The nineties

10/3/92 Blencathra via Sharp Edge

We were on the hill (that is, into Mousthwaite Combe) by 12.15pm. We arrived in the Scales Tarn corrie around an hour later. There was an attack of hail as we climbed up to Sharp Edge. The conditions were excellent. Up on the top of Blencathra we could see Styhead Tarn glinting in the distance. We detoured around for extra hill-walking – Blencathra is a short route. However, the weather worsened and a snow squall forced us to shelter. So we came down and were off the hill by 4p.m.

I think this is the time we went to camp at Castlerigg, but decided to go to a B&B in Keswick instead. I recall getting wet even opening the car door, at the campsite up at Castlerigg, and we thought, “No.”

This wonderful modern (2022) photograph of the Sharp Edge of Blencathra is courtesy of Dave Massey Photography (permission to reproduce, applied for)

11/3/92 Great Gable

Myself and J. Parkinson left the car at Seatoller at the foot of the Honister Pass, and walked in to Seathwaite, and then up the trail to Sourmilk Gill. We thundered up the hanging valley and up into the snow on Great Gable. It was very wintry. There was a great deal of old snow lingering in the north-facing slopes. There was good visibility on the upward hike, west to Buttermere, Crummock Water and Ennerdale.

We lunched at Windy Gap at the top of Aaron Slack, as the weather worsened, and the clouds closed in. We met with an American youth hiking alone – Todd – and in company with him, swiftly got up onto Great Gable. Very wintry – we went back down again; descending to Windy Gap was problematic in snow and mist. A lot of blundering around was necessary; there are cliffs to be avoided. Our arguably over-equipped and heavy-laden American friend “Taaaard” went on down Aaron Slack to the top of Sty Head, and we continued back up to Green Gable. For years afterwards we remembered Taaaard.

It was snowing. Getting down from Green Gable into the hanging valley saw navigation difficulties in the mist and falling snow. As we descended, hail and snow became heavy rain which continued, fortunately at our backs, all the way back to the car at Seatoller. A wet and windy day.

23/10/93 Idwal Skyline

Seven hours on the hill – an excellent day’s hillwalking with J. Parkinson. There was some frosting on the North ridge of Tryfan. Bristly Ridge was good fun. It was very busy – a half term Saturday. Above Snowdon we saw paragliders. Good visibility and great views – good weather all day long.

28/5/94 Ben Nevis by night

J. Parkinson and I set off from Derby at around 5.30p.m. In spite of heavy traffic on the A516 near the Salt Box Cafe [this was long before the A50 Derby Southern Bypass was built] and on the M6, and road widening on the M74, we made it to Glen Nevis, with two stops to change drivers, by just before 1a.m – a little under 400 miles in a little under seven and a half hours.

After a beer and some curry at the campsite near the roadhead in Glen Nevis, we set off by car back to the Youth Hostel and set off uphill on a clear starry night. There was a good moon. As we started at 2a.m in late May, at this latitude we could already see the sky lightening in the north-east. I was very tired, and I found the first two hours, a seemingly endless moonlit slog up the shoulder to the Halfway Lochan, very tough going. As dawn approached the sky was a beautiful sight. A further 45 minutes uphill saw us onto a steep snowfield, up which my friend’s progress, without an ice-axe, was perforce somewhat delicate and careful. It was almost fully daylight at this point.

Very hard snow continued all the way to the summit. We gained the summit at 5.30a.m, just after sunrise. I could see that it was going to be stunning. I said to Jim, “you’re about to see a manifestation of the glory of God”, and he and I agreed that I was right. Visibility was perfect; it was stunning. Between us we shot over 40 frames of superb photographs. [This was probably ten years before the first primitive digital cameras became available at sensible prices, 13 years before Apple introduced the iPhone, and 16 years before I started carrying a camera-enabled smartphone.] Some of these photographs, and certainly the negatives, must still exist somewhere in our attic and one of these days I’ll dig them out and scan them in!

On the summit it was extremely cold. We started down at 6a.m. We met two people high up, vanguard for an oncoming horde of “Three Peaks” hikers. Further down, even so early, the onslaught came – apres moi le deluge. To be on the mountain and meet more than 500 people coming uphill before 8a.m is astonishing. Looking at the way some of them were clad and equipped, we reckoned that only a quarter of them were equipped for the de facto winter conditions at the summit. The summit of Nevis in late May was always going to be under winter conditions. The observatory was nearly buried – the summit plateau was several metres deep in snow.

We got back down to Halfway Lochan a little before 7a.m, and stampeded down the path, running a lot of the way, to arrive at the Youth Hostel before 8a.m. In this way we were able to say that we had climbed Nevis and come back down in less than six hours.

We drove from Derby to Ben Nevis and back in less than 24 hours and climbed Nevis in less than six – starting at the Youth Hostel at 2a.m, on the summit by 5.30a.m, and back down again by 8a.m. The drive of around 390 miles was taken in 7 hrs 20 minutes on the way up, and a slightly more leisurely 8 hrs on the way back. [Writing in 2022: given modern traffic cameras, even with the completed M74, I don’t think the journey could be made much faster today.]

13-14/7/95 Hill walking by night – Snowdon Horseshoe in the dark

J. Parkinson and I, at this point in time busy people working for a living and raising kids, wanted to get away hillwalking, but we found that the time could not so easily be spared. After our successful overnight assault on Nevis of the previous year, we thought we might resolve this conundrum (and spend less time away) by the simple expedient of doing some classic hill-walking overnight. On this occasion we did the Snowdon Horseshoe; on another, we made a noteworthy attempt on Idwal Skyline, and bailed after rather too long spent on Tryfan – of which more later.

