Sunday 15 September 2013

Day 2 Trip Report of a walk in the North Western Fells: Banana skins and wise words

Early morning brew near Launchy Tarn

Trip stats

Distance: 14km
Height: 971m climbed; 1394 descended
Duration: 7 hours 20 minutes
Wainwright Count: 4 
Second brew of the day

I awoke just before 6.00am and indulged myself by brewing tea whilst lying in my sleeping bag, at the same time watching the sombre grey sky and damp moorland through the open door of the Scarp 1.  Drinking tea like this is one of the great pleasures of spending a night out in the hills.  Breakfast was instant porridge, a cereal bar and more tea.  After this leisurely start I was walking by 8.30am.
My initial destination was to be the top of Dale Head.  I debated with myself whether to contour round through heather and bog to meet the path up the hill from Honister, or to drop down, losing quite a bit of height, to the decent path up from Dale Head Tarn.  I chose the latter, and thus within 15 minutes or so of downhill heathery tussocks I was on the steep grind of an uphill slope.  Hillsides always seem steeper to me first thing in the morning when there has been no gentle lead in.  On the way up I stopped to play with my recently acquired birthday present, a Suunto Core watch, and switched it to altitude mode.  I hadn’t calibrated it, so was really pleased to arrive at the summit much earlier than I had expected as its readings were out by almost 100 metres.  At the top I could set it correctly from the map and it proved of great amusement value for the rest of the day.
Summit cairn on Dale Head
Dale Head has a magnificent cairn on the top but the potentially superb views from here were limited today because of the clag.  Dale Head is much understated and underrated as a mountain but the walk along the edge to Hindscarth and Robinson is splendid.  That was part of my very first proper walk in the Lakes, which I did with a group of friends from the school Combined Cadet Force in a very hot Easter week in 1973 or 1974.  This ridge wasn’t my objective today, and instead I dropped down the easy path to Honister as the sun started to break through.  I headed to the café at the slate mines.  What on earth are the owners thinking of putting up their terrible bright orange garish sign?  The slate mine is an eyesore, but an understandable one that has provided employment to local people for very many years.  The sign, though, is inexcusable.  And whilst I have previously enjoyed the mine tour a couple of times I do wish they would make more of the rather dismal café.  How about some decent cakes for a kick off?  And does the mug of tea have to come with a tea bag floating in it?  Personally, I prefer a tea pot and extra hot water.  Much better for rehydration!
Yes, they make signs too, but how about using a tasteful green colour?

Honister Hause is often regarded as a cheat’s start to a day on the hills as it knocks about 300m off the climb.  I have no problem with that, but anyway today I had already done one fell. The direct route up to Grey Knotts is still a tough slog from here with a backpacking load, and I definitely felt this in both lungs and legs.  It starts steep but gradually the gradients ease.  The top is a pleasing jumble of rocky outcrops. I am never certain which is the highest point, but today I went to that furthest west and had glorious views down to Buttermere as the sun was now winning its battle with the clouds.

Retrospective to Dale Head from the climb up Grey Knotts

Buttermere from Grey Knotts (Ennerdale and Crummock Water also in view)
A quick drop down and a short pull up took me on to the rocky top of Brandreth, followed by a rather longer descent and ascent up the slopes of Green Gable.  The cloud was, by now, well and truly back, and its menacing big brother, Great Gable, had become well enveloped and hidden from view.
I chatted to a couple on the summit of Green Gable.  The lady was gingerly holding a fresh banana skin between thumb and first finger like it was something covered in poison.  At this point I may have made a very unfair assumption as I surmised that this was about to be discarded.  I watched them head off from the summit and she bent over and seemed to push it between some rocks in a cairn. As she and her partner weren’t covered in tattoos and muscles I called after them “excuse me, but please do not leave that banana skin, they take years to degrade”.  With that she picked it up and pulled another old banana skin from out of the cairn, and told me she wasn’t dropping hers but picking up another one.  I hope what she said was true and I was in the wrong, but my eyes told me something different was happening.  If she was clearing litter then good on her. I make no apologies, though, for my challenge.  When we can we should make litter louts feel like the scum that they are.  And with that temperate aside I should move on.
Green Gable from Brandreth with her menacing big brother behind
Many British mountaineers worship at what sometimes seems to be regarded as the shrine of Great Gable but I always find it an unfriendly hill, if hills can have human characteristics. Perhaps it just scares me for reasons unknown.  It is not that hard to climb, although the path from Beck Head which I normally use for ascent is now not just steep but is also horribly loose. But it certainly would have been a hill too far for me today. 

