Jul 24 2010

Walk 15: Off Peak

Cautley Crag and Spout from Yarlside

route: yarlside, randygill top, the calf, bush howe & fell head from low haygarth
date: 24th july 2010
distance: 11.9 miles
ascent: 4,098 feet
time: 9 hrs 10 mins
walkers: carol, dave, graham, leanne, roger, sandra & simon

Finally the day was here. On a couple of occasions on earlier walks we had seen the Howgill Fells from a distance but today was the day we met up close. The sight of them as we approached was inspiring and I couldn’t wait to get started. The girls were a little apprehensive due to the number of peaks we were going to do. There were eight peaks on our Yorkshire tops list that were in the Howgills and that sounds a lot compared to our other walks. We had done five on our last walk a fortnight ago and it was seventeen miles and a lot of hard work. I think the brain was telling them that eight peaks will be harder. The weather was perfect with the sun poking through minimal cloud cover and the temperature not being too hot. We could see Cautley Spout from our starting point and it looked magnificent as it ran down the far edge of Cautley Crag. The time for soaking in the views was about to end and the time to do some walking was here.

We made our way along the road slightly then dropped down to the left as we followed the steps down before crossing the wooden foot bridge over the River Rawthey. The path followed the edge of the river for a short while before turning towards Cautley Spout, which would roughly be our first mini target. The lush green grass was nice and short and perfect for walking on with the only slight downside being the occasional wet patches created by streams running down off the hills. We were now about 25 minutes into the walk and we caught our first sight of the wild ponies that roam the Howgills. There was about fifteen of them spread out over the hillside.

We continued towards the waterfall in good spirits and I certainly couldn’t think of any reason why anyone could fail to be impressed with everything we had seen so far.

As we neared Cautley Spout we were to follow a path up towards our first target of Yarlside instead of taking the path that runs up the side of the waterfall. Normally there is a climb quite early in a walk but today we had covered the first mile or so with any great incline. With the climb kicking up a little we pushed a little way up then paused for a breather.

The sun was beginning to get quite hot now and we were making sure we took plenty of fluid on. We left our resting spot and pushed on, splitting up as is the norm on tough climbs. Behind us we now had a better view of Cautley Crag and the spout.

After reaching a level area, the path went away to the right and left us with two options. One was to drop into a little valley then up the other side or the longer option was to climb around it. I went for the more direct route although the fact that I was the last one to the top would suggest that I made an error. Not that it mattered really as we were all on top of Yarlside and peak one was complete. Along the way I had spotted a little beetle or something I hadn’t seen before and it got the usual treatment of going in the archives before I left it to continue my climb.

We had made reasonably good time too and it was only just mid morning as we enjoyed a break, then set off for peak number two. As we did we heard a plane approaching from behind us. We turned to wave and he waved back by tipping his wings at us. What a friendly pilot!

With the plane increasing the whole experience we were in high spirits as we reached the edge of Yarlside’s dome top and could see Randygill Top straight in front of us.

From here it was a fairly steep descent so we had to take care as although it wasn’t vertical one slip would have resulted in a serious fall.

We made it down safely although Leanne’s descending technique left her with a bruised bum as she slid over a stone (6 seconds into the above video) The whole of the Howgill Fells seem to be contoured and are basically loads of domes stuck next to each other. As we didn’t want to drop all the way down to the valley floor only to climb again, so we just dropped as little as we had to, and from here we intended to walk around Kensgriff before we climbed up to peak number two. The plan worked fine although it was quite painful on the ankles as we walked across an almost 45 degree angle for 500 yards or so. As we made the shortish climb up to Randygill Top we looked back to see Yarlside hiding behind Kensgriff. The side of Yarlside looked really steep from here and a few people commented that they couldn’t believe we had walked down that.

Rangill Top was ticked off and we sat down for a sandwich break as we were now around lunch time and starting to get a little hungry. We saw a helicopter fly over as we tried to work out what the surrounding fells were called before setting off again.

