3 Passes Variation

Saturday started like so many days this past Autumn and Winter. It was raining and cloud was clinging to the lowest fells. The forecast was for heavy rain, initially falling as snow above 600 metres. And again the forecast wasn’t far wrong.

So we opted for a variation on the so-called ‘3 passes’. The former takes a circular route from Kentmere; heading over into Longsleddale and then Mardale (Haweswater) before returning back to Kentmere. Its a good option for those wanting to stick to a relatively straightforward series of paths and trails and who want to get some climbing in, without venturing to the highest summits.

For our route, and to get some additional climbing in, we headed up Riggindale from Haweswater to bring us out on the summit of High Street from where we headed south to re-join the route at Nan Bield. It was a cold and very damp day.

Fell running in the Lake District

The road to Haweswater end and car-park is currently blocked due to a major landslide.

Fell running in the Lake District

At the summit of Gatescarth Pass as the rain turned to snow

Fell running in the Lake District

The end of Haweswater. Looking back across to Harter Fell.

Fell running in the Lake District

Difficult conditions as we approach High Street. It was a mix of rain and sleet at this point and soft snow underfoot.

 

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Running slow

Tuesday has given a chance to nip out for a routine training run before nightfall.

Its been gradually cooling down again today in the Lakes. The transient snowfall from the weekend has all but gone following yesterday’s stormy and mild weather but today with the gradual return of cooler temperatures (only 3 degrees this afternoon at Kirkstone Pass) a fresh dusting of snow is now lying above 600 metres or so and the ground is beginning to re-freeze.

So it was back out on my circular route over Red Screes, down to Scandale Bottom before returning back up to Scandale Pass and Red Screes once more. It was a slow run today, one of my slowest ever on this circuit, slightly worrying, and a continuation of some of the deep fatigue which seems to be firmly set into my legs at the moment. I’ve been trying to pin-point the cause of this now for months. I’m definitely past the worst which was back in the Autumn but it still keeps casting a shadow on plenty of my runs at the moment. It’s insanely hard to describe, I can only say it just feels like my legs have lost any sparkle, any explosive strength. Actuate fatigue, muscle stiffness or imbalance, poor diet, who knows?

Still despite the weather forecast it was actually a pretty decent late afternoon which bolstered my spirits. It was cool and blustery but the wind was never excessive and there were glimpses of winter sunshine in between the showers, which were all of hail and snow by the time I was out. The views were expansive and the light magical, the slightly later evening light casting a beautiful glow across the fells.

Fell running in the Lake District

The less than straightforward direct descent into Scandale. Dove Crag behind.

Fell running in the Lake District

Looking across to Brotherswater from the summit of Red Screes

Fell running in the Lake District

Blustery rather than stormy conditions on Red Screes

Fell running in the Lake District

A dusting of snow on the high fells. Helvellyn in the far distance.

Fell running in the Lake District

Descending back to Kirkstone Pass

 

 

 

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Roller coaster Conditions

Saturday dawned stormy. Conditions were forecast to be relatively severe on the fells. A fresh dusting of snow lay down to 300 metres in the Langdale valley.

Scrambling to the rocky peak of Harrison Stickle was trickier than normal. The rocks were covered in a slick layer of Verglas and the wind was building to ferocious levels. It was virtually impossible to stand up on the summit. Turning down west brought us directly into the full onslaught of the storm-force winds. It was the sort of day when you physically had to lean down hill in order to get down hill. We’d been out barely an hour and I was already knackered.

It felt like a bit of fight running around to Pike O Stickle. We climbed its eastern edge, a momentary escape from the wind as swathes of hail and graupel hurled themselves at the fells. From there on we were fully exposed, running down and across Martcrag moor, feet sloshing through icy cold, boggy ground and one hand attempting to shield the pellets that were being fired into your face.

