This is my biggest hike and longest blog to date, so I thought a little background to the planning of this particular hike was in order... (You might need a brew)
My Ben Nevis hike is fast approaching and I am not ashamed to admit its been bothering me. This time last year I couldnt even get up Hallin fell without coughing up a lung and I have been trying hard to get fitter ever since. Photography was always the main goal for my lakeland visits but I was finding that to get more interesting images, I needed to start going to places that were a little more out of reach. Thats what led me to hiking, my real love of the English Lake District and my interest in doing the "Wainwrights"
This year to date I have done 71 Wainwrights in 6 months, and each one has seen me get fitter and faster. I monitor my heart rate and speed etc with my Suunto Ambit3 peak, and whilst I know I am certainly getting fitter, I am still unsure whether Ben Nevis is a step too far, too quickly.
With my concerns in mind, my great friend Paul planned us a route that should be harder than Nevis and take in a bunch of summits we havent already done. It starts off as the well known "Newlands Round" but with two extra summits tagged onto the end. At 15 miles and 5600ft of ascent, it would certainly challenge my endurance, stamina and of course my overall fitness.
With weekend looming I had psyched myself right up and was really looking forward to it. I had also been researching causes for my muscle cramps and long hike lethargy and it seemed that a potential problem was loss of electrolytes and as I tend to sweat a lot it made sense so I bought some tablets to drop in my hydration bladder too. Sunday came and my car was packed and ready to go when the dreaded text came in.. "Mate, ive got Ebola... I cant make it" I assume he meant man flu but didnt want me to know he had something so serious and therefore chose Ebola to soften the blow. But now what do I do? Well, I decided that no matter what, I was going to attempt this hike, and if that meant doing it alone, thats what I was going to do. Much to my wife Mandy's dismay. (She worries about me out on the fells alone, which is nice of course, and a valid concern)
So, here we go. My planned route will take in:
This is the route I took, downloaded from my Suunto and converted to Google Earth KML after the hike: (I started at "Little Town" which is near the centre of the map)
I left home in Blackpool at just after 10am and was parked up in Little Town for about 12. I managed to grab the very last parking space by a bridge which was handy as the next nearest one would have added at least 2 miles to my walk. I popped my £3 in the farmers honesty box and eagerly put my boots on. We are off! From the parking area its north towards Keswick for half a mile until you come to this gate on your right.
The walk up begins quite shallow and warms the legs up nicely with the scenery opening up behind me.
As I gain a little height, I can look back on the descent from Hindscarth. This is one of my potential bail out routes if the weather turns bad on me or I feel I need to come down. I am pleased to see a Herdie on sentry duty over there, hiding in the ferns.
I pass a group of walkers, mostly young, whom seem to be guided by a more experienced gentleman. I wonder to myself where they are all going today? I would guess at Catbells as I believe its a very busy fell due to its proximity to and accessibility from Keswick. However, this isnt the route one would normally take up there so who knows.
Looking toward Catbells now, I see the tell tale signs of old quarrying operations. This path up to the right is I believe one of the descent paths from Catbells if you wish to do it in a circular fashion from Keswick. I will pass by it later from the top.
Eventually I come to a bridge. A quick check of the map confirms I am going left here. But you can get up to the rear of Catbells by going right.
This beck is quite low. I wonder what it looks like when its in spate? Pretty impressive I suspect.
Onwards now... Walking toward the mighty Skiddaw.
Looking South West, I note that the ridge behind that farmhouse in the middle is to be my intended final descent ridge off Ard Crags.
According to the map. There is a little used ascent path up the back side of Catbells here somewhere, but as yet, I cant see it. The heather is thick and strong round here.
Looking west, Causey Pike and Sail look incredible. I will conquer those sometime this year too.
I find a break in the heather and head upwards, I think this is the right path but its certainly easy to miss. This is steep now and I have plenty of breaks to look back over my ascent path. What a view!
Zooming in a little I can now see the two ridges that make up my "Bail Out" options. Hindscarth and Robinson.
Bassenthwaite is now visible from this height too, such a beautiful area.
But perhaps more importantly, the summit of Catbells is now coming into view ahead of me.
After a bit more effort, I start to see the ridge of Catbells to my left, so I know that I have almost reached the lower flanks of Catbells.
And here we are, the lower ridge, complete with lots of happy hikers whom have presumably taken what I call the "Tourist Route" up from the other end of the ridge at Hawse End.
And suddenly, the reward for my ascent appears. A gorgeous view of Derwentwater, Keswick, Latrigg and Blencathra.
