A Lakeland Round (2011): Day 3 – Wednesday 6 July

Keswick to Buttermere

Today was a day of comparisons with past trips, in particular my long Lakes trip during my sabbatical 4 years ago.After some overnight rain, the day dawned relatively fine, with Skiddaw looking colourful opposite my bedroom window. Breakfast was a bit disappointing today – only 1 rasher of bacon and only one tomato half. And it all tasted a bit bland. And the coffee ran out. Today I was checking out of my B&B and walking to Buttermere, so I needed to make sure I was fully supplied for 6 days away from civilisation.
My hay fever seems to also be a bit of a cold, so some tissues were bought as well as lunch and a stock up with cash.

All in all it was 10:20 before I started walking, out towards Portinscale and then along the lanes to Swinside. After some indecision about what point to begin the ascent from and hence which road to take, I used common sense and took the left fork which seemed to start me slightly higher and also had all the tracks marked on that side of the hill. Reaching a gate I opened it which involved lifting one half up. The other half swung out into the road and I quickly collected it, went through and then reassembled the gate. Up the track I went, but when it started to descend again, about 50m from the summit, I struck up left through the trees and, increasingly, bracken. 10m below the summit and I was faced with a wall of bracken – there was nothing for it but to force my way through. The wet bracken transferred its moisture to my legs and feet and when I reached the summit I was soaked through.

Now for the descent. The map showed a track about 30m below the summit on the west side, so I forced my way carefully through the bracken, helped by signs that others had been this way. No sign of the track, and following the way others had been took me around the southern end of the fell, so much so that I saw below the track I had ascended by. Fair enough, it was on the wrong side of the fell for where I needed to go next, but it was safe and at this point in the day I didn’t mind the extra roadwalking. I got to the bottom, played with the gate and set off along the lanes again.

Almost midday and I’d only done about 3 miles of the 11 scheduled and I’d bagged a hill that was only a nice to have. But it is a Marilyn, and I wouldn’t have done a walk just for this one. But I was concerned about time.

I crossed the valley and took the Braithwaite path across the bottom of Barrow. Then I swung left to begin the plod up the ridgeline to the summit.
Having suffered so far with rain that was too heavy not to wear my hood, but light enough that the hood was more an encumbrance than a comfort, the rain now chucked down. My softshell no longer seemed suitable, so I stopped, and took the opportunity for lunch, which necessitated my storm shelter.

In the shelter, I could feel the wind building and I became colder. The rain stopped and then, a shaft of sunlight. I threw back the shelter and the sun hid. I packed up again and headed up to complete the final 70m of ascent. Then down to Barrow Door and ascent back up to Stile End, a Birkett. Down again and a 150m ascent of Outerside loomed in front. I slogged up with the wind dying and the sun coming out.

Causey Pike, Scar Crags, Sail, Eel Crag and Outerside
Causey Pike, Scar Crags, Sail, Eel Crag and Outerside

At the top, the Coledale horseshoe lay all round – Causey Pike, Scar Crags, Sail, Eel Crag, Grisedale Pike. Plus I could just see Sand Hill and the very top of Hopegill Head. Now the reminders of 2007 came.
My big Lake District trip at the start of my 3 month sabbatical, fell apart on the second day, and on the third day, just as today, I moved to Buttermere and so began the North Western Fells. And today, also during a career break I might finish them. On that previous trip, most of the fells I bagged were North Western – all those listed above, plus Dale Head, Hindscarth, Robinson, High Spy, Whiteside, Wandope, Grasmoor and Whiteless Pike and the two nights camped in Buttermere and the 2 nights staying at Little Town, saved the trip.

Up to Sail Pass
Up to Sail Pass

But now, I’m on a similar length trip, I have more experience and I expect to double the number of fells. But first I have to get over the Sail Pass and then either descend across the slopes of Sail, Eel Crag, Wandope and Whiteless Pike, or go over the top of them.

Towards Keswick from Sail Pass
Towards Keswick from Sail Pass

I chose the former and by 4 I started down from the pass following a sheep track that angled down across the fell. The path was narrow – sometimes only as wide as my foot, but I made decent time, to start with. Crossing the lower parts of Whiteless Pike I had a decision. I could either stay at the same height (about 250m) in the hope of maintaining as much height as possible to avoid reascent when I got round to Rannerdale Knotts, or I could call it a day and miss it out. Having had 2 late finishes already, I opted for the descent straight to Buttermere, arriving at the youth hostel almost bang on 6.

Contouring around towards Buttermere
Contouring around towards Buttermere

A shower and a 3 course meal later and I’m writing this up.

So I didn’t finish the NW fells today, and now have just one left, but at least it’s an easy one to do, and I have some options. If the weather is really bad tomorrow, I could forego my long walk to the fells to the left of Crummock Water and snatch Rannerdale Knotts when I get a couple of hours window. Or I could leave it for when I complete the Wainwrights – I’m leaving Haystacks so have to come back to Buttermere anyway. It’s slightly disappointing not to finish the NW fells, especially after I realised the parallels with 2007, but I’ll get over it.

Today in figures:

Distance: 11.68 miles / 18.80km
Ascent: 899m
Descent: 872m
Duration: 6 hrs 25 mins
Average speed: 1.82mph / 2.92kph
Flat-equivalent speed: 2.76mph / 4.43kph
Wainwrights: 2, subtotal 10
Marilyns: 1, subtotal 2
Birketts: 3, subtotal 18
Total tops: 4, subtotal 20
Points: 10, subtotal 51

The key point here is the speed being so low, but it doesn’t seem so bad when you convert the ascent. Today had as much ascent as yesterday but in a shorter distance, hence speed seems low. And comparing the flat-equivalent figures the drag factor of the full pack seems to be around 0.3 – 0.4 kph. That’s not too bad, considering.

Tomorrow’s walk is scheduled to be a 17mile epic, taking in 13 tops, maybe more. Given how my feet feel, I’ll be surprised if I make it, but you never know with a lighter pack I may feel nimble. I suspect the weather will not help matters though.

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