The Blencathra Circle – 10-06-21
We had our sights set on Blencathra today, after 2 days resting our legs we got up and dressed, Jaz rustled up a sauce for the Pork Joint that she put in the slow cooker. Checked the weather, according to the forecast it was going to be an overcast day, with a high of around 15 degrees Celsius. When we left the Campsite that looked about right, but as we knew we would be ascending to 868m we decided on trousers and jumpers as it was likely to be colder up the top. It was fairly windy, so we opted to not bring the MICA banner just in case it got windier.
Our route was starting from a little village called Mungrisdale, which was about a 20 minute drive away, it was a short trip up the A66 before we peeled off to the left and went down a small backroad and eventually made it to the village hall. Once parked up, we put our donation into the collection box (the method of paying for your parking) and started getting our kit together from the boot of the car.
We felt a few spits of rain, and said “coats on just in case”. We did that and then headed off across a bridge over the river near The Mill Inn pub and veered to the left to start our walk. It was a road based start; this did not prepare us for what we had coming ahead.
We reached a gate walked through and was about to continue following the road, when the navigator suddenly directed us to our right. A very small grassy path was visible up the “gentle” slope up the fell.
We started moving up the hill, step by step. Shortly stopping to realise this was steeper than we expected it to be, the navigator showing a +21% incline, suddenly explains why it felt so steep. I was boiling up already, so had to pause to remove my fleece, pack it in my bag and then put my waterproof back on. There were still a few spits of rain in the air but nothing that wouldn’t pass. Clothing adjusted we carried on up the hill, Jaz taking point and me as tail end Charlie.
Part way up, I realised this was getting really tough for me, I’m not in peak physical fitness but I am fairly fit, however my usual exercise routines are more HIT based, meaning that I end up with short bursts of energy before my heart rate increases, luckily it recovers quickly but it does mean it’s a case of 100 paces up the 21% incline and then stop for a bit before I push on again to allow myself to recover. Jaz however trains the opposite way to me, which has paid off as she has stamina for doing this. Dad has to be careful on his knees as they ache after long walks, but we are all a team so we continue as a group at the pace of the slowest person (me in this instance)
Around 45 minutes in to our ascent we look over and notice that we are starting to get fairly high, houses and farm buildings starting to look like something from a toy town instead of real life sized buildings. We press on and after roughly an hour and a half we make it to our first fell Souther Fell (522m). It’s fairly windy at this point, good job we didn’t bring the banner, so it was just our MICA hoodie that made its appearance in the photo at the fell, and in what is now typical tradition, left a MICA Travels Charity stone on the cairn. A quick energy snack before we head on to the next fell, surrounded by some inquisitive sheep.
The next target was Blencathra, this would be the tallest peak we have climbed since starting and in true Wainright fashion it all starts by going downhill before you go up again.
About an hour after leaving Souther Fell we find ourselves staring up at the beast that is Blencathra, we have opted to take the route up over Scales Fell rather than the more popular (but more dangerous) Sharp edge (or Razors edge). Part way up the extremely steep climb, rolling cloud crept in and merged surrounding us in cloud, visibility was fairly good so we carried on.
Not long after the cloud merged together the rain started getting heavier, we were on another 21% incline section but two thirds of the way up the fell, determined we pushed on, soon we got to the key point of our trip 2145 feet, or 654m. This was a waypoint for us on our trip, as previously 653m was the highest peak we have conquered, every meter from now pushed out maximum height reached further, there was a wind whipping up, nothing we couldn’t handle we were fairly dry still in our gear…..
This is where our hike took a turn…
As we pushed up the fell closing in on the final 100m climb, the wind started getting worse, the rain pelted down more. The forecast hadn’t said it would rain, overcast was the forecast with a 10% chance of rain. Typically we were in the 10%, we reached the final part of the path which was a zigzagged scree path, fog suddenly taking visibility down to about 20 feet, wind strong enough for us to have to brace when it whipped round, my heart rate was elevated, part due to do the steepness of the hike, the other part due to my nerves being rattled, I’m not too macho to admit this was getting a bit scary now. We stuck together and braced all together when the wind whipped up.
We turned a corner and searched for the trig point, a rather lacklustre moulded circle on the top of the mountain, this was harder than it should have been, but we could barely see a thing up there. To be honest we could barely stay on our feet due to the wind (we all agree after the event the worst wind gusts we have ever felt) it was unrelenting, hitting us from every direction and us not knowing how close to the edges we were, we quickly hunkered down so we could leave our MICA stone in the trig point, grab a quick photo and get away on the closest path we could find. I quickly checked the navigator on my phone, I have been using Komoot as our back up navigation planner, it’s not as accurate as the Satmap Active 20 is but between that and the Satmap we can be sure we take the safe and correct route. This in this instance is definitely as far away from Sharp edge as possible.
