Mountain Journeys

Alpine conditions come to The Lake District

This week may well prove to be the finest week of weather we have all year in the Lake District, it has been truly outstanding with conditions that are rarely seen in the UK. Big blue skies, cloud inversions, snow covered peaks and green valleys - totally Alpine and utterly gorgeous.

On Friday I met up with Anna for winter climbing adventures on the Helvellyn range. Having now climbed all the gullies in Brown Cove Crags, I was keen to venture onto the rock / ice routes and decided to start with a fine looking rib known as 'Parallel gullies rib'. Grade is in the II / III region depending on actual line taken and conditions.
Unfortunately for us, the conditions on this route were less than ideal, we should have headed into the gullies which looked fabulous. I battled with breaking ice, slushy snow, loose rock, and a mix of frozen & unfrozen turf. This made for quite a challenging afternoon!
Whilst I managed to find anchors for belaying, there were virtually no runners, so every pitch felt like a solo, and on this terrain felt quite un-nerving. All in all though, an interesting experience and learning curve and good to get myself back in the game for lonely winter leads with no protection.
Would I do it again? Absolutely, it's fantastic, I love it.

Saturday came and we put our sensible hats back on. Winter skills was on the cards and for this I was joined by Andzelika & Eugeniusz from Ulverston. We based the day in Brown Cove again as this provides a great venue for learning new winter skills. Weather was very good yet again with fantastic views across the valley, over to Skiddaw and as far as Scotland!
We covered a wide range of skills including crampon techniques, ascending / descending steep terrain, ice axe arrest, and avalanche awareness. The sun setting as we walked back to the car provided a fittingly perfect end to a brilliant day out in the mountains. Good to see fellow instructors Joe Harrop & Paddy Cave out busy in the cove too.

Sunday brought another hard frost to Ambleside so good news for winter climbers, and that's what I was doing today with Adrian from Basingstoke.
After seeing how busy Brown Cove Crags & Helvellyn were yesterday, I was keen to stay clear of those venues, so we took a punt on the Red Screes cove. From the Kirkstone Pass we could see that lots of the snow had been stripped, but the gullies were fighting to keep hold of the white stuff. We decided to give it a go and thankfully were rewarded with increasingly good snow higher up in the gullies.
Starting off with Kilnshaw Chimney, which is only about 20 minutes walk from the car. This route can provide a couple of short tricky steps, and today they were almost there, although mostly the route was nice and straightforward. Topping out was mind-blowing, a sea of cloud rolling in from the Irish Sea was beginning to fill the valleys of The Lake District, with all the mountains in bright sunshine above. It would have been quite easy to have stayed in that spot for hours and just absorbed the beauty of our surroundings.
However, we had another gully line in our sights, so back into the cove we go. Right at the back of the cove is a long, thin gully, maybe 200 metres in length. We made short work of this, particularly enjoying the final open snow slopes with that big blue sky above, brilliant.

Another gully line was discussed, but we decided instead to take a walking route back to Ambleside, thus enjoying the fabulous high level views for maximum time. Ambleside was engulfed in thick cloud, so by comparison was a bit horrid!   

With good conditions predicted to continue in the Lakes, now is a great time to visit and enjoy the mountains. The temperature is set to rise so snow will be melting on south facing aspects, but the northerly gullies will likely maintain a good covering. High level walking is currently as good as it ever gets so why not make the most of it if you can.

Remember, many paths are icy and axe & crampons should be carried on all mountain routes as they may well be required for safe travel.

Thanks to everyone for making this a brilliant few days.

Mark

Photos:
1) Clouds rolling in below the Central Fells
2) Anna Climbing 'Parallel gullies rib' in Brown Cove Crag
3) Winter skills course, Brown Cove Crag
4) Andzelika & Eugeniusz - Winter skills course, Brown Cove Crag
5) Adrian on the exit slopes of our 2nd gully on Red Screes
6) Wansfell peaking out above the sea of cloud on this magical day

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