Apologies for the late appearance of this, due to the pressures of not working…
Four Lake District Summits - LD-017, LD-035, LD-033, LD-037
Sunday 31st January 2010 and Monday 1st February 2010
By the middle of 2009, it had become clear to Gerald and I that in our quest for unique summits we would soon have exhausted all those within a sensible “day trip” travelling distance. We were therefore confronted with the necessity of moving to two day excursions. The foundation for this expedition was thus laid back in June of 2009, when I booked two “bargain rate” rooms at Penrith Travelodge for the night of 31st January 2010. At this time the actual summits to be tackled were left in abeyance, being identified in our planning diary only as “LD / NP’s”.
It was around Christmas when we began considering possible summits. The Mell Fells provided an obvious pair, but were not enough for a full day of activating. Looking around for potential add-ons I lighted upon Red Screes G/LD-017. The short sharp approach fitted into the available time and conveniently it was “on the way” to the Mells. For day 2, we considered picking up The Calf and Yarlside as we made our way back down the M6 towards home.
No sooner had we planned the expedition than winter started in earnest. I cancelled a planned solo expedition to the Lakes between Christmas and New Year because of the accessibility issues. Then, as 31st January approached, we watched the forecasts and fell reports very closely on a daily basis. We decided to drop the NP’s for day 2, substituting instead Lord’s Seat and Grisedale Pike, preferring to stay in the Lakes where we would have first-hand experience of the local conditions. A “Plan B” for day 1 was also produced for use in the event that the summit of Red Screes was not attainable. In addition we prepared information on a wide array of summits, including all the local one-pointers, so we could “mix and match” to make the most of the expedition whatever conditions we found on arrival.
Gerald elicited an excellent report on conditions from Iain, M3WJZ who had been on High Stile the previous weekend and he confirmed what we learned from the fell reports – that snow was patchy below 650m, and above that frozen very solid with very little fresh snow on top. By Saturday 30th forecasts of gales and clag had given way to bright sunny and exceptionally clear weather. It appeared that Red Screes may well be on!
We had decided that Gerald’s Quattro would be the vehicle to deal with the potentially bad conditions and when he arrived at my QTH at 04:36, a thin layer of fresh snow covered the frozen ground. As we headed North on the M6 we ran into increasingly severe blizzards and in places the motorway was reduced to a pair of tyre tracks through a white wilderness – a rather eerie experience. Fortunately the four-wheel drive took all this in its stride, but it was with some relief that around Lancaster we ran out of the band of snow and into dry but much colder conditions as promised by the weather forecast.
Dawn was breaking into a clear sky as we left the M6, and as we parked opposite the Kirkstone Inn at 07:54, the first rays of the sun were bathing the summit of Red Screes in a pink-tinged-with-orange light. A cursory inspection showed what we had expected – patchy snow up to about 650m - nothing too apparently fearsome, so the decision was made to tackle our preferred target.
We had read about a fair part of the steep ascent of Red Screes being recently paved with good steps, so when we started out through the gate at the Northwest corner of the carpark we expected to see a fairly obvious path leading up the hill. Unfortunately, due to lying snow and ice, virtually nothing was visible on the ground except the hint of a track heading along the line of the right of way indicated on the 1:25000 map. Careful examination of the hillside showed no evidence whatsoever of another way up, so at 08:16 we set out along this line guided by the GPS. We soon arrived at the bottom of a scree slope (yes – it was red!) half of which was covered in snow. Whilst Gerald moved to the side and ascended on the rock and scrubby grass, I took to the snow slope and made my way up kicking and cutting steps as I went, a course of action prompted more by my having had a new ice-axe for Christmas than common sense. The result of this was that Gerald arrived at the buttress that guards the final climb to the summit somewhat to my left, while I arrived at the base of the Kilnshaw Chimney. To follow Gerald would have involved a considerable traverse across the top of the snow slope, so while he skirted further left, I plumped for the direct route as indicated on the map, straight up the chimney.
