Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A Lancashire Inversion

The drive up the M6 and then over to Ingleton was largely in fog but it had mostly cleared by the time I had reached the layby just past the Hill Inn.  A look up to Ingleborough revealed only sparse snow cover so I decided to leave behind my ice-axe and crampons.

The start of the walk is a gentle stroll through fields until a path of flagstones and duckboards crossed the open moorland.  Although well-made, the flagged path was iced over because water had seeped over the edges and frozen.  To avoid the ice and inevitable injury I had to walk on the frozen vegetation on either side, somewhat negating the value of the work done to prevent erosion !

As I gained height, the lower slopes started to disappear under cloud with only the highest tops being seen clearly in the bright sunshine.  I reached the start of the steep final slope and started to regret leaving behind the crampons as the path was completely iced.

I had to take a lot of care to reach the top and passed a couple descending with some trepidation, the young lady deciding that the easiest way to get down was on her bottom.  I didn’t feel that an ice-axe was needed as my poles helped my stability but if I had brought my crampons I would have put them on; the path was treacherous.



At the plateau I turned toward the summit of Ingleborough which was just an easy stroll away.  The hills to the east could be clearly seen with Pen-y-ghent prominent.  Whernside poked out above the clouds and both the Scafell and Helvellyn ranges in the Lake District were easily identifiable.  But to the south, Lancashire was completely covered in cloud making it the most extensive inversion I’ve ever seen.

the Lake District

I was pleasantly surprised to find a topograph mounted on the pillar at the centre of the cruciform shelter.  I had not seen this on my previous visit and speaking to a friend about it later revealed that he didn’t know about it either, despite more than one visit to the summit.  Such is the advantage of always visiting the highest point !

The walk to the top of Simon Fell was a simple jaunt and I was soon needing to make a decision about where to descend of the plateau to avoid the ascent path.  I picked a point a few hundred yards east of the icy path and easily made my way down to Humphrey Bottom and onto the flags and duckboards once again.

Simon Fell from Ingleborough

Ingleborough from Simon Fell

An Suidhe

Probably ignored by the masses powering up the A9 to the northern Cairngorms, An Suidhe overlooks Kincraig and provides a relatively easy half-day’s walk with some expansive views.

The barking erupted from the barns and kennels as we walked through the sheepdog centre, trying to find a way beyond the farm and onto the hill, eventually running the gauntlet of the chickens once we’d passed through a gate into their run.  A more defined track emerged, despite the snow, and breaking trail was arduous.  The terrain opened up to moorland and we saw a herd of deer in the distance, making their way across the ground using a lot less effort than us.  As we walked further onto the hillsides, we saw lots of mountain hares scurrying away from their scrapes underneath the peat at the side of the track, more than I’ve even seen in such a small area.  And there was just one brave hare that sat still long enough for it to have its photo taken !

We took turns to lead the way through the drifted snow and at the far end of the forest we struck out for the west ridge of An Suidhe and into increasing winds.

looking towards the A'Bhuidheanaich ridge

The best views were of the hills overlooking Kingussie but for most of the time we had our heads down and concentrated on avoiding sudden plunges into the deepest areas of snow.  The terrain became a little more forgiving as we neared the summit and we were soon taking shelter in the lee of a large cairn.

west towards Creag Mhor, Creag Dubh & A' Chailleach

We headed back the same way, using our own footsteps to help us get back to the car, making the return walk a lot quicker than the outward equivalent. 

And now only a 350 mile drive home giving us plenty of time to look back on a rewarding weekend !

Meall a’Bhuachaille

Rather than battle through the deep drifts that were likely to have been deposited in the northern corries following the heavy snowfalls of the past I suggested a walk up and over Meall a’Bhuachaille, a Corbett that overlooks Glenmore Lodge and has a grandstand view of the Cairngorms.  We parked at the lodge and walked in to Ryvoan bothy, seeing only a few people on the path, a couple of whom were heading for Bynack More which sounded an ambitious objective to me !  We had a very early lunch-stop at the bothy before setting off up the east ridge on a tracked path.

Bynack More

We slowly worked our way up and thought we had the mountain to ourselves but as we neared the top a large group of a dozen or more came down the way we were heading.  I thought it unusual that none of them were using poles to make the walking easier, especially for the chap who was holding an arm gingerly, obviously having fallen on it.  A few more were at the summit when we arrived with more making their way up from the more direct Glenmore route.

the Northern Corries

I’m always keen to get to the absolute highest point of a mountain so I climbed the large cairn at the edge of the summit shelter; I don’t think many were as keen because of how snowed-up it was.  Summit photos were taken, snacks were eaten and I chatted to a couple who gave me some suggestions for future walks – local knowledge is always valuable.

Creagan Gorm and the west ridge

As we descended the slope became icier and my confidence in my footing was misplaced as I slipped and fell heavily on my rucksack and bent a new pole that I was using.  It took quite a bit of effort to bend it back to something resembling straight so that I could collapse it down to storage size.  The crampons went on and stayed on for most of the rest of the walk.

Meall a'Bhuachaille from the west

Having passed a lot of walkers heading for the summit the col was reached where I recognised a face that I’d only seen on Twitter and Youtube.  Ben Dolphin (@CountrysideBen) is a blogger who posts some interesting videos of his walks in Scotland and we stopped and had a chat about the route we were on.  He said that there wasn’t enough snow to fully justify using the snowshoes he was carrying and that this was the first time that he’d been recognised in the mountains.  Get used to it Ben, you’ll soon be famous !

