Skidding up Skiddaw
16th December 2009.
Map: Landranger 90
Weather: Cold, low cloud, sleet, snow, and not much sunshine.
A circular walk from Milbeck up to Dodd, then on to Carl Side, Long Side and Ullock Pike. Back along the ridge and up to Skiddaw summit, down to Little Man. Down to Latrigg and return to Milbeck: 13.4 miles – as measured by the SatMap
I felt a little better than I did last week and didn’t suffer as much with the climbs today, although it was still tough going. Today’s walk was designed as a Wainwright bagging exercise to collect 5 on this round, but we altered the route along the way and bagged 7 altogether. To be honest I hadn’t really looked closely at the route until the night before and after a quick chat with Ian we decided to start with Dodd as opposed to going straight for Carl Side. This was a good decision as it took the sting out of the steepest sustained routes up to the top. The weather forecast for today wasn’t brilliant and it proved to be in footballer’s parlance – a walk of two halves. Up above 500 to 600m our world was various shades of white and grey, below was grey, but at least we could see some views. There seems to be a lot of building work going on in Milbeck and we were lucky to get two spots in the lay-by right next to the start of our route. Ian, Andy and James had set off from Nottingham way about 5am – now that’s dedication and the reason why we were going to walk here whatever the weather. Andy is an ex-footballer and relatively youthful, which meant he was impressive going up the inclines today – his secret was that he has been using the stairs at work and not the lift – there’s a lesson there somewhere for us all. Ian wasn’t far behind while Granty and self enjoyed the scenery but not the cold.
Looking back down to the start of the walk - not great weather
The main thing to remember about the landscape around these parts i.e Blencathra and Skiddaw is that they are massive lumps that rise swiftly from the surrounding area – no easy ways up here, and they dominate the surrounding hills. They are also made up of shales as opposed to the volcanic rocks a little further South, and that gives them a different appearance to many of the Lakeland fells. Once we were kitted up there was no gentle introduction, it was up and more up – it just varied in its steepness. The initial pull was straight uphill after a couple of 100yds along the hillside, and then crossed over through some woodland before levelling out on a forest track. Fortunately we had some views down over to Catbells and the Newlands round, with the big boys Grasmoor and Crag Hill heads up in the clouds. Generally it was pretty gloomy, but we weren’t and once we got to easier ground we had a good natter.
The fields below were still looking very wet from the deluges of the past few weeks, and I can’t begin to imagine how dreadful it must have been for the residents around the area. This was my third walk in a row with inclement weather and restricted views – the moral of the story is to maybe stay a little lower when out walking in November. There was a lot of ascent today but because the route split up into three parts, it didn’t seem so bad. The main attraction to the masses of Skiddaw is that it’s a big hill with relatively straightforward paths, and you should be rewarded by cracking views from the top for your efforts in attaining the summit. Our reward for all the hard work was just the joy of being out and about, in good company – cold or otherwise – the weather I mean. I felt a bit more energised than I did the previous walk up the Pike of Blisco, but that didn’t stop me lagging behind a bit up to the top of Skiddaw – damned camera and taking pictures!
The route up to Dodd wound back on itself along the forest tracks and provided a gentler gradient to ascend up to the first Wainwright of the day. Judging by the number of benches up this path, it must be well populated at the weekends with good views down over the surrounding valley and the Derwent Fells. We made good time up to the summit of Dodd, but we could also see the steep path up to Carl Side and the gloom that wasn’t going to shift for anyone. We didn’t hang about on Dodd no matter how tickled we were to be up there, and made a rapid descent back to the col cairn and the start of the path up to the next objective. But that little down path gave us all a breather – not that the others needed it. We did make good time today though considering the conditions, with no real slackers until Skiddaw, and I still maintain that I am at the back of the field to monitor safety and take lots of photos! Shortly after the start of the ascent up to Carl Side the sleet started to slant in, needle sharp and the conversation drifted off to silence and a grimace against the weather. It was like being at the dentist, with a numbing cold on the side of the face despite trying to protect against the prevailing wind. The steep path up meets the ridge path up to the summit cairn – a low pile of stones – and it was a trudge up, but steep gets you up there quicker. Up on the top it became a little bit more of a dusting of snow, but not enough to be slippery. The wind was cold and biting, so we reviewed our options and decided to head down to Long Side and Ullock Pike, which gave us a breather before heading up to Skiddaw itself.
