Over the last month or two our walks seemed to have become more popular and as well as the regular five (Paul was back in the numbers as his thyroid was improving) we have had the presence of one or two guests. Today’s guest was Pete (climbing wall Pete) and this meant that we would require two cars for the trip to the Lakes. Driving past Keswick we could see the snow on the hilltops and were now keeping our fingers crossed that we were in for a real winters day. To reach our parking spot in Little Town we had to negotiate a one in seven downhill gradient. The mere fact that both cars skidded even at a crawling pace told us that it was cold and that up in the hills we would no doubt get our wish.
Suitably wrapped up in many a layer of clothing we all set off looking like “Michelin men”, initially over the humped backed bridge and then down the farm track to Low Snab. By the time that we reached this farm we had all shed some degree of clothing (the old overestimation problem again). This wasn’t too surprising as we were still at low level and sheltered from any wind there may have been. Walking along this farm track we could see that our route would take us to the head of the valley and then a sharp pull towards Dale Head would be required. Rather than do this, the alternative was to ignore the “no access to the fell” sign and make a direct climb up to the ridge above us. Needless to say we took the latter option and romped up this frozen fellside. This was with the exception of John who once again looked to be struggling. Well, just for a change we all waited for him and watched on in amazement as he caught us up and in one motion continued ahead all on his own. At least there is one thing. He is predictable. It really was a cracking ridge route, there was a gradual gradient, the views although hazy were extensive, it was very cold but the snow although everywhere seemed no deeper than it had done at the car park. Our progress took us up to the rocky top of Hindscarth and then the decent to the col and subsequent reascent into the clouds of Dale Head. Due to the fact that it was freezing and there was quite a wind blowing we took the sensible decision to postpone our snap until we at least had visibility and some shelter. From the great summit cairn a steep easterly descent took us back under the cloud level and to Dalehead Tarn where there seemed to be the ruins of some old shelter. This would be ideal for our stop and after all were starving.
Well, the first thing was to find some shelter within these ruins and then to greedily empty our snap boxes. It was quite funny sitting there, all of us caked in what looked like talcum powder and trying to put on a brave face in these inhospitable conditions. Mark saved the day by exploring the nearby tarn and deciding that it looked frozen enough to merit an attempt to skate on it. That’s exactly what we did; Mark, Stu, Pete and myself all had a go. The trouble with hill walking boots is that they generally have decent grip on them and are therefore not smooth enough to be ideal for such an activity. The answer came with our walking poles. They were used like a pair of ski poles to propel us along the ice. If it weren’t for the sound of the ice protesting at our presence it would have been hilarious. Thankfully we retired safely to the shelter of the walls and even though the temperature was no different our mood seemed to have picked up no end. All that remained now was to sort out a descent route. Again there was disagreement; I didn’t think that we had done enough whereas one or two of the others thought otherwise. I’ll let Paul off as his feet were in a state and had become badly swollen. A compromise was reached with John, Paul and Pete taking the gradual easy descent all the way back to Low Snab and the car park, whilst the rest of us Stu, Mark and myself once more headed off into the clouds in order to add a few extra feet of ascent. Was it really worth it? Probably not. Yes, we managed a few hundred feet of ascent; however whilst on the ridge we had no visibility at all and also had a continual battle against the fiercely freezing wind. At last, on the descent from Maiden Moor the clouds cleared enough to afford a limited murky view of the north end of Derwent Water. I know that it wasn’t much but as always when visibility is regained the world seems a better place. The others were already at the car when we finally completed this walk, however there was a problem, Paul’s feet were really giving him some jip and for a while it was touch and go whether he would be able to drive us home. As it turned out this would be his last opportunity to drive us home for a while. Unknown to us all the foot and mouth epidemic was just around the corner and the hills would be virtually out of bounds.