After a quick team talk at the col, we decided to walk up to the next summit, Creagan Gorm.  Walking a few yards north from the summit cairn we saw our Brocken Spectres, only the second time I’d seen one.  It was a fleeting sight with it disappearing and appearing again as the mist moved across the front of us.

a faint Brocken Spectre

At this point we had the option of carrying along the ridge or descending back to the col and head straight down to the valley.  We took the more relaxed option, making a beeline from the col back to the path across some untracked snow-covered heather before finishing the walk through the forest. 

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

2015 Targets

Lists to tick

My target ticklist is a combination of Nuttalls, TRAIL 100 summits, WASHIS, Bridges and Buxton & Lewis summits.  At the start of 2015 there are 308 individual summits on this list (following the “discovery” of a new WASHIS summit) and I have set myself the goal of completing them in 2023 which leaves 9 years until the self-imposed deadline.  You may think that is plenty of time but my efforts last year fell short of a fairly non-challenging yearly goal.

Still to be ticked at the start of the year are 231 of the 444 Nuttalls and 49 of the TRAIL 100 summits.

This coming year

In simple numbers, 11% of my remaining summits based on my remaining 9-year target appears to be a reasonable goal for 2015.

Which means I’m aiming for 34 summits, amongst which should be 26 Nuttalls and 6 TRAIL 100s.

My unticked summits still include some of the more isolated groups of English mountains which I’d like to tick this year.  These are :

  • the Cheviots                 (6 summits)
  • the Malverns                 (1 summit)
  • Dartmoor                      (3 summits)

And I’d like to climb Pillar Rock if I can find a partner or two willing to brave the long walk-in !

Forthcoming blog entries will chronicle how I’m doing; I hope progress is better than last year !

A 2014 Summary

At the start of 2014 I had 324 summits on my combined ticklist of TRAIL 100 summits, Nuttalls, WASHIS, Bridges and Buxton & Lewis summits.  I had set myself a target of 10 years to complete them and in 2014 aimed to tick 33 of them which should include 6 TRAIL 100s and 25 Nuttalls.

I fell some way short !

Overall I :
            went on            11                                 walks
            walked              69.9                              miles
            ascended          25,528                           feet
            walked for         54 hrs 50 mins              (including rest stops !)
            reached            33                                  individual summits that I hadn’t been to before
            reached            1                                    individual summit that I had been to before
            reached            17                                  summits on my combined ticklist
            reached            5                                    previously unclimbed TRAIL 100 summits
            reached            14                                  previously unclimbed Nuttall summits
            drove                2498                              miles on trips to and from walks

Of the specific summits that I stated were 2014 targets, I did manage to tick the 3 Peak district Nuttalls but didn’t manage to get near the 6 Cheviot, 3 Dartmoor and 1 Malvern summits on my list.  And Pillar Rock still needs to be done !

I didn’t get out as much as I’d have liked but I was satisfied with the summits that I did reach the top of.  The highlights were all in Scotland – Buachaille Etive Mor, Stac Pollaidh and Quinag all lived up to their excellent reputations.

Lancashire’s Highest Point

Until the 1974 county boundary changes of 1974, Lancashire had a highpoint worthy of such a great and historic county, but The Old Man of Coniston was wrenched from the grasp of the red rose and placed firmly within the manufactured county of Cumbria.  The new highpoint was Gragareth, a much less worthy mountain, only a stone’s throw from Lancashire’s arch-rival – Yorkshire.

In recent years, there has been some debate as to the true county top with Green Hill claiming the honour with a published spot height just 1 metre superior to that of Gragareth.  But a recent GPS survey has conclusively determined that Gragareth is actually the true top.

The Three Men of Gragareth

From the parking area just short of Fell House I could see The Three Men of Gragareth and set off towards them, avoiding the worst of the boulder fields.  Close to them was an impressive alcove shelter which could be likened to a hollowed-out cairn but it was too early to consider using it for a rest.  As the mist enveloped me I aimed for the trig point and soon reached it.  But this is not the true summit.  I walked east for 100 metres to a small cairn marking the top and felt a tinge of disappointment that a county summit could be marked by such a small pile of stones.

Gragareth summit cairn

The impressive drystone wall that follows the county boundary led to the summit of Green Hill, an equally unimpressive summit that I soon left behind.  The junction of the old counties of Lancashire, Westmorland and the West Riding of Yorkshire is marked by the “County Stone” which is almost overwhelmed by the walls that meet at it and if you didn’t already know about it, its significance would easily be overlooked.  Great Coum was only a short distance away and quickly bagged as was Crag Hill, its trig point looming out of the mist amidst a promise of clearing skies.

Crag Hill trig point

I contoured around the head of the Ease Gill valley and despite the recent freezing conditions still managed to go knee deep into bog !  Resisting ticking Green Hill again, I took a bearing from the col between it and Gragareth to the shooter’s track clearly marked on the map.  Many brace of grouse flew away as I disturbed them while trying to avoid the worst of the groughs.

The track is one of the worst I’ve walked and would be a challenge for all but the hardiest 4x4 but the last kilometre or so was rewarded with a magnificent sunset over Morecambe Bay.

Morecambe Bay sunset