Blencathra With Mandy in the snow

April 12, 2016  •  2 Comments

Hi folks,
Mandy has been slowly building up her hiking legs over the last 6 months or so, doing bigger and bigger routes every time and now we have a full weekend to ourselves we figured it was time to tackle one of the lakeland greats.


Todays route will see us summit:

  • Blencathra (or Saddleback as its known to the locals.) 2'848ft


Our route looks like this on an Opentopo map. (This is oriented correctly North to South)
Our direction of travel was anti-clockwise from Scales.

Rotated a little for aesthetics, it looks like this on Google Earth.

We started off the weekend with a great start, a night in the Lakes Hotel and Spa at Penrith, M6 J40. We had a great night there and woke up raring to go. After a full English breakfast It was just a short drive to get parked up at Scales so we got a parking spot nice and early.

We set off from the car about 10:30am and walked up the road alongside the White Horse Inn at Scales.

To our right, its plain to see there is a lot of low lying cloud on the fells. I hope this will have lifted later on.


We turn left and head onto Mousthwaite Combe.

Which is where the ascent begins up Scales Fell. The views from here are very nice.

The path is steep, but simple enough.

We stopped halfway up and enjoyed a nice hot coffee and a brief chat to a fella who had come up from down south with his nice little dog.

Onwards now, up and over the saddle between Scales and Souther fell.

Oh... this doesn't bode well! The cloud level is lower than expected. We are only at 1600ft and walking straight into the cloudline already.

Oh well... Great place for a selfie we thought.

The "view" across to Bannerdale.

We arrive at Scales Beck which is our next turning point for the ascent up to Scales tarn.

As luck would have it, the cloud lifted a little here.

Mandy crossed Scales Beck and posed for a picture.

Looking back, Bannerdale came into view briefly.

And ahead of us, our first sign of snow.

As we gain height and reach 1900ft, an amazing scene started to unfold ahead of us.

The cloud dispersed and Blencathra appeared in all her glory!

As did the notorious "Sharp Edge" ridge. It looks like we might have hit lucky with the weather.

Scales Tarn is amazing. Much nicer than I expected. Sat at the edge with his dog was the chap we spoke with earlier. The beagle puppy seemed to have claimed the tarn as his own as he took great delight in barking at me and warning me off.

The scene of many a rescue, and indeed many a fatality... Scales Tarn and Sharp Edge.

Mandy and I are going to head up there and take a closer look later.

But its 13:00... Which is lunchtime! We had a great lunch of spam butties and cakes while we chatted with the nice fellow we met. Naturally, his hound was now our very best friend as I had hot food on the go!

As we sat and ate, it all went pear shaped very quickly! This is the view south.

And the view north. Thick cloud has descended on us.

It was time for a serious decision to be made. Do we carry on up and hope it clears again? Or head back the way we came? We both opted to carry on for a while, so we packed up and started heading upwards.

Looking back to the tarn... nothing but cloud around us. I am secretly hoping we can exit above it to an amazing cloud inversion of course. And with 700ft to go, it's certainly a possibility!

The snow on this path is oddly deep. The path is deep set and has held the snow really well.

Mandy stayed in good spirits. She is always calm in situations like this. I guess that's the day to day training of 20 years as a paediatric nurse in a busy hospital coming out. I have always half expected her to panic in dodgy situations like this but she never does.

Regardless, the going is tough and I call it as time to stop for another hot brew and some calories. I am a firm believer that its always best to stay calm and just relax, eat and drink in bad conditions. Physical exertion brings on stress very quickly so taking your time is paramount to success. Plus, if we wait long enough, the sun might come out!

Oh well, maybe not. Time to don our crampons as it's getting steep now.

Despite my wishes, instead of getting better, conditions got worse.

Much worse... It very quickly and suddenly became the worst I have ever personally experienced and certainly far worse than Mandy has.

We are now bordering on a full whiteout. We stop and discuss our available options as we are near the top now and it may well be easier to summit and find our planned descent path over Scales Fell than to head back down this steep path to Scales Tarn.