Our next target is Mungrisdale Common (633m). Imagine if you can 3 novice hikers, cold, wet and being battered by the rain and wind. All hungry as the burst of energy from our snack at Souther fell has now been used in the ascent up Blencathra. Do we stop and have food now, where the wind is strong enough to force us off our path, or push on, tanks running on empty in the hope to find some shelter knowing we are heading down from now on. We decided to push on and keep heading forward together as a unit, one step at a time. Gradually the fog thins out, but the wind and rain is unyielding.
10 minutes since we left the top we find a very earie white quartz cruciform cross in the ground, in the conditions we are in this suddenly brings a sombre thought to the hike, we didn’t know what this was there for, but it can’t be for a good reason. We make our way past with a very on edge feeling in our guts. 5 minutes later we find ourselves on another 21% gradient, this time a descent, in the wet, windy conditions, very carefully we descend down the scree path, making sure each foot is stable and even before we put our full weight down, having still to brace for the unpredictable gusts hitting us from every direction. We really were getting hungry at this point; the wind was sapping all energy from us, and at one point Jaz said “All I want now is a hot shower, preferably with my chicken sandwich”
Suddenly just in the distance we see what seems to be a shelter of some kind, it’s on our route, getting closer, we can tell it’s made of slate and rock, it’s a ¾ circle shape and just before our next change of direction, we decide this is where we need to stop. We make a controlled steady beeline for the structure, it’s about 4 feet tall, the ground is wet but as soon as we get on our haunches the wind all of a sudden has stopped hitting us, the amount of rain hitting us is minimal. I’m not sure about Jaz or Dad, but for me I was so glad to find it to stop, I could grab some food, put my jumper back in as my coats waterproofness has been pushed beyond its limit and I am now taking on water, and soaked through, Regatta make great coats, but I don’t think they are designed for this (if you happen to read this Regatta, fancy helping us out? We could do with some drier kit). I peel my jacket off, skin drenched, remove the chest mount DJI Osmo Action, and reach into my PGYTech One Mo back pack, and suddenly realise, this bag wasn’t designed for this, open the compartment my jumper is in, and pull out a mostly damp hoodie. There’s not much I can do about this now (none of us could, note to self, dry sacks or waterproof rucksacks needed), so I put it on just to get another layer on to try and break the cold wind cutting through me. The same thoughts must have been running through Jaz and Dads minds, as they quickly took coats off and added jumpers on top of their existing clothing before putting again wet jackets back on.
We got back into our sheltered spot and pulled out our lunch, each of us had a bag of crisps, a banana, a malt loaf bar, and a chicken salad sandwich. These got demolished; we needed the food intake so we could carry on with our hike.
We plucked up the strength to get up, wet through, and set our eyes on the next part of the route, my heart sunk when I say a mass of fields (strange saying that 600m about sea level, knowing I am on a hill). The last time I saw this kind of terrain was Monday where both Jaz and I got wet feet, we all swapped to our boots for this hike, however I am not convinced my Peter Storm boots are all that waterproof, it says they are, there was only one way to find out.
The first 100m took me by surprise, the ground wasn’t its usual squishy self, it wasn’t squelching. Wainright refers to this area as boggy ground, but by my account, it wasn’t even with the rain we had. We pushed on for what was fairly flat ground, our feet and knees lapping up the 0.5 mile release from both ascents and descents, Mungrisdale Common has two cairns because you can’t easily locate the highest point by eye, luckily, we weren’t relying on eye, and found the one at exactly 633m thanks to the Satmap Active 20. Another quick selfie and stone placement and off we went. Bannerdale Crag (683m) out next target, roughly a two mile walk, and the rain and fog had stopped for now.
We plodded on through the marshy ground and found our path around the side of the fell, we bumped into a couple walking towards Mungrisdale Common, passed on a card and found out that they too were bagging the Wainwrights, they were a bit further ahead of us (about 50% done), so hello to you if you are reading this, we hope you got to Mungrisdale Common and back safely!
After our brief stop we continued on round the side of the fell, we spotted a break in the cloud, cursing under our breath at the fact it broke in the valley but not where we were we carried onwards, until we met the main path and set up a fairly steep (but nothing like Souther Fell or Blencathra) path.
It took us just less than an hour before we spotted the cairn marking the peak on Bannerdale crag, it had started raining again, rain was dripping off my coat, off my hat, and I am sure my bag had now taken on far more water than it was ever designed to take. Again the backdrop for our selfie was cloud covered, so all you will see is us pointing to the new stone we laid down.
By this point we were 7 hours in and 7 miles through our 10.8mile trip, with one fell to go, we drew a breath, the end was coming, we knew we didn’t have far to go. We locked our sights on the next pathway towards Bowscale Fell (702m) and headed straight for it, not knowing what was coming ahead….
How best to describe the path between Bannerdale Crag and Bowscale fell? Not for the faint hearted or for those who have a fear of heights, I think sums it up the best.
