Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Saddleback or Blencathra. Sharp Edge Traverse. Lake District.

David contemplating Sharp Edge on Blencathra. ( I had intended to post another Glasgow walk next but changed my mind as this will be easier and quicker.) With a poor forecast of wind and rain for Scotland we decided to head to the Lake District on Sunday where it was predicted to be sunny but still windy. We left Glasgow at 7:00am from Alex's house (or gaff) and motored down with a full carload to do Saddleback (or Blencathra) on OS maps, which sounds Welsh and is one of the Brythonic (or ancient Celtic Briton) languages which gave Cumbria its name. "Saddleback" (the shape of the mountain) and "Lake District" are modern inventions, probably Victorian,who had a habit of changing everything around to suit their own tastes. Cumbric, which was spoken throughout this district before English took hold, and Blencathra date right back to the middle ages presumably and some of the mountain names here and in Scotland can trace their origins back even further than that into pre-history. After all, iconic mountains would be important landmarks for hunter gatherers- turn left at (name of mountain) and you will find... deer... my village... water and shelter in trees. It would be important to name them all for easy navigation and finding food if nothing else in the days before roads and proper tracks through them. Much better than... turn left at first high lump, right at second high lump...
We parked at Scales next to the White Horse pub after the usual brief hunt for a free car parking space then quickly made our way, via Mousthwaite Comb to Scales Tarn, seen above. Although a brilliant sunny day it was blowing a gale up on the ridges so Graeme and David opted to go up the normal path rather than Sharp Edge as a few folk had already turned back due to the wind strength on the arête.

Alex and I carried on and were soon established at the start of the route. It's only a grade one scramble but that's hard enough nowadays given our advanced years and the conditions on the day.
Being the Lake District we were not alone and a steady stream of people joined us for this famous ridge walk along the knife edged arête. A lot of folk I know turn their noses up at the Lakes for being too busy during the summer months but I just enjoy the novelty of being down here and the crowds are excellent for photography. We also had some good conversations with folk from Liverpool, Manchester, Bolton, and elsewhere in England.
Walkers crossing the pinnacles. You could avoid these, and the worst of the wind, by several paths snaking under them. In truth,with the enormous popularity of hillwalking nowadays very few really committing arêtes remain on the British mainland mountains and you can usually find an alternative path around any obstacles on ridges.

Looking down the ridge at a stream of fellow hill walkers coming up behind. It was a short route but highly enjoyable.
To reach the flat plateau above you had to cross an inclined slab, seen here in the photo above. (or go up a gully)
This was good fun as well and fairly easy scrambling although highly polished with generations of feet rubbing the edges smooth. Sharp Edge would be a different proposition in wet weather or in full winter conditions when it would be quite sporting and have an alpine feel.
We re-joined Graeme and David on the main path up to the summit of Blencathra. There were walkers appearing everywhere we looked but they made good models set against stunning backdrops of mountains. I'm always impressed by the Lake District peaks as they manage to pack in a great deal of variety into a small area.
A view across in the direction of the Derwent Fells District from Knowe Crags.
Graeme descending the summit of Blencathra, (or Saddleback) busy on his mobile phone. An essential business call in his case but I've lost count of the number of times I've seen people using devices like iPods, smart phones, various games etc. outdoors. Many have music playing on headphones while walking, cycling, or running along country lanes, completely indifferent to the birdsong and the sheer aural glory of spring time or range of things they are missing, including cars, pedestrians or other bikes coming up fast behind them. Any children I know switch on computers or phones as soon as they jump into cars and would rather watch a film or talk to friends than see what's actually happening around them outside. It does seem at times as if we are already dependant, connected, and fully plugged in (like the Borg in Star Trek) to our self created cyber world. The disturbing thing is... we don't seem to miss our past lives much when we communed with nature in a simpler fashion without all the extra interference we have now.
On a similar topic many times during the past decade on urban walks I've noticed girls in dodgy areas walking or jogging along with headphones covering their ears, (like deserted canals or river banks near cities) when it seems prudent to be aware of what's around you as a matter of basic common sense. (From a childhood spent outdoors in the schemes I look behind me instinctively in these places as a perfectly natural defensive gesture as I like to be aware or what's going on behind me in deserted urban areas but this too seems to be an outdated but important learning skill these days.) Ironically, group events in the outdoors seem to be a growing trend which I have mixed views on as they seem to promote and suggest that nature is there be used... as just  another commodity to be exploited for profit... that can be switched on and off at will.
A couple of folk approaching up another ridge.
Looking down from the summit at the ridge on Hallsfell Top (I think) which looked another fine way up. With the wind on these peaks I didn't get the map out much until I was well down the hillside again.