There isn’t a whole bunch of up and down to Ullock Pike, but when we got there the clouds briefly parted to allow us a glimpse of the scenery further north. But that’s all it was, and we were soon enveloped in the mist again, and bloody cold it was as well – the wind chill was down close to zero or below I’m sure. We retraced our steps up to Long Side, dipped down in the lee of the hill and had a very quick standing lunch. This was no place to be standing still in the bitter wind and it didn’t take long to get some numb fingers. We set off refreshed and Ian steered us away towards the Skiddaw path before we got back to Carl Side, and it veers away to the left passing by Carlside Tarn along a gentle ascent. As we got to the flank of Skiddaw the path rose steeply up into the white ahead. Andy led the way followed by Ian and as we gained height the dusting of snow turned to a layer of snow and ice. Granty suffered a bit here due to his height and didn’t fancy returning down this way again. If it had got any worse we wouldn’t have made it further up the slope as none of us had crampons, and only one walking pole between us – I suppose we could have used it in relays. But soon enough the snow lay a little deeper and the footholds were easier to maintain and kick into secure steps. The others sped up towards the summit ridge while I took a few pictures of the grey out. Eventually I joined the others as the ridge crested out and I made a dash for the summit, to cheat the others out of their glory – not really though I was at the back of the field again.
The summit area was frozen solid with lots of ice and a nice information plinth that the Queen put up here in her Silver Jubilee year – I wonder if she wore a crown? One of the pointers was to Carlisle, I thought it said Carling and was all for heading off that way. We didn’t mooch around long because it was Baltic and getting a tad windy. We posed by the trig for a group shot, but that turned out a blur due to the spindrift blowing around, so it was a quick about turn and head off to Little Man. We took a heading off the summit as the paths were covered with a thin layer of snow blown into shallow drifts. Granty again struggled with the slippery slope, so he had a borrow of the stick which helped. We went slightly askew o the way down, but stopped when we saw how steep the slopes became. We checked our position and adjusted our route over towards Little Man. The path was easy enough and the gradient easy, but the wind freshened and it got even colder although we were lower down the slope. We stood on top of Little Man, another viewless Wainwright today, and Ian proposed that we take a new route down instead of the return to Carl Side. This turned out to be a much better way down and we hurried off the summit on a good well defined shale path that is the main path that people use to get up to Skiddaw. What a difference once we were below the cloudbase, we finally had something to look over, Keswick down below, Derwent Water and its surrounding mountains a little further away, and the Helvellyn range to the left. Far away below we spotted the Castlerigg Stone circle in amongst the fields, sitting on a flattish platform that has good views of all the surrounding fells. Behind us Little Man and Skiddaw were still in cloud and remained that way for the rest of the day – what a contrast a week later when I walked up Barf (see here).
The further down the slopes we got the more came into view, including a patch of sunlight further to the north around the Solway Firth, and the Isle of Man to the south of west - suprising really with all the gloom around, but I took a reference and checked it out on the maps when I got home. To the east was the lower slopes of Blencathra and Little and Great Mell fells, so despite the gloom we still had a good vista. On the lower slopes we walked past a decorated Celtic cross that commemorates 2 sheep breeders – strange but I presume they must have been special. As we reached the lower slopes towards a car park Latrigg lay before us and as we had made good time Ian suggested that we bag another Wainwright. It would have been rude not to so we set off across the grassy slopes on a neat and tidy path. Whilst the others meandered ahead, I snapped off a few shots and then took a short cut across the grass – I could sense at least one of the others questioning my parentage as I cut the corner. There is a fine viewpoint over the fells from Latrigg and there is a carefully positioned bench overlooking this fine view – must be very popular at the weekend. Once again we retraced our steps back over Latrigg and Mallen Dodd and then turned along some woodland into a field above Birkett Wood Farm. We had a slight detour along a fence line which was a sheep track, and we all followed like sheep. We were blocked out by gorse bushes so had to walk back up the hill, but at least it was all downhill from there to Milbeck.
We could see the road and a clearly marked path across the fields, passing through Ornathwaite and Applethwaite in the dusk – we started in the gloom and finished in the gloom today, arriving back at Milbeck just in time. We decided a pint in Scales at the White Lion was in order, but when we got there it was closed, so we nipped back down to Threlkeld. Into the first pub we galloped, where a local was sat nursing a pint – ‘Were not open until 5’, so once again it was about turn and across the road to the Horse and Farrier – no blazing fireplace, but the Cumberland Ale was sweet tasting. Another great day & company – more of the same in 2010, but please give us some views at the top.