Monday, 10 April 2017

Lake District Wild Camp 24/3/17

I had walked Helvellyn (via St Sunday Crag) a few summers back and didn't realise that I'd missed two Wainwrights till after I got back.
It turned out Arnison Crag and Birks were on St Sunday Crag and I'd strolled by unknowingly. Fast forward to a rare cold snap late in March of 2017 and I was parked up in Patterdale once again.
The morning air was cool and a few delicate clouds hung in a stunning blue sky. I rounded Patterdale Hotel to join the footpath, slowly leaving the tarmac and morning bustle behind.

I soon veered off to the left and the ground steepened as I headed straight for Arnison Crag. There wasn't much of a breeze and I began to wonder if I should have brought some shorts with me.

The final stretch of path to the summit was frozen so I walked clockwise in search of a safer route up. I opted for a steeper rocky section that had been warmed by the morning sun.

A short scramble and I was at the summit of Arnison Crag, there was still no hint of a breeze and a small cloud of midges followed me around the summit whilst I took a few pictures and updated my social media. I departed shortly after, leaving the annoying little critters behind.

Arnison Crag summit with Place Fell in the background.
I continued straight over Arnison Crag and after negotiating a bit of steep ground, headed for Trough Head.

The ground was lightly frozen and slightly boggy in places, a glance back revealed someone at the top of Arnison Crag.

I crossed over the small stream at Trough Head and followed the wall straight up the side of Birks, the snow was getting deep so the ice axe was used as a precaution.

I eventually stopped to put gaiters on as the thin icy crust was giving way and I was sinking into knee deep snow.

St Sunday Crag.
I took some much needed water from a very small tarn and deliberated what to do next in between thirsty swigs. I could either carry on up and over St Sunday Crag as before or descend into the next valley and work my way up via a new route. I decided to try the new route so as not to cover too much old ground.

Chipping through the ice to get some water.

Descending over the far side of Birks was sketchy in places due to a deep layer of very soft snow and some really steep bits. I was surprised to see footprints off the beaten track and I followed them till they disappeared as they were heading where I wanted to go.

St Sunday Crag.
I slowly reeled in the Bridleway below and it was nice to be back on terra firma again. It was uphill all the way from now on though, there would be no dawdling as time was getting on.

The path meandered easily for a good kilometre or so before finally ascending past the 230m contour line.

Ruthwaite Lodge climbing hut.
Just after Ruthwaite Lodge a stream crossed the path and I spotted lots of frog spawn directly in the line of walkers boots. I ditched my pack and scooped it up as best I could, pushing it out of harms way. I continued on my way and watched a trio of people slowly making their way down from Deepdale Hawse, I wondered what the conditions were like up there as that would have been my route down from St Sunday Crag.

Snow began to take over the path as I hauled up the last stretch of path towards Grisedale Tarn. I briefly spoke to a couple of walkers who were on their way down from Helvellyn.

Seat Sandal across a stunning Grisedale Tarn.
The sun was beating down as Grisedale Tarn came into view and a few walkers were scattered around the tarn resting. I did contemplate pitching beside the Tarn because it looked absolutely fantastic.
I wouldn't see much of a sunset down here though and I'd envisioned seeing morning sunlight hitting Helvellyn, so after collecting 3 litres of water I pushed on up the zigzags of Dollywaggon Pike.

The snow was really deep as I slowly ascended Dollywaggon Pike, the bonus was that most of it was already compacted. I took lots of little rests on the way up, gawping around and getting lost in my thoughts before plodding onwards and upwards. I could see two figures descending Seat Sandal and making their way towards Dollywaggon once they hit the bottom.
I hadn't got a definite pitch in mind but I figured Dollywaggon or Nethermost would be a good place to view sunrise hitting Helvellyn the next morning all being well.

I was surprised to see the snow become patchy as I neared the top but this was be welcomed as I only had some little pegs with my lightest tent.
Shortly after I'd arrived at Dollywaggon Pike summit I was joined by two guys from London (Alex and I forget the other guys name, sorry) and we chatted for a few minutes. They debated continuing along to Helvellyn but as the light was due to start fading they sensibly made their way back to a hostel in Grasmere.

Solar Photon 1 pitched on Dollywaggon Pike.
I stuck the wine in the snow to chill and pitched the tent straight after, despite struggling to get a few pegs in.

A tasty boil in the bag meal was washed down with some wine and I layered up and dashed about taking photos.

As the evening drew on I realised that I'd picked a perfect place to pitch, I had stunning views of Fairfield and the Helvellyn range. I tried to work out what the individual Fells were over to the west but failed miserably.

Fairfield shortly before sunset.

Sunset was cracking and when it finally disappeared behind distant mountains it lit the clouds up a fantastic crimson colour.

Once the sunset show was over I headed back inside the tent for another meal and relaxed for a bit.

A chance peek out of the tent some time later revealed a dark and clear sky so I headed out to take some photographs. As I got to a decent spot next to the cairn I realised my pack was in view so I walked back up to move it and under the beam of my headtorch I noticed something move! a mouse scurried away from the tent and I clicked my powerful torch on to see where it went, unfortunately the batteries were spent and the mouse legged it into the darkness. I couldn't believe it, a bloody mouse invading camp at 858m!
I shifted my pack out of the way and replaced the dead torch batteries whilst I remembered, I also moved my empty food packets away from camp and weighed them down with a couple of heavy rocks.
Back with my camera gear I began snapping away, noticing a green band on the camera display, initially I passed it off as light pollution but then it hit me, could it be the Northern Lights? I dashed back to the tent to check the Aurora forecast which showed it was active but nothing too powerful.
I was still excited though, I'd finally managed to catch them after a lot of near misses.