We returned via Bannerdale Crags which gave us a view looking across at Sharp Edge from the opposite, north side where it looked very impressive.
Walkers on the pinnacle section of Sharp Edge. We returned via White Horse Bent (a steep sloping hillside) and everyone agreed it had been a cracking trip for £9 quid each in petrol money. I like the Lakes!

On the subject of mass public events a recent cycle along the canal bank to pick up a couple of cheap  OS maps at Go Outdoors in Clydebank had me shocked and astonished at this. Overflowing bins all along the Forth and Clyde canal from the city centre to Loch Lomond. I'm used to litter everywhere as everyone in Europe knows the UK to be a throwaway country with a long history of paper and garbage strewn streets ( it's one of the most common complaints from tourists abroad visiting Britain) but this was on an epic scale. I'd never seen it as bad as this before on the canal.
  Every single bin was overflowing with rubbish but I soon noticed it was all used oranges and empty bottled water containers of the same brand... a sure giveaway that some sort of sponsored charity event had taken place. I'm not going to name the event as they probably raised a lot of money for a good cause but events like this seem to be on the rise in recent years and I have mixed views about them. They encourage hundreds of people who wouldn't normally be in the outdoors to visit a certain area en mass and if it's raining or saturated ground that number of folk on muddy long distance walks say, can totally trash the path by sheer numbers marching along sensitive corridors at one time. I have witnessed this happening on several sodden paths during poor weather when the difference between a grassy trail (before) and a mud filled trench (afterwards) was very apparent. In this case nobody seemed to be clearing up the mess left afterwards and it was still lying here in every bin along the cycle track three days later (I did check on another run into Dumbarton as I'm bike training at the moment) which would not give any tourists passing by a very good impression of the area.
  As spring was at its height then hundreds of folk on bikes and on foot were passing these bins daily. Not a good advert for the Commonwealth Games 2014. Just a thought. As I haven't been back on the cycle track since then (around a month ago) some of the rubbish may still be there, having been scattered around by birds, rats and foxes. Who knows, but it sums up why I have mixed views about mass events of this kind.


Neil said...

Are you putting in a bid to buy Blencathra now Bob? It's a nice mountain- I've never done Sharp Edge but the ridge straight up from the road is also good. Not quite so much scrambling but enough to keep it interesting.

blueskyscotland said...

I've got enough problems just scraping together a tank of petrol these days Neil. Yeah, it's a nice ridge. Maybe the new owner will put a turnstile on it and charge folk an access fee for the scramble.

Carol said...

Hallsfell is a brilliant route up but not in wet weather as you can't grip the wet rock even with your hands then!

I've been down Foule Crag to the edge but won't do Sharp Edge itself as it's too sloping and polished and I see how many people fall off it every year (usually from those bypass paths) in the mountain rescue books :-o

Great photos.

Kay G. said...

Now that is what I call some real mountain climbing. Wow.
I just received a post-card from Great Gable from Lingmell (from a blogging friend who lives in Liverpool who used to love to hike there).
Something is telling me to get over there!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
years ago I came down Sharp Edge in the rain and it was very polished in places and quite tricky. Couldn't do that nowadays as I feel more and more like the Michelin Man(remember Him?) with creaking knees, stiff limbs and a big belly to push over any scrambling sections.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
I'm a shadow of my former self in the adventure category as even ten to fifteen years ago I was still rock climbing, backpacking around Europe and potholing. Given up all that now for the slippers and deck chair life.
The Lake District is a fantastic area and I'm sure you would enjoy it but it is VERY popular in the summer months which puts many folk off as it is hard to park for free then and car parks can be up to £10 pounds a day. That's not a problem if you are not hiring a car though and it has a decent bus service to get around. There is so much to see there with lower level walks and quaint villages to explore that it's just as pretty in light rain or in winter and a lot quieter.

Carol said...

I remember all the lorry drivers having Michelin men on the front of their lorries! I can't imagine you quite looking like that somehow ;-)

I found Sharp Edge too polished in dry weather. Wouldn't fancy it in high winds either - don't blame your friends who went round instead.

The Glebe Blog said...

Now there's a coincidence Bob. During our week in Wales one night we watched a slideshow of our ladies climbing Blencathra last October.They too went up the normal path. I met them in the Horse and Farrier in Threlkeld after they'd climbed down, how's that for timing ! I've no doubt we'll be back in the lakes later this year.

You got some great craggy top pictures on your climb.