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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Lake District's retribution

Lord's Seat NY 204 265 (Marilyn) - Wednesday 29th September

For years I have favoured the Scottish hills over those of the Lake District, and have been known to state in cavalier fashion that the latter are more like a children's playground. I don't know if the Lake District exists as a sentient body, but if it does, yesterday it wrought its retribution on me for those ill considered remarks.

In a recent post recording Gayle's increasing list of conquered Marilyns she included Lord's Seat, which I realised  I had overlooked, having climbed a different Lord's Seat and ticking it off by mistake. "Well" I thought, it's only a children's playground peak which will be a quick up-and-downer, and looking at the forecast yesterday, on a dire morning of unremitting rain, I saw there was a weather window between 1:00pm and 3:00pm, so off I went.

There was a good path leading off the minor road and I was in happy mood because rain had abated as predicted, and I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "this is great, a typical sylvan Lake District path, and a pleasurable ascent ahead, and how clever I am for planning this so well."

I failed to notice the indistinct diversion from the path left across the stream. The path I was on continued with all appearance of being the main route. A couple of hundred yards further it started to rise steeply up loose shale and scree and I thought "this is a bit steep," but I pressed on, then found myself clutching at heather and worrying about footholds. That was when I should have turned back. But I continued to a point when I considered ascent safer than descent. It became steeper. I was sweating profusely. I was moving slowly for safety. I put my poles away in my sack because I needed hands-on all the time. I was now definitely beyond the point of no return. Looking down made me increasingly aware that this was not a place to tumble. It went on and on. Then I saw a rock band ahead blocking the way, fortunately with a rake going diagonally left, but even that had a small rock outcrop halfway up, but I had no option. I had two attempts at that rock pitch, and got into a desperate situation and came very close to coming off. After instructing myself to suppress the fear I managed by kneeling on my replacement knee which is something I do not do, but now that really was the difference between achievement and what would have been a potentially fatal fall, and it had to be done. That was  serious.

After more dangerously steep scree and shale scrambling, the path cut back right horizontally, yes there was a well worn path through heather, cut out of the very steep hillside, so I reckon, despite its severity, this is a trodden route. A fall off that path would have had you rolling several hundred feet, and the path was intermittently furnished with tricky rocky steps. It lead to scree and a gully  with proper rocks for footholds and handholds giving what under less stressful conditions would have been a pleasant scramble. But my two hour weather window had expired and I was enveloped in fine, highly penetrating rain with increasing wind.

Eventually after easy ground with continuing rain and limited visibility I came out on the summit of Barf. Against all likelihood in those vile conditions another figure appeared from the mist swathed in what I think was a pink plastic mac which was being ripped and swirled in the now violent wind. We took photos of each other. He was trying to retrace his steps back to Whinlatter Pass I think, and seemed to have no map or navigation equipment, but there was little I could do to advise him.

I was now, believe it or not, on my planned route to Lord's Seat which  summited Barf on its way, albeit by an easier path. I continued over boggy ground, fortunately on an unmistakable path to Lord's Seat Summit only  quarter of an hour away. I managed to get a  murky photo but feared for the camera getting soaked.

There was a path from the summit leading to a Forestry Commision road and then a branch off to descend on the path I should have ascended by from the other side of the stream near the start. Even that path was incredibly steep, wet and slippery, and rocky with a  difficult section down-climbing a mini waterfall. Great care was needed all the way  and I proceeded oh so slowly. I actually fell twice, but backwards, and the slope was so steep that the arc of my body was  reduced from what would have been more serious on level ground.

Back at the car I found that a lens from my expensive varifocal specs had disappeared - a small price to pay for return to safety.

I do carry spare specs.


Intermingled with this story is another mini disaster. For years I have struggled with those wretched mini military tin openers which risk a visit to A and E, and tend to bend like plasticine. I searched the Internet for a lightweight backpacker's alternative but as far as I can tell there is nothing so specialised, so I admitted defeat and decided to try and find the best household compromise in terms of weight. I saw Lakeland had a selection and because I had time to spare yesterday to coincide with the late weather window I called at Lakeland Windermere. Helped by an assistant I bought a likely looking device, but back home I realiased it was not a tin opener (less said). Today's weather prompted a non-walking day with Pete so we drove back to Lakeland and I exchanged for a £15, supposedly proper job. I have just got back home and tried it out and it is uselss. I did manage to open a tin of peas, but had juice running down the tin, and turning the mechanism only worked intermittently with a jerky, stop start action. For fifteen quid I expect better than that, so that will be going back as well.

Any suggestions?


Don't bother to click to enlarge !

The Bishop.
 A white painted rock prominent from the A66. I think there is a story - Google if you want

Zoom to same

The Sylvan path just before the left turn to cross the stream which I missed. At this point I was in a pleasant little world of well-being

"This seems to be getting a bit steep?"
I assure you it was much steeper than it looks, but we always say that don't we?

Barf summmit

Lord's Seat summit

My approximate route up Barth

Click to enlarge if you are thirsting for more detail

The incompetent tin-opener


Anonymous said...

