A fine weekend on the Far Eastern Fells

I'd had a frustrating time trying to get to the Lakes, with a run of
weekends featuring bad weather, and seriously good during the week! I
finally managed to head for the Far Eastern Fells this last weekend, and
had a great time. I was parked at the car park at Mardale Head at about
0740, the first car of the day, and was heading up Long Crag to High
Street not long afterwards. It was a magnificent day. The air was very
cold, but the sun was already strong once I was high enough to be in it.
I'd decided against packing an ice axe and crampons, and this proved to be
the right decision; it was easily possible to avoid the small patches of
ice which still remained on paths. I was delighted to see the resident
eagle soaring impressively as I headed up Long Stile to High Street.

Stopped in the sun for a snack before the large cairn which marks the
end of the ridge. The valley below was full of light mist which was
gradually clearing as the sun hit it. On to the top of High Street: very
clear views towards the Helvellyn range and to the Kentmere horseshoe, my
target for the weekend. There wasn't a breath of wind, which made the
ridge even more enticing.

Along to Thornthwaite Crag and its fine marker column, and then
rather excitedly along the ridge to Froswick. The good weather had
enticed out many folk, and the ridge was busy. Froswick looks very sharp
from a distance, but is much broader and less exacting than it appears.
Then on to Ill Bell; the simple boulder field just below the summit
platform was a little tricky, as many of the stones were still rimed with
ice; but there were no problems if I kept to the stones with horizontal
tops. The summit was really quite busy with several parties enjoying the
day. But I could hardly complain about folk enjoying the fine conditions
that I was appreciating myself!

Over to Yoke, which was a little less busy, and a break for lunch at
a subsidiary cairn. The visibility wasn't quite as good now; heat haze
seemed to be building. Back over Ill Bell (the iciness had now gone in
the strong sun) and down to the col between it and Froswick. I could have
headed up Froswick again, but found an intriguing narrow trod which
bypassed the top and gave good views down into the Troutbeck valley. The
path was vaguely tricky to follow in some of its more scree-bound
sections, but nothing to write home about. Then took a traversing track
towards Mardale Ill Bell, avoiding the top of Thornthwaite Crag; this
saved me only a little distance, and none of the height gain!

It was now about 1500, and I was wondering why I was feeling so
tired; I then realised that I had been on the go since 0800! So I dropped
down into Hall Cove for the night. I'd been here before on one baking day
in September a few years ago; the weather was a bit cooler today! I
marvelled, as I often do, at the detail in AW's ascent of Thornthwaite
Crag through the Cove; he'd clearly indicated the route to the top, even
though it was hardly likely to be used.

I found myself a fine comfortable patch of tussocky grass for a
pitch. The tent was seriously warm in the sun, a delightful spot. Once
the sun set behind the Ill Bell ridge, though, it started to cool rapidly.
I cooked while I still had natural light (the moisture from the stove was
turning into ice on the tent) and settled down for the night. I did my
best to insulate my water bottles from the ground, and took my boots into
the inner tent so they wouldn't freeze. (Fortunately they were almost dry
and this wasn't a problem.)

A very cold night; I was toasty in the sleeping bag (wearing a base
layer, hat and two fleeces), but I was a little alarmed to find, towards
midnight, that the contents of my pee bottle had turned to slush! A light
mist prevented a full view of the stars. Slept very well and woke up
about 0715. The tent was in shadow still and covered in ice. I'd kept
the gas canister in the bag with me, so didn't have any problems getting a
brew going and preparing a hot breakfast. I was ready for the off about

Rather than take AW's steepish ascent back to Thornthwaite Crag, I
headed up easy grassy slopes (the steepness helped me warm up!) to the
ridge leading down from Mardale Ill Bell to the Nan Bield pass. The hills
were almost deserted, but soon became busy as folk headed up from the
valleys. Up to the top of Harter Fell, with the mistiness giving a
delightful blue to the distant Howgill Fells and Penines. Then due south,
into the sun, to head for Kentmere Pike and further on to Shipman Knotts.

When I summitted Shipman Knotts some years ago, there was a peevish
notice saying that the summit (which was on the other side of the wall)
was *not* on a right of way. Not today, fortunately. I crossed at a gap
in the wall and then headed back to Kentmere Pike on the other side,
enjoying views over Longsleddale as I headed north. Most of the crowds
were on the other side of the wall, and I enjoyed the relative quiet.

Stopped for lunch at Goat Crag on the way to Kentmere Pike. I felt
time was pressing a little, so headed speedily up to the Pike and then
back to Harter Fell. Then down to Gatescarth Pass along a well-laid stony
path, turning left at the Pass to head down to Mardale. The ice was at
its worst here; the pass faces north and thus had been in shadow all day.
As apparently had my car, which was still covered with overnight ice.

I felt annoyed that I'd had to rush this last section, but soon
started to enjoy the sun and the fine views of the hills (which were,
sadly, slowly disappearing in heat haze). And then a very easy journey
back home. A great weekend.

Mark Manning mrm1@xxxxxxxxxxxxx

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