Apr 07 2012

Walk 47: Saddle Up

Blencathra behind Bannerdale Crags as seen from Souther Fell

route: Bowscale Fell, Bannerdale Crags, Mungrisdale Common, Blencathra & Souther Fell from Mungrisdale
Date: 7th april 2012
distance: 10.8 miles
ascent: 3,430 feet
time: 7 hrs 00 mins
walkers: Dave, Graham, Roger & Simon

My legs were a little stiff after the previous days excursion, but I felt good to go as we had some breakfast at Badger Towers whilst deciding on the route for today. The weather forecast for the weekend had suggested it would get worse with each passing day but the local news the night before had offered some hope. We decided to do the route we had initially planned for yesterday and tackle the mighty Blencathra as well as four other summits deemed important enough for Wainwright. The girls had decided that they would sit out today’s ramble and would instead head to Penrith to buy some baking stuff and make chocolate brownies for our return. That sounded like a fair swap and we made the short journey to Mungrisdale and readied ourselves for another day on the fells. The skies were overcast but it promised to be dry and after yesterday that was more than ok with me.

We made our way through a gate and immediately picked up a track we followed for a while as The Tongue sat in our way giving us three options of left, right or over it. In truth either of them would have been ok but the easiest option was to skirt around to the left and join a well-defined footpath that we would follow for over a mile as it angled up the hill side in a straight line. As is the norm with a climb it would be the last I would see of Beaky or Roger for a little while as they powered ahead leaving me to plod on behind them accompanied as always by my trusty Sherpa G- String. At various points the two trail blazers would pause and let us catch up before we moved off together once again getting closer and closer to the mist with every stride.

The higher we climbed the thicker the mist became, until finally we lost sight of everything around us and it looked like we would spend the next few hours with visibility no greater than ten metres. Things can change quickly though and no sooner had I resigned myself to a day staring at a grey blanket it cleared to reveal Bannerdale Crags and the summit of Blencathra poking above it in the distance. This was both a fantastic sight and a daunting one as it seemed so tall and so far away, but we had plenty to do before I could think of that. By now we had reached the top of the angled path and we were now on the edge of Bowscale Fell. The route to the top wasn’t clear, so we picked our bearing and began the final climb over the tufty grass and soggy ground towards the visible high point.

As we neared the highest point on the horizon we spotted stones and assumed this would be the summit cairn, but we were wrong. It was some sort of shelter and there was a little further to go, but the plus side was the top could now be seen along with Beaky and Roger who were joking away as I got there.

We snapped the customary pictures for our records and soon left Bowscale Fell and made our way across the ever increasing bogginess in the direction of Blencathra.

The plan next was Mugrisdale Common but as we reached a crossroads of paths I blurted out a quote that resembled something Alfred Wainwright once said. That quote was something along the lines of “height once gained should not be easily surrendered” and I suggested we should in fact head east towards Bannerdale Crags rather than west towards our initial target. The others agreed wholeheartedly and we began a climb of roughly 200ft towards the cairn and a well-earned sandwich break. We made our way towards the edge and took a couple of pictures with the valley behind us. As with every picture I have ever taken the sheer size and perspective is lost but having stood there the pictures help take my mind back to that time and how I felt to be there. It is amazing that of all the walks we have done I still recall how I felt and things that were said by looking at the pictures. They may not provide a true visual portrait to those viewing them but they certainly allow me to recreate that moment in my own mind and for that I am grateful.

The sandwich break at the top of Bannerdale Crags was welcomed and although I didn’t feel overly hungry I have learnt to eat little and often when out walking to keep energy levels up. The start to the day had been reasonable but I knew things were only going to get tougher so I had to be prepared. The reason for this was obvious to me , for as we started walking once again the monster that is Blencathra was now clearly in sight and an awesome sight it was too.

A couple of fell runners came towards us and said hi as they headed for the summit we had just left. Ahead of us was a fork in the path, to the left would be the climb to Blencathra and to the right would lead us to Mungrisdale Common, or so we thought. We took the right hand fork and followed a path that was visible but only just. The ground under foot was a little squelchy but we made good progress as the path remained at the same height for roughly half a mile.

After a while I checked my GPS and it seemed the path we were on had ended and in fact had been taking us lower than we needed to be. We had a quick map check and set a new course that headed up the featureless fell side towards a flat expanse of nothingness. Once here we had a rough idea of where looked highest and set off in that direction, soon spotting a little cairn we finally reached Mungrisdale Common.

Without really meaning to we found ourselves trying to work out why Wainwright wanted to include this in his guide books as whilst Blencathra and Skiddaw could be seen either side of us it still wasn’t the most inspiring of summits. The fact that it was clearly lower than Blencathra and could be seen as the lower slopes of that mountain added further confusion to the matter but one thing that couldn’t be questioned was the view to the south (west). Some of the larger peaks of Lakeland were visible and we guessed that the one covered in cloud would be Scafell Pike although we weren’t sure. After a few minutes soaking up the view south we moved on once again as we headed for our high point of the day and the 14th highest of all 214 Wainwright’s, Blencathra. We covered the ground across the flat plateau of Mungrisdale Common easily enough although I did have to stop a couple of times as the climb became a little steeper. I could feel yesterday’s effort in my quads and had to give them a little rest every now and again.

