Wednesday, 18 July 2012

200 Wainwrights

A couple of months and about half a dozen summits ago I thought that there was a good chance of Haystacks becoming my 200th Wainwright.  But as I continued towards completion, the likelihood of my 200th having any specific meaning diminished.

For some people, their 200th Wainwright is a significant milestone as it is a nice round number and also quite close to the end of their Lake District quest – they may even pick a specific fell for the occasion.  Browsing walking websites will reveal a number of articles about Wainwright baggers’ days out to tick their double-century.

I had no particular desire to tick any particular fell as my 200th – I’ve already picked my 214th and it will have far more significance.  As I planned my remaining walks, it looked like Wasdale’s Red Pike (on a Yewbarrow to Steeple ridge route) would mark this milestone, but a Tweet from Eric Robson (of Wainwright television fame) said that the Wasdale fell race was to take place on the day in question.  This would probably add to the traffic in the valley already boosted by 3 peaks challengers.  As I feared that parking spaces would be at a premium, I quickly changed my plans to link an ascent of Kirk Fell with Haystacks.

Starting from Honister Pass car park I soon reached Drum House before turning onto Moses’ Trod.  Is there a better path for views in the Lake District?  It traverses the slopes of Grey Knotts, Brandreth and Green Gable before reaching Beck Head and the view from the path subtly but constantly changes, having superb views of the giants of Great Gable and Pillar with the twin glacial troughs of Ennerdale and Buttermere commanding the vista to the north-west.

Ennerdale and Buttermere
One of the Beck Head tarns was almost dry, despite the recent rains, and the path up the eastern slopes of Kirk Fell led into the cloud.  Once on the summit plateau, visibility varied from 10 to 100 metres and it was easy to deviate from the track, making the twin summits just that bit more challenging to find.  The north-east top was ticked and the main (south-west) summit quickly followed.

Beckhead Tarns
As I rested at the top, a Lancaster couple with two dogs arrived.  They had taken the relentlessly direct ascent from Wasdale Head – an achievement that I couldn’t decide to envy or pity !  One of the dogs, Stanley, still had the energy to consider closer acquaintance with the sheep but was deterred by his master’s voice.

We parted company and I reversed my steps towards Beck Head but this time in much better visibility.  Napes Needle was clearly in view from Kirkfell Tarn and zooming in on a photo revealed climbers on and just below the summit.  There were a lot of fell runners descending from the plateau to the col and then starting the slog up Great Gable, obviously competitors on the Wasdale fell race, as well as a group attempting the Bob Graham round.  I was grateful for my lesser ambition and slower pace.

Napes Needle
On Haystacks – my 200th Wainwright – I took the obligatory photos of the profile of the perched boulder and strolled amongst the tors to reach Innominate Tarn.  I was expecting an isolated idyll but was a little disappointed upon discovering that it was so near to the main footpath.  At the summit there is a small ridge alongside a tarn, with a cairn at either end.  The northernmost is the accepted Wainwright summit but the highest point is not clear.

Innominate Tarn
On the way back to Honister I spoke to a group of young men at the top of Black Beck and it became clear that they still had big plans.  Having started at Buttermere, they walked up Red Pike and then along the ridge to Haystacks, their aim was to tackle Fleetwith Pike and continue to Dale Head before making Robinson their final summit.  I wished them luck but kept quiet about my doubts about them finishing in daylight!

As the sun continued to shine I finished this excellent walk and I would recommend as a good day out with super views.  My change of plan had worked out well.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Killing the Golden Goose

Search for “3 peaks” on and hundreds of entries will be returned.  It’s likely that hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions of pounds are raised annually on such 3 peaks challenges, all for perfectly laudable charities.  Some of the more prominent charities that champion the fundraisers on their own websites are Cancer Research UK, Help for Heroes, Sport Relief and Oxfam with the help that they provide changing many lives for the better.

But what price charity?

Mid-summer weekends are primetime for the 3 peaks (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon) given the long daylight hours and (in theory) fairer weather.  But on Facebook yesterday the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team posted this –

Shocking amounts of litter, people creating new paths, the stink of urine and worse on the summit of Scafell Pike this morning.”

The Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team quickly followed up with this post –

There's no excuse for this.  If someone tells you they are taking part in such an event, then please make them aware of the problems that events like this can cause (sorry for getting political, but this is unforgivable).”

Consider the impact of those that take part.  Even if they live directly on the route between the 3 peaks, challengers will be making a 950 mile round-trip.  Add a few hundred more if the challengers live south of the midlands.  Obviously mini-buses lessen the amount of fuel used, but some organisers have convoys in double figures traveling up and down the country.

And with hundreds of walkers using the same paths in such a short time, footpath erosion is becoming a big problem.  Even the road leading to Wasdale Head struggles to take the impact of increased traffic.  There have long been tales of unacceptable noise (raised voices, slamming car doors, car alarms) in the wee small hours at Wasdale Head, as challengers prepare themselves for the ascent and celebrate the descent of Scafell Pike.

Even the national representative body for hillwalkers and mountaineers has expressed concerns about sustainability –

Charities may soon find themselves in an awkward position as so much money is raised but objections to the environmental impact incurred increase.  In my view, they ought to take a stance of expressing gratitude for the efforts made by well-meaning members of the public money but actively discourage such fund-raising events.

As if the 3 peaks aren’t enough for some people, I’ve seen adverts for the 6 peaks challenge with the addition of the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland and Eire providing a more extreme fundraising experience.

Finally, I issue a plea to charities and fundraisers who use the 3 peaks to raise money …..


One that doesn’t use gallons of petrol.

One that doesn’t erode the landscape it takes place in.

One that doesn’t inconvenience local residents.

And one that doesn’t turn our wild places into public lavatories.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Some Western Wainwrights

Despite poor weather leading up to, and forecast for, the last weekend in June, 13 members of my mountaineering club converged on Beckstones, in the Duddon Valley, for a weekend of hillwalking, cycling, bouldering, rock-climbing, road-running and fell-running.  Although the range of activities was diverse, my sole aim was to bag a few more Wainwrights and inch nearer to next year’s planned completion.

Friday afternoon saw me on the far west of the national park, starting from Coldfell Gate and walking up to the summit of Cold Fell.  It’s a rather unremarkable lump, wet underfoot for a significant amount of the walk and having a rather nondescript summit.  It’s a hill to bag just because it’s on a ticklist with little else to give it any hillwalking merit.  But at least the rain held off!

A drive over to the Birker Fell road led to a more enjoyable walk.  At first glance Great Worm Crag doesn’t appear to offer much to inspire, but the walk was surprisingly pleasant and the summit offered good views of the bigger fells to the north, despite the cloud covering the high tops.  This is one to visit again in better weather.

Green Crag from Great Worm Crag
Saturday’s objective was the Mosedale horseshoe and thankfully Wasdale wasn’t too full with 3 Peaks challengers, allowing us to find a parking space quite quickly.  The path was good up to Gatherstone Head but we decided against following it to the Black Sail pass and made a bee-line for Looking Stead, finding a reasonable path slightly higher up the fellside.  With Looking Stead bagged and lunch eaten, it was time to ascend into the gloom which hid the summit of Pillar.

Rougher ground took us up the ridge to the summit shelter and trig point with a strong breeze blowing and no views to see.  One unusual thing I noticed was that the trig point didn’t have an Ordnance Survey benchmark plate and there wasn’t any sign of it ever having had one!

As conditions weren’t ideal we decided to cut short the route and after reaching Wind Gap, we descended the screes.  As this lesser route had sacrificed 3 Wainwrights I had a close look at our descent route to see how suitable it would be for an ascent for a future walk.  A word of warning – DON’T!  The screes are long and unstable and although possible, it would be a nightmare to gain the ridge by this route.  I’ll be finding another way to bag the rest of the horseshoe.

Mosedale from the screes
Once we had dropped out of the cloud, a bonus was being able to see all of the route still to do – including the pub.  Walking seems so much easier when you know there’s a pint waiting for you at the end.  Ritson’s Bar didn’t disappoint and neither did the Yewbarrow dark mild – I’d thoroughly recommended it!

