Saturday, February 2, 2013

Coledale Horseshoe and Solo Wildcamp

Date : 1st & 2nd Feb 2013
Route : Coledale Horseshoe - Clockwise from Braithwaite
Wild Camp : Sail 
Wainwrights : Outerside, Causey Pike, Scar Crags, Sail, Crag Hill, Grasmoor, Hopegill Head, Grisedale Pike.
Distance : 20.2 km (12.3 miles)
Height Gained : 1510 m (4957 feet)

Kit list at the end


 There was snow on the hills and the forecast was favourable so it was time to plan the 1st wild camp of the year. I thought the Coledale Horseshoe would be a good route as I haven't walked these fells before and it is often heralded as an ideal winter hike. Parking space secured at Braithwaite I headed off towards Stile End. The intention was to walk the horseshoe clockwise and camp somewhere around Crag Hill.

Starting point at Braithwaite
 The weather was overcast but the cloud base was well above the summits. The forecast suggested a possibility of rain later but then clearing up for a sub-zero night and clear day tomorrow.

The path to Higher Coledale

 It was easy going at first as the path skirted Stile End to reveal a fine view of Causey Pike

Causey Pike
 I wanted to tick off Outerside so bypassed Causey Pike and headed for the High Moss area. I then climbed the short path to Outerside's summit from the west. The view back over Braithwaite to Derwent water was ample reward for the short detour.

The view over Derwent Water from Outerside summit
 From the summit of Outerside clouds began rolling in from the east obscuring my forward route over the higher fells. It was time to press on and retread the path back down to High Moss and then on to Causey Pike.

Mist rolls in from the higher eastern fells
Causey Pike from Outerside summit
Outerside from the High Moss area
 It was easy going over High Moss and along a good path to the summit of Causey Pike. For a fell of such modest height the view was excellent over Derwent Water.

Panorama west from Causey Pike summit. Bassenthwaite Lake just visible far left
Panorama east from Causey Pike summit - the apex of horseshoe in cloud
 The path then followed the ridge along Scar Crags which afforded excellent views over the Rigg Beck valley towards Ard Crags.

Rigg Beck from Scar Crags
Panorama south from Scar Crags. Sail on the right
 The path up to Sail takes a pronounced zig-zag course which is just visible on the panorama above. By the time I reached the summit in was 4pm and the clouds were thickening so I decided to make camp. Sail summit is fairly flat and grassy and seemed reasonably sheltered from the modest north-westerly wind by the bulk of Crag Hill.

The Scarp 1 on Sail summit - looking towards Crag Hill
Sunset on Sail summit
 Having made camp, heated up a meal and brewed up, I then settled down to watch the sunset. While the sun dipped down behind Wandope the weather was looking threatening from the north. At about 6pm the wind picked up and it started snowing, which then turned to hail. The temp dropped to -6 (C) but I was snug in the Scarp and a winter down bag. At about 11pm the wind changed direction to a northerly and became decidedly stronger. There was no shelter for the Scarp which began to take a considerable battering. This wasn't forecast! Despite ear plugs the noise from the wind put paid to any sleep and I spent a restless night watching the tent flapping violently. One particularly strong gust in the early hours ripped out both of the corner pegs from the end facing the wind, causing the tent to collapse at my feet. I reluctantly donned a head-torch and jacket to venture outside and re-peg the corners, this time reinforced with 2 large rocks. I also added 2 extra guy lines to the hoop for further peace of mind. Once outside I was surprised by the strength of the wind and impressed by the overall stability of the Scarp despite the considerable buffeting.

 The wind finally died down by about 5am and I managed an hour or 2 of sleep. By sunrise the wind was fairly benign and the sky was clear. It looked like it was going to be a perfect winters day. A minor inconvenience was that my milk had frozen (black coffee for me). I had slept with a gas canister and Sigg bottle of water in the sleeping bag so the stove worked fine and supernoodles were soon on the go.