That was the Bishop of Barf I mentioned to you shortly before you set off. Were you following Wainwright's route, which is usually safe, or devising your own. It is steep up there. Glad you survived.
Ditch the 'tin opener' I'll get you a better one.
Is there some other way to prove I'm not a Robot on that reCAPTCHA site. Beginning to think I am.

Sir Hugh said...

I'm not sure about W's route. It could only be the way I descended which would be easier on the ascent, but descending it is downright dangerous, certainly enough to put off W I think, especially in wet conditions, or st least for him to give some words of caution.

I mentioned on a recent post that I have found there is no need to use the robot. I just go to publish. Others confirm this works, give it a try.

I receive an email notifying me of new comments in my blog. This one of yours just came through in machine language but was ok as a coomment on the blog.

The Crow said...

I have a john-wayne somewhere in my things that works well if one is not in a hurry. If I can find it, I'll give it to you, since I likely won't need it again. Of course, this might be the same sort of military thing you mentioned above.

The tale of your ascent was exciting and scary at the same time. Hope your knee is okay and you aren't too bruised up.

Sir Hugh said...

The Crow - Thanks for that. The unsatisfactory lightweight one I mentioned is exactly like the John Wayne, but I suspect the ones bought here are cheap copies. When you exert pressure on the metal it bends and makes the thing unusable. Perhaps the American ones are made of better stuff? I Googled and found there is a P38 and a P51 (for bigger cans I think), the numbers referring to how many cuts it takes to open a US military food can. The P38 seems to be preferred for normal use. Mine has some sort of unreadable number stamped on it.

I am more or less unscathed, but I was a bit weary by the time I had driven the hour and half home.

Sir Hugh said...

The Crow - I have now researched further and find that the proper US military P38 is available here at this unbelievably long URL:

But you will see that it costs in the region of £30 (about 40 US Dollars) !

Sir Hugh said...

Bowland Climber - I don't have the relevant Wainwright volume, but I see there are easier but longer approaches from Whinlatter and from the north.

afootinthehills said...

Hello Conrad - I think you were on Wainwright's route to Barf. He describes it as "Not a walk. A very stiff scramble (italics), suitable only for people overflowing with animal strength and vigour "

Lynne and I would have been in our early twenties at the time we did it and Lord's Seat and remember the ascent being steep but uneventful. Youth.

Anyway, we are very glad you survived and would be happy to email you a copy of Wainwright's route to compare to your own epic ascent.

I use the tin opener on my Swiss Army Knife which is satisfactory, though requires a bit of effort.

Sir Hugh said...

Afoot - Hi Gibson. I reckon I was on W's route part of the way. From what I have read about W I would be surprised to learn that he negotiated the rock pitch that I did, but I may have been off route? It was streaming with water and very exposed. I have looked at other accounts on the Internet. I certainly didn't pass by the Bishop, it was a long way off to my right - maybe I joined that route higher up.

I have tried to use my Swiss Army Knife opener, but as you say it is not easy. I think with many things I am looking for more comfort these days.

gimmer said...

Sounds like a vicious struggle - particularly when you were not expecting it: not the first time, of course: but not quite what one imagines that generally benign quarter to the Lakes to spring on one. I am curious about the name and its derivation - which is, of course, also a particularly offensive slang word (maybe transatlantic - I don't know) for one of the less controllable physical effects of gross overindulgence at the bar - which came first: from your description, maybe the slang came from either the results of scaling the hill or opinion of its quality and composition.
What footwear were you using - sounds like a place for 'proper' boots ?
Your notes on neat tin openers reminds me that when trying to buy such a device in several French supermarkets over the past two years or so, none were to be found - not even in Decathlon - perhaps because it is now quite rare to find canned goods in France which do not have ring-pull openings - rendering the humble can opener 'so last century'.
(ps I have to prove I'm vaguely human - so it must be something to do with being a fully signed up googler or not)

Gayle said...

Goodness me! I'm glad that you lived to tell the tale!

I did spot the turn over the stream when I went up Lord's Seat, but you have made me feel a bit better about my wander off onto dangerously steep scree and crags on Great Gable the day after I did Lord's Seat.

Regarding can openers, we have in Colin an old-fashioned butterfly can opener, bought for 50p from Asda, which weighs 78g and works perfectly well. Perhaps a bit too heavy (although I'm sure one could hack a bit off the length of the arms without affecting its functionality)?

(I see Tesco sells the same for the same price:*sh*msh*bg*px_-_shopping_gsc_-_kitchen*499-0396&gclid=Cj0KEQjwmri_BRCZpaHkuIH75_IBEiQAIG0rIVUDbxOQIOsHoqA0Uymb1P_hE7VMrYY5hqHp8ZbilRsaAnE18P8HAQ&gclsrc=aw.ds&source=others)

afootinthehills said...

Another snippet from AW Conrad: "There are few fells, large or small, of such hostile and aggressive character, for unrelenting steepness is allied to unstable runs of scree and outcrops. The rough ground is masked by bracken and heather....".

"By the time the rowan tree is reached the feeling that one is pioneering a new ascent, treading where no man had trodden before, is very strong...."

