Sun and Safety
Published 15 May 2016
After my last blog one of Julie’s friends asked if fell walking was dangerous. The answer is yes, just like crossing the road, boiling a kettle or climbing the stairs.
When you are on the open fells nobody will tell you where you can or cannot go; there are very few signposts, no warnings of deep water or fences to prevent you walking off a cliff. You are very much on your own so you must be properly prepared and equipped. The Guardian published a report in April 2016 suggesting there were 535 incidents the previous year; including 30 deaths, either through injury or medical incident.
Good preparation – stay safe
Before any walk do your homework. There are thousands of books on fell walking and the internet has many guides and reports on specific walks. If possible compare different reports because one person’s ‘easy’ may not coincide with your own definition. In particular are there any very steep areas or will you have to walk on narrow ledges? It helps if you know someone who has already done the walk.
Buy the correct map, like most people I use the Ordnance Survey OS Explorer 1:25,000 scale maps. Learn how to read it and how to use it with a compass. Print out, copy or write down any route instructions you can find.
How far will the walk be and how long will it take? Distance alone will not give you the full picture as uphill sections and/or rough paths will take much longer than good quality level paths. Plan your route and monitor your progress as you walk. Before and during the walk consider what your options will be should your progress be less than expected. What, if anything, are your bail-out choices?
Let someone know where you are going. Most hotels and hostels maintain a book where you can register your planned journey and they will raise an alert if you don’t come home.
Make sure all members of the party are fit enough for the full walk and a fair bit more. Heavy going, backtracking or bad weather will all sap your energy. Check the weather forecasts beforehand; most walking areas will have local reports and I use http://www.lakedistrictweatherline.co.uk/ In hilly regions the conditions can change quickly and vary from one hill top to another. Many times we have walked in rain only to see sunshine on the next range.
In future blogs I will give more detail on suggested clothing and equipment but before I report on this week’s walks can I give a warning on mobile phones. If you have a phone then take it and make sure the battery is fully charged. If you have a signal it can provide contact, emergency or otherwise. It may also give you mapping, your current location and height. However, please be warned, in many remote or hilly areas finding a signal can be difficult and there will be whole days when you get no signal at all.
05 and 09 May; Red Pike (Buttermere), High Stile, High Crag and Seat
On the first day I set out from Ennerdale in rain to climb Red Pike from where I hoped to walk the ridge to High Stile. After an hour the rain eased to a drizzle but as I climbed I went into cloud. Visibility was down to a few yards but fortunately my instructions were good and I found the summit shelter. I knew that beautiful Buttermere was below me but I could not see a thing. More worryingly with no previous experience of that ridge I had little confidence of finding my way to High Stile and back. I returned to the car planning my next attempt.
What a difference four days can make. The weather improved dramatically that weekend and early on the following Monday I drove to Buttermere, parking at Gatesgarth Farm. My plan was to walk up Warnscale Bottom and then follow the ridge over Seat and High Crag to High Stile. Conditions were perfect and as I crossed the valley I looked up at the direct route up to High Stile, across and around Burtness Comb. I thought ‘I can do that’ and I did. The path was steep at times with a couple of demanding rocky outcrops but exhilarating on a fine dry day. I would not however attempt that climb in wet or misty conditions.
After reaching the top the walk along the ridge to the other peaks was wonderful with fantastic views. Definitely one of the best two walks I have done this year.
07 May; Looking Stead and Kirk Fell circuit
Regular followers may remember that Julie and I bailed out of this round at the first attempt although I did it alone a week or so later. Julie was keen to complete the circuit so we set off on another sunny morning. We made good time reaching the Black Sail Pass and after considering climbing Pillar we settled for lunch on Looking Stead with its good views of Pillar Rock and Ennerdale.
After lunch we followed the rough path round the north of Kirk Fell to Beck Head and then down the Moses Trod path to Wasdale Head. This followed the side of Great Gable and was a narrow ledge built through the scree with quite a few loose areas. Julie was not the only walker that day who felt very unsafe on that stretch.
12 May; Scoat Fell, Steeple and Red Pike (Wasdale)
I followed Nether Beck from Wastwater and cut up the fell on a feint path to Scoat Tarn. From there I climbed a grassy slope which brought me to the rock strewn summit of Scoat Fell. The highest point is bisected by a long wall so someone has built a cairn on top of the wall.
Scoat Fell on its own is fairly unremarkable but attached to the side by a narrow col is Steeple which is another Wainwright. Given the stiff breeze and a lack of other walkers I was a little anxious about making the crossing but Scoat Fell provided some shelter from the breeze and the narrow path was dry underfoot.
The walk to and over Red Pike provided me with excellent views of Mosedale and the surrounding fells. I dropped down to Low Tarn and then back to Nether Beck where I spent some time by the beautiful waterfalls before returning to my car.