And the view the other way, looking along the ridge towards Skiddaw and Bassenthwaite Lake. (The only "official" lake in the lake District)
Onwards and upwards... the summit of Catbells awaits me.
The weather is being very kind. Its my perfect hiking weather, nice and clear with plenty of cloud cover and some wind to keep me dry of sweat. What a view this is!
The path upwards is quite steep from here. I am quite surprised to see some very small children doing it, so I catch up with their mum for a chat.
Two of these children are FOUR years old. Amazing, maximum respect to their mum and dad for getting them out here and doing some serious hiking. I hope it continues long into their childhood.
I think their family will make a nice image so get myself up ahead of them and grab a shot. If anyone knows who they are and wants to send them a link, they can have a full size version of this for free as they were lovely people. This is the family just about to reach the summit.
And the dad kindly took this image of me on the summit with Walla Crag behind me which is my wifes favourite hike. So... Summit 1, Catbells. DONE.
As you can see, the summit of Catbells was very busy. Im told its almost always like this.
Now I am certainly not anti social, but I come hiking to escape cars, computers and people, so after a brief chat and taking a few pictures for folks on their phones, I am away and heading towards my next summit. Maiden Moor.
Its not a bad path this one, pretty easy hiking.
And when I do take a break, the views down to High Brandelhow on Derwentwater are lovely.
There is a nice little exposed section on the climb up to Maiden Moor. It can be avoided if you wish, but I really enjoy parts like this a great deal.
Looking back North, I can see the path I have walked from Catbells.
And I spot a couple of happy hikers stopped and taking in the view across to Walla Crag which I thought makes a nice image.
Almost there now according to my Suunto's altimeter. Just another steep section to go and the summit should come into view.
The views up here really are something else, sometimes I stopped just to take in the view. (Ok, and maybe a little oxygen) Simply stunning.
To my right are Hindscarth and Robinson Ridges. I wonder if I will end up taking those down and dropping the last two summits? At the moment I certainly doubt it. I have never felt more alive!
And finally I reach the top. But whats this? Oh.. what a disappointing summit cairn! Oh well, Summit 2, Maiden Moor. DONE. This is the view back to Catbells and Skiddaw. Great view, rubbish Cairn. LOL
Onwards... I am looking forward to the next one. Why, because its got a great name. I think "High Spy" is just a brilliant name for a mountain. And to be fair, the path up looks brilliant too. There are two ladies ahead, they overtook me earlier. Why there is only one of them in this image I am unsure... I guess her friend is behind that depression in the hills ahead!
Another nice exposed section. Views here are just incredible.
And there she is... The summit Cairn of High Spy is ahead. It looks like it will more than make up for the lack of cairn on Maiden Moor!
The view over to Hindscarth was pretty incredible. Images didnt seem to do it justice, especially after I spoiled the view with my head!
High Spy summit cairn. A proper cairn. I love the way these are built.
This is kind of a sticking point for me as I know the hardest section is upon me. Looking across now I can see my next Summit, Dale Head and the path up there looks pretty unforgiving. There is approx 500ft of descent to do down to Dale Head Tarn, then about 900ft back up again to Dale Head summit. So this must be a great time to...
Stop for my lunch! Peanut Butter sandwich with lots of butter. Perfect for energy.
Suitably refreshed after a 30min break, I started my descent from High Spy down towards Dale Head tarn. Pretty easy going, scrambly in places but no dramas. The tarn is visible in the distance but the ascent up to Dale Head looks harder the lower I get!
There is a lovely Ghyl to walk along here, with small waterfalls dotted about along its length. very nice.
I saw an opportunity to try a long exposure using the Canon G7X's built in ND filter to slow the shutter down. I balanced it on a rock and it came out quite well. I really love this little pocket camera!
I arrived at Dale Head tarn and took 5 minutes to rest. Its very tranquil here as its blocked from the wind by the huge peaks around it in most directions.
Moving onwards and starting the ascent of Dale Head, the tarn behind me starts to look much nicer from up above.
I came across an unexpected feature of the path up Dale Head. A hut... full of I assume path building tools used by the guys at "fixthefells.co.uk" These guys do an incredible job of repairing eroded pathways so people like me can safely ascend these mountains. Great work.
The route up shows some evidence of their current project. It must be very hard work sorting these paths out.
Looking back now, Dale Head tarn is looking smaller and the weather is still looking great.
The path up is pretty much as hard going as I suspected. It is very steep.
