Day 4’s walk of 13.3km with 1242 mtrs ascent and 840 mtrs descent.
Day 4 would be the day that I would first encounter snow. Not quite in the same league as the snow encountered by my fellow American Bloggers over at http://hikingtohealthy.com/, but never the less enough for me to at least gain some snow experience.
Overall though I was a little disappointed in Day 4 in terms of my overall performance. Despite almost continuous walking I only managed 13 km and fell around 2 km short of my target point at Angle Tarn.
I had even attempted to skip my midday meal (though I would later have this at 1600) in the hope of maximising the distance I could cover, yet the total distance was disappointedly low.
I can only guess it was a mixture of steep terrain – see the elevation profile below – and the snowy conditions which had adversely affected my forward progress.
As days go, day 4 was pretty hilly!
Having to kick out steps into the snow does take time, so maybe I can let myself off a bit? Without anyone to compare against I can’t really tell if 13km is to be expected given the circumstances and sun down at around 1800.
I really enjoyed the snow and soon learnt that one cannot tell the depth simply by looking at it. There were a few occasions where I thought it was only a few cm deep, but got rudely brought back to reality when my leg disappeared up to the knee!
The latter half of the journey was made over snowy mountainous terrain in poor visibility with high winds. As mentioned below in my write up, I cannot really convey how hostile and possibly a little frightening that this environment can appear when you are out in it alone.
Maybe it is my lack of experience in these type of environments, or maybe it is a normal survival instinct – I’m not sure. I guess I will only find out when I get more snowy walks under my belt.
Anyways, on with the virtual photo tour of the walk!
In the morning I am greeted by low cloud cover. The tent is quite wet from some overnight rain, so I immediately pack the sleeping bag and down jacket into their dry bags for protection.
This photo provides a much better illustration as to how low the cloud cover had got. I was hoping for it to clear a little so that I would get to see something on my climb!
All packed up! Once again I leave the ground as I found it. Time to start the ascent up to Grey Friar at 773 mtrs elevation.
The ascent has started. I’m using a route up to the ridge line that I had identified the previous day.
I start to gain a fair bit of elevation and leave Seathwaite Tarn far below me. This is the view to the South West.
Once I reach the ridge-line I spot an obvious trail and elect to follow it upward!
Up ahead I can see the top of Grey Friar, which is still shrouded in some cloud.
Snow!!!!!! Ok, not that much snow, but it’s Snow!!!!!! Forgive me, I’m excited!
Up ahead is the peak of Grey Friar. I know from the map that the peak is marked by a cairn, so I keep a sharp look out for one.
And there we are – the official top of Grey Friar!
A victory pose from the top of Grey Friar at 773 metres elevation. Alas, there isn’t much to see due to the fog At this point I decide to break out the Ice Axe and the Pogu Mini-Crampons. I know the snow isn’t that bad at the moment, but from the research I made before the walk, many walkers fail to get these items of kit out on time. So I figure, I might as well get them out whilst I’m stopped, then I won’t have to worry about them!
My next destination is Great Carrs at 785 mtrs elevation. So out with the compass to make sure I’m headed the right way!
I’m now headed to Great Carrs. The snow in this area is quite sporadic and varies in depth from a few cm’s to around ankle deep.
In some places the snow has accumulated to a fairly significant depth. Here it is up to knee high making gaiters a necessity.
Soon I get to the edge of the top of Grey Friar. It should now be downhill from here into a hill saddle, then another climb up to Great Carrs.
The view on the way down was mind-blowing. The snowy highlights really added to the magic of the place.
Soon I start my ascent of Great Carrs. I deliberately pick a route through the snow so I can practice walking with the Ice Axe. It is not really needed here, but I wanted to get into the rhythm of using one.
As I near the top of Great Carrs peak, I’m surprised to see an aircraft wreckage with a poppy wreath. I thought it may have been a fairly recent crash as the metal appeared to be in a good condition. But after checking the internet, this is an old crash that occurred in WW2 when a Halifax bomber clipped the mountain. RIP.
To the East I see the snow covered Swirl How peak which looks resplendent in its snow covered rocks.
This cairn marks the peak of Great Carrs at 765 metres elevation.
I now start the descent from Great Carrs. The snow here is around knee deep, but it has formed in layers. The top crusty layer is thick enough to support my weight, but every now and again it gives way to show its true depth!
The clouds clear a little to provide great views North Eastward up the valley. The lake up ahead is Little Langdale. I will need to hang a left off of this ridge-line long before I reach that lake as my current destination is Red Tarn on the other side of the valley.
