The last of winter on an excellent day

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Blog post 14

Wainwright count: 3

Wainwrights: Birkhouse Moor, Helvellyn, Catstye Cam

Who with: JP

Date: Saturday 4th April

After an early start from home, we arrived at a surprisingly quiet Glenridding (for Easter weekend), where we parked in the layby just by the Travellers Rest. Unusually, I had left Susie, my Patterdale Terrier at home on this occasion, not knowing how bad the snow was on the final stretches of Striding and Swirrel Edge, I didn’t want to risk any mis-haps for my usual walking companion! To confuse me, at a moment of being unawares when I was getting out of the car, a black Patterdale Terrier came bounding up to me, which really caught me off-guard…I thought Susie had been holding onto the roof bars for an hour, as she does like a walk!

Anyway we got going, and made our way past the campsite in Glenridding, which we found to be a hive of activity. It also had a greasy-spoon van selling bacon and sausage barms, which was a real test for JP to walk past, even though he had already had a bacon and egg breakfast before leaving home! I dragged him past, and onto the footpath which skirts round the back, and up to the top of Birkhouse Moor, which is the hill that looks down over Glenridding, casting a big shadow.

The path is a good clear one, which climbs relatively steeply up towards the summit, which we followed before retracing our steps on towards the Hole in the Wall. We passed this and were onto Striding Edge, and the weather was now perfect with the early morning mist having cleared and the sun breaking through the remaining cloud over Red Tarn.

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As we were halfway along the ridge, we bumped into Graham Uney, the Felltop Assessor for the Lake District Weatherline, who was in his last week of assessing the Winter mountain conditions for this season. We wandered along the ridge having a good chat on the way, with Graham being a nice bloke and doing a fantastic job producing daily weather reports to allow us to outdoorsy folk to enjoy the mountains in Winter with the most comprehensive weather assessments.

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We continued on, before reaching the snow on the final exit onto the summit of Helvellyn, which still has a thick layer of ice, which we ascended with the aid of our ice axes, before reaching the top. We admired the memorial plaque on the top of the mountain with quotes from Wordsworth and other literary scholars, providing a fitting tribute to someone who had died doing what they loved. We turned towards the summit cairn, before realising the hundred plus people on the top, with scores of people still ascending from both Nethermost Pike and Raise.

Crowds on the mountains aren’t my bag really, and takes away from the experience of enjoying the fells for me, so if I’d have been alone I probably wouldn’t have stopped, but JP was hungry! So that was it, we were having lunch…

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It was whilst we were enjoying our lunch that we noticed some of the inappropriate attire that some of the walkers were wearing, with one chap wearing sandals, shorts and a t-shirt, with no bag or anything else with him. When asked if he was cold, he replied “just a bit, it’s not as warm up here as down in the valley” – well no whatsit Sherlock! To put it in perspective, I had my coat on and gloves and after a few minutes was cold, as although Spring is well underway in the valleys and the sun was shining, it is still very much in winter conditions on Helvellyn.

Anyway, once lunch was eaten and the crowds had thinned my patience, we began making our way towards Swirrel Edge to reach Catstye Cam, but the edge of the descent onto the ridge was still under thick ice and so we put our crampons on, not wanting to take any risks what with the drop being significant down to Red Tarn. As we were, putting our crampons on, a few people walked up to the edge and felt that the ice was quite slippery, and decided that the risk was not worth taking, instead continuing to find an alternative way to descend. However, a group of Italian lads, in trainers, decided that the risks we more than worth taking and made their way down over the edge…with one of them slipping down, before luckily arresting his fall on a rock. I personally would rather not rely on luck! However, that put another 10-15 people off trying the descent, so some good came of it.

It is this kind of risk taking, without understanding of the conditions and consequences that keeps the Mountain rescue groups so busy! Stupidity really.

However, we made our ascent down and after about 150-200 meters, we left the snow behind and de-cramponed, having safely descended and avoided any risk taking. Once we took our crampons off however, we noticed a chap start to ski down the steep face of Helvellyn towards Red Tarn. He was clearly a very proficient skier and had assessed the risks, which he avoided and made his way safely to the bottom of the run. I know I couldn’t have stood on that edge and committed to skiing down!

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We negotiated Swirrel Edge and made our way to the top of Catstye Cam before heading down to the stream of people around Red Tarn. It was as if a dozen coaches had just pulled out and off-loaded its tourists. We briskly tried to beat the queue of people off the mountain, heading back down to the bridge by the hydro-elecric dam, by the Youth hostel, before continuing the mile or so back towards the car. Once we reached Glenridding  village centre, the car parks were over-flowing and the village green was covered in cars, which is about right for an Easter break in the Lakes!

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A lovely day’s walk (except for all the people) and we headed back to meet up with the wives before going for drinks and a meal. A good day all in all, and better still only 18 Wainwrights to go!!! Then I can walk my Lake District fells of choice and begin tackling the Munros!

Hope you all had a great Easter.

3 thoughts on “The last of winter on an excellent day

  1. You can’t imagine someone being mad enough to ski down that front of Helvellyn above Red Tarn can you? 😮

    I often wear shorts and sandals on the hill, even in winter, as I’m a hot walker – but I take lots of warm clothing to don on the summit and generally swap into gloves, a buff and my jacket once I get up. Sandals in winter though!

    The Italian walkers don’t surprise me – foreigners, especially ones who have mountains of their own, class our mountains as insignificant and have no respect for them whatsoever. We tried advising a load of jeans & trainers Turkish lads back from Snowdon in severe winter conditions. They just told us “Oh, it’s only a little British hill” – they were rescued later that day – one had had a bad fall and was injured, the rest had hypothermia! They were completely stuck anyway and couldn’t get down – idiots!

    Where’s this layby by the Travellers Rest? I don’t remember ever seeing one but could do with knowing about free parking around there (although we usually stay and park at Patterdale so don’t pay).
    Carol.

      1. I always thought you weren’t allowed to park up that road. Incidentally, I used to horseride from the Travellers Rest – used to be a great stables

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