As Cath headed back to the bus stop, I turned my attention to the road walk out to Hartsop. Sat on the step of Patterdale post office while devouring my lunch, a battle had been raging in my head between what I knew I should do this afternoon and the easier option I’d banked on if Cath had stayed for a second night. Not that I’m so much more hardcore a walker without Cath – we’d simply planned a fairly short walk this afternoon so that we could camp somewhere she really wanted to. That would have then left me planning a 24 hour route by myself for my last day. Now I had 2 days worth of walking and could tackle something a bit more ambitious. Like that clump of Wainwrights just up the road that I had left to do…
It was a nice day with a good forecast for no rain and negligible wind, and it would have been criminal not to have gone for as high a camp as possible under these circumstances. So I turned my back on the temptation of the easy way out of an Angle Tarn camp and headed for terra incognita. I strolled along the main road and memories of my trip to the Far Eastern Fells back in September 2012 came back to me – I’d headed this way then after a resupply in Patterdale, but had been defeated first by not finding a convenient way up onto Gray Crag and then by the wind on High Street. No such trouble today. Ahead of me Hartsop Dodd (sometimes referred to as Low Hartsop Dodd to distinguish it from High Hartsop Dodd, which counter-intuitively is lower, until you realise that High and Low refer to position in the valley not their height!), rose practically from the road itself, and had the look of the sort of climb that would justify practically anything I wanted for dinner as a reward for making it to the top.
First though, with not much in the way of water sources marked on the map higher up, I filled up the dirty platy and the Sawyer with fast flowing water from Hayeswater Gill, adding around 2.5kg of additional gravitational resistance to the afternoon’s ordeal. I found the point where the path followed a wall up the side of the fell. God it looked steep. And so it proved – an unremittingly steep hauling myself up the side of the hill until I gained the main ridge line around 350m. Then there were patches where it eased slightly, but at no time would I ever have described any of it as less than steep. But the altitude figures on my Suunto were steadily climbing and I topped out on the ridge in the mid 500s, endured a couple of false summits and then came upon the actual summit.
Below, the views to Ullswater had opened up. It had been a bit of a slow afternoon, and I was now doing calculations in my head of distance still to go versus sunset times. I worked out I could just make it to my planned camp and carried on along the ridge, gradually climbing the 150m or so of ascent I still had to do. Several patches of snow lay scattered about, principally to the north and east side of the fells and I made a point of getting some snow on my feet.
The sun was starting to tint the sky orange and casting shadows on the ground when I arrived on the top of Caudale Moor. I left the official bagging of the summit for the morning and got on with finding a pitch, testing out several patches for flatness and dryness. Eventually I found somewhere I was happy with and threw up Monica. I then got busy with the camera before I lost the light completely.
The tent was still damp from the overnight rain and because it has a tendency for the outer and inner to touch in one place and transfer moisture as a result, I used the simple expedient of the crossing poles to pull the outer up and away from the outer and to increase the tautness of the pitch. Unlike many others, and despite taking a while to get used to them, I actually use the crossing poles quite a lot – I find they forgive my less than precise pitching, keeping me drier, and now the tent almost looks unfinished without them.
I settled down with the setting sun and got dinner on the Trangia, finally finding the optimal balance of water for the strength of the burn coming from my last can of Greenheat. Another night of clear skies and stars made for a cold night, and when the sun had disappeared it had been like flicking the off switch – within the space of 20 minutes I went from wearing just a base layer to being in my down jacket and using my sleeping bag to keep warm. All was quiet though, and with no book and wanting to conserve battery power, I simply lay and absorbed my surroundings until sleep lured me into its embrace.
Day 3: Tuesday 11 March
Overnight dew made for another damp tent, which I didn’t have the patience to allow the strengthening sun to fully burn off. Conscious of sunrise possibilities I was awake at 6am and poking my head out of the door. Thornthwaite Crag was silhouetted against an orange-streaked sky and several attempts to concoct a respectable picture were made.
Packed up, I got on my way, walked the few metres to the summit of Stony Cove Pike and then begun making my way down to Threshthwaite Mouth, the way becoming rocky and steep enough in a few places that Pacerpoles were put aside in favour of hands to gently ease me and my load downwards. At the col, a better view down over Troutbeck Tongue and Windermere opened up. I took a few moments to enjoy it, before beginning the equally steep re-ascent towards Thornthwaite Crag.
I reached a particularly steep bit and looked to my left – it looked about right to strike off onto Gray Crag, so I did so. A bit of contouring on sloping ground and watching my feet and I reached a wall coming down from the top of the fell, and took a break. Carrying on, I joined the crest of the ridge and made my way out to the far end where the summit cairn is located. To my left the colours of the sky and mountains were developing nicely.
