Thursday, 31 May 2018

Howling Ridge Again With Daniel

Today I went with my nephew Daniel O'Keeffe to treat him (and me) to his first visit to Carrauntoohil. Dan has a busy life in London and his day to day world is a world away from the wilds of the Kerry Mountains. It is always nice to experience the mountains through fresh eyes and it was a joy to see his reaction to the majesty of these mountains when the swirling misty clouds graced us with some views. I don't think he expected these hills to be, well as "properly" mountain like and it only heightened his anticipation as we got nearer the route.
 This being his first time on a mountain route (his previous experience was limited to indoor walls in London) I decided that a rope and harnesses and some gear would make the outing a safer and more comfortable excursion for everybody. Lack of mountain miles he might have but he doesn't lack for fitness and as I was carrying the rope and gear I struggled to keep pace πŸ˜†. Upon reaching the start of the route we donned our harnesses and sorted out the rope and gear and I set off up. To be frank I didn't place any gear. Instead when I reached a good stance above each rock step I belayed Dan up to me and we continued to the top of the route like this. Things were quite atmospheric with occasional swirling mists around and at times misty views down to the Hags Glen and Dan was enjoying the route and ambience immensely. The climbing was no bother to him and he took to it like a duck to water and by the time we finished he was thirsty for more. A nice lunch at the calm warm summit and then we set off across the Benkeeragh Ridge and descended over Knockbrinnea. The whole experience was superb for both of us and in the future when time and travel allows I'm sure we will enjoy other great days out together. Oh and did I say that I carried the gear and rope ??...Up And down πŸ˜†πŸ˜†πŸ˜†.
Thanks Dan.
Dan the man

Born to it

Yours truly..great bum shot

Friday, 25 May 2018

Three Ridges...The Hags Tooth..Howling Ridge..Benkeeragh Ridge

Last Wednesday, just a week after coming home from four very enjoyable days hiking and camping on the mountains of the Lake District, I decided to take advantage of a great weather spell and I headed for my normal stomping ground, the Magillycuddy Reeks.
Sometimes you have to go away to really appreciate just what you have at home. Wednesday was a case in point because as I walked into the Hags Glen from Cronin's Yard I was struck anew by the beauty of the area and I realised that, while undeniably beautiful, the Lake District didn't have anything as wonderfully rugged and spectacular as what lay before me. The Hags Glen and the encompassing amphitheatre of seven 3000 foot peaks is inspiring and impressive and on a stellar morning such as I had  there can be few finer sights on these islands. I was also really looking forward to my outing as I had decided to climb Howling Ridge so I could get my hands on some quality rock.
Excellent scrambling heading towards The Hags Tooth

Airy Top

Carrauntoohil and its ridges

I have been on a health kick for the past month and I had lost a stone in weight and I was feeling the benefits of that as I walked in. When the impressive Hags Tooth came into view I decided I would climb that as well as it is easy to link it with an ascent of Howling. After crossing the stream I veered right and climbed the many rock steps that lead to the Tooth. Some are straight forward and some are bloody difficult and it would be an easy thing to get into a bit of bother on them. Exiting at the top of some can be particularly awkward. Still any difficulty is easily avoided until you reach the more sustained stuff on the tooth itself. Now some exposed scrambling presents itself but when the rock is as dry and grippy as today it presents no difficulty. I soon arrived at the tiny little top and after a brief enjoyment of my situation I dropped to the western side and descended the steep but straight forward gully to reach the first level of Coumeenoughter.

Quality rock steps..Stick to the crest.

Next comes the climb to reach the Heavenly Gates, where I turned and started up Howling. What a joy it was to enjoy steep exposed but easy rock steps that lead ever upwards to ever more spectacular ground. I must say that the exposure never bothers me when I'm here as I tend to concentrate on the climbing and movement more than anything else. It is absorbing but never difficult and today when options presented themselves I took the harder and most direct lines I could and revelled in feeling strong. This route is graded at VDiff but lets just say I have climbed harder at this grade. Nevertheless it is very enjoyable and gives one the feel of a proper mountain route. It is however all too short and after just 27 minutes I was past the difficulties and I climbed the steep easy ground to reach the summit of Carrauntoohil. Sitting, enjoying my lunch in the warm windless afternoon, was a simple joy and it was nice to feel that I had done something worthy with my morning. Next came the always enjoyable grade 1 scramble across to Benkeeragh and a descent over Knockbrinnea completed the day. It felt quite warm when I got back to the valley floor and it was a relief to have a long drink back at the car. When the sun shines there is little to beat these mountains.
On the Benkeeragh Ridge

Sunday, 20 May 2018

A Four Day Meander Over The Eastern Lake District

Time flies. It's been over two years since I was last in the Lake District when I enjoyed a lovely four day hike from Conniston around over Bowfell and Scafell, then onto Great Gable and Honister Pass before finishing off over High Raise and the Langdale Pikes ( ).