So I dropped to Windy Gap and then down Aaron Slack towards Sty Head Tarn.  I have only been down Aaron Slack once before, again with school friends, this time at the Easter a year after my introduction to the fells, but still 40 years ago.  I remembered it as being a long, scree covered, unpleasant descent, even with the flexible bendy knees of a teenager.  My memory was spot on, although Fix the Fells have since tried to urbanise one section of it, as is their want.  I despair of that unaccountable organisation, but cannot summon up the energy to write a post about them.  I just find so much of their footpath work profoundly insensitive and depressing and in some places completely unnecessary.
Windy Gap between Green and Great Gable. Quite a sinister place in the mist.

Aaron Slack
By the time I had completed the long descent to Sty Head the wind was really starting to get up and the clag was getting wetter.  I headed up to Sprinkling Tarn, largely hidden in the mist, and then along the ‘highway’ that is the path to Esk Hause.  I planned to go over Allen Crags and camp but even though I was carrying a water filter decided to be on the safe side, and fill my water bottles from the crystal clear stream at the fords near the top of Ruddy Gill.
As I did so I got chatting to a couple of guys, one of whom was from the Duddon Mountain Rescue Team.  They asked my plans, and then whether I had seen the forecast.  I hadn’t.  It was for very strong winds and none stop rain over night.  Their advice was to head down to the valley and not camp high.  I hesitated briefly then took it.  My car was in Keswick, and my bed only 20 minutes from there.  I headed down to Seathwaite via Ruddy Gill and Grains Gill.  This extended my planned walk by well over an hour.  I arrived at Seatoller 15 minutes after the bus had left.  But hey, I still had the use of my thumbs, and within 5 minutes of road walking along Borrowdale I was picked up by a friendly outdoor pursuits instructor and so had the pleasure of a fish and chips supper in Keswick rather than a last freeze dried meal in my tent.
Grains Gill

Trip Stats from my Active 10 Satnav:
Distance walked:  0 km
Height:  0 metres climbed, 0 metres descended
Time taken: 0 minutes
Maximum travelling speed: 0 kmph

Note to self: Remember to turn on route tracker when using Active 10.


  1. Another great read - and familiar! We followed the same route up from Honister back in June.
    You really need to get to grips with this Active 10 thingy before you go out again!

  2. Thanks Norma. I am not certain why I took the Active 10 as it is almost a year since I had last bothered using it. I now prefer Viewranger on my Samsung Galaxy clever phone.

  3. I agree, much better than the Sunday papers David. Not sure I agree about Great Gable though. Its just a friendly giant, but then again that path up from Green Gable is a touch rotten. Sounds like you made the right decission to bail out though. Discretion being the greater part of valour and all that.. I'm sure the Scarp would have held strong but it would'nt have been much fun.

    1. Thanks, Steve. Yes impressed with the Scarp so far. But I'm not in to masochism or machoism so was happy to get back to a nice warm cottage and comfy bed.

  4. Someone picked you up? Must have been those yellow shoes that made you look all attractive!

    Probably a good idea to get down off the hill that night, it was a touch breezy in the Glen in the Highlands.

  5. Hi James

    No, it's easy to get picked up if you don't have a dodgy beard and you put on a pathetically sad and tired face.....