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Don’t eat yellow snow

(Zot - the man who doesn't need to stop at Motorway Service Areas!)compiled by Graham W-J

‘In the beginning there were sent forth into the north western wastes of Lakeland a motley crew, who did purpose to challenge the hills.  And it came to pass that the radio and television and newspapers did broadcast news of doom and despair and snow and ice and wind, and it was good.  But they did speak with false tongues, for the snowline was high above the valley floors.  The B.E.C. did finally arrive, and the hills and the vales were devoid of those who ascend or wander therein, except for the few and foolhardy.’

We reached Chapel Stile, in Langdale, at various times on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, and took over five of the Lingmoor View cottages, which are summer holiday homes in an old terrace.

Thursday saw us en route for Patterdale, via devious routes designed by Alis and M.A.P.  (they were lost).  Everyone of us set off on the path climbing Grisedale Brow, with X Bob and Zot making a cracking pace towards Helvellyn.  'Whereupon some fell on rising ground', and these persons, who shall remain nameless, went to the pub.  The snow lay in patches quite low down, but was continuous above 1500 feet; and much of it had a hard, icy coating.  We met with very little snow on top of ice, as had been reported.  Four of us put on crampons which made life a little easier.

 “I wish I had a pair of crampons” said M.A.P., not for the first or last time.  At the Brow Bob had stopped to chat with three other walkers, so we managed to catch up. Sue and Miss Piggy, coming upon ice ground did return, taking with them the faithful hound, Bec.  In spite of advice, John and I decided to have a look at Striding Edge and the 15 foot high cornice leading onto the summit of Helvellyn, and a group of us moved up to the crags.  While everyone else, including M.A.P. (“I wish I had a pair of crampons") descended and crossed the frozen Red Tarn towards Catstye Cam, John and I traversed Striding Edge.  Compared with Crib Goch last winter, it was a cinch and we didn't even rope up.  The final slope was straight forward, and the cornice seemed solid enough.  We watched a couple of walkers managing with one pair of crampons.  Apparently one of them fell on the steep slope ahead of us, but seemed OK when we reached him.  The top of Helvellyn was icy cold and windy.  The previous weekend's footprints stood out above the surrounding snow, whose soft crystals had been blown away, a peculiar sight.  Visibility was fair under the low, scudding clouds, but the ominous looking darker patches in the distance came to nothing.  We moved quickly off the top, down Swirral Edge and up to Catstye Cam, where we met up with "I wish I had a pair….." again.  From there we glissaded down to Red Tarn Beck.

Later on we were discussing with the crampon wisher how to use an ice axe in a fall I demonstrated but he replied, “I don't think I’d have the presence of mind to use the axe properly,” I assured him he would, whereupon he fell on the steep slope and lost his presence of mind!

That evening we visited the………… Outgate, where they sell Hartley's Best Bitter (beer and water) and straight bitter (less beer and more water).  It did affect Zot enough to cause him to remark, “Oi ‘aven’t 'ad me 'ole for four years”.  We were all suitably sympathetic.

Guess where M.A.P. went on Friday morning.  You’ve got it.  He is now the proud owner of a pair of Simond crampons.  Strange he couldn’t remember the episode in the Pyrenees with Simond pitons, which split, snapped and bent.  Maybe he will when the point of his crampons begin to break off.

Meanwhile X Bob, Sue, John and I had set off up the stream that flows off Wetherlam.  There were some magnificent frozen waterfalls in the Gorge, with enormous icicles.  It soon became impossible to continue along the frozen stream, but there is an obvious path following an old miner’s track to the north of the gorge.  Most of the walking was on grass, with only patches of snow and ice, but as we climbed up Birk Fell the snow became continuous.  We put on ice gear and traversed very hard, icy snow to the summit of Wetherlam.  A strong, cold wind tried to whip us from the top while we hung around to admire the view, and to consider the irresponsibility of a walker without ice axe or crampons up there.  He said that he was unaware of conditions, in spite of so much publicity about recent accidents.

Bob and Sue decided to cut short their walk because of the ice, and descended directly from Wetherlam.  John and I carried on round to Coniston Old Man.  From Swirl How to the Old Man the ice surface was an unbroken convex sheet sweeping right down to Seathwaite Tarn, but the going was very easy in crampons, Michael.

At this time the said M.A.P. & Co. were in the pub in Coniston thinking of using the new gear to go up the Old Man.  They eventually set out and rushed up Church Beck and did a gully to the summit.  They arrived there just after John and I left. I understand they did not use a rope for the ascent.  "You only need a rope if you're going to fall". (M.A.P. - again).  We descended via Low Water to the Youth Hostel in Church Beck, where Bob met us with the car.

In the evening Fred, Thros, Mick, Griff and John of the Valley Caving Club arrived while we were in the Old Dungeon Ghyll.  Johp Manchip and family turned up from Edinburgh - they'd had trouble getting out of the snow there, but were surprised to find so little snow in the Lakes.  I gather from one of the locals that the Lakeland valleys are always passable in winter-time, which is worth knowing, though the M6 is frequently impassable.