Although Sunday had the best forecast, it didn’t really turn out to be any better than the previous two days – it was still breezy and the clouds were even lower.  Muncaster Castle was the start of our circular walk on Muncaster Fell, following Wainwright’s Outlying Fells route.  The walk was leisurely and the bogs and mud didn’t exactly add to the enjoyment but I’m sure that it would be a super walk after a dry spell and on a sunny day.  Having said that, the view to the west was superb with the Isle of Man standing out very clearly on the horizon.

A word of warning though – on the main road is a house that had a handsome Airedale terrier who obviously regards the garden as its territory.  Don’t try and make friends with it – it bites!

Friday, 6 July 2012

After the Wainwrights

I inadvertently started bagging Wainwrights in 1983 but it was in 1988 that I considered that bagging them all would be a goal worth pursuing.  Since then I have had long periods of abstinence from the hills interspersed with times of focussed bagging.

But as I approach the end of the Wainwrights my thoughts have turned to other ticklists.  When I decided to concentrate on the Wainwrights I wanted to include the Outlying Fells in my round.  I didn’t want some smart alec asking me if I’d completed book 8 once I’d finished the 214.  Over time I think that I might have turned into that smart alec as having spent a lot of time on the Outliers, they feel like a logical extension of those fells listed in the 7 Pictorial Guides and they definitely give a greater appreciation of the geography of the Lake District.  My plan is to finish the Outlying Fells and the “regular” Wainwrights on the same day.  But once that day has passed, what next ?

Although some earlier attempts had been made to compile lists of the Scottish 3000-foot mountains, arguably the first ticklist was the Munros, published in 1891.  Since then there have been many other lists compiled – so many that I’m expecting somebody to publish a ticklist of ticklists!  I did toy with the idea of graduating to Munros but, to be blunt, the biggest barrier to completing them is the cost of petrol.  I’ll still visit Scotland and climb the odd Munro or two, but as a whole they are too numerous and too far from home to make “compleation” a realistic goal.

So what lists could be realistic?  The Fell & Rock Climbing Club published “The Lakeland Fells” in 1996 listing 244 fells; the list becoming known as the FRCC 244.  If I complete the Wainwrights and the Outliers, there are only 8 of the 244 that would not have been climbed – not exactly the biggest challenge.  Because of the huge overlap between Wainwrights and the FRCC 244 I have incorporated bagging those extra 8 into plans to finish my Wainwright round.

Bill Birkett wrote “Complete Lakeland Fells”, listing 541 tops with a height of over 1000 feet.  During my Wainwright round so far I’ve walked to the top of a few of these, but many are fairly insignificant bumps.  Ullister Hill near Lord’s Seat is one of the most unrewarding tops I’ve ever visited (even on a sunny day!) and Thirdgill Head Man near Wandope looks very impressive from the ridge below but as it only has a reascent of 2 metres, it’s a very minor bump on a ridge.  And Lad Hows on the south flank of Grasmoor was hardly noticeable!  To complete the Birketts would mean aiming for uninspiring summits – my time on the hills can be far better spent.

I’ve come to the conclusion that once I’ve climbed the Wainwrights, Outliers and FRCC 244, the Nuttalls will become the active ticklist to follow.  Nuttalls are mountains in England & Wales with a height of 2000 feet or more, with a reascent of 50 feet (15 metres).  I’ve already bagged quite a few and I want to spend some time in areas that I’m not too familiar with – I’m not looking forward to some of the rounded Pennines but the Brecon Beacons look like some wonderful peaks to aim for.  And this new quest will not fully take me away from the Lake District as there are a few Nuttalls that I need to reach the top of, the Glaramara ridge and the area south of Crinkle Crags being two areas rich in unclimbed summits.

As well as the Nuttalls I’ve got an eye on the TRAIL 100, a list published in TRAIL magazine in April 2007 listing, in their own view, the best 100 summits in the UK.  There are quite a few in Scotland, but the numbers are more manageable than the Munros.

So with the Nuttalls and the TRAIL 100 to come into focus soon, and maybe adding the Irish 3000s and Scottish 4000s to my targets, I reckon that the next 10 years or so of hillwalking is already accounted for.