Saturday May 12th:

This time I wanted to explore eastern side of the region and with that in mind I caught a train to Penrith and a taxi to Pooley Bridge. It was now after 12 noon so I didn't have a lot of time to waste, however the forecast was pretty good and the weather as I set off was excellent. Warm sunshine and no wind was certainly a rarity for me this spring so I revelled in the conditions. There were quite a few milling about in the pretty village but I wasted no time in setting off. A couple of kilometres on the road saw me reach a large caravan park and as there was access onto the open hillside from there I walked up through it. I'm getting a little better at lightening my backpack and this time I was carrying about 13 kilos and that included food for four days plus a couple of litres of water. My Force 10 GR 55 litre bag was nice and comfortable and was proving ideal for this trip.
Grand day for it lads

Looking down along Ullswater

Easy springy ground

Approaching High Street
Once out on the open hillside it was easy walking on the dry springy turf. There was a wide easy path to follow so it was a simple task to stay on route. The views were lovely. Particularly down and along Ullswater which nestled under the craggy ground on the east side of Arthur's Pike and Bonscale Pike. In the distance I could see Helvellyn and co which would make for tomorrows adventure but first I had the aforementioned Arthur's and Bonscale Pikes to reach and the big dome of Loadpot Hill. The terrain is really a series of ever higher broad elephant backs that offer no steep slopes and generally easy walking. To the east the north Yorkshire hills rise gently and to the west the major peaks of the area can be seen. A long walk followed over a series of barely discernible tops before more interesting ground is reached as you approach High Street which led to the high point of the day at 828mtrs. It was now 5pm so I was turning my mind to finding a spot for to pitch my tent for the night. I had been on the move for five hours but I was feeling pretty good and if nothing became obvious I could carry on for  little while yet.

Thornthwaith summit

The weather however was showing signs of change with a high thin layer of cloud having formed which dimmed the sun and some rain had appeared on the flatlands to the east.Being pretty much on a ridge the whole way there was little in the way of water sources and I had pretty much resigned myself that I would have to drop down a fair distance to find a suitable spot for the tent. As luck would have it though, just after High Street, under Thornthwaite Crag there was the beginnings of a gully up quite high and I went to investigate there. I only had to lose about thirty metres before I reached a spring and I loaded up my bottles and climbed to the summit of the crag in search for a place to camp. There was a large cairn and a stone wall and there was several good spots for my tent so I was set fair. It was almost 17.45 when I finally dropped my bag and I wasted no time in setting up house for the evening. Rain was now hitting High Street but thankfully I stayed dry. There was little or no wind and it was a joy to amble around and take in the wide ranging views. I enjoyed a good meal, and is often the case with me I was sleepy after all the travel so I retired to my sleeping bag at 8pm. It was dark when I woke and raining steadily and from what I could gather it continued to do so until after the dawn.
The rain missed me

Towards Windermere
Day 1 = 5.25 hours-Approx 18 Kilometres and 950 mtrs of ascent

Sunday May 13th;

I rose refreshed at 06.30 and as the rain had stopped some time before I emerged to a stunning blue sky morning. I felt refreshed after a good sleep and I was looking forward to the day ahead. I must say I love this type of trip, where you walk as far as you feel like before finding somewhere to pitch your tent and then doing it all again the following day. It feels like proper freedom. The usual breakfast and packing up meant I was on the move by 07.20. First up was the steep(ish) drop down into the gap before a steep pull (initially) up to Stony Cove Pike. This broad boggy top offered great views both to the north and especially southwards with Lake Windermere seeming to stretch almost to the sea. Next up was the descent to Kirkstone Pass which went okay. I passed a couple of similar vintage guys to myself who were enjoying the morning outside their tent above the pass. It seemed they had enjoyed the previous evening as well if the empty wine bottles were any indication...and why not πŸ‘. Even though it was still early there was a fair number of people at the pass so I didn't delay and soon they were left behind as I started up the long steep climb to the top of Red Screes over 300 metres above. I forsook the path and decided to tackle the climb in a direct line which offered some nice easy scrambling higher up.
First drop and climb of the day