A shooting star above camp.
It was close to midnight so I retired to the tent, the wind had picked up which made the tent make an annoying and loud humming noise. There's nothing more annoying after a day's walking than not being able to get some sleep and my patience was starting to wane. In the end I stuck my socks in between the poles and flysheet which helped quieten the noise.

My alarm sounded at 05:45 and I peered out eagerly to see what the day had in store, a big smile crossed my face as I took in the cool clear morning that was beginning to unfold. It can sometimes be a struggle to get out of a toasty sleeping bag into the cold fresh air of a new day but not today.
I quickly got dressed and left the confines of the tent.

Dawn breaking at camp.
The morning sky held some beautiful colours; a rosey pink over to the west and a nice pastel orange to the north.

Morning sunlight exactly how I imagined it!
Sunlight hitting a spectacular Helvellyn.
I didn't bother with breakfast as I wanted to be well away from the summit when the first walkers arrived. I departed shortly before 07:30 and made my way towards Nethermost Pike.

Leaving no trace as everyone should do. Respect your surroundings.
Once away from the summit the bits of grassy ground slowly disappeared. Thankfully the snow was frozen solid and taking my weight. I put my Yaktrax on and brandished my ice axe once again.

Upon reaching Nethermost Pike I wandered around with a silly smile on my face, what an incredible day! I placed my pack down and set the tripod up to take some shots of me in such epic conditions.

Taking in a stunning morning on Nethermost Pike.
Mucking about playing 'Ice Axe Golf' on Nethermost Pike!
Leaving Nethermost Pike was quite a task, the snow was giving way whichever way I turned and it was above the knee in many places. The short journey to rejoin the main path seemed to take forever.

The first walker of the day passed quietly below me and lost me in his packless wake.

Looking back towards Nethermost Pike.
A Hilleberg tent caught my eye just away from the main path and I wandered over for a quick chat, but as they made no effort to talk I interpreted this as they wanted to be left alone. I took a couple of snaps and left them in peace.
Helvellyn was quiet with only a few people dotted about, I took a pew at the summit shelter and chatted with a bloke from Kendal about my trip and the outdoors.

Swirral Edge leading to Catstye Cam.
We both went our separate ways and I was quite surprised to see two guys on mountain bikes near the summit as I continued towards Lower Man.

I took the Yaktrax off just before the bottom of Lower Man as the snow had given way to bare ground once again.
Whiteside was next on this mornings itinerary as I made my way north along the range.

A cairn fest up Raise.
I decided to stop for a break near the summit of Raise. My waterproof map came in handy as a blanket and I used my pack for a backrest, I could feel the sun toasting the right side of my face and I'd stupidly not brought any sun lotion.
A few groups of people were making their way up Sticks Pass and I was glad to be heading away from Helvellyn, it was going to be mega busy today.

Stybarrow Dodd was next and also my first new Wainwright of the day. The snow deepened as I tackled my biggest ascent of the morning.

I left my pack away from the path at Stybarrow Dodd as I was only popping over to Watson's Dodd and back again. Views of Skiddaw and Blencathra slowly opened up as I made my way across to Watson's Dodd.
A tap of the cairn and a few photographs later I was heading back.

Skiddaw and Blencathra from Stybarrow Dodd.

From Stybarrow Dodd I collected my pack and made my way towards Green Side. Not many people had trodden this route so the deep snow was taking its toll and I sat down for a breather. The sun was also draining me and I drank the last of my water. Some Skiers stopped for a brief chat whilst waiting for their friends.
My intention was to tick off Hart Side, then double back and carry on to Sheffield Pike but I'd see how I felt at the top of Green Side.

Some Skiers and a German Sheppard making their way up Green Side.
At White Stone I made an easy decision that there was no way I was trudging over to Hart Side today, all I wanted to do was set up camp, eat and relax.
I continued south east heading for the col between Sheffield Pike. The steep ground and a layer of soft snow made descending an interesting affair! I collected water near the bottom and started a slow trudge up Sheffield Pike.

It was early evening by the time I'd reached the top of Sheffield Pike and I totally knackered. I had a look around for any decent places to pitch but found none.
I rifled through my bag to get my cooking gear out and was soon waiting on a meal to hydrate.
There was a small spot just beneath the summit and I grudgingly pitched there.
It wasn't till I inflated the sleeping mat and lay on it that I realised the angle of the ground. I'd spend all night trying to fight off drifting to one side of the tent.
It niggled away at me and 15 minutes later I'd made my decision to pack up and head down.

I wasn't in the best of moods after such a tiring day and the boggy and rooty ground was only aggravating me more. I hadn't looked at the compass since setting off and I was soon met with a steep craggy drop. I retraced my steps and spied a path to the north. In my haste to get down in daylight I was functioning on autopilot.
I could see a river flowing way below that had me confused. 10 minutes of bafflement later and the penny dropped. It was Glenridding Beck and I was about to descend The Rake.

The last couple of kilometres back to Patterdale were in near darkness but I was grateful to be heading home and not spending the night sliding to one side of my tent just for the sake of camping.

It's annoying when trips don't turn out as planned but it's all part of the experience. I don't research the areas I'm likely to pitch on (except by a lot of planning looking at maps) but as any outdoors type will know, just because an area looks clear and flat doesn't means it's suitable to pitch on.
It wasn't until I'd got back home and converted the photographs that I realised I hadn't captured the Northern Lights, I've seen light pollution many times before and none showed a green glow like this did.
All of that aside it was some of the best 36 hours I'd spent in the Lake District with some truly stunning scenes and conditions.
I'll be back again very soon and I will catch the Northern Lights eventually..! ;)