Monday 18 January 2010

Lake District Winter Mountaineering Days, Jan 16th & 17th.

January 16th saw Iain and Adam Dawson heading into the Lake District Fells in search of some winter climbing. Unfortunately when Adam booked his tickets for the visit the previous weekend, it was already looking like the big freeze was about to turn into the big thaw.

And thawing it certainly was on the Saturday! Iain decided that Low Water Beck (G3/4) in the Coniston area might be a goer, but after wading through very wet snow (and quite a lot of meltwater too!) to get to the base of the route, it was clear that it wasn't going to be climbable as is obvious from this picture.

Anyway, we continued up to Low Water which was covered with a thick layer of ice. Here, the snow was a little firmer but it wasn't looking like the routes above Low Water (a mixture of grade 3 & 4 routes) would be in good condition either - we couldn't see them anyway for the thick layer of cloud above Low Water. So, it was decided that a blast up to the summit of The Old Man of Coniston was going to be the best idea and this was eventually reached despite a slight detour due to the whitout conditions encountered and here it was reckoned to be just on freezing. Looking down the slopes from the summit, we could see masses of soft snow which would have made topping out on any of the routes above Low Water very interesting!

Due to the conditions and lack of visibility we decided to descend and return to Coniston via the much used slate quarry track and the side of church beck. During the course of our day out, the weather dried up and became noticably colder. In the picture above Adam enjoys a spot of bum sliding - following Iain's bum slide route. Funny how the snow brings out the big kid in us all!

This picture shows Iain & Adam en route on the Sunday to Scales Tarn & Sharp Edge on Blencathra and this turned out to be a quality Winter Mountaineering Day as, overnight, the remaining snow had firmed up considerably.

Adam, who works in the city of London in banking, has attended a number of courses with Kendal Mountaineering Services. He has been on two Winter Skills courses in the Cairngorms with us, has been twice to the Isle of Skye and also attended a Lakes based learning to lead scrambling course.

Like many of our clients, he has become a friend and having learnt so much from Iain, now often accompanies him on winter climbing trips in the UK as a competent second.

Sunday was cold and still with a lot of blue sky but cloud wreathed mountains. We ran into this cloud just before arriving on Sharp Edge and here we also met many other people attempting to bag this Lake District classic scramble in its winter garb. Much of the ridge was free of snow but what was there was, in places, very icy. Where the end of the ridge merges with the shoulder of Foule Crag there was considerably more snow - with a line of deep footsteps leading up to the saddle. Having passed many of the others on the ridge, here, Adam follows Iain up the shoulder with the end of the Sharp Edge arete behind.

Iain offered Adam 3 descent routes from the summit and of course he chose the meatiest one - the Hallsfell Ridge. This is the most direct way up to the summit of Blencathra from the valley floor - starting as a wide shoulder lower down and finishing as a grade 1 arete with precipitous drops on either side. Throughout, the angle of the slope is unrelenting! The inital descent certainly called for axes & crampons and here, Iain can be seen with the most technical section of the ridge now behind him.

And just as we got to the end of the technical section, the cloud lifted to give us this view down the lower section of the ridge.

At this point we decided that axes & crampons were no longer necessary and so dispensed with these before continuing our descent. The sun came out and it turned into a glorious afternoon. Having "blasted" around our route in a mere 4 hours, there was plenty of time for a visit to Keswick before returning home in good time to get Adam on his train back to the city.

A good end to a great weekend!

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