Heading for Kirkstone Pass
After the steep craggy ground the summit and ground beyond once again reverted to a broad boggy expanse which offered an easy descent to Scandale Pass and another steady climb followed to reach Dove Crag. I was now on the Fairfield Horseshoe which is obviously a popular walk (isn't everything hereabouts) and lots of people were on the trail. It is all easy going until you reach the summit of Fairfield which at 873 mtrs offers a wonderful viewpoint of the entire Lakes. By now I had climbed not far shy of 1000 mtrs but the day was still young and I had a ways to go yet. Next up was the drop down to Grisedale Tarn 325 metres below and I again took a direct line down to the lake. It was quite steep but some sections of nice scree made for swift easy progress and soon I was down by the lakeside. One more big pull remained and I set off up the 300+ metres to reach the wonderfully named Dollywagon Pike. Now all the steep climbing was over for the day and the broad ridge that led to Helvellyn was straightforward. The ground to the east dropped precipitously down to the  Grisedale valley and offered spectacular views. I was by now not too far from the area I had covered when I was last here and the jagged skyline was a constant draw for the eye. As I had climbed a total of around 1500 metres by the time I reached the summit of Helvellyn (950 mtrs) I reckoned it was about time to find somewhere to pitch my tent again. Looking about I decided to drop down to Brown Cove where there seemed to be some nice flat ground with the all important water source. I descended the first half of Swirral Edge and as I was going down I spotted another possible spot for the tent higher up the slope nearer the broad gully that rises to the gap between Helvellyn and Lower Man. I dropped directly down the steep ground and crossed to the spot. It was just outside an old mine shaft and it was flat and dry so I had found my home. One thing I hadn't reckoned with was that I was on the shaded side of the mountain and the sun disappeared behind the upper slopes by 17.30 which meant it got quite cool for the evening. Still my down jacket ensured I stayed toasty and I enjoyed a very pleasant evening.

Red Screes summit


Towards Helvellyn

Some spectacular ground
The view up to the ridge from my tent.
Day 2 = 7.5 hours-Approx 19 kilometres and 1500 metres of ascent

Monday May 14th;

The chill breeze of the previous evening had disappeared in the morning and I exited my tent into another stunning morning. Man there is little to beat camping in the mountains when the weather is as good as this. If I was in the shade last evening I was in the sun in the morning and with not a puff of wind it was such a pleasure to bask in the sun while I ate my breakfast. I was all packed up and on the move 08.10. First up was the steep 150 metre climb back up to the ridge. Slow and steady was the way to go and it passed soon enough. Now I was faced with about 11 kilometres of easy walking over the curiously named "Dodds" until I reached the final abutment at Clough Head where a steep drop to the village of Threlkeld awaited. What a beautiful morning it was to amble along over each rounded top. The walking was predominantly on dry crispy moorland and the rises and drops were never too taxing. That said, by the time I reached Clough Head I had climbed a total of 600 metres. I walked northeast from the top of Clough Head where a path dropped quite steeply directly down towards an old coach road. It was a bit of a knee wrecker after the miles of easy ground but the 300 metre drop didn't last too long. It was now quite warm in the unbroken sunshine and I set my mind to wondering if there was somewhere for a nice treat in the village ahead. Once I reached the coach road I crossed some rough ground to reach the western side of a disused quarry. A convoluted roadway led eventually to the public road and then to the heart of the pretty village. Lo and behold there was a cafΓ© open and I enjoyed a big slice of "rocky road" and two delicious coffees. All this while sitting outside on the deck enjoying the great views...well it was lunchtime after all.
Looking along "The Dodds"

Back towards Helvellyn. Campsite marked in red.