This provided me with an “interesting” climb. Under normal conditions, I would imagine it ‘s a reasonable scramble with a few testing climbs with the exposure limited by the twists and turns of the chimney. However, on this occasion it contained several feet of hard-frozen snow and provided a slick chute discharging onto the snow-covered scree I had just climbed. Crampons would have been useful, but encouraged by steps already cut by someone, I started making my way up. The first section was quite easy, but it terminated in a five-foot high wall of ice-covered rock. Any evidence of how my predecessor had scaled this obstacle had been obscured, but by judicious cutting of ice away from rocky footholds combined with a few lovingly-sculpted ice steps I made my way upwards onto the gentler snow slope beyond. This performance was repeated four or five times on the way up the chimney, and although exhilarating was very time-consuming, the degree of exposure warranting the utmost care. I had no desire to test my self-arrest techniques in this situation! I eventually emerged from the confines of the chimney across a shallower slope and into a spectacularly bright and clear day, which combined with the satisfaction of the climb was almost intoxicating. A further short yomp over the hard snow brought me to the summit proper and an overdue reunion with Gerald.
When we parted company at the foot of the summit “massif”, Gerald traversed left, eventually locating a snow-filled gully up which a route had been prepared by others. Even though this offered a convenient way up to the summit, the angle was steep. He had to take great care to keep his weight close to the surface of the snow and dig hand holds in the icy snow as he progressed since he did not have the benefit of an ice axe. Rock climbing experience came in handy on the climb and soon he was able to get up to the summit, arriving there nearly an hour before I appeared. After a quick reconnaissance of the summit area, he decided to set up in the lee of the summit shelter.
While making his traverse towards the snow gully, Gerald gave Mike G4BLH a call on his mobile to say there would be a delay due to conditions on the ascent. Mike had gone out to near Pinhaw Beacon to try to work Gerald on the higher frequencies, but could only stay for a while. Fortunately, although Mike had just set off back home by the time Gerald got going on 2m SSB at 10:30, Mike was worked mobile. Once a convenient stopping place had been found, a contact was quickly made with Mike on 23cms FM with 59 reports both ways. Returning to 2m SSB, Gerald found Graham G3OHC waiting on frequency to head an extensive run on the frequency. John MW1FGQ provided a second contact on 23cms during the run and three S2S contacts were also made – Robert GM4GUF/P on Tinto GM/SS-064, Bill G4WSB/P on Lewesdon Hill G/SC-009 and Duncan MM0GOG/P on Pibble Hill GM/SS-232. The run ended at 11:40 and before making a move to 70cms, Gerald tried his Wouxun 4m rig with the whip he had taken with him to the summit – the result was another contact with John MW1FGQ. A fourth contact was made with John on 70cms SSB, but with no further takers, Gerald decided to move to FM and worked 3 more including Kevin 2E0VEK/M walking the dog (quite literally) in the park in Nelson!
Having finally arrived at the summit, I quickly set up by driving the butt of my SOTA pole into a three-foot deep snowdrift, thereby obviating the need for guying. Graham G4FUJ responded immediately at 11:31 to my initial call on 60m and there then followed a hectic hour on the band. In all I logged 29 contacts on 60m, including S2S contacts with Alan MM0XXP/P, Rob G4RQJ/P and Andy MM0FMF/P. The band was in excellent condition, with nearly all reports being 57 or better and very little QSB. By this time Gerald was finishing off his activation with a few last calls on 70cms, sat in amongst the surprisingly large numbers of visitors to the summit, many of whom were now having their lunch. In order to ensure that we got another summit activated during the day, I decided to leave 80m on this occasion, so apologies to anyone who was waiting for me there.
After dismantling our stations and taking a look around the spectacular panorama before us, we started on our way down at 13:08. The route down was obvious enough from the top, but it still required great care to avoid impromptu glissades on the steep icy path. The temperature had crawled up above zero while we were on the summit, the snow was softening and the ice getting a slick coating of water. Despite this, we successfully made our way down without incident in reasonable time.
