This weekend I was in the Lake District, exploring Skiddaw and Blencathra, a fantastic area of mountains to north of Keswick with heather clad hills and quiet dales. Together with Uldale and Caldbeck Fells these hills cover an area of about 144 square km, with no roads apart from Estate tracks and only one inhabited building, Skiddaw House – a remote Hostel between Skiddaw and Blencathra.
Over two days I providing training and coaching to help a candidate prepare for their Mountain Leader Award. Our plan was:
- An ascent of Skiddaw and Blencathra,
- A high camp at Scales Tarn,
- Some night navigation and
- Lots practice of pacing, timing and compass work
Starting from Keswick we walked up the main path to Skiddaw (931m). It was busy, as you’d expect, but to the north of the summit the number of walkers lessened, the cloud cleared and we enjoyed lovely views of Bassenthwaite lake and purple heather clad hills like Great Calva.
We descended north to a waterfall called Whitewater Dash and noticed small groups of people looking across to the western slopes of Little Calva. Soon after we heard the yells of a huntsman’s voice and a big pack of hounds bounding through the deep heather. Then we saw the fox; sometimes running ahead, sometimes sitting motionless in the heather. At one point the fox reached the top of Dry Gill (a steep mountain gully on Little Calva) with hounds in chase. Then hounds appeared from the top of the gully and cornered the fox. With amazing speed the fox ran, hurtling back down the gully, past all the pursuing foxes. Incredibly it avoided getting caught and headed to lower ground and out of view. I was thankful the fox got away. I’d never seen a fox hunt before and was surprised and shocked by the drama of it.
Next we headed east past Skiddaw House – Britain’s highest hostel – and up on to a high plateau called Mungrisdale Common. There we put the tent up, had some dinner and waited for nightfall, in readiness for some night navigation.
We set off again at about 9:30pm. With cloudy skies it was pretty dark. Our aim was to navigate to Scales Tarn on the eastern side of Blencathra, and camp. Night nav involves breaking up your journey into short legs (ideally no more than 800m) to targets that are obvious in the landscape at night, like a break in slope, a gully, a stream, a cairn etc whist pacing and timing to gauge distance travelled and following a compass bearing. Mungrisdale Common is pretty featureless (and wet underfoot) but we made good progress, found our targets and reached the col between Bannerdale Crags and Blencathra. Next we headed south to Scales Beck before ascending up to Scales Tarn, arriving about 11:30pm.
Sunrise was about 6:30am. The morning lit up Blencathra in beautiful golden light. By setting off time however the mist had come in. The morning involved a scramble up Sharp Edge and more navigation practice before descending down Blease Fell and on to Keswick. As we descended the cloud cleared and we got some amazing views across to Thirlmere and Derwent Fells.
If your interested in visiting the Lake District with a guide or want some coaching on navigation or mountain skills please get in touch.
The Mountain Leader Award is a qualification for people that want to lead groups in the mountains, hills and moorlands of the UK and Ireland. It involves undertaking a six day training course, a five day assessment and many ‘quality mountain days‘ where a candidate’s skill and competence in navigation, mountain leadership and environmental knowledge are developed.