Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Yewbarrows

Walk Statistics
Walk Date - 19 June 2011
Walkers - Steve Smith
Start Point - Wasdale NT Campsite (GR NY18354 07632)
Start Time - 11:25
Finish Point - Wasdale NT Campsite (GR NY18354 07632)
Finish Time - 18:17
Duration - 6hrs 52mins
Average pace - 1.33mph
Distance Walked - 9.12miles
Height Ascended - 1214.42metres

Peaks visited
Nuttalls (253)
Yewbarrow (190)
Yewbarrow North Top (191)
Hewitts (178)
Yewbarrow (137)
Yewbarrow North Top (138)
Wainwrights (214)
Yewbarrow (116)
Birketts (541)
Yewbarrow (204)
Yewbarrow North Top (205)
HuMPs (444)
Yewbarrow (70)

Other walks on this trip
15th Kentmere Horseshoe & Sledale Fells
17th Buttermere to Wasdale
19th The Yewbarrows
21st The Coniston Fells


Looking down at Bowderdale & Wast Water from "footpath" at top of scramble up Great Door on north side of Bell Rib.
Click on photograph to view slide-show
Walk Description
Review of trip objectives
I knew the walk on Friday from Buttermere to Wasdale carrying 70lb over the Black Sail Pass had tired me out, that was why I abandoned the idea to visit the Yewbarrows on Friday afternoon after setting up base camp at Wasdale National Trust campsite. The fall back plan was to remain on schedule by incorporating the Yewbarrows with the Haycock/Seat Allen group of mountains on Saturday.

However my body had another idea. It did not trust me to make the correct decision so decided to stay asleep until 3pm on Saturday afternoon, thereby taking the decision to rest out of my hands. That was a 17 hour sleep from 10pm on the Friday night.

It therefore finally dawned on even me that I was not going to achieve all of the walk objectives of visiting all outstanding unvisited peaks in the Western and Southern Fells as set out in the trip plan June 2011 - Buttermere to Coniston & Kentmere Horseshoe. The next best plan was to make an early start on Sunday and at least complete the Yewbarrows with the Haycock, Seat Allen, Iron Crag, Little Gowder Crag & Caw Fell.

Unfortunately after an extremely sociable Saturday night in the Wasdale Head Inn with three guys, Dave, Paul and Aidey from Coventry the early start gave way to nursing a hangover, but still managing to set off 'well' before midday at 11:25. This in itself should not be a problem as it is at least in the middle of June with the long days. Nine hours should be plenty and still arrive back well within daylight hours.

Successful completion of Yewbarrows and first part of walk
Although the weather was dry the cloud cover was very low. Walking down the road from Wasdale Head towards Over Beck Bridge car park I could see all the peaks including Illgill Head, The Scafells and more importantly the Yewbarrows, first destination of today’s walk, shrouded in thick dark cloud.

No problem it has been like this on the other two walking days of this trip. As the road starts to drop along the edge of Wast Water take the first and only footpath that contours around the southern end of Yewbarrow until you reach the stile that takes you to Over Beck. Ignore this stile and turn north to cross the wall that follows the lower part of the ridge up Yewbarrow. There is a path on both sides of the wall but I chose the northern side as it heads to Great Door sooner and saves a few yards of extra walking.

Walking along the wall you head straight for Bell Rib, from here it looks quite a scramble but as the map shows the path drifting round to the north towards Dropping Crag and up along Great Door this will not be a problem. Once the path leaves the wall and passes Dropping Crag the rate of ascent increases sharply and several views back shows Wast Water further and further away below. Looking ahead to Great Door looks like a fairly tough scramble and unusually it does not appear to be easier as you get closer. At the bottom of the crag and after a moment’s thought about the best route I abandon the trekking poles and concentrate on keeping three of my four limbs on the rock at any one time. It is a fairly tough scramble made worse by the rock being slippery due to the onset of rain.

Again looking back I realise how much I have had to climb and looking forward you see you have another similar scramble to ascend. Again this was tackled with extra care due to the slippery rock and it occurred to me this is one of the toughest scrambles I had attempted to date. Half way up on the left side I decided the right side from here was better so traverse across the crag was slightly more than I was comfortable but again making sure you have a good grip and firm footing without overstretching ensures you remain safe. Again always keeping three items in touch with the rock.  Extra care when alone is of paramount importance, as a slip here could at the very least end up with a sprained joint or worse still broken limb. Finally I reach the top and the 60° - 70° rocky climb is replaced by a manageable 45° path through grass. Straight ahead is another crag but fortunately, after checking the compass turns out to be Bell Rib, which on a cloudy wet day like today will not bother climbing.