A look back toward Grey Friar as I make my descent.
I can see that I’m rapidly reaching the edge of the snow line. The snow here gave me some good practice and would stand me in good stead for the latter part of today’s journey.
The Pogu mini-crampons, gaiters and Ice Axe on a fairly flat piece of ground. I’m getting ready for a fairly steep descent. This will be my first real use of the ice axe.
This is the view back up the slope I descended. For this descent I decided to go downward facing the hill. With this technique I found it very easy to make the snow steps seen here and it makes Ice Axe usage much easier as one doesn’t have to reach downward. Plus as an added bonus, if I were to slip in this configuration, I would essentially slip toward the axe and be in the proper arrest position. Going downhill the other way almost always guarantees a descent where one has to rotate ones body prior to executing an arrest.
The worst of the snow for this hill is now behind me! This is a look back to the peak of Great Carrs.
On the hill opposite the valley I can see Red Tarn nestled between the hills. This is my next destination.
I have now cleared the snow. The ice axe, mini-crampons and gaiters are stowed away. I’m now looking for a trail that will effectively hang a left and take me to the bottom of the valley to a road.
I soon find the trail and follow it downward. I’m already missing the snow, though luckily for me, there is a lot more of it to come! 🙂
Far below I spot the road that I need to cross so that I can start my ascent of the hills on the opposite side up to Red Tarn.
Here, I have completed my descent and have started ascending up the other side of the valley. This is a look back down to the road.
There is a pretty good path taking me on my route upwards. The path is criss-crossed by many stream-lets which provide plenty of opportunity to top up my water supplies.
This sheep was very curious! Normally they run away from humans, but this one came right up to me!
I can feel that I’m near the top – I should soon be getting my eyes on Red Tarn!
There it is Red Tarn! Up ahead are the snowy Crinkle Craggs – my next destination. The aim is to traverse these crags and make it to Angle Tarn for tonight’s camp.
I am now starting my ascent up to Great Knott, which will ultimately take me to the crags. This is the view back toward Red Tarn.
The climb is quite steep in places but aided by excellent steps!
A look back down the hill shows how much elevation I have gained!
The view Eastward to the Pike of Blisco!
I have now reached Great Knott. The crags are up ahead looming in the cloud.
On the way up I take a look back to a tarn on Great Knott. This was considered to be one of my potential camping spots. Though I note that it is actually quite exposed to winds here.
As I ascend toward the crags the visibility drops and the wind picks up. This combined with the snow adds quite a different feel to proceedings.
The ascent is on! This is the view downwards back toward the way I came from.
With strong howling winds and limited visibility I’m being careful not to get myself into any situations that I can’t get out of.
The snow here is also layered. The upper crust seems a lot thicker than the snow I previously encountered, but it still gives away every now and then.
Navigation in these conditions is quite difficult. The trail is obliterated by snow, though there are foot-prints in places providing vital clues. I’m being careful, as to the East to my right it is a sheer vertical drop according to my map. To make things interesting the high winds are blowing from the West, in effect pushing me toward the Eastern edge!
Still headed Northward. Rather unbelievably I encounter another hiker headed in the opposite direction, straight out of the fog. He was around 15 metres away, but we both took the time to wave at each other!
Here my foot went through the upper crust layer of snow. The result is that my right leg was up to knee height in snow. When this happens it is very jarring!
I see foot-prints headed downward. I decide to follow these as they are headed in broadly the right direction and take me away from the dangerous ridge edge. Once again the poor visibility is making me very edgy as I don’t want to end up in a situation where I’m stuck!
In terms of snow, today has certainly paid off! I get a lot of practice in making snow steps with my boots and using the Ice Axe. I even slip at one point, but my instant reaction prevents it turning into a slide. I basically threw my body weight over the Ice Axe and grabbed it with my other hand too. This arrested the slip immediately. It seems that the static drills that I had practiced at home have succeeded in ‘programming’ my ‘muscle memory’.
On a relatively steep descent. It was quite hard work with the mixture of rock and fairly deep snow. I knew at this point that I was headed the wrong way because I wasn’t expecting to see any big descents. However, the direction is still broadly Northward-ish and this does take me away from the sharp ridge-line – so I decide to continue in this direction.
The snow here is much deeper than the snow I encountered earlier. But at least it makes the Ice Axe more secure!
Looking back from the way I came and admiring my footprints!
