The plush Rover swished up the M6 in plenty of time for Graham and me to enjoy a coffee break en route and further refreshments at the Three Shires Inn in Little Langdale.
The final stage of the journey was over freshly laid ice and snow, which provided an excellent excuse for the late arrival of the Pie Man and his chauffeur, Bruno. At first we thought he had parked in Ambleside and walked in, but he disappeared back down the road for a while and returned with the car, a job that Graham and I really thought should have been entrusted to the chauffeur.
By 10.30 we were enjoying another virtually cloudless day, as we tramped down to Slater’s Bridge, with our snow capped destination glowing in the distance in the bright sunlight, as the sun vapourised the frost at our feet.
Once we worked out that we should leave the path above Greenburn Beck, the gradient changed abruptly. In these conditions the chauffeur’s duties mutated to porterage obligations as he dragged his splendidly buffed charge up the hill.
Meanwhile, Graham, oldest and fittest by far of the trio of TGO Challengers out walking today, lurked contentedly on the summit of Birk Fell, surveying the route ahead, thus described by Bill Birkett: “the ascent of the Little Langdale Edge of Wetherlam steepens at the top and involves a few small rocky steps – possibly Scrambling Grade 0.25 if tackled head-on.”
We didn’t necessarily take the ‘head-on’ option, preferring to keep our crampons on snow rather than rock and proceed along a sporting line up the steep slope.
A ‘friend’ from Kirkby Lonsdale appeared on the summit of Wetherlam and kindly took this photo of us, with our avalanche rescue dog (Bruno’s high altitude role once he has discharged his porterage duties) distracted by the fine view towards Crinkle Crags.
Before us lay Swirl How, at 802 metres our high point of the day, accessed by way of an arctic plateau before going down to some avalanche ready slopes before ascending our final 200 metres to the sunny summit.
Earlier, in the shade of Birk Fell, Mike had endured painfully cold hands (Sue really does sympathise), but we were all nicely warmed up by the time we reached the summit of Swirl How. The sun definitely had considerably more warmth than two weeks earlier, and a single layer (albeit a flashy Embers merino wool shirt) kept me lovely and warm for most of the day.
Despite having been stabbed by a crampon, our avalanche rescue dog continued to enjoy his relentless search for bodies in the snow.
Shortly before the summit of Great Carrs, we paused by the memorial to eight airmen who lost their lives on 22 October 1944 when a Halifax bomber that crashed at this spot. There were fine views across to the Scafells, and Bowfell had a magnificent Alpine air to it from this direction.
The sun hovered above high cloud over Grey Friar as we descended to the balmier climes of Wet Side Edge, a cool easterly now having taken control of the thermostat.
Back at Slater’s Bridge I made a determined effort to locate my first (under code name ‘Phreerunner’) geocache. It was hidden in a lunch box and receives frequent visits, containing inter alia a notebook bulging with comments, just like those found on Alpine mountain summits.
It was 5.40pm by the time we got back to the cars, still in good daylight – the days are lengthening nicely just now; spring is in the air, despite the snow. We’d been in no hurry, and other walkers following this route could realistically expect to knock up to three hours off our ‘pensioners amble’ sort of pace.
The hills were quiet today – we probably encountered about a dozen folk, mostly well kitted out with axe and crampons at the ready, though those without such aids seemed equally happy on this calm, sunny day.
The Watermill at Ings provided sustenance, at a price, on our journey home.
Here’s our route – 13 km, 985 metres ascent, in just over 7 hours.
The next ‘Great British Ridge Walk’ will be ‘Moel Hebog by the North-East ridge and a traverse of the North Ridge over Moels yr Ogof and Lefn’, on Wednesday 10 March, starting from Beddgelert Car Park at 10 am. It’s 12 km with 980 metres ascent. If the weather is poor, or Sue decides to come, we may go up Moel Siabod, from SH 734 571 – Pont Cyfyng lane, or from Capel Curig. So let me know if you plan to join us.
Then on Tuesday 16 March we will be tackling Skiddaw via Ullock Pike, descending by Birkett’s Edge. This is 13 km with 1015 metres ascent, starting at 10 am from a small lay-by (if there’s room) at NY 237 311 by Orthwaite Road, a little above the junction with the A591 above Bassenthwaite village.