Saturday, November 23, 2013

Clough Head, the 'Dodds' and a Wild Camp

Dates: 15th & 16th November 2013
Route: From Wanthwaite to Clough Head, along the Dodd's ridge route & back via Sticks Pass 
Wild Camp : Birkett Fell
Wainwright's: Clough Head, Great Dodd, Watson's Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Hart Side
Distance:15.6 miles (25.1 km)
Height Gained: 4300 feet (1310 meters)

The Route anticlockwise from Wanthwaite

 So I had a Friday booked off work and intended a 2 day jaunt to tackle the northern branch of Wainwright's Eastern fells. As is usual I watched the weather forecast intently over the preceding days and as is also usual I went anyway despite it looking fairly grim with lots of low cloud expected. I am always very envious of folk who can pick and choose the best days to head off to the fells but for me I have to book a week day off and then pray to the weather gods.

 I parked at Wanthwaite and headed off along the old coach road. After a short while a style appears over the dry stone wall on the right and a slightly obscure path meanders steeply up through the old quarry to emerge on the western flanks of Threlkeld Knotts.

The Old Coach Road

The path climbs up through the old quarry

Views back over Wanthwaite towards High Rigg and Low Rigg

 The summit of Threlkeld Knotts is well worth the short diversion from the main objective of Clough Head. There are fine views over to Blencathra and along the Keswick-Penrith valley. This is also a good vantage point to survey Clough Head which appears steep and impenetrable from this side but closer inspection reveals an indistinct path tracking diagonally upwards from left to right before emerging onto Bennesty Knott and the summit ridge. 

One of the large Cairns at Threlkeld Kotts looking West

Views over Threlkeld towards a shrouded Blencathra ...

.. and looking towards the steep north side of Clough Head, the diagonal ascent path is just visible on the right

Views from that diagonal path at Bennesty Knott

 From the top of Bennesty Knott its a short walk along the ridge to the summit of Clough Head. By the time I got there the cloud had descended and visibility was poor. Unfortunately it stayed that way for the rest of the day. 

Clough Head summit

 From Clough Head a good path leads south to Calfhow Pike before plodding steadily upwards to Great Dodd. I would imagine the panorama from here is excellent but I had use my imagination today.

Calfhow Pike

looking back northwards from Calfhow Pike summit

Great Dodd summit and a Raven

Watson's Dodd summit - the clag continues

 The path then continues to snake its way southwards taking in Watson's Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd. I then descended eastwards towards Hart Side and then Birkett Fell before looking for a suitable spot to make camp. By this time the wind had got up and I was thankful to find a dry stone wall on the east side of Birkett Fell which looked like a great wind break. It was only after following the wall downhill looking for a suitably flat area that I got back below the cloud level again.

 Initially the tent was sheltered from the wind but in the early hours it must have changed direction and increased in strength. The noise levels got up and despite ear plugs I got very little sleep afterwards. Next time I really must remember the Whiskey! 

 The twitter chatter that evening suggested that there might be the chance of a cloud inversion the following morning and so it was with some excitement that I unzipped the tent door at 6am to see what awaited. Alas, no inversion but I could see the silhouette of surrounding fells and as the sky lightened I could see that the cloud base was well above the summits. Even Helvellyn was visible. The wind was still gusting strongly though despite being on the lee side of Birkett Fell. A change of plan was in order. I had initially intended to walk along to Sheffield Pike and then return via Dowthwaitehead and the old coach road but feeling somewhat robbed of summit views yesterday I decided to retrace my steps to Great Dodd and then take a longer route back via Matterdale Common.

A reddening sky the next morning


views from the wall near my camp site towards Ullswater

Birkett Fell summit

Birkett Fell looking towards Ullswater

 By the time I walked back up to Birkett Fell summit it became evident that the wind was going to be a torment. I battled against a fierce headwind back up to Hart Side and then along to White Stones.

Hart Side summit at sunrise

Hart Side summit looking towards White Stones and Strybarrow Dodd

White Stones summit looking over Sheffield Pike towards Place Fell and beyond

White Stones summit looking towards Raise and Catstye Cam

White Stones summit looking towards Stybarrow Dodd and Great Dodd

 By the time I got up to Stybarrow Dodd I was struggling to keep balance due to the constant buffeting. I therefore beat a hasty retreat down to Sticks Pass and descended to Legburthwaite before walking the last few miles along the road to the car at Wanthwaite.

Stybarrow Dodd summit looking south towards Raise

Stybarrow Dodd summit plateau looking north towards Watson's Dodd & Great Dodd

Descending Sticks Pass

Looking back up Stanah Gill to Stybarrow and Watson's Dodds

Looking down over Great How and Thirlmere

Views towards Skiddaw from Sticks Pass
Wanthwaite Crags on Clough Head

 So a challenging 2 days in the fells. Following the all day clag on Friday at least I managed some good views from Stybarrow Dodd and a great sunrise on Saturday. Not many eastern fells left now and I reckon I can polish them off over 2 further day hikes which I will hopefully do before the end of the year.

Kit List

Shelter : Tarptent Scarp 1 (1.3kgs)
Mat : Exped SynMat7 UL LW (595g)   
Sleeping Bag : Rab Alpine 400 (970g)    
Stove : High Gear Blaze titanium stove (48g)  + Primus 100g Gas Cart   
Pans : Evernew Solo-set (250g)
Rucksack : Osprey Talon 44 (1.18kg) 

Trekking Poles : Black Diamond trail compact (488g pair)
Fluid : Deuter Streamer 2lt Bladder (185g) and 600ml Sigg bottle (100g empty) + Sawyer Squeeze filter (84g), 100 mls milk, coffee  
Food : Wayfayrer Tai Green Curry, Buttered Bread, Supernoodles,various sugary snacks.
Bits & Bobs : headtorch and spare batteries, Iphone + Anker 5800mHh battery,  victorinox knife, map & compass, basic first aid kit and Petzl e-lite, spork, various fold dry bags, flint & steel, plastic trowel.  

Camera : Panasonic DMC-LX7 & lowepro case.  
Clothes : Ron Hill wicking T-Shirt, Rab 100 wt fleece (250g), Montane Lightspeed windproof jacket (160g), Montane Prism 2 insulated jacket (423g), ME beany, TNF 'E Tip' gloves, sunglasses, Buff, Bridgedale socks & spare Sealskinz socks.  Hard Shell = Mountain Equipment Firefox jacket (320g) and trousers (259g) not used.
Trail Shoes : Meindl Respond GTX (820g pair) .

 Stand out pieces of kit (apart from the brilliant Scarp tent) were the Montane Prism 2 jacket which kept me warm and comfortable in the cold winds and also the TNF 'E Tip' gloves which won't win any awards for durability but kept my hands warm without having to continually take them off to use the touch screen phone. In the future, all gloves will be like this !


  1. Just found this via Google, Steve. I'm looking to camp near Birkett Fell next week.

    1. It's a nice spot David. Plenty of flat grassy areas and if the wind gets up that dry stone wall runs right up the south eastern side to the summit. If this great weather holds you should have a fine camp. Is Moss going with you ?

  2. He is indeed. Seem to think there is a stream nearby for water?

    1. There is a small beck on the northern side of Birkett Fell but I'm not sure how it will be fairing in this dry weather. You might have to descend somewhat until it appears. Lovely views over Ulswater though. Enjoy !