I soon get to another edge which I decide to descend. Once again, I’m a little worried that I will end up trapped on a ledge as visibility makes it very difficult to check the viability of a route. When I get to the bottom I decide to get the compass out and head back up hill towards the top of the Crags. I figured it would be a little safer up there as I would not be descending blindly down steep rocky areas.
Helmet on! I had put this on when I got to the crags as I wasn’t really sure what to expect. In retrospect, I don’t really think I needed it.
Here I’m contouring on a heading which should take me up towards the top of the crags – eventually…
As I contour, I spot this stream called Rest Gill below me. I now know roughly where I am. My intent for today was to skip lunch to save time. However, it is now around 1600 and I’m finding that I’m running out of energy. Despite the lateness, I decide to climb down to replenish my water supplies and have a very late lunch to restore some much needed energy. It seems that traversing snow really takes it out of you!
The kit is taken out and I enjoy a hot soup, oatcakes and cheese spread. I know that time is running out. I only have around 1-2 hours of light left. I’m still optimistic that I will make it to Angle Tarn, but I know that if I do it will be a close run thing. My intent is to cross the stream and head up the hill which should put me back on the ridge-line.
The climb is quite steep, but I keep the pace up as I know I’m battling the clock.
I finally make it back to the top of the ridge-line. It is now just a case of following it Northward.
On the ridge-line I run into this large frozen pond – which luckily for me is actually on the map! For the first time, in a long time, I have an exact locational fix. This makes me feel much better about my situation.
Cairns like this start putting in an appearance adding further proof that I’m now headed the right way.
Down below I spot another frozen pond. Visibility is still poor. One thing the pictures don’t get across is how hostile this terrain feels when you are out on it alone. The poor visibility, with high winds plus the chance of running into steep drops really add to the feeling of unease. I guess this is a natural reaction – or at least I hope so 🙂
And here is the pond. Just like the last one, it is completely frozen solid. A testament to how cold it is up here. At this point I’m wearing three layers – a wicking base layer, a fleece and a hardshell. These three layers combined with my walking is enough to keep me quite warm.
Another climb downward. Once again I’m keeping my eyes peeled to make sure I don’t get myself into trouble.
There are many footprints here, which provide some comfort that I’m headed the right way. The Ice Axe is getting a lot of use today!
The footprints lead downwards. I suspect this isn’t the exact direction I need to go in – as confirmed by compass – but I follow them anyway as they are broadly headed where I need to go.
For the first time I start to notice the lack of light. The auto-compensating camera doesn’t really show this, but it is starting to get dark. I check my watch which confirms that this is sunset. I decide that with the high winds and poor visibility that I will abandon the walk to Angle Tarn and that I would need to find somewhere to camp immediately. However, the surrounding terrain isn’t really conducive to making a good pitch.
I find a spot and attempt to set up the tent here on the only flat bit of ground. Unfortunately it is sideways on to the wind. When I insert the metal tent pole, the tent flies up with the pegs being pinged up into the air. Luckily for me I had tied the other end of the tent to the rucksack. I spent the next 5 minutes locating the pegs that had been pulled from the ground. I realise that if I’m to pitch here in these heavy winds, I’m going to have to orientate the tent so that it is head on to the wind.
I eventually get the tent up. But the change in orientation has meant that part of it is on a steeply curving slope. There is only just enough room to peg out the guy lines. I’m now starting to get cold from my relative inactivity and the very strong winds.
Once inside the tent, the difference in comfort levels is profound. Just being out of the wind warms me up and makes me feel comfortable and safe. I wonder how people that use Bivvy Bags cope?
There is no water for my dehydrated meals, but luckily for me there is a lot of snow around! So for the first time ever, I find myself melting snow for my meals. The gas cartridge puts in a sterling performance despite this being its second walk. It takes around 5-10 minutes to boil the snow. In the process the gas canister develops an icy coating. The Spaghetti Bolognese was well received and in conjunction with a hot drink warmed me up and filled me up!
Nearly – but not quite. Here I’m around 2km short of my planned destination at Angle Tarn. In the end the sun beat me to it. I was a little disappointed, as I hadn’t really stopped today, but only managed around 13km – albeit on very hilly and snowy terrain. I will use this as my new yardstick for planning days with this type of terrain, rather than try and target my usual 20km.
After my main meal, I spent a fair bit of time in the tent planning the route for the following day. The previous two days’ premature stops had shot my original plan to pieces.
I knew that the overall objective for tomorrow was to place myself within 5km of Ravenglass ready to catch the early morning train the following day.
Tune in next week to see the route I eventually chose to take me there!