Once again the descent was quite steep although not as steep as the previous one, but this time we had to drop all the way down to the valley bottom.

After finally making the valley floor we found that some of us had managed to get across the Bowderdale Beck and others hadn’t. There were various places you could jump across but it all depended how confident each individual was. Half the group walked on one side and half followed the beck for a while until they found a spot that could be crossed safely.

All together once again, we checked that everyone was feeling fine and then set off up the path that would eventually lead us up to The Calf. The path gradually climbed up the valley wall and it made for a longer but more gradual climb than the earlier two peaks.

As we climbed we had a great view back down Bowderdale towards the northern end of the Howgills.

By now the team was all strung out and everybody was doing things at their own pace. I was quite content to walk along with L’Autobus although I was there through choice rather than sufferance. I seemed to be on a going day and felt fresh and ready for the rest of the walk. We continued to climb into the hillside and we were now alongside Yarlside which stood tall away to our left. Not long after this things would take a turn for the worst!

I looked forward and all was well with the world. I turned around to check on L’Autobus as I had now pushed on a bit and again things were all good. The problem was, when I turned back round there was a swirl of mist coming in and covering the tops. Before long we were submerged in a thick fog. I waited for Wu Tang and Ramblo to catch me up and then escorted them to the trig point on The Calf. Here we found everyone else waiting for us as the rain started to come down, or maybe down isn’t the correct word as it was coming in horizontal. We had a quick chat and after consulting with me I reassured everyone that we could find our way out to Fell Head and back before going on to the last three peaks of the day. As we set off I made sure that everyone knew to keep an eye on the person in front and if they were disappearing from view they had to shout immediately. I didn’t want someone losing touch and putting on a spurt to catch up as the person in front curved away as we would never find them and with the wind blowing we wouldn’t hear any cries for help. The visibility was now terrible and I was constantly checking my GPS to make sure we were on the footpath. I wouldn’t have had a chance to navigate without modern technology.

We made it to Bush Howe and took some quick pics before moving on. Now wasn’t the time to pose and wait around. We made it out to Fell Head and the morale was dropping quickly amongst some members so again we didn’t hang around, instead we retraced our steps back to The Calf. Once we were all back here we decided it best to have a team vote to see what we did from here. It basically came down to the three ladies wanted to go and whilst the four boys were willing to go on, common sense prevailed in the end. No doubt we would have been fine to go on and complete the remaining three peaks but it is all about enjoyment and when half of your group is cold, wet and worried about safety it is a no brainer. We were unsure of the best way to descend as we hadn’t quite planned for this weather but we decided to follow the path we used to climb up to The Calf before dropping down to the path we used earlier on the way up to Yarlside.

We spotted a couple of the horse stood still not phased one little bit but I guess they must have seen all this numerous times before. As we descended out of the mist we began to have a decent view of the path and with this the girls began to feel a lot better.

We picked up the path back to the car and slowly but surely made our way off the fells and to the safety of the lower paths. As we looked up the tops were still covered so it was without doubt the correct choice that we made. If the tops were clear we may well have regretted coming off but even then you can only decide on the evidence you have at the time.

We finally made it back to the cars and tried to get changed at the side of the road. We were drenched and thankful that we were staying the night in Sedbergh so we didn’t have far to go to clean up and get warm. We checked in got washed and changed then went downstairs for a few beers before heading for a curry. As we enjoyed our evening some regrets began to appear with people saying if they knew that the descent would have been so simple we could have gone a bit further and done the other three peaks. It is hard to look back and not bend the truth slightly in my opinion. There was no way in the world that they would have gone on so whilst I understood the disappointment in not finishing our intended route, we made a sensible decision and one that I would make every time. There were two upside of finishing early. The first was the fact that we had to come back and visit the Howgills once again to complete the peaks and that would be lovely if we got the weather. The second bonus was the fact that we were in the pub earlier and that is never a bad thing!

Sir Edmund


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