Lake district December 2009

A couple of days of Lake District action to catch up on. I have been amazed by the constant severity of the weather here. During previous visits I have wished for a decent attempt at winter weather, and this time we’ve got it. I’m used to snow covering the hills during winter, but here we’ve got proper snow coverage even in the relatively low lying towns like Ambleside. As a result, many of my usual pastimes such as white knuckle rides over mountain passes are completely off the agenda; they would be a suicide mission, ending prematurely at best. Furthermore even the fell climbing I’m used to has proven too much.

Our aim on Monday was to have a bit of a walk and to generally give the antipodeans a feel for the Lake District. The morning was damn cold – some minus 4 degrees.

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After a certain amount of scrapy scrapy, we headed north-west from Ambleside to Skelwith Bridge, and from there we walked to Elterwater – a beautiful little village. We parked the tractor up:

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Got out our walking sticks:

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We got our hike on:

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Brenden loved a bit of it:

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We made found a snowman:

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It was a touch icy in places:

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Brenden and Emily were clearly getting on nicely with the great British countryside:

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Even Robin popped in to join us:

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After a spot more trekking:

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We happened upon the delightful Brittania pub in Elterwater. Hound friendly, a great selection of drinks, open fires, low beams, real ales etc – it had it all.

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After a stride back to the car we set out to see how viable climbing Sca Fell would be the next day. As it happened, getting across the Wrynose and Hardknott passes just wasn’t feasible at all, so we attempted to drive the long way around. Sadly, even getting to Wasdale wasn’t possible so we had to scrub that idea. In any case, we headed back to base (Ambleside).

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We found Ambleside’s “Royal Oak” to be most accommodating that night. The next morning we woke to find a stunning view across lake Windemere.

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That (this) morning we decided that as Sca Fell wasn’t accessible. we should attempt to climb something else – settling on Helvellyn, the third highest peak in the Lakes (and England for that matter). Further reading on that Wikipedia page to which I just linked suggested that during winter months anyone considering climbing Hellvelyn should first consult “weatherline”. Here’s the entry for today:

Issued: Tuesday, 29 December 2009

FELLTOP CONDITIONS REPORT from Helvellyn at 1.30pm on Tuesday 29th December 2009. There is significant snow and ice at all levels. Snow depth increasesi with height to reach between 20 to 30cm. With the recent wind the snow has shifted and drifts of over 100cm are common with some evidence of loose windslab. The deep snow makes the going slow. Significant cornices have formed along the summit ridges, so please keep well back from the edge and advise others to do likewise. Full winter clothing, footwear and equipment, including ice axe and crampons are essential for anyone venturing out onto the fells. Several Lakeland tarns, such as Red Tarn, have frozen. The ice is not that thick, so please do not be tempted out on them! Summit statistics today (these are taken when the Fell Top Assessor is on the summit, they do not represent max/min figures for the past 24 hours). Temperature, minus 3.4C. Wind chill, minus 13.4C

Between the four of us, we were prepared to some extent: we had two walking poles and two water packs. No ice axes or crampons in sight! We didn’t know all this of course, so set off regardless. It was a picturesque journey north from Ambleside:

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Upon stepping from the car we soon realised that yesterday’s calm, bright conditions were history; today was colder, overcast and damn right breezy.

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We began our ascent, and quickly made progress. In the photograph below, the car was left at lake level:

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The snow quickly became deeper:

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The wind grew in strength:

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The going soon got really tough. Hail in the face, snow drifting so fast it immediately covered the tracks laid by the person in front. Frightening stuff; time to sit down:

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This picture just about shows the rate of snow drifting:

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At this point, given that we weren’t fully prepared, we decided to turn back. Even those with crampons, ice axes and rucksacks full of various other unimaginable kit were turning back. So we bailed too. Fortunately romping back down the hill in deep snow was tremendous fun!

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We had climbed quite a distance – certainly enough to justify a bit of relaxation for the rest of the day. We tried to explore the Kirkstone pass, but unsurprisingly, that too was formally shut. So with little else to do, we headed into town for some ale and whisky, pausing briefly to photograph lake Windermere.

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So far, while the roads that have been closed due to snow and ice have certainly proved to be a disappointment, we’ve had a wonderful time sampling perhaps the most beautiful slice of English winter.

3 comments so far

  1. Robin on December 30th, 2009 16:10

    What fun. We’re there with you in spirit!

  2. jenbags on December 31st, 2009 00:39

    some pretty evocative pictures there. I don’t doubt you avoided Wrynose and Hardknott – crazy enough in the dry, summer. You should’ve had skis for the downhill leg.

  3. UrbanSeven » The Lakes District on January 2nd, 2010 11:10

    This is a pingback – click the link above to read Brenden’s blog post in full.

    […] As Neil said we packed up yesterday and headed off to The Lake District. Emily and I have been quite ill over Christmas (caught the flu from work) so it’s good to get out of the house and go exploring. We had a good drive up with not much traffic and ‘True Lies’ on in the car. I didn’t get a photo but seeing my first Northerner driving his car with a crash helmet on was definitely a highlight. We are staying 4 nights in a place called the Lake House, the rooms are a decent size and there’s free WiFi so Neil and I are pretty happy. For the first night we put in some ale at a local free house and enjoyed a nice meal at a little place called Stampers. […]

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