We were heading for Rosset Pike, following the increasingly worn  trods of the this part of leg 3 of the Bob Graham Round. Climbing out from Stakes Pass, the wind had temporarily abated, but it soon reared up once more; it felt like trying to pull a steam train, the head-wind was reducing any running to a broken walk, feet tiring in the soft, squelchy ground whilst your breath was forced back into your lungs.

Standing on Rosset Pike wasn’t quite impossible, but I did get knocked sideways twice. The summit of Bowfell looked Himalayan. Streams of snow could seen swirling high on its face like plumes in a jet stream and icy runnels clinged to its crags. We picked our way up the rakes, away from the stormy conditions just a hundred metres or so above us.

We’d only seen a handful of people all day and the summit plateau of Bowfell was no different. We passed a few groups of committed walkers descending to Three Tarns but most were heading down. The wind, the ice having convinced most people that a warm fire and a pint was a more sensible way to spend the day. More the pity.

Fell running in the Lake District

Steph negotiating icy steps up towards Harrison Stickle

Fell running in the Lake District

Wild, difficult conditions descending towards Martcrag Moor

Fell running in the Lake District

Running into a ferocious headwind en route to Rosset Pike

Fell running in the Lake District

On the ‘Billy Bland rakes’ approaching Bowfell

Sunday

It was hard work getting out bed on Sunday. I felt tired and despite the advancing days of winter, it still felt dark. But I was heading out again, this time with team-mates from Ambleside, so excuses didn’t really matter.

Leaving the Three Shires Inn in Little Langdale the drizzle was incessant. It was an uncomfortably cool 4 degrees and through the mire that was clinging to the fells above, fresh snow could be seen. But there was little change in the conditions with height. By the time we’d made our way over and back down to the Coppermines above Coniston, little had changed. Picking our way up towards Low Water, the damp slick of waterlogged snow became thicker, but very little was frozen. The damp snow just became thicker and thicker.

By the time we reached the summit of the Old Man, my legs were shot. I’d ran all the way but my stride was laboured, it had felt unbelievably hard work. Dan who had led the charge to the summit was sat happily munching into a snack by time I’d got there.

It was a claggy and slightly less snowy affair running across to Swirl How, the broad ridge line had been windswept, the snow lay in lees and hollows but the path was mostly clear and the drizzle continued, no sign of any freezing level today. The roller coaster of winter conditions continues.

 

 

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Icy Floes

Wow. I cannot believe it’s been nearly a month since I last ran on the fells. In fact it’s been nearly a month since I last ran full-stop, back-to back trips to the US, Norway and most recently Germany keeping any forays into the hills firmly off the agenda. On the odd day I could have squeezed in some Tarmac thudding run through another city scape but that’s not really my thing.

Luckily at 1am on Thursday morning I finally returned home. The thick blanket of snow that I had caught a glimpse of last week had vanished in the rain and yet more unseasonably high temperatures. The rain, the storm-force winds; those like me were back.

And so on Thursday, late in the afternoon as daylight was slowly merging with a subdued half light of dusk I found myself running along the top of High Street, sloshing through icy floes of water as I got hammered by storm force winds and rain; rain that hit my face so hard it hurt. Possibly the second worst, second most biblical (not that I sure any God had much to do with it) run of the entire ‘winter’. If the amount of swearing was anything to go by, it was pretty bad. Not that anyone heard, once again I was all alone, except for Seren and even she did not look to be enjoying herself.

Yet before my running shoes could even dry out, another day dawned. This time even windier as Storm Gertrude caressed our shores. Luckily by mid-afternoon the worst of her power had passed this corned of England. Making my way up besides Stickle Ghyll it was relatively benign. Again there wasn’t a soul in sight. Even the car-park could muster only one car. For once I could hear the soles of my shoes dancing on the damp rock, for once I wasn’t hidden in amongst the rustle of my waterproof jacket, for once fell running felt almost enjoyable again.

