Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Return to the Lake District (aka SDOTF) - Part 2

Sunday 9th November 2014 

Today's adventure started appreciably later than Saturday's, a veritable lie in with a daylight start. We were doing the Fairfield Horseshoe anticlockwise - Ambleside to Rydal, taking in 8 Wainwrights along the way.  Anticlockwise avoids doing a nasty neverending ascent up the hobbit steps of Nab Scar.  We saved that joy for last.  Worked out well though, I didn't give much of a fuck about anything by the time we got there! 

When Nici first mentioned this route to me I had a quick Google.  Jaysus, some ascent and then a long long time up on the ridge, with a long long way to fall down (not that I was planning to do that). I'm not the best with heights, I'll get dizzy if I let go of the handrail going up on the Tube escalator, so I decided to watch some Youtube videos to prepare* myself. 


Most of these Youtube videos were done clockwise and on lovely sunny days. It sounded like a good hearty hike with a bit of vertigo thrown in for fun. Bring it on! 

Official blurb: 

The horseshoe walk is a 16 kilometre journey with 1100 metres of ascent and includes the peaks of:

Low Pike (508 metres)
High Pike (656 metres)
Dove Crag (792 metres)
Hart Crag (822 metres)
Fairfield (873 metres)
Great Rigg (766 metres)
Heron Pike (612 metres)
Nab Scar (440 metres)

I can't get the elevation bit to save as a separate pic, Windows 8 is a twonk 

James had sent Nici a very handy link for the local weather, which warned us that temperatures would be below freezing above 700m.  Seeing as that would be the greater part of our journey we were very glad of that warning and packed accordingly. 

By the time we got to the edge of Ambleside the rain was getting heavy so we decided to stop there and then and get the waterproofs on.  From that point I was wearing an Icebreaker longsleeved base layer, a technical tee and Montane Minimus, with full length tights and shorts.  I don't think I've ever worn that much to run in apart from in the snow.  I was very glad of it though. 

A nice brisk walk up to Low Sweden Bridge and then we started the ascent through fields. It was pretty, looking back and seeing Ambleside below, but my God it starts off climbing and doesn't let up. Eventually we came to the wall that we would be keeping to for most of the way to Hart Crag. It was pretty cold already but great to be on the way. The ground soon became boggy and progress slowed as we tried not to get stuck in it. 

Somewhere between Low Brock Crags and High Brock Crags (wet craggy bastards) is a thing called the Bad Step.  We took a couple of close up looks at it, said "fuck that" and diverted down into a field for a bit before climbing back up to meet the wall. 

Along here we ran into the Bog of Doom *SDOTF.  It must've taken a good 15 or 20 minutes to get across that bastard. It was funny and surreal but at the same time we couldn't afford to lose a shoe to it or that was the day ruined so we had to be careful.  The tip of my feckin pole got stuck in the middle of it and came off, I could see it gradually sinking and tried to get it back out, splashing some bogmud up at Nici in the process, but I soon had to admit defeat as the bog wouldn't relinquish it's grip and so I left it there to eventually work it's way down through to China. 

Low Pike was a bit of "are we there yet?" as there is no cairn, the wall goes directly over the peak, which involved a fair bit of scrabbling over wet rocks.  And we couldn't see much anyway so if the non existent cairn had been over to the side it could do one. 

Looking up to High Pike from Low Pike - picture lifted from Wikipedia as it was too wet and claggy
to actually see it in real life  

The clag was coming in heavily now and we really couldn't see very far around us at all, probably a good thing.  Just continuous walls of rock looming ahead of us in the mist.  The terrain was mostly bog and wet rock.  Our gloves soon got wet from scrambling up rock slabs with streams running down them  *lesson learned - I need better gloves for this kind of thing, my hands really got bloody cold, and early on too (I had meant to wear 2 pairs but forgot a pair).  At points there'd be a steep rockface ahead and you wouldn't be able to see if there was a way around without going right up to the edge of it. Nici very kindly checked these bits out, knowing I was struggling a bit with the heights thing. 

Might be High Pike but I'm not sure to be honest!  It was all a claggy blur

At some point along here the various directions or whatever we'd read had recommended climbing over the wall from east to left side as the terrain was easier. That may have been at the Brock Crags, I can't really remember. What I DO remember is trying to climb over a wet chin-height wall with pissing rain, wind, stones moving on the top of it and fucking hell that was a mission!  Of course there wasn't a convenient stepping stone down off it, only eejits use walls like that for climbing over, but after a lot of faffing and squealing and laughter we got over the bugger. 

We were steadily gaining height now, yet still coming across cow pats.  Bloody weirdos, what the hell are they doing up there? There's more bog and stone than grass, and none of it on the level. Copious amounts of shit at that, they really need to stop eating hikers.

Somewhere along this ascent I put a Buff around my face, one over my head, put my cap back on, pulled my hood up, and put on an extra gilet.  Thank Christ I did. 

Let's take it that we're on the approach to Dove Crag now ok, I can remember screeching at Nici at one point (when very wet and tired from all the rock scrambling) "why aren't there any fucking signposts or nameplates on these things?".   I think there not being a cairn on Low Pike threw me a little, I hadn't realised until writing this blog that it doesn't have one.  Think you're well prepared for something, then go back and do some more prep!!  More feckin lessons learned.  

The Inov-8 212s totally earned their place in my heart today though.  My God those shoes are great.  Steep grassy banks, streams running down over rock, bogskating - they handled it all and gave me a lot more much needed confidence in those conditions (I'm not moaning about the conditions btw, what else would you expect on the fells in November, but fucking hell it was tougher than anything I've ever been out for that long in). 