Back at the car, we assessed the damage itinerary-wise. We were nearly two and a half hours later than planned; there was however just enough time to activate Great Mell Fell before darkness; in fact we estimated that we would be operating at about the time we had alerted for our planned final summit anyway. After a brief snack we made our way up the still icy Kirkstone Pass, past the forbidding ramparts of Place Fell LD-027 and on to our parking spot.
The climb up Great Mell Fell is a fairly short sharp pull, but the extended efforts of the morning had taken their toll on us both and our legs were protesting somewhat by the time we reached the summit. A strong and bitterly cold wind from the North had got up, and it was not a very hospitable place. Gerald set up on the highest point, while I dropped down slightly to use one of the stunted trees we had passed on the way up as a pole support, thereby avoiding the problem of driving the guy pegs into the hard-frozen ground.
60m was very noisy with high levels of QRN, but my first call at 16:00 once again brought Graham G4FUJ straight back with good reports. A run of six contacts followed over the next 20 minutes, ending with Aage LA1ENA. Ten more minutes calling brought no further response, so I changed to 80m. The band was also very noisy, with many loud continental stations. I shoe-horned myself in between two of them at about 3.667, but ten minutes calling produced not one reply. I thus quickly packed up, managing to snag my antenna on the tree in the process and breaking one of the dipole legs. Some maintenance work would be on the menu tonight!
Meanwhile, Gerald had done somewhat better on the higher frequencies. Despite the Mells having the reputation of being VHF RF black holes and the relatively late hour, a good run of 14 contacts was made on 2m SSB. This kicked off with a chat with John G0TDM and then progressed into a steady run which included the London Mafia and the Devon Beacon, Don G0RQL. Moving to 70cms SSB at 16:44, Gerald worked Mike G4BLH/P operating his 857 from the bottom of a mast in his front garden and rounded things off with another chat with John G0TDM on the band to keep the log tidy and well-rounded.
Gerald was just finishing as I made my way back to the summit and we were soon on our way down the hill for a quick and uneventful retracing of our steps through increasing darkness back to the car. Half an hour later we were safely ensconced in our Travelodge rooms, where we ate a meal and discussed tactics for the following day. The forecast predicted snow moving in from the west during the afternoon, so after considering all the factors, we decided that the best option would be to abandon our alerted summit of Grisedale Pike after Lord’s Seat. Instead we had in mind to activate Little Mell Fell instead, this being subject to how we found conditions in the morning
On removing my socks that night, I found another reason to carefully consider the wisdom of tackling a further major summit in winter condition. My left big toe (which had been feeling a bit strange since the descent of Red Screes) was a bloody mess, with the toenail loose and an alarming blue-black colour. It must have got a pounding kicking the footholes on that first ascent, although I was not conscious of it at the time. I trimmed the nail back as far as I dared with the sidecutters I had with me, and hoped it would stay attached long enough to get through the next day without further trouble.
Rising early the next morning, I performed further surgery on the toenail, which I strapped in place with insulating tape; then more surgery on the broken antenna, before swapping the LiPo’s and repacking my rucksack. Gerald knocked on my door spot on the allotted time of 06:40 and after de-icing the car (the air temperature was a cool minus 4), we were on our way at 06:56 to Lord’s Seat amidst the early-morning work-goers. The Whinlatter Pass provided a few interesting icy patches, but we were parked and kitted up at the start of the forestry track (where there is space for half a dozen cars) four minutes behind schedule at 07:39. This gave sufficient time for Gerald to feed the noisy Robin that heralded our arrival.
Forests being somewhat of a bête noir for us, I had taken the precaution of preparing a waymarked map and we found the well-graded route easily. We were intrigued by a squirrel run across the ride and feeding boxes, presumably for the red squirrels still found in this area, although the pleasure of the sight of one eluded us. Further up the track, patchy snow remained in some of the more sheltered areas, but did not provide a significant obstacle. As we climbed out of the forest, the rising sun’s light striking the snow-covered summit of Grisedale Pike provided a spectacular scene. Though not as clear and bright as the day before, the views over the peaks laid out before us were magnificent and the wind was as biting as ever!