Gray Crag picked off, I retraced my steps along the top of the ridge, this time sticking to it as it rose fairly gradually onto Thornthwaite Crag. I picked my way over and around the scattering of rocks near the wall leading to the enormous cairn and soon arrived at the summit. A breather, a snack and a taking-in of the views were the order of the day.
The day was too good to waste sitting by a wall though, and without a definite plan for how far I would go, I wanted to get on with the walk, and enjoy these fells which I’d only ever been on in murky conditions. I made my way down the slight dip, took a look down at Hayeswater and then started the gentle ascent onto High Street.
The summit reached, and never having been here with visibility, I decided that I really ought to head over and look over the edge. I walked downhill a short way east until I was just above a band of slow marking the edge of the summit plateau.
Below me lay Blea Water, a classic shape of corrie tarn with the uppermost parts of the corrie walls dappled with the remaining snow. Further along, some cornicing and a groove created either by the foolhardy or by a developing crack showed the danger of going too near the edge.
I walked a bit further along until I was right above the Long Stile ridge leading down to Haweswater, then turned around and headed back to the wall – my timings didn’t allow for me to get involved in the Haweswater valley itself as I wanted to pitch tonight within a couple of hours walk of Patterdale in order to catch a bus at a sensible time tomorrow.
As I climbed up towards Rampsgill Head, two alternatives formed in my mind – I could walk around a bit and then go for a camp at Angle Tarn, or even on Place Fell (the original idea) or simply start walking north over High Raise, stop somewhere overnight and either get a bus from Pooley Bridge or even walk all the way to Penrith. It was way too early to be heading for Angle Tarn though, so I didn’t need to decide right now. I skirted Rampsgill Head and headed for Kidsty Pike, having seen people there and realising it was nearly 5 years since I was last there.
I got to Kidsty Pike just as a load of people moved off, and found a nice spot sheltered by rocks overlooking a vertical drop that just said “sit here”. So I did. Twenty minutes or so will spent in this manner, before the need to get moving again stirred. With decision point approaching I walked over to High Raise, getting a better appreciation from this side of the spot I’d camped with Pete (@munro277) 18 months ago. I dithered on the summit while I decided which way to go. In the end I couldn’t bring myself to do the walk towards Penrith, opting instead for the rockier terrain and the option of adding a further new fell to my collection.
I headed back up onto Rampsgill Head, looked down the valley and then continued down towards The Knott. Now I could gauge the rest of the day with a bit more accuracy and had the choice of a stroll down to Angle Tarn or pushing it and continuing on to Place Fell and a third summit pitch. My legs weren’t in it though, and I could tell by my slow progress and lack of desire to stride out that Angle Tarn, or somewhere near, was to be my destination for tonight.
I crested the last of the rocky bumps on the path and saw the tarn below. That was it, decision made. However, it was still quite early and I didn’t want to pitch up over 2 hours before sunset in a place so close to a main path. I explored the various grassy bumps to the east of the tarn, partly with he though that I might be able to find a spot that would enable me to see both a sunset and a sunrise, rather than have both obscured by being in the dip by the tarn. I found a patch overlooking Bannerdale that was serviceable, took off my pack and lazed in the sun for a while.
The tarn was calling though, and I wasn’t really up for killing a couple of hours just sitting there, so I took the opportunity to collect water, grabbing my dirty platy and my Sawyer Squeeze bag and heading down towards the tarn to find some water, flowing if possible. The aim was to catch some run-off from Angletarn Pikes. By the tarn, I headed out onto the little peninsula “just to have a look”, seeing evidence of past camps there – it is after all the obvious glory spot. At the end of the Peninsula, a decent flat patch by the shore with the tarn waters gently lapping just a couple of metres away looked irresistible, and I could sense my plan changing again. I headed off to get the water and having done so dumped it by the tarn while I headed uphill to grab the rest of my stuff.
I lazed by the tarn, putting off making any move to erect Monica until at least 5pm, reasoning that anyone due to head down would probably be passing by about then. A couple of stragglers went past, and then I got to it.
I sat in the doorway of the tent watching the geese playing on the glistening waters of the tarn and listening to them as their squawking made every action sound like a major drama. With nightfall, the temperature dropped like a stone, and I retired to the inner sanctum of my tent to keep warm.
Day 4: Wednesday 12 March
Last night I lay in the tent thinking about the plan for today, a part day as the journey home had to be made as it was back to work the next day. Three choices battled for supremacy in my head – a straightforward walk out for the 10am bus, a visit to Place Fell en route to catch the later 12pm bus, or the combined option of an early start, a visit to Place Fell and an attempt to catch the early bus. I decided to let fate decide based on when I woke up.