If your monitor is well calibrated you will see this white image below is actually our exact view. You can just make out the snow on the left. The rest of our world was now white. This is the view ahead...

And the view behind us...

As we are at over 2'600ft now we decide to carry on upwards very slowly and very carefully. Breaks in the cloud gave us pointers on where we were going but it was pretty hard going and we could no longer determine where the sky ended and the ground began. This was Mandy's first whiteout and I was nervous about her panicking, but she didn't even come close thankfully.

Here she is going over the top after I cut some steps in for her with my boots and Ice axe.

Erm... Mandy! Wait for me!

Mandy on Blencathra Summit in a whiteout! What a challenge! A whiteout is very similar to what divers will know as a "Silt out" where you lose your orientation senses and can't tell which way is up or down and the cloud moving around you makes you feel like its you that is moving when your not. Its not to be underestimated - It can be a very deadly situation if you let it panic you.

Mandy is stood near the edge of Tarn Crags here. 3 footsteps forward and pretty much dead center of this image is a very steep 700ft drop to certain death. The whiteout disguises it perfectly by rendering the air and the ground as virtually the same colour. We were lucky, the cloud was moving around so we could see landmarks every now and again. I would hate to be up here in even worse conditions, and for sure it can definately get worse than this.

The last time I was up here was in the dark via Halls Fell ridge for Charity (Blencathra by Moonlight) So old Saddleback has yet to afford me a view worth the climb. Never mind... I will be back one day for another go. Maybe with my daughter Steph.

Walking had to be very slow. Baby steps, inching our way around. Maps are of virtually no use at all up here now. Thank god we BOTH have working GPS.

Naturally, I couldn't help but carefully wander over towards the edge for some images. The photographer in you never seems to know when to quit! (But it does know when its prudent to use some zoom...!)

Mandy's expression does at times remind me that the camera should be put away and an escape plan put into place! This was one of those times.

But wait! Who ever gets the chance to take a selfie in a whiteout? Lol... one quick snap and we are out of here...

No pics for a while... but we slowly and carefully followed the path along Scales fell.

The lower we got, the better the visibility became. We descended about 800ft and stopped for a brew and to get the crampons off.

Eventually, we emerged from the cloud to a pretty nice day!

Looking across to what I think is Clough Head, I see the cloud is just as thick over there. I remember wondering to myself who is up there and how are they liking it?

The rest of the descent was painless but we were both very glad to be out of that cloud and back in safer territory.

On the way back to the car, we decided to try out the White Horse Inn at Scales. What a great idea that turned out to be. Great Food and bloody well deserved.

And that was the end of our day... Just an hour and a half's drive back to Blackpool and its all over.


Here is the route we took, its active so you can zoom in and scroll around.

Here is some data from my Suunto Ambit 3 peak.                                                             

And here are the ups and downs.

Thanks for reading folks. I hope you enjoyed taking a little trip with us and that it inspired you to try the route. Remember, take your time, don't ever rush. The fells are there to be enjoyed, not endured.

While you are out there enjoying the beautiful fells, remember the golden rules...
"Take only pictures, leave only footprints and keep only memories".


Camera Details:
All images in this blog were taken with my little pocket sized Canon G7X point and shoot. Its not a patch on my Canon 5D MK3 of course but I no longer lug all that around with me hiking as its just too cumbersome. When I find a scene worth of the 5D3's talents, I usually return one day to make the best of it.


Route Completed on March 12th, 2016 with Mandy Sanderson



Stewart Sanderson Photography
Thanks Val, I wish schools could still do stuff like this. Such a shame that its all come to an end.
As I like to say "Not al classrooms have four walls"
Val Kay-Dunn(non-registered)
An amazing trip. Thanks for the share. Did Helvellyn in similar conditions in a school party in the 60s - we had no problems and didn't have your sense, or equipment. In those days foolhardiness was par for the course. You had to be tough!! So glad you were brave enough to do Blencathra...just fab pics, but not everyone's cup of wotnot, I suppose! Can't wait for the next BLOG!!!!! VXX
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