The Mercian Mountaineering Club New Year meet was at the Barrow MC hut next door to the Youth Hostel in the Coppermines Valley above Coniston in LD. This nice little cottage has self-catering facilities for 16 visitors, gas and electricity provided, mattress and pillow, but BYO sleeping bag! £30 each for four nights makes this a very cost-effective break. Handily under the Old Man of Coniston, G/LD-013, it also gains from having the pub that brews Coniston real ale at the foot of the access road!
As the date of the meet approached the Coniston webcam showed a lot of snow which caused some concern as on the meet there last year the members had to be ferried up by landrover, but this year our landrover enthusiast wasn’t coming! However, a rapid thaw set in a couple of days before we set out and the track was no problem although the nearby rocks sported some impressive icicles!
Friday 31st was mild and dull, there was a chance to activate the Old Man, but the local word was that the top of the Tourist Route was badly iced up. This is hardly an inspiring route, being approached through abandoned slate quarries, and I decided to ascend by Levers Hause above Levers Water. Nobody knew if that route was iced up so I decided to pack the FT817 and do a recce which could change to an activation if all went well. The weather conditions were impressive with cloud coming and going low in the valley and a cloud layer shrouding the summits - in the clear zone one felt like the filling in a giant sandwich! I found it slow going skirting Levers Water in an anticlockwise direction, breaking through ice to the bog around the head of the lake, but I went far enough up Levers Hause to establish that it was largely ice free. So, back to the hut for a communal meal and the New Years Eve festivities, playing a couple of games of “Werewolf” and a round of “Who Am I” before the chimes of Big Ben on the FT817 heralded the usual antics plus fireworks and the launching of hot air balloons - one of which crashed on a member and one got caught in a tree! All in all, we amused ourselves well into the early hours and supped a fair amount of booze!
The next day a communal hangover saw a number of keen and skilled mountaineers reduced to a stroll around a frozen Tarn How…a drizzly morning, anyway, although it brightened up in the afternoon and the temperature plummetted. The thaw was at an end, the keener ice climbers sharpened their gear before retiring for the night!
Sunday 2nd looked a nice day for an amble, the sun was trying to break through and the ground was well frozen. I left the hut at nine and set out for Levers Water, but this time I crossed the wier and walked over the dam to some very impressive copper workings around two deep gashes in the rock. There was a decent track the far side of the lake which led directly to the track ascending Levers Hause. This was a steep and slow plod between impressive buttresses of rock and the col between Swirl How and Brim Fell came as a relief even though it was heralded by a spread of white ice. The ridge was surprisingly busy with dozens of walkers visible at any time. I ambled slowly over Brim Fell taking in the views and uplifted with the joy of simply being there, sharing greetings with everybody I passed. As an aside, isn’t it strange how people will greet you on a mountain when they would probably act as if you were not there if they passed you on a city street? Anyway, from the summit of Brim Fell it could be seen that there were many people clustered around the strange hat-shaped monument on the summit of the Old Man. I briefly reflected that the summit of Brim Fell was probably within the AZ, but why let a crowd put you off when you have come so far? Eventually another spread of white ice and verglas announced my arrival at the summit, and after a look at the view I looked for a nearby perch to operate from.
When I stopped I realised just how cold it was! I got out the thermos and poured myself a cup of hot Earl Grey, and drank part of it before putting it down to fish out the rig and plug in the half-wave whip (this was a lightweight activation!) but when I picked it up again it was freezing! I took out a package of pork tongue butties: they were as stiff as a board! I’ve no idea how cold it was, but it was into minus double figures, and a speedy activation was indicated.
I switched on the rig and selected 2 metre FM, and immediately found a family activation of Gummers How, LD-050, doing a roaring trade. I worked 2E0OCC/P, M0OYG/P and M6MIJ/P and then moved off to 450 to find my own pile-up. One call and I had it! I was pleased that the chasers co-operated in keeping the pace brisk as by now I was feeling the cold. The batteries were feeling the cold, too! I noticed that although the receive voltage fell slowly to 9.5 by the end of the activation, the transmit voltage was plummetting. By the time I had fourteen contacts in the log the transmit voltage was down to 8.3 and the audio was degrading. With numb fingers and nose and a misbehaving rig I decided to call it a day and apologised to the many chasers still calling me. I was disappointed not to have worked to the end of the pile-up, and I know that those who didn’t get me were also disappointed, but there was little choice. So I quickly packed and made the decision to descend by the Tourist Route, which was very busy.
I have to say that the start of the descent was a little hairy in places with drifts of white ice and frozen snow with spreads of verglas below them, but I took it steadily with the occasional excursion onto the open hillside and only had one little slip. The tarn below the summit took a while to reach, and as I approached it I saw to my amazement a guy coming up dressed in a city suite…and as he came closer he even appeared to have Hush Puppies as his footware! I warned him about the ice but he continued. There is little more to be said about the descent, I took the safest options and got back to the hut via the Miners Bridge as the light was fading, and my condition can only be described as knackered but elated!
Incidentally there were many black nylon bags of rocks stacked in places along the Tourist Route, I imagine that they were helicoptered in and the track was about to receive a makeover. Now riddle me this: why go to the trouble and expense of 'coptering in tonnes of rock to improve a track on a hillside littered with megatonnes of similar rocks? Does the NT have more money than sense?
Afterword: when tested back at the hut the rig performed normally, my guess is that at least one of the cells does not perform well in the cold!