Saturday, 15 January 2011

Ullscarf aborted

 Walk Statistics
Walk Date - 15 January 2011
Walkers - Steve Smith, Clive Kirk
Start Point - Dobgill car park (GR NY3159114007)
Start Time - 11:10
Finish Point - Dobgill car park (GR NY3159114007)
Finish Time - 15:45
Duration - 4hrs 35mins
Average pace - 0.74mph
Distance Walked - 3.38miles
Height ascended - 457.17metres

Peaks visited
Intended to visit several peaks including Ullscarf, however conditions actually compromise the decision making process, resulting in disorientation on the fell and severe reduction  in planned pace.
Although no peaks visited on this walk I have included as part of the English Nuttall Peak Bagging blog because there will always be walks that change from the plan. What is important is that the ultimate decisions are always based on safety. 
Nuttalls (253)
Hewitts (178)
Wainwrights (214)
Birketts (541)


Click on photograph to view slide-show
Only 5 photos taken with gap between 11:30am and 14:15pm giving credence to the paradigm - number of photographs taken is directly proportion to the difficulty of prevailing conditions.

Walk Description
The clue to what happened on this walk is in the title.
This was our first day so we were both keen to get out for our first walk even though it was raining heavy with strong winds. A group of mountain bikers were sharing the bunkhouse for the weekend with the intention of biking up Helvelyn. As a compromise to the weather they decided to walk.
Our compromise was to shorten one of the planned walks and just walk the southern part of the planned Borrowdale Fells (East) walk, that way we would still bag some Nuttalls but not be stuck out too long. I know from last September on Grisedale how the wind strengthens higher up and this time we had winter weather to contend with.
We arrived at Dobgill car park about 11am and found that we would not be alone on the fells today. Two lads got out of their transit van with big smiles on their faces and massive back packs telling us they intended to camp out for the night after their walk. I exchanged glances with Clive and knew he was thinking the same as me – “they must be mad” I even reassured him that it could be worse; he could have been mates with one of these two instead of me.
After making sure our backpacks were tight and our waterproofs sealed we set off for the footpath at the back of the car park, through the stile and into Dobgill Wood. Despite the thick coverage provided by the pine trees there was still plenty of water getting through to ground level and after puffing and panting up our first ascent realised that our waterproofs would have to be good if we were going to stay dry. By the time we reached Dobgill waterfall I was already overheating and decided to take off one of my layers so that the sweat did not breach the waterproofing from the inside. This meant I only had 3 layers on, a stay cool base layer, and a berghaus coat with interactive fleece. To be honest, as long as you keep moving, this is all you need, even in winter when you reach the tops and the temperature hovers around freezing. Just remember to don the extra layer if you stop for any length of time.
The falls were a raging torrent and as we stopped took advantage of a rare photo opportunity. Good job we did as this was the only chance we would get until we were down from the fell at the end of the day.
We continued the ascent up the well marked footpath and was then greeted by Harrop Tarn opening up in front of us. It was in this open space we felt the full force of the rain beating down, but at least it was easy walking along the forest track. Unfortunately this did not last long as the volume of water coming down one of the streams was too much to fit through the pipe under the road and was overflowing across the road for about 20 yards. Tracking into the wood allowed us to scramble across the stream where it had cut into the forest floor then track back to the forest track. It was here the two lads from the car park appeared with what must have been 60lb packs, no head gear but army surplus capes that doubled up as ground sheets. We stopped for a chat and they were still committed to camping out for the night. They went into the woods to dump their packs and lighten the load and we carried on up the forest track.
The next river crossing however was too fast to risk crossing, so we backtracked to a marked footpath which required a steeper climb but also tracked along and around the river we could not cross. This path took us to the forest boundary fence and stile of Dobgill Wood and it was here we first felt the full force of the day’s weather. Not only was the rain just as heavy but we were also feeling the full force of wind coming down the gill valley from the fell top.
In conditions like this it is important to get out of the weather and refer to the map and make sure you make the right decision about which direction to take.
Instead we both donned ski-goggles with the intention of walking into the rain but the wind was so strong we quickly decided to stay low keep out of the wind and head east on the lower part of the walk leaving the ridge walking to the end with the wind behind us.
This was the decision that caused us to later abort the attempt to reach Ullscarf top although at the time we did not know this to be the case. As it turned out it was better to do this than to press on to the higher levels in these conditions.
