Wednesday, May 30, 2012

102 West May 2012

A simple concept - follow a course due West across the Lakes, 41 miles, 19,500 feet, 20 hours 45 mins

The concept might have been simple, but the execution was not.  Despite very poor running form, I decided to set a different sort of challenge that would involve exploration of some previously unvisited corners.  A perusal of the map revealed a possible line due West from Shap Wells to near Cleator Moor crossing over 50 grid squares in the process.  Only one line was possible without having to swim across lakes or dally with danger on vegetated cliffs, and that predicated a start from near Shap Wells.  I allowed myself the luxury of a 200m deviance either side of Northing 102 and made plans for a bivvy before returning to Langdale for my lift home.

Sunrise over Wet Sleddale
I departed at about 4:15 am, shortly after first light.  I soon left the track for hours of pathless wandering, starting with the tussocks of the Shap fells.  With a day and a half of food and spare clothing and bag for the bivvy I never really established much of a run, but it was pleasant enough ambling along in the soft light of early morning, the sun rising over Wet Sleddale reservoir.  Before long I was in home country, slanting up past Mosedale cottage to Artle Crag then the first steep descent of the day to near Haweswater.  The shoulder of Harter Fell provided the first awkward ground of the expedition - an upward traverse of scree, grassy shelves and crags that makes a better winter goal than a summer outing.  I stuck as close as I could to Northing 102 and descended to Small Water where campers were lapping up the early morning sun.  The tarn glistened under the dazzling sun as I slanted up towards Mardale Ill Bell and thence Thornythwaite Beacon.  A keen wind blew across the plateau but coming as it was from the east I would have it behind me the whole day and in any case it was welcome relief under the unrelenting sun.

Another steep slope
By the Kirkstone road, the sun's power began to take its full effect.  A steep descent from Caudale Moor was immediately followed by a stiff pull up beside the wall and thence to Little Hart Crag.  I crossed the Fairfield ridge just below Dove Crag and to the surprise of two walkers disappeared straight over the crest for the valley floor.  they must have thought my route-finding was terrible.  The ascent of Great Rigg beyond looked intimidating but it wasn't quite as bad as it appeared, although the unrelenting steep slopes were beginning to take a toll on my legs.  I tried to take as close a line as I could across the Grasmere road, but after 3 difficult walll crossings came to the conclusion that it wasn't very responsible and headed back down the road before heading up the track below Helm Crag.  Here I had my first break by the stream, greedily tucking into two wraps and throwing as much liquid down my gullet as I could manage.  The sun was starting to get to me now.  I had rarely experienced such an intense sun.  There was nothing to stop it - not a cloud in the sky and no haze to relieve the burning rays.  With no ridges to follow, I laboured under the burden of my sack and the lack of a a decent track - indeed any track - to follow.  The route was so illogical that there were no trods and the traverse beneath Blea Rigg was somewhat tortuous with unstable scree and rocks unavoidably littering the slopes.  I met a group of fellrunners heading up towards High Raise who looked as though they were attempting a Joss Naylor traverse, but I was soon left to make my way toward Low White Stones and from there to make the steep descent to Langstrath.  I somewhat envied the daytrippers lounging by the river.  They stared at me amusedly as I ploughed through the river, splashed myself , doffed my cap in the water and headed upwards, water dripping from the peak.  Unfortunately I knew all too well what lay beyond - a particularly unrelenting ascent of Glaramara, or to be precise, the top West of the summit.  

Toiling up Glaramara

I had come this way on my Lakes 2500s round and it wasn't any easier this time as I frazzled in the afternoon rays.  A solo unsupported expedition is really tough when its like this - there's just no relief - and hydration is a major issue.  After what seemed like an age I eventually reached the top, but the descent was scarcely any easier.  Its a brutal descent beside Hinds Gill and my legs had gone, turned to jelly by the continuous effort and wilting in the sun.  To make matters worse, it was obvious that my feet were going to be a real problem too.  Having become wet and without a change of socks, the heat was creating pressure sores and blisters, such that every footfall was painful.  From then on, I knew that I had a long day ahead - running was a distant memory.