We left Derby at 7.35pm. We parked at Pen-y-pass and started up the PYG track at 11.30pm. The drive in along the coast road had taken 2 hrs 40 minutes. There was some moonlight on the climb up to Crib Goch. We had of course deliberately chosen a clear night as near as was practical to full moon. I walked in up the PYG track, and out along the Miner’s Track, in trainers, only using big boots for the actual route itself.

Unfortunately the moon disappeared behind clouds and our traverse of Crib Goch was accomplished in darkness without benefit of moonlight. It was windy; both of us found Crib Goch technically very demanding in the dark. Scary, in fact.

Up and over Crib-y-ddysgl, up the railway and onto the summit, which lost it’s cloud cap only while we were there, about 3a.m. We found that route-finding on the ridge was impossible by torchlight; there was no way of looking ahead. The light of dawn started to appear as we crossed from Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) to Y Lliwedd. As we descended from Y Lliwedd, there was beautiful, transcendent morning light. We were back at Pen-y-pass at 6.40am. Seven hours on the hill.

On another occasion – I can’t find any paper notes for this but I remember doing it – we decided on an attempt on Idwal Skyline in the dark. We picked a moonlit night of course, and set off from Derby, arrived in Snowdonia, parked up at Milestone Buttress, and set off up the North Ridge of Tryfan.

The North Ridge…what we hadn’t bargained for, what we had not implicitly understood, was some basic astronomy. The moon shines from the same direction, more or less, as the sun. It is never found in the north in the Northern hemisphere. I ought have known this, having worked at or near the equator and seen the rather odd spectacle of the moon being DIRECTLY overhead – something you’ll never see the UK. Ever tried climbing the North Ridge of Tryfan in the dark? Don’t. A fit party might climb the North Ridge from the road to the summit in slightly over an hour. I’ve done it many times, summer and winter, in between 70 and 90 minutes. It took us three hours. That was a salutory lesson. Wisely we opted not to climb Bristly Ridge. We descended to Bwlch Tryfan and from there straight back down to the road.

2/11/94 Snowdon via Crib Goch, alone

I left Derby at 6.25a.m and parked up at the Pen-y-pass at 950a.m, three hours actual driving time for 149 miles. There were helicopters much in evidence as set off up the Pyg track in brand-new boots. Rain at the col stopped as I got higher, finding the new boots slightly stiff. I met four fellows withdrawing – it was very windy indeed.

I got up on top and along Crib Goch, all alone in the wind. Up and over clouded Crib-y-ddysgyl and up the shoulder onto the summit of Yr Wyddfa by 12.30p.m for lunch. I withdrew down the Miners track, the initial part of the route seeming reminiscent of the Dimrill Stair in Tolkien. There were several interesting mines on the way. Got to the car at 3p.m and drove home A55/A51/A500/A50/A516, with the coast road (the A55) particularly excellent, 50 miles in 48 minutes. [2022: Not sure I’d risk going that fast on the A55 today, with the North Wales police being as punchy as they have been in the last 10 years].

March 1996: Great End, alone

From Seathwaite Borrowdale, I hiked in rainy conditions up past Stockley Bridge. On the tops though, winter conditions prevailed. I had brought no ice-axe. I got frightfully lost in the mist and snow and howling wind, around Esk Hause. I spent what seemed like an age descending gingerly into Eskdale over wet rock and slippery grass. An accident whilst alone at this remotest of valley heads, was unthinkable.

Eskdale in the pouring rain was well worth the effort. Truly magnificent and utterly wild. I camped at a bend in the river just before the last big falls above lower Eskdale. I saw no-one at all. This was why I came here.

Next day the walk out from my camp site to Fell Foot at the bottom of the Hard Knott Pass, took over an hour. I passed some beautiful waterfalls and deep, clear pools of rare beauty. These pools are rarely seen and never swam in, owing to their distance from the beaten track. My feet were wet and ruined. I could not hope to walk out over the col to the Burnmoor Tarn and then over Styhead back to the car. I took cab round the side of the Lakes which cost £40. [This seems to me to be the time I was in Whitehaven or Workington on a rainy afternoon.]

2/1/97 Helvellyn from Greenside, winter

J. Parkinson and I left Glenridding at 9.15am, and we were back by 4.30pm after an absolutely exquisite day on the hill, taking advantage of a lucky weather window. Soft snow prevailed throughout except above 3000′, where the snow was a good deal harder. The snow at lower level could have been heavy going, but it wasn’t too deep. Visibility was remarkable. All the Pennines, the hills of Galloway and even the Three Peaks of Yorkshire were in clear sight, as were the gas production platforms in Morecambe Bay.

Crampons and ice-axe were barely necessary on the final climb onto the shoulder of Helvellyn, but provided that extra bit of traction and security. It was a busy mountain; we had a good chat over some pleasant lunch on the summit, with quite a few folks. The drop down onto Striding Edge was very steep but not yet hard snow. Moreover, a previous mountaineer had already cut good steps. Descent was not easy but by no means technically difficult. As we went along Striding Edge a fast-moving front of mist came over the hills, destroying the visibility for an hour or so. This cleared as we descended to Red Tarn. On the walk-out down to Greenside Mine, it began to snow. Behind us over Catsty Cam was a sky of the most beautiful pink. We reached the car as darkness fell.

J. Parkinson on Striding Edge, January 1997

This was the time when we descended on the cafe in Glenridding and had chip butties, and ate nearly all of their butter.

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