I press on NNE towards Bull Crag which itself seems to drop away sharply to the right but now visibility is down to about 50m the full impact of the drop is not appreciated. That is no excuse to relax however especially as the rain continues to keep the rocks slippery. Eventually I see a cairn appearing through the mist with a further climb without interim descent disqualifying the cairn as a possible top. After a further 10 minutes the cairn marking the top appears through the mist and after a quick photo press on towards the next peak - Yewbarrow North Top. Once again this trip I am above 2000ft and having to rely on following the path with no views limited by the cloud. 15 minutes later I reach the next cairn and take photos which confirm it is Yewbarrow North Top.

After more photos I approach the top of Stirrup Crag with some trepidation. Apart from the fact I could not see any neighbouring fells or valley floors because of the clouds I remember avoiding the Yewbarrow ridge at the end of completing the Mosedale Horseshoe back in September 2009, descending instead into Wasdale Head via the precarious Dore Head Screes. At that the end of a long hard day I felt too tired. I had a lot less experience and just did not fancy or like the look of Stirrup Crag. At that time it was therefore the correct decision. As usual there was a safe way down and of course a safe way up. You just had to carefully assess the options and take care not to choose a route that took you to a steep drop. As it was I applied a new rule which was keep 4 out of 5 items touching the rock, which included 3 of your 4 limbs plus your backside.

After eventually getting down and resting for a lunch snack of flap jack, hardboiled egg  and pilchards at the top of Door Head Screes I thought back to a question I had been asked the night before by the Coventry lads. “What was your hardest walk?” I think after today I would have said the Yewbarrows. Even without the cloud and rain the ridge is protected each end by one of the toughest scrambles I have experience so far. I am sure the ascent Door Gate is an equally tough descentjust as the descent down Stirrup Cragis an equally tough ascent.

Becoming disoriented and eventually lost
Anyway the first two peaks of the day had been achieved in good time so after lunch I set off from Door Head for Red Pike (Wasdale) intending to find the wall near Scoat Fell and follow it to Haycock. No difficult crags but a steep ascent up a well marked path brought me to what I think was the top and cairn of Red Pike. I am not claiming it as a visit because the photo I took in the cloud did not really look like the top I visited back in September 2009 in much better conditions. So I pressed on for Scoat fell keeping the drop to my right expecting to come across Scoat Fell and the wall just beyond that I would follow to Haycock.

I did meet one other walker going the other way wearing just a short sleeved tee shirt compared to my long sleeved Helly Hanson base layer, light weight mid layer and Berghaus shell. “Not many people about” he said. “Apart from a couple of lunatics” I replied. I hope he appreciated my sense of humour. It was not long after this my first feelings of disorientation began. I had not counted out paces but after what I thought was a adequate distance I started looking for the cairn on Scoat Fell and the wall just beyond. Peering through the mist nothing appeared and after even further I was getting concerned I may have missed it and be heading for Steeple whose approach included, from memory, a small arĂȘte. However before that I should see a cairn on a wall heading north marking the ex-Nuttall of Middle Scoat Fell. Suddenly out of the mist a cairn appeared ahead and to my left. At last I thought here is Scoat Fell. Reaching the cairn I could not find the wall so took a bearing to head north west and counted out paces on this bearing to find the wall. After 100 paces there was no wall so I walked on a reverse bearing to return to the cairn which I successfully achieved. At this point I was somewhat concerned and for the first time ever I checked my mobile in case I had to make a call later. No Signal. Decision made making a call will not be an option. Also at this point about 15:50 I decided the priority was to get home rather than the next peak.

By now I am really disorientated my compass bearings do not seem to make sense and I cannot orientate my map to correspond to the ridge line - the compass seems to be about 90° out. Looking at the map now and reconciling with what I remember it seems I was at Pillar - Black Crag rather than Scoat Fell. I had walked too far keeping the drop to my right and missed Scoat Fell all together eventually coming across Pillar - Black Crag. The most reasonable heading to make was south east from the cairn then follow the path keeping the drop to my right until I came to Red Pike. This was a reasonable plan if I was on Scoat Fell, but because I was at Pillar - Black Crag and because visibility was at a minimum I convinced myself to head right until I found the drop to my right. However after making a steep climb up a rocky path with crags that I did not recognise I determined that I was not heading to Red Pike. I rechecked my compass and wandered south until I came to a drop, then headed north until I came to another drop establishing that I was on an east - west ridge. The only ridge that this could be was between Black Crag and Pillar but if this was true how come I did not come across Wind Gap. Answer?:- Because I was not looking for it. There was also a possibility it could be the ridge to Haycock, but if it was where was the wall.