But the views back over the way I have traveled so far are just incredible.
I decide to add some "Foreground Interest" but fail... really its just an excuse to get my breath back. Im pretty tired right now! (And getting a nice tan it seems)
There it is... This is the summit that I was most pleased to see today. That was a long hard slog!
Summit 4. Dale Head. DONE.
I moved on quite quickly as its very windy up here. looking forwards along my route I can now clearly see my next two ridges. Hindscarth first, and Robinson behind it. No need to consult the map here.
The views to my left are dramatic. The awesome Fleetwith Pike. I was up there a couple of weeks ago with my friend Melvin on a sunset hike.
And the famous Honister pass and Buttermere, flanked by High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike. That's my favourite range right there and features in another one of my hiking reports on this site. Also teh scene of my favourite selfie. Ha Ha.
Moving onwards towards Hindscarth, the path veers right up ahead.
And then up we go... Its quiet steep, but not too bad really.
As I reach the top of the ridge, the descent decreases greatly and the summit is now just in view.
And it sports a nice little shelter which is handy as its very windy up here now! Summit 5. Hindscarth. Done!
However... Whats that further along the ridge below me? I decide to wander over and take a look.
And I am very pleased that I did. What an absolutely amazing view down the front of this ridge. Its all here, Skiddaw, Catbells, Newlands valley. Wonderful. While admiring the view I heard a ping from my phone... seems I even have 3G up here. I decided to call my wife on Facetime and show her what she was missing. She informed me there was a chicken dinner made and ready to be warmed up when I get home about 11pm. Does life get any better? It has to be said, my wifes tolerance of my random hobbies and obsessions is to be commended. She supports me in all that I do. Love you Mandy. x
Anyway... enough soft talk, back to the hiking. Funny how this shelter didnt look as far away from the summit when looking downhill isnt it? Off I go back uphill...
Back on Hindscarth edge, its time to turn right and head up the unpleasant looking Robinson...
Its a pretty relentless slog so plenty of breather breaks are taken.
The view back from the halfway point shows the track back to Hindscarth. Annoyingly, from here I can see a diagonal one from Hindscarth to here. I didnt take that as I didnt see it, I walked the whole ridge and turned right. Oh well... its good training I guess! You can also just make out the summit I visited prior to that one too, Dale Head.
Nearly there now - just one last pull!
The summit of Robinson. Summit 6. Done. This is the last summit of the traditional Newlands Round and a place for me to do some thinking. Im a little tired now, my feet are a bit sore and I am very hungry.
So I guess this is a great place to take my boots and socks off and tuck into my tea. Peanut Butter sandwiches as always. A great source of energy. Incidentally, I have no muscle aches or pains whatsoever thus far so I can conclude that, for me at least, electrolyte tablets in my 3litre water bladder appear to work a treat. I have also drank less than usual. Odd, maybe the lack of electrolytes promotes thirst?
Now my main aim was to complete the well known "Newlands Round" which consists of the 6 summits I have now completed and then usually ends with a descent off the back of Robinson ridge and back to Little Town. The route Paul chose had us do an extra two summits, namely Knott Rigg and Ard Crags. Not just for my training, but for Paul to take in those summits too as he hasnt done them yet. The problem is - I have. I did them with my wife Mandy and my daughter Steph a few months ago. So what do I do now? My feet are cooling off while I eat, drink and consider my options...
Rested, feet under repair and feeling energetic again I say what the hell... off I go towards Knott Rigg. This is how the descent path from Robinson looks as you drop off the summit.
Pretty uninteresting terrain but a VERY steep descent. This is the first time my knees have given trouble all day, so I dig out the Leki poles to take some of the strain and ask myself why I am doing two extra summits?
And its also boggy... Very boggy... ankle deep for a good 1/4 of a mile. I began to question my sanity as i slodged through the mud, wondering with every step if this would be the one that saw me disappear in the bog, never to be seen again... and miss that chicken Dinner!
Once I got to higher ground and out of the swamp, I spotted a little path that went towards the edge of Robinson and figured it might be a nice viewpoint, so headed across for a little look.
And it was worth the extra ten minutes. A great view of Buttermere village and Crummock Water from above.
Having re-ascended and made it across to the descent path from Robinson, I can now clearly see the last ridge of the day. It also occurred to me again that I could just follow that nice, hard, concrete road right back down through the Newlands Valley back to the car and my huge flask of coffee awaiting me in the boot. Hmm... That boggy ground really had taken it out of me. Its surprising how different terrain can sap the energy!