After a couple of 30 second stops I reached Roger and G, as did Beaky who had waited with me. We sat and had a sandwich whilst at the same time watching the tiny silhouettes cross Sharp Edge.

I have always wondered if that kind of thing is for me and to be honest I was no nearer deciding. We weren’t going over today so I didn’t need to, and I guess the only time I will ever know is when I stand at the beginning and see how I feel. It certainly looked quite daunting but at the same time not quite as dangerous I had imagined. Today was a perfect day for it with the sun shining and no noticeable wind, we could hear the voices carry across to us as we sat silently observing. I could have stayed there for hours because of the tranquillity but also in the back of my mind we had the final steep climb to the summit ridge.

The path zig-zagged backwards and forwards which is usually a sign of something steep which this was. The plus side however was it wasn’t too long and though I had to stop a few times it took no more than 10 minutes to finally reach the grassy top.

We could spot the high point in the distance but it didn’t look too far away, especially not when I thought back to the earlier views and how far it seemed at that point. G and Roger made their way towards the top of Sharp Edge as myself and Beaky headed for the path that overlooks Scales Tarn above which sits the famous ridge.

The view was amazing and definitely one of the reasons for doing these walks. I have never been one for just ticking a list of peaks, there has always been the thought that the list enables us to visit different places and I stand by that to this day. One thing I do find myself feeling more and more is an urge to walk somewhere and just down tools for an hour or two. Spending time to take everything in and not have to worry about moving on to the next destination. I may be a dreaming of a fantasy land where things are perfect but in reality sat for hours on end I may well get the urge to get moving, but I definitely want to go somewhere for no other reason than to sit and watch the world go by. Today wasn’t that day though and we followed the path to the summit where we joined the countless others who had made the slog up to the top using all manner of routes.

The view from the top was one of the best I can recall in my two years (and a bit) as a fell walker. The weather makes such a difference but I understand why people want to climb Blencathra, especially on a day like today. The only downside of this was the crowds which go with the popular peaks. We asked somebody to take our picture then felt obliged to move to one side to allow others to record the moment for themselves. After a few minutes we decided we would leave others to it and begin the descent towards Scales Fell.

The path switched back on itself a few times before it straightened out and we had a view of Souther Fell which would be our final port of call for the day, other than the pub of course! We stopped for another sarnie and as I laid there on the grass we saw a guy (possibly Italian or Spanish) walking down in jeans and slip on shoes telling us how he had been up Sharp Edge. He was with a couple of other blokes who were also smartly dressed, and a woman who had the team rucksack. That thirty second conversation amused us for the next half an hour as we crossed Mousthwaite Comb and began the climb up to the final summit.

Once the main climb (if you can call it that after what we had already done) was behind us we had the last few feet to the cairn. G spotted one off to the left and went there as the rest of us carried on. We have learnt by now that a cairn in sight with a slight gradient to get to it is never the one we are after! G reached the cairn and then came back to join us as we neared the real thing. The sense of achievement was good as it had been a tough day on my legs. The view back up to Blencathra gave some indication of what we had achieved (see main pic) but I also knew that the descent from Souther Fell back to Mungrisdale was going to be steep.

The route was steep and I could feel my legs burning more than they had done on the way up. I wasn’t sure if that was because it was the end of the day or because it was actually harder on the way down but I knew I would be glad to reach the pub. Those plans were temporarily put on hold as we reached a sign that directed us away from the hostelry below. We could see the white walls of the pub below us and could make out that it was called the Mill Inn, but we would have to wait a little longer until we could sample some of the no doubt fine refreshments.

Fortunately the detour wasn’t as bad as first feared and we were soon sat in the beer garden overlooking the River Glenderamackin with a cold beer in hand. Today had been a fantastic day of walking with the weather being kind to us all day. Another bonus was the fact that we wouldn’t have far to travel back to Badger Towers to sample the chocolate brownies the girls had made. The idea to spend an elongated weekend in the Lakes was proving to be a good one, and while the planned routes had to be changed around because of the weather, I was glad we decided to do Blencathra and the surrounding fells. Tommorrow there was talk of Skiddaw, but the weather was forecast to be bad and as we were in no rush to decide we headed back to Badger Towers and had a relaxing evening of over indulgence. I think at that point we all knew Skiddaw was off the radar no matter what the weather. Instead we decided on Castle Crag which being the lowest of all the Wainwrights must be easy (not necessarily but in comparison with the first two days we were hoping it would be), and that was worth celebrating. Whether or not it was easy we would discover tomorrow, but we celebrated as if it would be!

Sir Edmund


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