In the days following the last bank holiday Michael, Sean and my good self met up at Seatoller to take on one of our more ambitious routes of recent times. The plan was to walk a horseshoe, taking in Glaramara, Allen Crags, Great End, Great Gable, Green Gable and Base Brown over two days. With cloud hanging low and the cars safely parked at the Scafell Hotel in Rosthwaite we saddled up and made our way to the base of Thornythwaite Fell.
It was a warm but overcast day and we our temperatures rose quickly as we tackled our first fell of the day, the mugginess forcing us to shed layers before donning them again at the top as the drizzle started to fall – this became the main theme of the day. I swapped between my waterproof and my windshirt as we traversed the ridge from Thornythwaite Fell to Glaramara but eventually settled on the shell as the rain set in. The inclement weather kept the camera in my bag for the most part.
Views north from Thornythwaite gave glimpses of Derwent Water up to Skiddaw and the Northern Fells. Continuing along our route towards Glaramara Michael went off to do Combe Head whilst me and Sean enjoyed the precipitation. The summit of Glaramara, with its rocky top, required some sure footing in the wet weather, and by the time we got up to 783m we were properly in the clouds and the famous Glaramara panoramic view eluded us.
A few more subsidiary tops followed, namely Looking Steads, Red Beck Top and High House Tarn Top. I’m not into collecting Nutalls and Hewitts but with these ones lying along our path it would have been rude not to tick them off. By now it was past lunch time and Sean was definitely feeling the pace along with the rest of us and we developed ‘lazy feet’ as the sugar levels dropped. A much-needed lunch stop at the shelter just south of the summit of Allen Crags sorted this out. Squashed tuna sandwiches, cheese and onion crisps and a Mule bar were the order of the day and before long we were fighting fit again.
Now we were planning to camp down at Sprinkling Tarn but the hour was early so we debated whether to strike out for Great End before dropping down towards the evening’s camp site. Deciding we weren’t going to get any wetter we strode on towards the highest point on our trip.
We dragged our wet hides up the stony path from Esk Hause pass to the rocky plateau that sits atop Great End. Finding the summit cairn in the mist took a few minutes and to our surprise we found a patch of snow up here, perched precariously in one of the north face gullies, in May. After some mountain hijinx we made our way down to Sprinkling Tarn.
We pitched up at about 5.30pm, with about 6 hours walking under our belts – the cloud was really low when we arrived and made the tarn look quite mysterious and, fittingly, it took us a while to find a non-boggy spot to strike up. I was in the Scarp and the other two were in Michael’s Vango Tempest 300 and both tents were taking a bit of stick from the wind and rain which went on until the early hours of the morning.
Dinner was a Look What We Found Bolognese with mediterranean rice followed by a fairly poor Wayfarer Chocolate Pudding. After a feed I took the opportunity to trot over to the Tempest for a drink and a chat. A couple of rum and cokes warmed the cockles that had been thoroughly chilled by wearing damp merino all day. The cloud kept dropping and at about 9.30pm we got a nice view of the tarn before it blew back in and set in for the night. The evening’s entertainment was provided by Argo, which lived up to the hype, even with silnylon flapping around throughout the whole film.
My camera battery died so I had to resort to my Motorola RAZR I for photo duties the next day. We endured a night of wind and more rain and in the morning I arose to a slightly saggy tent, perhaps I should have followed Peter’s advice and retightened the flysheet before bed. I took a few minutes to filter around three litres of water first thing in the morning using my Sawyer Squeeze and enjoyed a breakfast of porridge and a bacon and black pudding sandwich prior to packing up and making moves down to Styhead Tarn before an assault on Great Gable, the second Trail 100 of the trip.
The ascent was really tough going and we took it quite slow and steady, walking once more into the clouds. A couple of people followed us up with their dog and one or two passed us coming the opposite way but the main surprise came at the top where a group of about 10 people were hunkered down in the summit shelter against the wind that had been plaguing us all the way up. It was a hard grind and because of the limited visibility we missed out on a lot of the unique features that make Great Gable the famous hill that it is – I’ll undoubtedly be back to explore them at some point.
After stopping for a quick chat with a guy who was four Wainwrights off the magic 214 we followed the stony path to Windy Gap, the saddle between Great and Green Gable. Unsurprisingly it was quite windy so we didn’t hang about and made a swift ascent up to the top of our next hill where a number of ramblers had gathered for a brew in the clouds.
From here we traversed the peaty top of Base Brown and for some reason foolishly decided against the sensible path down to civilisation, instead opting to scramble down a small ravine in a north-facing cliff overlooking Borrowdale. This initially proved tricky with our full packs and we had to take care to make sure that all of our hand and foot holds were solid before making each move. After a couple of minutes we reached a damp slab of rock and moss that caused Sean to send his pack tumbling down the bank below in favour of safe manoeuvres, Michael followed suit by passing me his bag and making a bit of a leap of faith to the ledge four feet below his dangling legs. With the benefit of hindsight we would have skipped this route and gone with the gravel track; but you live and learn…
We made it safely down into the valley and pounded a bit of pavement to get back to the cars. Looking back, it was a mixed trip. Personally I enjoyed being out hiking with the lads again, and the walk gave us a great sense of achievement ticking six good Wainwrights and two Trail 100s off the list – but it was marred by poor weather and interesting decisions that could have got us into a spot of bother if we weren’t careful. Next time there will be fewer risks and more peaks; I promise.