Sir Hugh said...

Gimmer - I was wearing Salomon trail shoes that have a particularly good grippy sole.

I was not familiar with the verb barf. My dictionary says American slang, most likely onomatopoeic .


Gayle - I think I have got this tin opener thing a bit out of proportion, but sometimes, like the route that I took, things creep up on you.

One of my favourite film quotes, " was you ever bit by a dead bee?" (Google if not familiar).


Afoot - thanks for that. I do enjoy his quirky comments. One I remember from the Pennine Way at Byrness I think, before the final daunting thrash across the Cheviots: "Now gird up your loins as you have never girded them up before." said...

Conrad, we also took your route last October and had a mini epic at the top climbing over a rock wall.

gimmer said...

'Proper boots' - it's not so much the grip but the robust platform they provide that gives a reassuring sense of stability on rough loose slopes, I find. I used my Ahnu's in the Pyrenees this year and although the extra ankle support was welcome, I missed the toughness of boots on steep unstable slopes (but glad of their lightness on the long hot approach and return marches !)
So it goes.

afootinthehills said...

Footwear is a very personal thing but outside winter I much prefer shoes or light boots, particularly if any scrambling is involved. Over the years I've doubted the ankle support argument - standing on the outside edge of 'proper boots' on a steep slope, I find they don't offer very much support all - I have to actively keep the boot on its edge. Only my plastic ski boots and old ski-mountaineering boots offer real support

Lighter, softer boots or shoes provide more 'feel' for the terrain underfoot and allow for more accurate placement of the foot too. On the roughest hills in Scotland, the Cuillin, I would always opt for shoes or light mids except in winter of course.

Just my view and as I said earlier footwear is a personal choice. 'Proper boots' do keep my feet drier in poor weather though.

Ruth Livingstone said...

Crikey, I felt terrified for your safety reading this. Glad you survived with all your limbs intact. I wondered if I was missing out by not doing any walking inland, but now I've decided I'm definitely sticking to the coast!

Anonymous said...

This account scared the crap out of me--brought back a too-vivid memory of a very similar debacle over 30 years ago that I have tried to suppress ever since. Like yours, it was a hike that started out totally carefree and unintmidating but turned into the most frightening hike of my life. SO glad we both survived to tell about it, but it still have nightmares about it. Marci, Virginia

Sir Hugh said...

Bobsoutdoors - Hi Bob. Good to hear from you again. Finding out that this was a Wainwright route deflated me a bit making me think I must be a bit sissy, but for one thing there are many different places one could be on that steep fell-side, and it's also reassuring to hear that others have had scary experiences there


gimmmer and Afoot - I go along most of the way with Gibson (Afoot), but would wear proper boots on Scottish hills which I treat with the respect that perhaps I should be doing with the Lakes. With Gortex linings I very very rarely get my feet wet wearing trail shoes.


Ruth L - I would be sad to learn that I had put somebody off walking in the hills. I reckon you are made of stronger stuff then you imply.


Marci - Welcome to my blog. Sounds like there's an interesting story there. Perhaps now is the time to relieve your suppression and give us the goods here. I welcome all comments and don't mind if it is a long story - please feel free. Everybody I know who enjoys outdoor adventures have had epic near disasters regardless of years of experience, so you are not alone, you are in good company.

Roderick Robinson said...

The climbing bit was quite well done. Yes I know "quite" is damnation with faint praise but writing fiction has forced me into a close examination of what it takes to do action (especially when it's combined with menace) - ie, conveying a situation almost from second to second but without bogging down in an excess of words.

Also I'd had the good luck, many years ago, to read Graham Greene on the subject. He cited RL Stevenson and mentioned an utterly beautiful passage from Kidnapped where Alan Breck ("a bonnie fechter") finds himself in a small room aboard a sailing ship, knowing that a host of bad buggers are soon going to come in and do him harm. It's about five or six lines long and Greene says, with complete sincerity, he wishes he could write like that.

Needless to say getting it right means discarding passages you believe to be essential. "Oh, but I wanted to put down a complete record," you say. Yes, but secretly, you wanted to impress your readers with the perils you passed through. Completeness and impact are often at war with each other.

As I said - and don't forget this if you choose to respond - you got a good deal of it across and the detail was persuasive. But this was a big event in your life; it deserved even more effort.

KenB said...

This sounded very familiar. Consulted my records for 12 October 2011, which read as follows- Steep ascent to Barf, Lords seat. Very hairy ascent. Path across stream impassable due to heavy overnight rain. Had to go straight up past the Bishop, holding on to heather and trees, a slippy bit of scree, then a hairy path round an overhang, before finding a zigzag path to top of Barf. Mist cleared then came down again.
Every year I go to Keswick for the same week with my 2 brothers in law and one of their brothers in law. I sent them your account. Even now mention of Barf brings us out in a sweat. Keep writing, Ken of the SWCP - Portloe/ Mevagissey encounter.

Sir Hugh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sir Hugh said...

Kenb - See reply on my latest post - A Weekend at Leyburn - 31st October, also for your comment on Watching and Playing.