summit of Ladyside Pike.

It was a climb done in thick murk, there was no wind and a total absence of a view. Every now and then I could hear the traffic as it made its way up and down the Whinlatter Pass. Otherwise it was simply exercise with the absence of external stimuli. That was why it was extra special after all the exertion to see the final summit cone against the blue sky, mist slowly being pulled aside.

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The air on the summit itself was warm and crystal clear, a different world from that just a few metres below. A sea of cloud was spread below my feet to the west. Strangely though everything to the east was clear, the valleys visible. The Whinlatter pass itself seemed to be the dividing line.

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The way ahead was along a snaking ridge and up to the summit of Hopegill Head. The mountain looked unobtainable from this angle, sitting above a band of cliffs that I would have to climb. I was not sure if this would be possible with Reuben in tow, he is not the worlds most proficient scrambler.

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Getting closer to the final pull to the summit, things looked even trickier.

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The climb turned out to be very easy, especially with the rock being warm and dry. I’m not sure that I would want to descend when there is a layer of ice though!

The cloud to the west was consolidating, becoming thicker and rising and falling up the hillside like waves on a beach.

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The summit of Hopegill Head is a beautifully airy place. I took off my pack and perched by the tiny summit cairn taking in the scenery. It was late in the afternoon during the first weekend of October and I was sitting on the summit of a mountain in warm sunshine. What had initially looked like a very average day on the hills was quickly turning out to be one of the best.

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The ridge to Whiteside looked too good to miss, even though it would involve doing it twice as a there and back.

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The walk along its twisting path and over various minor summits was sheer delight. It was even better on the way back to Hopegill Head as the setting sun began to cast everything in an orange and then pink glow.

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Back at Hopegill head the sun put in a dazzling light show as it began to sink into the line of cloud spreading towards the western horizon.

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I sat until the sun finally dipped, the temperature immediately dropping, both myself and Reuben’s breath rising in the cool air. I had planned to camp high, my map showing water just to the south east of Sand Hill. Unfortunately the watercourse was bone dry when I got to it during the last of the fading light. Plan B was to descend to Coledale Hause and climb a little way along the stream to the south. It was dark by the time we reached the Hause, the climb being done by torchlight. I eventually found a reasonably flat platform on which to pitch the Wickiup. Reuben did his best to help by trying to get inside before it was fully pitched. He went off in a huff to bed down in some long grass after I told him he was just adding to the challenge of pitching in the dark.

With the tent fully pitched he was soon quick to make friends again when invited inside to get comfy on his mat and blanket. He feels no shame in wearing his fleecy pj’s, snug and warm he let out a grunt of contentment and was soon snoring away. It was not that long before I joined him in the land of nod.

Day two

Fell runners must be insomniacs as a pair of them passed my tent soon after dawn, with more passing whilst I was eating breakfast. It was a clear morning with the cloud low in the valleys, however it steadily rose whilst I was packing up. By the time we left we were in a cold and grey world with limited visibility.

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It was a trudge back up towards Hobcarton Crag, visibility reduced to the eroded path that I was following. Suddenly blue appeared above me and I broke out above the cloud for the second day running. Hopegill Head just about had its head above the clouds, the ebb and flow threatening to crash over its summit.

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Our next destination was Grisedale Pike, it’s conical summit not being as successful in holding back the fluffy surge.

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The best view of the day was towards Skiddaw which looked like an isolated island.

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We were engulfed again on the summit of Grisedale so we dropped down to the north to find a quiet spot for a mid morning snack. The rest of the day was spent in a miserable combination of damp fog and limited visibility. Hobcarton End was bagged before a long knee breaking descent through the forest to the summit of the Whinlatter Pass.

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I had carefully planned a route through the forest on the other side. However I failed to realise that Whinlatter is a major mountain biking destination. My planned ascent route turned out to be a fast downhill bike track where those on foot were prohibited. I took note of the signs as to walk up it would mean the quick demise of Reuben, myself and any descending mountain biker. Instead we trudged along the road for a while before climbing over a gate close to a disused quarry.