I picked up the pace a little as I traversed around the shores of Stickle Tarn, jolted by the occasional gust of wind and promptly dropped it again as I clawed my way up the slabs and rocky promontories behind Pavey Ark. Nestled amongst the rocks, there was little wind, I warmed up sufficiently and there was just the odd patch of fading snow to remind anyone that this was the end of January. It felt more like March or April.

The wind finally showed her hand as I neared the top, finally reaching its full-force as I touched the summit of Thunacar Knott. On the fell-tops it felt cold, the sky was leaden as I stopped and stared out across to the high fells of Bowfell and Great End. Yet it was strangely peaceful. For once the constant buffeting didn’t seem so bad. Perhaps a few weeks off hasnt been so bad after all.

Fell running in the Lake District

Looking across to Bowfell and Great End

Fell running in the Lake District

Seren with Stickle Tarn and Harrison Stickle behind

Fell running in the Lake District

On Thunacar Knott with Pike O Stickle behind

Fell running in the Lake District

Pike O Stickle’s rocky summit in the middle distance

 

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Last day around Hemsedal

Today was our last in the mountains around Hemsedal.

It was cold again this morning. The temperature reading -22c again as the car sluggishly spluttered into life. It must have taken all of 30 seconds before we realised the ice was on the inside of the windscreen!

For our final day of touring, we were heading back up the valley, north-west of Hemsedal to scope out an area we had seen skinning tracks in, only a couple of days previous. A huge open bowl and satellite peaks just over 1600m just to the north-west of the summit Storebottskarvet.

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A pleasant hour was spent setting a fresh track, first through birch woodland and then as we climbed higher, passing on the northern side of Point 1302, steeper more open, but fundamentally sound slopes. Indeed it wasn’t until we emerged into the large open bowl itself that we spotted our first natural avalanche activity we’d seen all week (excluding the avalanche Pete had triggered the day before) and were once again on the familiar, whooping snowpack.

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Sense of scale was hard to come by in the upper part of the mountain. The eyes suggested one thing, the map told another. We decided we would try and head to the south-western corner of the bowl, before climbing upto a broad col just to the north of Point 1693. Once again it was relatively easy going, but again, despite the forgiving, relatively safe gradient, the snowpack was whooping and creaking. Once again we picked a deliberate and careful line up a broken shoulder, firmly avoiding the steeper slopes to our left and right.

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The sun that had tempted us just half an hour earlier had vanished behind a veil of cloud by the time we reached the col. Despite its weakness, it lay low in the sky, drawing you upwards in search of its dappled rays but all we were greeted with was flakes of snow, which were now falling lightly from the cloud above. We turned north and headed over the broken summit and 1609 spot height, traversing across the broken and wind-scoured plateau in search of a descent line that wasn’t suicidal.

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And it was the northern shoulder which provided us with our line of escape. A series of shallow bowls and broken gully lines, clear of any signs of windslab, eventually opening up to much softer snow as we broke out of the bowl and descended back towards the valley floor. In a matter of minutes we were skirting through tightly packed birch, easing our way towards the frozen river once more and the end of our week in Norway.

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Creaking at the seams

Physically a little tired and mentally a little drained after todays outing.

It started benignly enough, skinning out of Hemsedal across snow-covered meadow before climbing up a gradually rising track through the forest, following snow-mobile tracks upto around 950m. It was warm, easily the warmest morning we had experienced so far, perhaps only 6 or 7 degreees below freezing. I was struggling not to overheat as we made our way higher up the mountain.

The previous night it has been very windy, even low down. We had sat and watched vast plumes of snow swirling off the peaks surrounding the valley floor. It didn’t take a genius to have realised that vast volumes of snow would have been transported, the faces would have been scoured and others would be harbouring large quantities of potentially unstable windslab. The official avalanche forecast had taken this into account, today being the first day that the risk level had risen to 3, considerable. Not unusual, not a reason to not head out but an upgrade in things compared to the previous days.

