Days like this are a total affirmation of my ‘reasons to go north’. Any doubt that I may have had vanished with the anticipation of a good day on the hills, then when it materializes in to the sheer pleasure of snow, ice and isolation there is fulfilment.
Even as I pulled the plastic cover off the car the -4 frost was sending tantalising contradictions to my senses. The sky was blue and the sun was shining and yet, how would the weather be in the mountains? Obligatory coffee at what is becoming a habitual meeting point in Willf’s meant we didn’t actually start walking until just before 12. Even then the sun was shining and the white tops looked inviting.
Not many people were about as we left the National Trust Car park at Dungeon Ghyll, though there were a few cars. There are several choices for the assent; we took the route from Stool End Farm, crossing Oxendale Beck and up Browney Gill (For a free PDF route map to email link ). The valley was clear and we swung right to go up Browney Gill, so called because of the coloured rocks along the way. As we climbed the first serious notification of the drop in temperature, aside from streaming noses and chilly fingers, were the frozen streams. But climbing in cold was quite a new sensation for me. I have in recent years done quite a bit of skiing but not a lot of walking in snow. So, going up mountains has meant a restful, but often cold, sojourn on a lift or a frightful drag on a bar, when the sheer terror of falling off has meant ignorance anything else. Today, we were walking hard, and though it was sub zero, I was generating enough heat to drive a small furnace. Even Rosie had to take her coat off.
The snow crept up about 300m, well before we reached Red Tarn. The tarn was frozen and looked Christmas card perfect with a snow covering of 10 to 20cm. As we walked on towards Crinkle Crags the peace was interrupted by the raucous noise of a helicopter. Turning round revealed the bright yellow of the rescue team. We watched for a while as it looked as though it was going to land and though we saw a few people a little lower than us none appeared to be in difficulty. We continued, surmising it was a training run.
The snow cover was increasing steadily and we were glad that there had not been a fresh fall as the trails were obvious by the compacted snow. Visibility was diminishing by the minute and the wind was picking up losing our way was not an option we wanted.
Almost at Bad Step, the second of the crags, we noticed a couple with an emergency blanket over them. It transpired the lady had fallen and possibly broken her ankle. We offered hot drinks etc but they were well equipped and though not exactly happy, were prepared to wait until the emergency services found them. We continued grateful that we had a free rescue service. Commenting, that we would remember to put a survival blanket in next time we went out in the snow.
A rare photo
The accident doubled our decision to take the easy route round the back of Long Top and not over it (Bad Step). Even better it was sheltered and we were able to stop in relative comfort, rehydrate and take on a few calories and carbs before covering more ground. Just stopping dropped us a few degrees and hats, thicker gloves and Rosie’s coat all came out of backpacks.
Snow and mountains though, are just a perfect combination and the ice formations and drifts were too photogenic to ignore, despite the cold. Each of the crags was a fresh challenge as we sought footholds both up and down before we began a rather euphoric decent down The Band. Once we dropped out of the mist we were able to see across to the Langdale Pikes again and appreciate just how long the walk down Mickleden was back in November. The Band gives gentle decent back to Stool End Farm.
Just below the snow line we notice the helicopter and several rescue vehicles in the valley. Watching for a while it took off and disappeared towards Red Tarn and then flew back and out towards Windermere. Presumably end of mission. At the gate at Stool End Farm is a collection bucket for Mountain Rescue. Do remember to take a donation if you walk this route.
Grid Ref NY286061 OS OL6