Present: Martin B (organiser), Olga, Andy M, Si, Matthew, Bruce, Sarah, Alan, Dave W, Paula, Andrea, Simon P, Evgenia, Adriana, Pam, Martin L
Location: Grasmere Thorney How YH

Despite the blanket of snow over southern England, everyone who signed up for this trip did make it to the Lakes, and we were justly rewarded by the conditions. Andy, Si and Matthew’s planned early start was slightly hampered by Andy taking two hours to get from Pewsey to Newbury, a journey that required snow chains. On arriving in Cumbria there seemed to be minimal snow at lake level, but the higher ground looked more promising. Friday evening was spent in the pub, followed by celebrating New Zealand day back at the hostel with a variety of delicacies supplied by Paula. As the last person to book in, Pam had ended up with a room to herself for the night – the downside was that when she failed to take her key with her on a bathroom trip in the small hours, there was nobody to let her back in and she ended up sleeping on a sofa downstairs…

First out of the door on Saturday morning, Si and Andy headed over to Langdale for some winter climbing on Bowfell. They headed up The Band towards Three Tarns but then broke off the main path to follow the climber’s traverse. The plan was to follow the traverse to one of the gullys on either side of Bowfell Buttress and then climb to the summit. Conditions on the traverse were quite interesting, particularly for Si on his first full day winter climbing, so rather than risk all for glory, they picked a scrambling line up the front face of Bowfell and reached the summit in poor visibility. A cold lunch stop followed before heading down into glorious sunshine. On the way down, Si spent time practising crampon footwork on any steeper snow slopes that could be found.

Entering the gully, Brown Cove Crags (Andy M)

Si descending from Bowfell (Andy M)

Looking down the way up (Andy M)

Victory! (Andy M)

The rest of the group departed the hostel at 9.30 for a circuit taking in Easedale Tarn, Sergeant Man, High Raise and Helm Crag. The day started clear, but once past the tarn the conditions underfoot became noticeably icier and by the time we reached the lunch stop at Sergeant Man, the snow was beginning to fall. A short time later, walking poles were swapped for ice axes and everyone put on crampons – a first for some in the group, and a rarity in England for everyone. There were a few slips and stumbles, but everyone seemed to enjoy the experience. After we reached High Raise, the downhill was an opportunity to practise ice axe arrests and digging snow holes – and, more frivolously, snowball fights, snow angels and sledging on survival bags. Pam enjoyed the latter so much that she ran back up the hill to do it again.

Once we reached the western end of Far Easedale the group split, with the instruction to “follow a Martin” – half the group went with Martin B down the valley and back to Grasmere, while the other half followed Martin L up to Helm Crag and dropped down from there. Everyone arrived back at the hostel within half an hour of each other.

Spindrift (Simon P)

Snowball fight (Simon P)

The descent (Simon P)

In the evening Martin B cooked plov, an Uzbek dish “with a Georgian twist”, and we all crammed into the small lounge with its fire for more beer and wine and some gentle dozing off. After the day’s exertions, it wasn’t a particularly late night for anyone.

On Sunday, there was rumoured to be heavy snow from mid-morning onwards. We didn’t let this put us off. First out of the door on Sunday morning (are you spotting a theme here?), Si, Matthew and Andy headed up to Thirlmere for some winter climbing on Brown Cove Crags at the rear of Helvellyn. The walk in was considerably shorter and safer (apart from Andy falling over in the icy car park!) and the base of the crags was reached quickly. Matthew left the others at the base of the crags and followed the main path to the summit of Brown Cove Crags. Si and Andy then had to choose a route to climb. The classic central gully had climbers swarming all over it so they headed to the end of the crag to a 300′ grade I gully. After fitting crampons, they set off unroped, and in almost perfect snow conditions gained height quickly. The cornice that had obviously been at the top had long since broken away and left a near vertical exit so they edged sideway on increasingly steep, rocky ground to the top. They arrived at the top at the same time as Matthew and all had a spot of lunch before heading back down. Time for tea!

Simon, Evgenia, Adriana, Pam and Martin headed for Seat Sandal, on the opposite side of the valley from the youth hostel. The conditions underfoot were excellent, with frozen ground and snow patches on the way up, and a continuous snow slope all the way down to Grisedale Tarn. For some, this was the first real experience of crampons, but others preferred the “sitting glissade” (bum slide). The clouds only let though the occasional ray of sunshine, but the predicted snow did not arrive. After lunch at Grisedale Hause, Pam and Martin continued on to Fairfield while Simon, Evgenia and Adriana returned to Grasmere down Tongue Gill – the first flakes of snow started to fall as they reached the road.

Meanwhile Dave, Paula, Andrea, Alan, Sarah and Bruce drove to Ambleside and completed a 3-hour walk over Loughrigg and back via Rydal Water and the “Great Cave”. Hardly any snow, but some fantastic views. They then had a late lunch in Ambleside and left just as the snow started to fall a few hours later than forecast.

See below for a video of Andy’s weekend, starring Simon “stopping is for girls” Kirby and co-starring Matthew Carter. (3 minutes long, has audio.)

Winter Climbing, Lake District Feb 2009

Sarah Davies, Andy Miles, Simon Pike

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