Early on the Saturday morning, very early, seven of us were off along Mickleden with the intention of reaching Scafell Pikes.  We climbed into the snow, and occasions, patches of ice, and soon stopped to don crampons.  Rossett Gill gradually closes to a gully, steepens, and then suddenly levels into a wide col between Rossett Pike and Bow Fell.  Spindrift was being blown across the frozen Angle Tarn and up to Esk Hause. Here we met a couple who had camped the night on Scafell - I thought we did. things to excess!  We climbed onto the back of Great End and walked the ridge to Scafell Pikes, which was just out of the low cloud most of the time  The final climb up and down was fairly difficult without crampons, and plain daft without an ice axe, yet we came upon plenty of walkers without either.  It almost made us feel we were being over-cautious when met two blokes with cheapboots, plastic bike jackets and very little else.  How they managed I dread to think.  From Scafell Pikes to Great End the wind, from the east, was really vicious.  At one point, past Broad Crag, it knocked all of us down simultaneously.

Back at Angle Tarn, after I’d persuaded J.D. that he and I should forgo a desperate crag traverse on Hanging Knotts (maybe it wasn't that bad) we traversed the easier Rossett Crags and descended to Stake Pass, having decided not to cross Bow Fell against the strong wind and ice-spicules.  John Manchip, Fred, Martin and Greg followed Stake Pass and Mickleden back to Langdale, while John D., M.A.P. and I climbed back upwards towards Pike of Stickle.  Part way up a voice came down-wind, “Get off my…..mountain”.  X Bob and Zot had just come from the Pikes via Stickle Gill.  Needless to say we continued our way on ‘his’ mountain and we three soon reached Pike of Stickle.  Under such clear conditions as we had been having maps were largely unnecessary.  We could clearly see each of the places to which we were heading.  We soon walked across to Harrison Stickley from where the view was excellent.  Thence the descent was directly down to Stickle Tarn on a snow slope, and then down the path of Stickle Gill to Langdale once more.

Mike's wagon was at the Old Dungeon Ghyll; while Bob's car was still at the New DG.  As we walked to the Old DG we met the bus, carrying Bob and Zottie from the Old to the New, all of ¾ of a mile.  "Best 6 pence I’ve ever spent," said Zot.

And so a good weekend was had by all.  With news of blizzard and drift from Mendip X Bob & Co. set out early on Sunday for home, but the rest of us found time after a leisurely morning for a few jars in the New DG.  Greg and Miss Piggy spent most of the morning devouring the rest of their food, before joining us and eating yet more.  How does that Midget manage them both?!  Finally we were away, leaving Fred; to spend his day rescuing the foolhardy hordes from Bowfell - that was his story anyway.

Not mentioned before, but they were there, were Pat and Paul, Patti and Co., Keith Newbury, Glenys and even Andy Nichols and attachment for a while.  There must be a pub or two in the Lakes that they didn’t visit!

P .S. Buckett and I went up to the Lakes again the following Saturday, to find the Snow undergoing a rapid thaw, and there was minor flooding in the valleys.  We walked the path up Stickle Gill, which was really in spate, and did not meet snow until we arrived at the Tarn.  The ice, there was melting fast and the path that fords the Gill was well under water. Buckett leapt across from boulder to boulder lower down and I groped my way slowly across too.  The snow was really rotten and we frequently stepped into deep, soggy drifts.  At the back of Stikle Tarn we crossed Bright Gill via a snow bridge and then decided we were too low down so crossed back again.  Higher up we had difficulty with crossing the torrent and had to leap from boulders again.  We used the map to set a compass course through the mist to the top of Pavey Ark, and ended up climbing a steep crag which barred our way.  At various points below we had met up with three men and a dog.  Arriving at the top of the crag we came into a gully with footprints of men and dog leading upwards.  They were taking the longer but gentler route up.  We ended up almost ignoring the compass bearing and following the dog prints, plus occasional cairns, until finally we met the dog, and men, coming the other way through the rain. We continued on our bearing, leaving the dog party looking for the top of Pavey Ark and we headed into the mist, hopefully towards Harrison Stickle.  Going from cairn to cairn we traversed a steep snowfield, often thigh deep in wet snow, peering constantly through the mist at unrecognisable lumps of rock. The dog group caught us up and turned down to the left, looking for Dungeon Gill.  We climbed the small pimple to our right and found ourselves on top of Harrison Stickle, recognisable only from the height carved on a stone.   We crossed the top and searched for a route down.  In fact, although there is nothing on the map, a path exists down the scree via a short climb, and descends steeply to Dungeon Ghyll.  The dog party were obviously lost and were going towards Stickle Gill.

We met a party of lads who had turned back from the Ghyll because the path was hidden beneath a steep sheet of snow.  This traverse was quite hairy, especially since the mist began to clear.  There was evidence far below in the bottom of the Ghyll of recent avalanches - great blocks of snow and large boulders, and the canyon echoed with the rushing of melt-water.

Once over the traverse we glissaded down the wet snow slope to the stream, but, by staying level from here we eventually left the stream below us again as we headed for the end of the narrow ridge that divides Dungeon Ghyl from Stickle Gill.  Who should we see as we descended to Stickle Gill, but three men and a dog, once more.  These hills are small.

P.P.S.  There was one other Quote, again from M.A.P. "I’m glad Peak Cavern's on a Saturday.  We’ll be able to talk about it in the pub afterwards!  As it turned out Mike did not come to Peak, and not a word was breathed about it in the pub on Saturday night.