Having decided I was on the Pillar ridge and that I did not want to end up on the vast plateau of Pillar in poor visibility I decided to head back in the direction I had come from (again) and look out really carefully for the path on Wind Gap. I was really concerned as visibility was not improving, it seemed to be getting darker, even though it was only 4:30pm and I did not have my bivvy bag with me to stay out all night. After walking downhill and scrambling down a couple of rocky bits I looked to my left and saw the faint site of a silver stream way off to my left between the clouds. I looked at my map to compare what I saw with Mosedale on the map but by the time I had my map orientated the cloud had cleared giving me a clear view of the valley, then just as quickly the cloud closed in again. It certainly looked like Mosedale Beck but I could not be sure. I therefore continued downhill and when I reached the col thought I saw screes off to my left that could have been the path into Mosedale. The visibility was not any better seeing only cloud ahead of me and to the left. Referring to my compass clearly showed downhill was south(ish) so I decided to head down hill and even if it was not in to Mosedale I would be safe below the cloud line and most importantly in good visibility where I could get my bearings and head for a main road or even household. Even if I was in the wrong valley, I would be safe and avoid the need to call out Mountain Rescue.

The cloud did take time to clear as I descended but after what seemed an age but was only less than 5 minutes a silver line began to re-appear and a wall heading off far below at right angles, Descending a little lower the cloud cleared below completely, though there was still a canopy just above me, and I could see the trees at the end of the Beck that was obviously Wasdale Head along with the silver stream which was Wasdale and another smaller stream joining it from the left. It was Gatherstone Beck.

At last, I new where I was and was safe. For a brief moment I considered going back up the screes and heading for Haycock. This was only a brief thought, quickly dismissed and I promised myself a hot shower and a Steak and Ale Pie in the Wasdale Head Inn. It was 16:40 (nearly an hour since I decided to head home) and would be at least 1½ hours before I got to the camp site. The only plan was to get safely down the screes and follow the well trodden path that I had walked only 2 days before back to Wasdale.

Opportunity for reflection and lesson learned
There was now an opportunity for reflection, as I walked along the road from Wasdale Head to the camp site and a good time to consider the lessons I had learnt as a result of this experience.

The text in red was added in June 2013 (two years after the walk and writing the blog page) Thanks to Andy Luke who has produced an excellent website on mountain safety covering many if not all aspects of staying safe in the hills. Specifically for information about what to do when you are lost, go to his page temporary mis-location and work through the section for tips and strategies to re-locate yourself by hitting the "Next" button at the bottom of each page.
  • As my overnight kit had been used to establish camp in Wasdale, I definitely felt vulnerable because I did not have any gear other than a survival bag to cosy down for the night if necessary. This is no longer a problem as I do not prepare to stay out all night any more. Instead of a bivvy & sleeping bag instead, in addition to the survival bag I have a storm shelter and blizzard bag, these could then be used if I was injured or it was not safe to proceed e.g. crag fast. My priority now is:- If I can walk I do.
  • What is an easy walk in clear summer weather conditions is graduated incrementally as different conditions are introduced be it; pack weight, weather, day light, temperature or in this case visibility. Obvious really but be prepared and have the skills to deal systematically with any of the deteriorating conditions, otherwise you are unknowingly putting yourself in danger.
  • When visibility is bad and you know exactly where you are, take extra care by checking the compass, orientation of the map and distance traveled by counting paces. Even noting time when at a known point so that if you do become disoriented you can work out how long you have been walking and therefore how far away you are from the last known point.
  • When you cannot establish your location try and return to the last known point on a back bearing to return to where you know where you are, 
  • Do not continue for an extra 100m then another 100m in the vain hope the land mark will appear.Do however continue for an extra 100m but have a plan; what you are looking for, a slope, a crag, a wall - anything that you see on the map in the area you think you are.
  • In the event you cannot establish a known point establish a fixed point e.g. a cairn a post or even a piece of kit that will not blow away and head out in a fixed direction for 20, 30, 40 metres and more if necessary due north, south, east & west to find a land mark (in my case a drop either side of a ridge) you can maybe correlate with the map. Even if you cannot derive an exact location you may be able to identify what you suspect to be a a specific  ridge line, a stream or any other feature on the map. If that does not work try walking 10m in a known direction, turn left walk 10m, repeat twice more until you return to your start point again looking for a land mark.
  • Just proceed with caution until your exact location is established. Keep calm, trust your judgement, trust your compass, keep checking and if one plan does not work try another, then another and so on. Most importantly stay safe until you re-locate yourself not taking unnecessary risks.
One final thought about the Coventry lads in the pub last night. I was asked if I had ever been lost and I thought about my friends who remind me of one of my quotes "You can't get lost in Suffolk" instead I replied “I am often lost but very rarely really am”. Meaning I never know exactly where I am on the map at all times, but usually come across something I recognise to re-establish my position. Today this did not happen and was definitely one of those occasions when I really was “lost”.

Lost and Found
Survival Bag
Storm Shelter
Blizzard Bag

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