What then followed was a steep, highly vegetated struggle through deep heather and bracken. I was simultaneously pulling myself up with fistfuls of the stuff, whilst often falling sideways after some tufty section meant I lost my balance. Reuben however did not mind it one bit. At one point I’m sure that he was even smiling.

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Once on the hill we picked up a path to Whinlatter Top and did a there and back ascent of a couple of hills. I had planned on camping somewhere near Barf but laziness soon got the better of me. After picking up water from Drycloffe Gill the Wickiup was pitched on Tarbarrel Moss.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent reading and brewing, the sun putting in a brief appearance at the end of the day.

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Day three

This time it was mountain bikers who were up at the crack of dawn. A trio decided to spend a while chatting loudly close by (I later found out that there was a bike trail nearby, they had stopped at the summit). You really are never far from people in the Lake District! There needs to be some bylaw that states if you are not wild camping you are not allowed on the fells before 9am………..

We had soon bagged Ullister Hill and were on a series of lovely paths through the forest en-route to Seat How. This allows you to tick a Birkett off the list, but strangely it is not even a hill in its own right. It’s simply an area that has not been planted by forestry. It does sport a cracking view back to Grisedale Pike though. The good thing with obscure hill bagging is that you visit places you would not usually bother with.

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Barf was our next objective, via a series of forest paths and tracks. At one point I was very pleased when I overtook a trio of teenagers on mountain bikes. I was on foot with a backpack and wobbly belly. Breaks in the trees gave views down to Bassenthwaite Lake and across to Skiddaw, its head stubbornly in the clouds.

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Although Barf is a small hill it is rugged enough to have bits that you can fall off. The views are also outstanding. It was then another descent followed by a climb to the summit of Lord’s Seat. I timed my arrival perfectly as a gaggle of ramblers had just finished their lunch and were about to leave. Reuben was wearing his panniers so we both suffered the indignity of a mass of pensioners taking his photo using ancient forms of technology.

Lord’s Seat is aptly named as just below the summit to the north is a natural rocky seat that provided respite from the cooling breeze. A perfect spot to sit for a while and finish the contents of my food bag.

The walk over Broom Fell, Graystones and Kirk Fell was an easy one, these rolling hills not having a huge amount of character. The day was leaden and overcast but a few beams of sunshine managed to pierce the clouds every now and then.

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The descent from Graystones to the valley bottom is a steep one, my knees and thighs were sore by the time I got to the bottom near Scawgill bridge, not a route that I would like to repeat any time soon.

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Back at the car park I did my good deed for the day, picking up a discarded crisp packet. It was covered in dog shit. Thanks for that.

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16 Comments to “Above the clouds on the Whinlatter Horseshoe”

  1. That all looked rather wonderful 😊

  2. Love love love your photos especially the ridge on Hopegill Head. It’s 8.30pm and it’s dark and I’m sitting by the fire taking in your photos and wishing I was in the Lake District on the top of a hill. Hate dark nights!

    We plan to go wild camping next spring. I’ve only done it a short way from the car before but want to combine it with a long distance hike. Just need to find a backpacking tent that two people can realistically fit in!

    Jenni

    The Thrifty Magpies Nest

    • I’m the same Jenni, hate it when it gets dark so early, longing for the long days of summer already!

      Make sure that you get out wild camping, it’s the best way to enjoy the hills. You see them from another perspective.

  3. Great pics,was a good wknd to be out

  4. A cracking start to what looked like a satisfying few days in the hills.

    • Yes, it was just a shame that I had to drop below the clouds, would have been great to have stayed up high and in the sun.

  5. Fantastic photos – can’t beat a good temperature inversion! That route up Hopegill Head is one of my faves in the Lakes… in fact the whole area is pretty wonderful once you’re away from the road. Great post!

  6. What beautiful, atmospheric photos. Looks like you had a cracking trip James.

  7. Looked like a really great trip, absolutely stunning pictures.

  8. Wow! That first day was an absolute corker, stunning photos. I like the NW fells, by Lakes standards they are relatively quiet

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