Suddenly out of nowhere the clag lifted and we got a few minutes of Heaven :-)  I think we both danced a bit for joy, then I grabbed my camera to record the moment. Sight of the western side of the Horseshoe was amazing, I'm so glad that we did get a few minutes here and there where we could see the views.  Next time I'll do this one in the summer. But it was good to get it done in such shitty conditions and rise to the challenge. 

It was a very ultra-like day in that the language and topics of conversation were most definitely not what you'd want your elderly aunt to hear. I was having a loud rant about my knickers going up my arse and various other unmentionables when something made me look around and there were two bloody men running up behind me.  I think the wind blew my words away from them though, they didn't look too shocked.  

Onwards and upwards to Dove Crag.  No feckin birds out in this weather, they've more sense.  Oh, I've just looked at the fell race map and it says to cross the wall here for better going.  Maybe that's where we had our climbing wall episode, not where I put it above.  Ah well.  We climbed a big wall. Somewhere. 

Met some nice bloke up here, he seemed to want to stop and chat but we were just too bloody cold and wet to hang about. Shame. Ah well, I'm sure he survived without our scintillating convo. 

At Dove Crag was a kind of turning point, onto the top U of the horseshoe, it was a nice point to finally reach. Nici had the route on her GPS thingy and it was a Godsend. I had it on my 310 but because we had to 'divert' around bog etc he kept bleeping and telling me I was 'off course' which really fucked me off after a while so I switched him back to normal view.  We both had good maps and I'd a compass I was prepared to use, but with such cold hands it would've been a mission.  Again, lesson learned, dress for the cold and wet and then dress some more. 

I have no pictures or videos for the next couple of miles. The clag was down to about 2-3 feet visibility, there were serious drops to either side (which we couldn't see), and my hands were too fucking cold to hold anything but my stick. I don't think I've ever concentrated so hard on anything in my life.  We were already knackered from the ascent and battling over the water/rocks, now we were onto a section that was so disorientating in the clag that it was actually quite scary.  

Obviously we weren't running on this part, following the GPS was the main priority.  At one point I started shivering uncontrollably, my core had been toasty up till then, and I must admit it worried me a bit.  We dressed adequately, the only error made was the gloves, but on a bad day that would be error enough.  I think this must've been around Link Hause.  We heard voices but couldn't see where the hell they were coming from. Of course if we'd really been stuck then we'd have shouted but taking it slowly and carefully kept us on track for Fairfield. 

Then the clag lifted and we saw around us.  I think I saw Helvellyn, I saw something bloody amazing anyway, but without my compass out I didn't know what direction it was for sure so I'll take it as that one.  

We also saw Fairfield up ahead, with happy people on the top, so I said to Nici "come on let's run for it while we can see the fucking thing!".  So we did.  Till the clag drew back in. 

Let's throw in a picture of the Horseshoe now so you can see what we had been hoping to see!  And what we did go around :-) 

Got to the summit in one piece anyhow, there was a group of people having sandwiches in the shelter so we walked over to some crumbled wall or something and had a brief shelter from the wind while having some food and sorting the direction down off it. 

Then the clag descended again and all signs of life vanished.  We reckon we were the only ones up there that day, the rest were ghosts. Sinners doomed to forever roam the Fairfield Horseshoe. Like Albert and Marigold on the 505 *SDOTF

At one point I said to Nici "that's the edge there and you know what? I don't give a fuck anymore! fuck the fucking edge!"  I tend to get a bit cranky when I'm scared :-) 

From this point we got in some lovely running.  The feet were soggy anyway, I'd foam coming up through the 212s for the last couple of hours, so there was no point avoiding the streams anymore.  Nici indulged in some mud running and sliding, very funny to watch. 

The peaks over this side were easier to get up as well, still steep but there was no shitey rockslab scrambling as there had been on the eastern side.  So glad we did that bit first though, that would've been quite gruelling on tired legs. 

Great Rigg was the next peak after Fairfield, don't remember much of that tbh, claggy hill, hilly clag, nuff said.  

The Herdwicks made an appearance up here and what a lovely welcoming sight they were.  I reckon that any place where Herdwicks are has to be pretty cool. 

And so we carried on - running, slipping, sliding, hiking, laughing - to Heron Pike.

I think that's Heron Pike, or thereabouts, comes in the right sequence of my photos anyway

The temperature was noticeably 'warmer' here, thank God, and as we were descending we finally caught sight of Rydal Water and on the other side some of the valley of the Horseshoe itself. Fabulous. 

Down, down, down and onto the steps of Nab Scar. Jesus wept. Zig zag down down down.  You'd get to the curve and think that surely must be it, but no, more legs of these slidey hobbit steps.  Beautiful place, but fuckin hell we were tired by then, it needed to end!   

And then it did :-)   Past William Wordsworth's gaff, down a manky ribbed concrete lane, ouch, and then 17 miles back into Ambleside (not really, felt like it though). 

And so the end of the adventure.  Would I do it again? Hell yeah!  Am I going to invest in serious winter gloves?  Fuck yeah!  

I don't think there's anything we need to do differently, apart from better gloves.  We got the fuelling right, kept moving, realised when we were possibly heading for a little trouble with regards to shivering and dealt with it, double and treble checked directions when in low visibility, all in all a very valuable fell experience.  On the hairy parts, and especially when sprawled hands and knees clawing my way up rockfaces, I really just wanted it to be fucking over, but I guess the fear of heights is still there to be tackled and with time and more exposure I'll get there.  The trekking pole was an absolute essential and it would've been so much harder without it, even sans tip!

The date for the next Lake District visit hasn't been set as yet, but when it is I'll be counting the days. It's so hard to leave though that one day I just shan't*

*not in a SDOTF way though 

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