I decided to get down to the road and make that final decision. This is the descent from Robinson to Newlands Hause.
Back at road level now and admiring the waterfall. This is Moss Force - one the real jewels of the lake district and one of the first places i visited with my friend Melvin when he took me out on one of his Landscape photography workshops with some clients and made me fall head over heels in love with the lake district. I remember it well, very well, as I slipped and fell in Moss Force and ruined my iPhone 4S. Ha Ha. What an idiot! (For expert location guidance and 1-1 tuition, my Friend Melvin is second to none http://www.melvinnicholsonphotography.co.uk/ but maybe leave your phone in the car?!)
Decision made... The waterfall has made me feel alive again. I am doing this last ridge!
The pull up to Knott Riggs is quite hard but certainly nothing tricky underfoot. Well, it felt hard anyway but maybe I was just tiring now.
The view back to Newlands Hause and Moss Force was amazing. Which is handy, as I stopped a lot to, erm, admire it!
Knott Rigg summit is now dead ahead!
I didnt take an image of Knott Rigg summit for some reason but probably because there was nothing much to see that I havent already got a good image of on the way up I guess. But having dropped down from it now Ard Crags is ahead.
Almost there now. Summit 8 is now within my grasp!
The summit cairn on Ard Crags. Just another little pile of rocks.
Great views though. What a place to live this must be!
Thats it, 8 summits done. All I have to do now is descend from Ard Crags and find my way back to the car. This is the view as you descend off the front of Ard Crags. Thats Catbells ahead in the middle... and pretty much where the car is parked. Quite some way to go yet.
Once it levels out a little things get easier and my knee pain lets up so I am able to carry on back to the car without my poles.
That was a harsh descent, and a quick look behind me shows that I earned that pain, it was a steep drop down from Ard Crags.
Regular followers of my bloggs will have perhaps by now noticed that I havent really included any prominent Herdwicks in this report which is unusual for me. Well thats only because the little monkeys didnt present me with any decent eye contact opportunities this time. Until now... I spotted these buggers watching me from some tall heather and bagged "The herdy shot".
I dropped off and wandered through some farmland, quite eager by now to make contact with the road. It was getting dark, i was tired and I really could do with that flask of coffee to be honest.
As I reached the road, the last light of day was disappearing and leaving some nice colours in the sky in its wake for me to enjoy on the 2 mile walk back to the car.
Which I reached just as darkness fell. The first time in a while I havent used my head torch on a hike.
And thats the end of the day for me. And what a day it was, 15 miles, 8 Summits and 5600ft of ascent in a tad under 10hrs. Great going for me and I am very pleased with myself, not least of all for doing it solo and pushing myself to do those last two summits.
All images in this blog were taken with my Canon G7X point and shoot pocket camera. My camera of choice when hiking any distance. The Canon 5D3 SLR stays at home and only comes back with me if I come across any location really worth coming back for with time on my hands to make the best of it.
Here is a little 5 minute video compilation of bits I shot on a few parts of the route.
Here is a little Suunto movie of the trip, showing the route via Google earth.
And some data aquired by the Suunto Ambit 3 peak watch too. Interesting for ascent, descent and mileage etc. (calories are pretty accurate as I wear the Suunto Smart HR monitor too.)
Here is some data from my Viewranger Account. (This is active and you can change the maps used to OS maps etc instead)
A little about me:
For as long as I can remember I have been passionate about landscape photography. I love nothing more than leaving the house at 4am and heading to some distant landscape with a view to capturing an awesome sunrise during golden hour and then staying out shooting all day until night falls and trying to capture an incredible sunset... this escalated into a love of hiking.
Sometimes it's very successful, as you will see from this website, but other times its extremely frustrating and I just spend 12hrs getting cold, wet and downhearted with the weather, but that comes with the British climate and makes the great captures all the more satisfying.
My equipment centres around the incredible Canon 5D MK3 Body which is a fantastic camera by any standard and with a resolution of 22mp allows me to create very large prints with no loss of detail, and I have the amazing 18mp high speed Canon EOS 7D as my backup body... just in case of disaster! If hiking any distance, or with long, hard ascents I often just take the awesome Canon G7X, a 21mp pocket camera that is almost as capable as my 5D MK3.
I hope you enjoy reading my trip reports and looking at my images. If you would like to hang any on your wall and its not part of my main gallery (A trip report image for example), please feel free to drop me a line and I will upload a high resolution version to the main gallery for purchase.