Well, I woke up early, another 6am one, but this time without much sunrise, it being blocked by my position. I decided to go for option 3, and got on with packing up and setting off, being on my way soon after 7am. I climbed up out of the bowl the tarn sits in and skirted Angletarn Pikes, which I decided not to visit in the interests of time. I arrived at Boredale Hause just before 7:50, had a slight pause to remove my jacket and then started on the steep grind up Place Fell. I set myself a turn-around time so as to give me a target that would ensure I made the early bus, but always with the option of catching the next one.
Actually, I made it up onto Place Fell quite a bit faster than I’d calculated and was soon skipping over the rocky undulations on the top of the fell, pausing briefly to investigate the pools next to the path.
I arrived at the summit a good 10 minutes ahead of my target, so allowed myself 5 minutes to enjoy being there and to look at the views.
But having made such good time, I didn’t want to be in the position of just missing the bus by a few minutes and having a 2 hour wait, so I got on my way, zooming back down the path and finding a way of bypassing a tricky near-vertical rocky patch that comprised the main false summit on the way up. With Patterdale in sight, I hurried on down the slanting path, now wanting to buy myself enough time to get another sausage baguette while waiting for the bus.
Alas, I didn’t quite gain enough time to buy and devour one, but made the bus with a few minutes to spare, and was then heading off for Penrith and the joys of long distance train travel.
Reflections on the Trip
Despite what a few of my outdoor friends believe, I’m not generally lucky with the weather, far less a lucky charm that turns nasty weather into great weather. But I did strike lucky with this trip, arriving just as a spell of wind and rain finished and sunnier more settled weather replaced it. I’ve got so used to looking for sheltered pitches and accepting less than level ground in order to achieve them, that the opportunity to camp high and exposed almost threw me. After nearly 30 wildcamps, I finally camped at the summit of a Wainwright – one of the targets I’d set myself for this year. Moreover, one of the dozen or so camps on my wild camp wishlist has been achieved with the camp on Stony Cove Pike, which on balance probably rates as the best camp of the trip.
I’m also not generally lucky with my sunsets and sunrises, being very jealous of the pictures posted by others, yet never quite seeming to be able to achieve them myself – both in terms of opportunity or photographic skill. But I did get some this time. Sheltered pitches are fine, but you can’t beat pitching at the top and seeing the sun set and rise over neighbouring hills.
While I’m writing this, winter to some extent seems to have returned to the Lakes, and having gone prepared for winter, found myself enjoying a largely snowless interlude. Taking my winter bag and mat was definitely the right thing to do because of the sudden temperature drops overnight, but all of the sharp implements I’d brought “just in case” and taken so much trouble to hide inside my pack for the train journey, hadn’t been needed.
I’ve also in the past had a slightly odd relationship with the Far Eastern Fells, seeing them as remote and featureless – it had been the need to find a way of getting around their inaccessibility without using a car that led me to actually start wild camping in 2012. None of those trips had yielded particularly nice weather, except for one night on Shipman Knotts at the end of my last trip. Many of the fells, despite having been “bagged” were still largely unknown to me due to lack of visibility in mist or through passing over them as fast as possible in howling wind and rain. So this was the first time I’d really got to appreciate them in decent weather. The decorative effect of some lingering snow patches didn’t hurt either. Ultimately, though, one of the things I’ve come to appreciate is the relative unpopularity of the Far Eastern Fells, at least in comparison to other parts of the Lake District. With most visitors doing day walks from Patterdale, Hartsop, Kentmere and Mardale Head, they actually leave quite a bit of scope for not seeing other people for good chunks of the trip, and some quiet time away from crowds was something I desperately needed from this trip in particular. So it’s been a good one, and my regard for the FE Fells has risen accordingly.
The bag for the trip ended up at 7 new Wainwrights (Great Mell Fell, Little Mell Fell, Gowbarrow Fell, Hartsop Dodd, Caudale Moor, Gray Crag and Place Fell), plus another 6 return visits to others, which for a trip of this length when I’m getting to the last dregs of my remaining fells, was good going. Lots of agonising over routes beforehand trying to solve the problem of finishing off whole groups and not leaving any stragglers ultimately hadn’t worked – this trip has left me with just Troutbeck Tongue remaining in the Far Eastern Fells. This fell has consistently foiled attempts to build it into a sensible route along with the other outstanding fells. Now I’ll have to pick it off individually. This also continues a theme of my last fell in each completed Wainwright group so far, being one of the less glamorous fells (NW: Rannerdale Knotts, C: High Rigg), and so this has started off a train of thought that I should possibly continue this theme when I finish off the remaining groups.
The other thing this trip has left me with is some further clean-up needed on my mission to complete my Wainwright round car-less. Getting a lift around to the start point on the first day, technically invalidates both Great Mell and Little Mell Fells. I’ve come so far and done so many fells without a car though, that I really need to see this rule through. So I will have to return to GMF and LMF – no hardship really as both were good.
This is the route for the second (solo) part of the trip.