Sunrise from Sail summit
Scarp 1 survives the night - with additional pegging!
Sail summit panorama north showing the rest of the horseshoe and the onwards route
 By the time I broke camp the sun was up, the sky was blue and the wind was calm. It was still cold (-2 degrees C) but it promised to be great day on the high fells.     

Heading up Crag Hill with the sun on my back
Looking back down the Coledale valley from the approach to Crag Hill
 Following the minor scramble onto the expansive plateau of Crag Hill summit the views opened up and I got my first sight of Grasmoor and the Buttermere fells.  

The summit plateau of Crag Hill in the early morning
Crag Hill summit panorama north
Crag Hill summit panorama south
Looking towards Grasmoor
 The path from Crag Hill to Grasmoor is easy going and full of interest as the eyes are continually drawn westwards towards the impressive panorama of the Buttermere fells and the Scafells beyond.

Glimpses of Crummock Water and Buttermere from the path to Grasmoor
 Grasmoor summit is another flat expanse of grassy land but the views are truly breathtaking. I sat down for 20 minutes lapping up the scenery. Two fell runners were just visible on Crag Hill summit, the first people I had seen today. They were making impressive speed towards me. It was time to head on. 

Grasmoor summit panorama west
My 'view of the day' - the Scafell range from Grasmoor summit
Northwest view over Solway from Grasmoor summit
 I reluctantly left Grasmoor, skirting Dove Crags to follow a path towards Coledale Hause.

Looking down towards Coledale Hause
The next 3 fells for today - from left to right: Hopegill Head, Sand Hill & Grisedale Pike
 A well trodden path leads from Coledale Hause northwards to Sand Hill and Hopegill Head.

Sand Hill summit view north to Hopegill Head
The view back to Grasmoor from Sand Hill
 Hopegill Head is an impressive rocky summit with commanding views over 3 valleys. The air was so clear today that the Isle of Man was clearly visible on the western horizon. 

Hopegill Head summit panorama West
Hopegill Head summit panorama East
The Isle of Man visible on the horizon from Hopegill Head summit
 Just one more summit to go now. Grisedale Pike dominates the eastern view and is the next objective.

Grisedale Pike's north face in shadow - from Hopegill Head
The approach to Grisedale Pike
 At this point of the walk I passed the first of several other fell walkers. Everyone I passed was smiling and passing comment on the perfect weather and amazing views. By the time I reached Grisedale Pike summit it was only 11:00 but there were still plenty people around. Most were looking tired, having toiled up the steep eastern path but were cheerfully soaking up the impressive panorama. This was the first summit where I had had any company since leaving the car yesterday. 

Grisedale Pike summit panorama South over the Coledale valley
Grisedale Pike summit panorama North over the Hobcarton valley
Outerside and Causey Pike (yesterdays first 2 fells) from Grisedale Pike summit
View south of the distant fells from Grisedale Pike summit - far left Pike O'Stickle, Bowfell in the middle and the Scafells far right
The magnificent Eastern panorama from Grisedale Pike showing the distant Skiddaw/Blencathra Massif, and the Helvellyn range over Derwent Water
A last look back towards Grasmoor and Crag Hill before descending
Skiddaw and Blencathra from Grisedale Pike
 The path down the eastern side of Grisedale Pike is steep, rocky and felt hard going with 13kgs in the rucksack. I seemed to be the only one heading down against a torrent of people marching upwards, all clearly wanting to take full advantage of the perfect weather. I even passed 2 mountain bikers who were carrying their bikes up the steep rocky terrain.

The path down the eastern flank of Grisedale Pike and over Sleet How
Bassenthwaite Lake
 The walk back to Braithwaite felt longer than it appeared on the map but the views towards Skiddaw and then Bassenthwaite Lake were adequate company.