Our itinerary had allowed for anticipated winter conditions, so we achieved the summit much more quickly than expected. Gerald used the iron fencepost on the summit itself to tether his pole to, while I dropped back down to the fence line below to set up.
Despite being half an hour ahead of our alerted time, a bevy of chasers were ready and waiting for me. My initial call on 60m was answered at 09:03 by Roger G0TRB and another four contacts followed including Terje LA8BCA – Norwegian contacts are becoming a regular feature of 60m activations now they have use of the band. Signal strengths were very variable, the band not having yet fully woken and when no further contacts followed Carolyn, G6WRW, at 09:20, I moved to 80m where things were considerably more lively. I made ten more contacts, headed by Graham G3OHC and ending with Roger G0TRB once again, providing a neat “circular” aspect to the activation.
Meanwhile, Gerald hunkered down with his back to the cold wind and called CQ. John G0TDM was quickly on frequency and a phone call brought Geoff G4WHA out to his car for a QSO. The main run on 2m SSB started at 09:09 and quickly took hold and by 09:38 there were 14 in the log. Mike G4BLH/P was worked at 09:44 on 70cms, but a test on 23cms proved negative to this summit. Strangely John G0TDM was not found on 70cms, so Gerald made a quick check back on 2m SSB which brought a contact with Graham G3OHC to conclude the activation.
I was packed up just before Gerald and on this occasion in deference to my throbbing toe waited for him to descend to the fence. We again beat by a considerable margin our planned descent time, and enjoyed a quick snack at the car before setting off down the pass at 11:11 towards the parking spot opposite the reservoir for our final hill of the expedition, Little Mell Fell. As we once more left the protection of the warm car, the cold of the wind was biting despite the sunshine and even the steep climb straight up the side of the Fell barely raised a sweat.
At the summit, Gerald took the trig point and set up his pole using bungie cords. John G0TDM was ready waiting on his usual 2m SSB frequency at 12:24 and again Geoff G4WHA was called out to his car. A total of 10 contacts were made, including the usual southern chasers. The move to 70cms SSB made at 12:45 produced a contact with John G0TDM, but there were no other takers. A quick mobile phone call to Mike G4BLH revealed he was away from home, so Gerald decided to see whether there were any locals on 2m FM – yes, indeed there was - John G0TDM. Moving back up to 70cms, this time on FM brought another contact with Geoff G4WHA/M and John joined them there. Finally, the summit was initiated into the world of 23cms when Gerald worked Geoff on 23cms FM using just the handheld to its rubber duck antenna.
For HF operation, I dropped down slightly and set up my doublet parallel to the path to avoid obstruction to the surprising number of visitors to the summit. By the time I opened at 12:20, 60m was in full flow and a healthy pile-up soon materialised following an initial contact with Paul, G0HNW, in which reports of less than 59 were virtually non-existent. Sixteen contacts later, covering the length and breadth of the UK, 60m went quiet and a move to 80m netted a further nine with slightly less impressive reports. At 13:00 all went quiet again, so I packed up and rejoined Gerald at the summit prior to a rapid but careful descent down the steep frozen slope. By this time we could clearly see the forecast bad weather approaching and as we reached the car at 13:42 it started snowing in earnest. Leaving Grisedale Pike for another day had certainly been the right decision!
We had the unaccustomed luxury of changing back into our “civvies” in the light. Fortified by the remainder of our sandwiches and hot soup, we made an uneventful journey home, fortunately outrunning the incoming weather and surprising our wives with an almost unprecedented early return. We made Stourbridge by 17:38 and Northampton by 19:38 – an early night for us both!
The usual thanks go to everyone that we worked, particularly with revisions to our alerted times. This was another successful round of activations, the next being in a month’s time when we are back up in the Lakes.
73 de Paul, G4MD and Gerald G4OIG