Leaving the Dodds Looking down to Threlkeld with Skiddaw and Blencathra behind

Towards keswick

Blencathra looms large behind the village

So,  with around 15 kilometres done and 600 metres climbed it was briefly tempting to stay in the village and while away the afternoon, but only briefly as the imposing spectacular bulk of Blencathra was too big a draw and the day was still young. Now all I had to decide was which way to climb it. I opted for the most direct route so after leaving the village via the carpark I followed Blease Gill up onto the open mountainside until you come to a stone wall and the path mirrors this up the steep slope. Perhaps it was the coffees or the cake (or both) but I was feeling strong and made steady progress until I eventually reached the wonderful viewpoint at Gategill Fell. The mountain is quite spectacular from here with a series of ridges book-ending three coums that all finish at the near level summit ridgeline. My ridge was never too narrow and after a series of little bumps I reached the final steep step to gain the crest. This gave some nice scrambling but it was over all to soon and I stood on the top. What a great viewpoint and the easy ground to the highest top meant I could keep enjoying it as I walked. A brief rest on the summit and I set off for the nearby Atkinson Pike and then I dropped to and crossed the wide boggy plateau of Mungrisdale common. This was a delightful easy walk and I now set about finding somewhere for my tent. There is no water source on the plateau so once I reached the point where the ground drops down towards the valley below Skiddaw I traversed left (south) until I reached Sinen Gill and almost immediately I found an ideal spot to call home for the night. I had super views across towards Skiddaw and also south towards Scafell and others. Unlike last night I had sunshine until after 9pm and enjoyed a nice sunset.
If you are going to enjoy a coffee you might as well have a nice view

Up and to the right

Not a bad view back

Day 3 = 8 hours-Around 22 kilometres and 1400 metres of ascent.

Tuesday May 15th;

The forecast today was not so stellar and it promised to cloud over at around noon with rain arriving in the later afternoon. When I got up though it was a beautiful morning with clear blue skies and again little or no wind. Today was my last day and I was catching the overnight ferry back home so I had literally all day to kill. The natural conclusion to this trip, given my location was to climb Skiddaw which at 931 metres was another of this areas 3000ers. To make the day a bit longer I decided to start by climbing the nearby Great Calva (690 mtrs) which would make a somewhat extended horseshoe outing. I traversed the slope easily down towards the wide valley and headed directly towards the wide heath covered slope that extends south from the summit. Unusually for hereabouts there was no sign of a trail or path but I hoped that things wouldn't be too difficult. I was wrong. After crossing the small river at around the 400 metre contour, directly east of Skiddaw House, and crossing a fence I was immediately waist deep in heather growing out of a deep mossy morass. Every step was hard won and the only saving grace was that I only had a couple of hundred metres of this to cross before I reached the slopes of Calva. Another stream and fence crossing followed and its true things did improve. Now all I had to negotiate was the waist deep heather. Even though it was less than 300 metres of climbing to reach the summit, the first 200 metres were the hardest of the entire trip before I mercifully came to a track that led to the summit. The ground to Little Calva was an easy arc across boggy ground that was heaven in comparison to what went before but it soon passed and I then descended steeply to the road that leads towards Skiddaw House.
Skiddaw House

Calva summit views
 Back down again at the 400 metre contour I now set foot on the Skiddaw massif for the first time. There was now a bit more of a breeze and cloud scudded across the summit slopes high above. The forecast seemed to be panning out exactly as predicted and things had a hazy grey look when you looked towards the sea. I didn't mind though as it was still dry and where I'm from that is always a bonus, First up was a 270 metre pull to Bakestall which was a shoulder on the mountain. A level patch allowed respite before another 150 metre pull saw me gain another shoulder. Another easy stretch across the wide nearly flat ground passed and now it was quite breezy and chilly as well. The final 100 metres to the summit was next and again it is nothing too steep or taxing. It was an easy decision to but on my jacket while I had a bite to eat on the top. The cloud lifted enough to allow hazy views but I didn't stay long and continued on towards Little Man 865 metres and here I lingered as the views southwards towards all the major peaks of the area was wonderful. Even though it was a Tuesday the mountain was very busy and the tracks on the slopes were huge. I dropped down along Jenkin Hill and headed across the easy ground as far as Lonscale Fell. I followed a light trail that took a direct line towards the carpark for the main track. This was quite gentle at first but eventually it was a steep descent of over 200 metres to reach the easy ground. The weather was now returning to warm and sunny and remained so for the rest of the afternoon. I followed the Cumbria Way down into the busy bustling town of Keswick there every second premises seemed to be an outdoor gear shop of some sort. My walking was done when I reached the bus station and all that remained was the long trip home. It had been a very enjoyable trip and camping in such perfect weather was a real treat. One thing, don't head to the Lake District in search of solitude..It is a very busy place.
Skiddaw summit

Heading to Little Man

Derwent Water and Keswick

Back towards the summit..Another super sunny afternoon

Day 4 = 6.25 hours-Around 18 kilometres and 1050 metres of ascent.