Great Hell Gate
Still the day was fine, if hot, and despite an equally brutal ascent of Seathwaite Fell, I recovered a little joie de vive.  The diagonal ascent of Gable aded a bit of interest.  I started traversing too low and ended up in the crags before Great Hell Gate, a well named sweep of skittering scree that splits the Napes.  A singularly uninviting upward traverse of immensely unstable scree and rocks to the top of the Napes ensued, made all the more awkward by my burning feet that screamed out at every step.  Still, it made for a properly demanding challenge and the views from the top of the Napes make up for any hardship, with the sweep of the screes accentuating the cliffs that bound them.

I elected to take to the screes that fall to the South of Beck Head, not fancying the White Napes, but the difference is marginal.  All the scree in these parts is loose, run out and with my feet, highly unpleasant.  But it  seemed like nothing compared to what was to come.  The traverse of the fellside 200m below the summit of Kirkfell was truly horrendous in my decrepit state.  Each step was an effort to avoid slipping on the stones that now and then rattled down towards Wasdale Head.  The route wove in and out of gullies across wide fans of unavoidable scree.  Every now and then I would slip, jabbing my poor toes against a rock.  Other times, a rock would end up on my foot and my legs felt as if they were being tortured with the tensing of muscles trying to stay upright.  Once the ridge leading down to Wasdale Head was crossed, the terrain did ease, but by then my legs and feet had really had it.  Without poles, I was reduced to a somewhat painful stagger down the steep slopes to Mosedale.

The Gully on Red Pike
As soon as I reached the shade I lay down and dangled my feet in the air.  Relief!  After a couple more wraps, energy drink and a sit down, life was tolerable once more.  But the final steep ascent lay above - a wall of rock and grass to the summit of Red Pike.  This resembles Cwm Glas in North Wales, albeit on a smaller scale and I'd not been here before, so despite the continued effort, I thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of this new corner of a familiar land.  It was clear from the map that the summit headwall would have to be breached by a steep gully.  It wasn't clear that this would 'go' until I was almost upon it, but once below the gully itself, I could see a route past the chockstone and I was soon on the ridge and taking in the evening air on the foresummit of Red Pike.

With the major difficulties over, I even managed a shuffle downwards past Scoat Tarn and in to the shady hollow beneath.  A quick skirt around the crags beneath Haycock revealed the Scafells in the dark red hue of sunset, with Seatallan similarly bathed in late evening light.  It had long been clear that I would not finish before nightfall, such had been my excruciatingly slow pace from Glaramara, and never having considered that I might take such an age to complete the outward journey, I had packed just a reading light of a small Tikka torch with poor batteries.  I therefore pressed on as best I could to make the most of the remaining light.  Another steep descent and ascent led to Caw Fell and then it was dark.  The Tikka was quite pathetic.  After a few minutes I switched it off with no discernible disadvantage.  In my tired state and poor light I then went too far right on the broad shoulder of the hill and ended up 1 km upstream of where I should have been.  In the dark and without a usable light I elected to follow the path, along which I slowly stumbled, aware that the journey was drawing out ever longer.  After a day of bone dry hillside, the only path was wet and I found myself sloshing through squelching bog every so often.  Without being able to see properly I just had to plough through it all.  On and on it went, until finally the track improved and I could make better progress.  At 1am I reached the road that marked the end of my journey, prised off my shoes and inspected my poor feet.  Blisters bulged alarmingly, but for now I could forget about them.  I had a celebratory swig of juice, crawled into my bivvy bag and immediately fell asleep.

Early morning light on Ennerdale Water
Unfortunately the cold soon woke me up, as did a couple of cars whizzing by after a night on the town.  At 2:45 I'd had enough and breakfasted on my remaining wrap, before sauntering down the road toward Ennerdale bridge.  Some time earlier I'd realised an oversight in my planning - I'd forgotten to take a map for the return journey and I was now off the map. No matter - I'd follow the road to Ennerdale and from there it was obvious back over Windy Gap and Esk Hause.  It would be a slow 25 miles of walking.

In actual fact, the walk proved to be moderately enjoyable, at least for the most part.  The early morning light on Ennerdale Water was exquisite, which is more than could be said for the slog up to Windy Gap in the heat of the morning.  But by 1:30 I was sitting outside the ODG tucking into a well deserved lunch.  It had been a gruelling weekend.


No comments: