31 January 2010
3 days in the lakes
at first it felt all wrong. heavy bags, bursting with insulating layers, spikes and an axe. clomping along in stiff unforgiving boots, fingers rendered useless in over sized gloves. there was no snow in the valley, not even a covering of frost. feeling totally over equipped we made slow progress. we were hoping for snow and ice and all we saw were muddy, grassy paths. oh well, we'll going running tomorrow.
but then, almost exactly on the 600m contour it came. a thick glassy neve, impassable without magic boots. is there a sound more pleasing than steel points puncturing cold, hard ice? another few contour lines gained and another layer put on. feeling justified at last.
fairfield was our first fell top lunch of the year. too cold to linger but well worth carrying a flask of hot ribena. gaining confidence in our new toys and eager for more, we agreed that there'd be no running as long as the cold conditions remained.
day two promised to be even better with temperatures dropping below freezing in the valleys and possibility of snow flurries. wanting the most time on spikes we sought out an easy route with maximum crunchy plateau, helvellyn. still learning and enjoying the new techniques of winter walking we didn't want anything too 'extreme' and ascended from thirlmere...not just yet anyway...
the barren, wind scoured summit plateau was lunch stop number two. from here we headed towards dollywaggon and were treated to a mini whiteout. things started to feel very wintery all of a sudden and it was bloody brilliant! descending dollywaggon via the bgr route which, when covered in hard snow is steep enough to be interesting. we then came across another walker 'crag-fast' on the slope. facing inwards, he was trying to kick his toes into the snow, whilst punching in his hands in too. without crampons he was making painfully slow progress and looked more than a little precarious. offering him my axe and we gave him the briefest of lessons in glascading. his progress now faster and somewhat safer!
tea and grasmere gingerbread was soon followed by ale and crisps. feet up and warming by the open fire. i could certainly get used to this. the alpine looking blencathra was calling on day three. still being cautious we opted for hall's fell ridge. not as exposed as sharpe edge but more than enough excitement for winter beginners.
and 'saddleback' didn't disappoint. standing alone in the valley, with its jagged ridges dusted with snow it seems much higher than its 868 meters. my sense of nervous excitement grew the higher we got. a thin layer of snow now covered the icy path, cautiously we move on. zig-zaging over the ridge, not quite brave enough to remain on the crest, next time. next time. the final 100 meters were covered in deep snow. with the ridge now broad enough to confidently stand on and the cloudless deep blue sky a more perfect ascent could not be had.
we're already planning for next winter but maybe there's time for one last taste of snow and ice before we put the new toys away.