Winters Coldest Day – 13 March 2013
I didn’t manage to get out on Monday, but my friend Anne had a wonderful day in the snow! Account below! Thanks Anne.
Harter Fell, Kentmere Pike and Shipman Knotts from Longsleddale
Our plan was to do a shortish walk and be back in good time for my friend’s badminton match but while preparing our hot chocolate we decided that this clear, cold, bright weather would be perfect for one of our old favourites, Harter Fell and Kentmere Pike from Longsleddale.
We have walked this route countless times in all weathers, from cloudless blue skies both in summer and winter to driving rain, hail, mist and snow. Today’s forecast promised a particular favourite condition – sun on snow, mainly sunshine with a few snow flurries and, the down-side strong winds.
Driving up Longsleddale valley on the somewhat slippery lane, (thankful for 4WD) we were stopped by a local and advised that our MP was stuck in his car further up the road and awaiting rescue. She asked if we were going walking and when we told her our planned route she advised us strongly to avoid this, due to the arctic conditions, recommending a shorter, valley level alternative. We thanked her, drove on and passed our stranded MP, with a cheery wave and smile.
We carefully considered the lady’s advice and decided on an alternative favourite lower level route around Skeggles Water and Kentmere. We stopped at Tom’s Seat, our starting point for this walk and almost parked. Almost. We looked ahead at the high fells topped with snow and decided that if we hadn’t been stopped by the lady, we would not have considered changing our route. We know it very well so we pressed on and parked as usual at a deserted and freezing Sadgill.
We walked against a strong, biting, icy wind up the rough valley road along Longsleddale, but although there was a light snow covering there were no problems underfoot and any ice was easy to spot. We could see swirling cloud higher up on our route so took the chance to enjoy our hot chocolate and indulgent vanilla slices in the shelter of a wall, on a patch of snow in the sunshine. A good move.
Pressing on against the increasingly bitter gale we wound our way up the track, making first tracks in light powdery snow, whipped up by the wind. Nearer the top the path had been completely covered by drifting snow, meringue like, with beautiful wind sculpted curves. It seemed a shame to spoil this but we took a few photos before making “first tracks”.
As we climbed higher the wind whipped up, the clouds gathered and it started snowing but we enjoyed wading through deep snow and enjoyed views along Haweswater, usually a good place to enjoy a hot chocolate. Part of the path skirts a steep slope with a drop off, and crossing a sheet of glacier-like ice just before this we decided to avoid this section and climbed the frosted fence to blaze our alternative trail. Our caution here was proof we hadn’t completely disregarded the local lady’s advice.
The fence was coated with thick frost, added to by wind-blown snow and as we climbed higher, this thickened and by the time we reached the top, the snow covered frost crystals formed long fronds clinging to every part of the wire fence. Nature’s Art at its best. And tomorrow it would be gone. The path we know so well up Harter Fell, by the fence, had been transformed into what looked like a mini glacier. Thick, dimpled ice covered huge areas of the ridge so we avoided slipping by walking in the thick snow nearer the fence, which formed drifts and beautiful wind sculptured patterns. The top wire of the fence was by this stage totally wrapped in thick ice.
We had spotted a lone walker below us and our many photo stops along this section allowed him to catch up and overtake us. He reassured us that he had walked this route 300 times and it was as safe as houses, so we felt a little less irresponsible about ignoring local advice. But it would not be a good place to twist an ankle and have to await rescue so it was good to know we weren’t completely alone in this Arctic world. At this, the highest section of the walk, the weather closed in and treated us to a heavy blizzard and even stronger winds, and the lone man ahead of us disappeared into the swirling clouds. After foolishly taking off my gloves to take a few more photos my hands became numb with cold and took a while to painfully come back to life. Frost bite must be excruciating!
We continued with the gale along the ice covered ridge and admired the beautiful snow drift formations against the wall along to Kentmere Pike ,walking amongst frozen tussocky grass tipped with droplets of ice, which sparked in the sun which had now appeared for us. As we walked, we kicked the frozen grass to enjoy an almost musical tinkling noise as the blades snapped. At some point we realised we were following ski tracks but we never saw the lonely skier. The howling wind made it hard to hear each other, so limited our usually incessant chatter while we concentrated on striding ahead and keeping warm. My friend was pleased she decided to wear her ski goggles (!) and I was pleased I’d brought two hats. The summit cairn of Kentmere Pike with its lovely views towards the other side of the Kentmere Horseshoe would normally be our picnic spot, but extreme cold and continuing gale force wind were against us, so we continued by the wall, admiring even more fabulous snow drifts along the way.
The high ladder stile leading from Kentmere Pike onto Shipman Knotts had been buried on the down side in a snow drift which we had to spoil as we climbed down it. We continued downhill and managed to negotiate the short scramble down Shipman Knotts without incident, but had to resort to some bum shuffling, a “seated technique” for the short steep rocky section which was a little icy. We found a sheltered spot to finally have our soup before heading down the newly surfaced track back to my lonesome in Sadgill.
Although mid March, we learned that this was in fact the coldest day of the Winter of 2012/13, and it didn’t surprise us. Everybody has been talking about “Cold Monday” this week! I think with wind chill we were walking in around minus 9 degrees C and it certainly felt a lot colder than minus 23 degrees had felt (without any wind) at nearly 4000 metres at the top of Zermatt last week.