The wind was back, the rain had started again and the mist had crawled in just to see that our last leg of the trip wasn’t left out for being more dangerous than it needed to be. The path literally follows the edge of the fell a sharp drop away to the right, if you fell, you wouldn’t get away without injury, and the most likely outcome at least would be broken bones or worse.
We were traversing across this, with the wind blowing from our left, constantly testing our footing and pushing us closer to the edge, we got closer together and helped anchor each other in place when the wind hit us hunching together and low to try and lower our centre of gravity, outsmarting the wind. Playing this game with a 150m drop immediately to your right isn’t something I really want to play with again, it’s not fun.
Bannerdale Crag to Bowscale fell is only 1 mile, it took us 50 minutes to do it, but I will tell you now, it was one of the longest 50 minutes I have experienced. I’ve never felt Jaz hold my hand so tight, or me holding onto her or me grabbing onto Dad’s bag when the wind was blowing. By the time we got up the hill to Bowscale Fell we were done with this hike. It was dangerous in these conditions and we were tired, and well and truly soaked through, all of our boots were soaked through, mine failed the waterproofing statement, Jaz and Dads leather boots would have been ok had the moisture not got in through the top of their socks and travelled down. We just wanted to get this over and done with and home safely now, it was more a case of getting down safely and not worrying about enjoying it now.
Stone put down and a quick picture taken and we headed off towards the end of our route, 2.8 miles to go, with a descent at the end to finish off our hike.
We travelled along a rocky terrain, very different to everything else we had come across so far on the hike, it was surreal, not that we could enjoy the views or the landscape as it was still raining. In the distance we saw what we thought was a cairn, but as soon as we reached this one we saw another in the distance, it didn’t take long to realise these were actually way markers. Stone structures built by hikers to help others stay on the path when the path wasn’t clear. How glad we were when we found these. It made following the path much easier and safer. We got through this and found our feet left the rocky terrain.
All of a sudden Mungrisdale appeared into view, I let out a huge sigh of relief, I could see the car, it was toy town sized, but I could see it, but I couldn’t work out how we would lose the height so quickly, this lead to our last challenge of the hike, the bit you aren’t warned about, the bit that would screw you over if you didn’t have your wits about you.
The descent was steep, now up to now I have mentioned steep as 21% incline; this was a 21% decline at its shallowest angle, peaking at 33% in sections. On a barely there gravel path dug out through the bushes down the side of the last hill of the route.
For me and Jaz this was a challenge, and we were tired and wet, Dad however was a worry. Both his knees were shot, he could not walk downwards facing forwards, and was doing this backwards, not being able to see his own footing, gravel and stone slipping beneath his feet. I had to sharpen up and went into the middle between Dad and Jaz, acting as a spotter for Dad and a support for Jaz, somehow I managed to sus out how to get a firm fixed footing in the loose surface for Jaz to brace on me as she came down the slope. There were a couple of slips which ended up with me grabbing or dad stabbing his walking poles in the ground to prevent a fall, but eventually after an 1 hour 20 minutes we had finished dropping the 304 meters over a distance of 0.7 miles. As we got down we were greeted by a rainbow, and we all took this as a message from Mum saying well done but get home now you idiots, something she definitely would have said to us.
We saw the fence line and unceremoniously cocked our legs over it, that’s it all the ups and downs done, our energy sapped, emotions in tatters, mentally drowned. We had a silent walk back to the car, all taking in our accounts of the hike, as we approached the Mill Inn we all said let’s just go home, the appeal of a meal already cooked in the slow cooker was much higher than that of a celebratory pint in the pub. We trudged past, and got to the car, soaking wet, dripping. We dumped the kit in the car and headed back towards Keswick, stopping only once at the local Co-Op so I could get some rum to use as an anaesthetic, to mask the nerves and pains I had picked up.
I was shattered, we all were, as soon as we got to the campsite we grabbed our shower bits and walked to the shower block and had long hot showers, before returning for food, a good drink and bed.
My final thoughts on this walk, would I do it again, I’m not sure, it would be nice to see the views. But I think I would need the weather to be completely dry and clear, with low wind, it was far too dangerous for my liking, I won’t be rushing back to Blencathra for a while, luckily I have 200 more to do yet.
Blencathra, also known as Hall’s Fell, you might be tough, but you didn’t stop us 3 Halls from conquering you in terrible weather conditions. Oh also we found out today (11/06/21) that the winds up the top were hitting 85mph at their peak speeds, definitely need to find a fell top weather app or website to check in future.
Another fun fact: The eerie white cross we saw, I looked it up in our copy of Wainwrights books, the cross was originally very small and there as a memorial to a walker who lost his life on a rough slope adjacent to Blencathra. Harold Robinson from Threkeld, Walked up there many times over his life and added to the cross along his many trips making it the current size which is 16 feet by 10 feet.
Time for a rest now, see you all in the next blog!
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