We crossed both feeder streams to Mosshause Gill and even this was difficult with the amount of water draining off the fells. On the other side we headed south for the west end of Tarn Crags but with the zigzagging and contouring we did to avoid the strengthening wind as we gained height somehow managed to lose our bearings thinking we were heading towards Standing Crag.
Having reached what we thought was Standing Crag top I noticed a higher top to the east, clearly we were not on Standing Crag but certainly we were in the wind. This combined with the heavy rain made it very difficult to keep standing and it was only after a few paces in the direction of Ullscarf with the rain stinging our faces and visibility ahead restricted to about 300m that we decided to call it a day. It had taken 2 hours to get this far and all we could see ahead were cloud and increasing snow cover on the ground. Clearly it was not going to get any easier so the only sensible decision was to head home.
In the confusion caused by the wind I mistakenly made our position to be in the valley between Standing Crag and the Ullscarf Ridge. The higher top to the east was therefore Standing Crag and that was going to be a top to visit on the way home. At least we would bag one peak. As we turned away from the wind and headed for the new top the wind was now behind us and apart from watching were we put our feet the going was a lot easier and we soon reached what we thought was the highest point.
The wind was even stronger so we pressed on without any ceremony at the top and started to head down. At this height we could not see Dobgill Wood due to cloud but knew it was on a northerly direction. The problem was in this direction there looked to be a sheer drop over a crag.
With this in mind we kept a careful eye for continuous ground and if anything looked like it was leading to a sheer drop we contoured further to the east to avoid any problems. Taking this approach we soon descended below the cloud line and it revealed a gully with a fast flowing stream. Keeping the gully in sight on our right we continued lower where we were confronted with a slab of rock which in dry conditions would have been the route down. In strong winds we would have been blown off it and further more with the rain it was like a sheet of ice sloping downwards. We therefore continued round the slab which led to a dead end and a drop of about 15ft. Too far to climb down safely without a rope, so we had no alternative but to head back up to the top of the slab. It did not look any safer going down here but the alternative was to go back up into the wind and find another route down. I decided to take off my back pack and slide down the slab crab style using a rock face to the side to hold onto, this must have gone on for about 30ft but at the bottom was a grassy ledge which led to a stream. Clive passed down the back packs and came down the slab in a similar style with me providing footholds for him with my hands. Somehow my backpack came loose and slid over the ledge and disappeared. Well at least I could check out a route down without a pack on my back. It had become lodged in a tree top about 40ft down which I was able to recover but not find a route down.
Returning to Clive and the grassy ledge we contoured along it and crossed the stream. From here we could see a grassy route to the bottom and with care we was down to the perimeter fence of Dobgill Wood further round and due west of Harrop Tarn. I even had time to take a photo of the route we had just decended, one of only 2 sets of shots taken today.
We headed for the Tarn and then followed it round to the north where we came across a fast flowing stream which was further downstream from where we had been forced back earlier in the day. Tracking upstream did not reveal a suitable crossing point and downstream towards the Tarn was similar. What we did find was a fallen tree across the stream which had too many branches to shin across.
On the other side of the stream we could see the forest track that would take us back to Harrop Tarn and then the car park. I said to Clive; “If we cross here we are home and dry!” So I stepped into the stream using the log for support and got ¾ way across without any problems. It was the last ¼ where the water flowed fastest and therefore where the stream was deepest. I went from knee deep to waist deep but managed to pull myself up onto the bank on the other side.
We looked at each other and with no further ado Clive stepped into the stream. He saw me struggle at the deep part so was ready for it, but it was still stronger than he expected and at waist deep was using the log for support and with a bit of help from me dragging him onto the bank, was across.
We were both soaked but pleased to be across. Although the water was cold we did not feel cold and headed back to the car which was only about 15 minutes away.
Definitely the right decision to cross the stream and be home in daylight rather than to head up stream and uphill to find a dryer crossing point taking an extra hour or more.
We got back to the bunkhouse hoping to get in the showers before the cyclists returned from Helvelyn. The bunkhouse was empty but they had been back ages the wind really was strong on the higher top and they turned back themselves.
A great day and an adventure again, no danger as long as you respect the conditions the only complaint was that although we were “home” we was not “dry”. The lesson of the day is that in these conditions it does not take long to lose your bearings so if in doubt head down and err on the side of caution. As it was we did not bag any peaks because we never got close to Standing Crag.

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