Kit List

Tent : Tarptent Scarp 1 (1.36kg)

Mat : Exped Downmat UL 7LW (810g)
Sleeping Bag : Cumulus Prime 700 (1210g)
Stove : Primus Express Spider (198g)  + Gas Cart
Pans : Evernew Solo-set (250g)

Rucksack : Osprey Talon 44 (1.09kg)

Fluid : 2 x 1 litre Sigg Bottles (147g each empty) + Drinksafe systems travel tap (165g)
         : 200 mls milk, coffee
Food : Wayfayrer Tai Green Curry, Buttered Bread, Supernoodles,various sugary snacks.

Bits & Bobs : headtorch and spare batteries, Iphone + Anker 5800mHh battery, tent light,  

  victorinox knife, map & compass, basic first aid kit and Petzl e-lite, spork, various fold dry 
  bags, flint & steel, plastic trowel.
Camera : Sony DSC-HX5 & lowepro case.
Clothes : HH 'warm' base top & bottom, Sprayway all day rainpants (410g) , Rab  
  vapour-rise jacket (615g), , ME beany, Rab phantom grip gloves, sunglasses, goggles, Buff,  
  Bridgedale winter socks. Montane prism 2 jacket (423g) and Montane Superfly Jacket  
  (500g) both not used. Spare hat (lowe alpine mountain cap), spare gloves 
  (ME Mountain Mitt & Extremities tuff bags)
Boots : Meindl Softline (1180g)

Poles : Leki Makalu (544g pair) - used lots!

Ice Axe : Grivel Brenva (520g) - not used
Crampons : Grivel Monta-Rosa (800g) - not used

Loaded rucksack weight = aprox 13kgs

Closing Thoughts 

 This was a great hike in great weather. The unexpected high winds overnight were easily dealt with by the Scarp despite my initial sloppy pegging. Unfortunately I just cant sleep in high winds though. I use ear plugs but the tent noise just cuts through. Not sure what else I can do about that, perhaps sedation ;)  The rest of my kit performed well. The cumulus was warm & comfortable at -6 although I did need to keep my hat on all night. I kept the base layers & socks on so didn't use a liner. The mat is my 'luxury item'. I know its fairly heavy compared to some but it is very warm and comfortable and the extra width is welcome for a restless sleeper like me. 

Clothing wise, I am always amazed by the performance of the Rab VR. I never felt the need to add an extra layer and it breaths superbly. I simply left it on throughout the walk and never felt either hot, sweaty or cold. It is my 'go to' winter jacket. On this occasion the waterproof & insulated jacket were superfluous (except as a pillow). The Rab phantom grip gloves are also perfect for me. Having tried various types over the years I bought these having read a favorable review by Chris Townsend and I agree that the the polartec windpro material is an ideal balance between warmth, breathablility and wind resistance. I do tend to be a naturally warm handed bloke so they may not be warm enough for some. Sprayway all day rain pants may not be everyone's first choice for such a trip but they were great. My legs never felt cold or sweaty. I didn't really notice them at all, which is ideal. The Meindl Softline boots performed well as usual. I have has these for 2 years now and use them year round over rough terrain. Although they are rated B0, they are fairly stiff and I have used them many times with the flexible Grivel Monta-Rosa crampons without any hint of movement. They are very well padded and comfortable for me.

I took the drinksafe systems travel tap to save the weight of carrying more than a litre of water but the slow flow rate was frustrating. Having read some favourable reviews and comments on twitter of the sawyer filter, this might be my next investment.

Overall I could have gone lighter. The sleeping bag was perhaps excessive and indeed took up a considerable amount of rucksack space. I also have a Rab alpine 400 which would probably have been sufficient. The mat is also perhaps excessive but I'm not quite willing to give up that comfort yet. The Talon 44 was a comfortable carry and swallowed everything up well, although the tent needed to be strapped to the base.

The weather on day 2 was truly exceptional and I felt very lucky to have these majestic fells and amazing vistas all to myself for a few hours. I guess that's why we wild camp in the mountains. Its a feeling of having 'earned' the isolation and pristine views. 

That's it. Please leave any thoughts/comments/advice/suggestions and thanks for reading my inaugural blog entry.