As we climbed above the tree-line conditions changed markedly. The wind-speed increased and the temperature plummeted. I went from overheating to feeling cold in the space of about 30 minutes. We were heading for the northern of two summits marked as Skurvefjellet, some 1741 metres high, roughly 1100 metres of vertical ascent from the valley floor. They way through on the map wasn’t completely obvious, from Hemsedal it is a direct and relatively steep ascent, but we thought we had spotted a line that would keep us on the safest terrain and be the least oppressive.

Skurvefjellet ski touring

Wild, atmospheric and cold conditions on Skurvefjellet.

Steadily the ground steepened. But it was mostly broken terrain, the snowfields and gullies interspersed with rocky outcrops and a safe line looked feasible. Yet as we made our way up, almost at every turn, on every slope however narrow, however low the gradient, great whooping noises could be heard. The sure-fire signs of an incredibly unstable snow-pack.  I was out front, putting in a track with Steph and Pete following behind, one kick-turn and whoop, I paused as a crack line fizzed out across the snow. This was unnerving. Yet we continued to pick our way up the ill-defined shoulder we were following.

Skurvefjellet ski touring

Feeling the cold on Skurvefjellet

At around 1500 metres the gradient began to ease, the terrain opened up and we pulled onto the edge of the main plateau that marked the south-western edge of Skurvefjellet. It was insanely cold. I pulled on my goggles, covered my face and headed for the summit. It was a wild and lonely place that day.

Skurvefjellet ski touring

Steph enjoying firm snow on the western slopes of Skurvefjellet

From the summit, despite the difficult conditions and half visibility, there looked to be a straightforward gradual descent northwards. By sticking to the western edge of the bowl we hoped to avoid the worst of the wind and stay above any significant deposits of wind-slab. It was steady away, firm snow down Point 1590. From here a line westwards would take us down hopefully scoured gully lines on firm snow. It was a relatively shallow snow-pack but we enjoyed great turns for 400 metres or so, easily the biggest continuous descent of our week so far, before we started to track southwards into a narrow valley that would hopefully take us back out to Hemsedal.

Skurvefjellet

Steph skiing on wind-scoured snow

Pete was out in front, the terrain was straightforward but the snow becoming increasingly hard to ski. I came around a shallow corner and there was Pete. Ahead a shallow gully line, ahead was nothing but avalanche debris. Pete had fortunately stopped just in time, rising up onto the edge of a concave slope, Pete has realised what he was about to cross and put the brakes on, just as the slope fractured right under the tips of the ski’s setting off a domino sequence as the gully fractured upwards for 20 or 25 metres, releasing from a crown wall some 80cm or so in depth before avalanching into the stream-bed. A very fortunate decision on the part of Pete. The slab would easily have taken him off his feet and there was more than enough to snow to have buried him in the narrow gully beneath.

Windslab avalanche

Windslab avalanche. For scale, the tree on the left is about 1m high. The width at the bottom about 20-25m across. Our tracks can just be seen top left

We decided to stop for lunch, contemplated our fortunes as we stared at the debris opposite and mulled over our exit strategy. That itself was far from straightforward.  The valley was narrow, the mountainsides broken with numerous deep stream-lines and for the first kilometre or so little in the way of an obvious way through. And so we were forced down onto the frozen stream, having wasted what felt like ages attempting to traverse the slope above before managing to find a line that gradually climbed back out and joined a small path back to Hemsedal. Defensive skiing in rapidly fading light was the order of the day as we negotiated the narrow forest path on ski.

The beers had been well and truly earnt today.

 

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Storeskardnosene Horseshoe

Just back from the best tour of our short trip to Norway so far.

Today’s objective was a circular tour on the North side of a small lake – Storeskardvatnet, a short drive north-west of Hemsedal. Our route would hopefully take in the small peaks of Steinbunose and Storeskardnosene.

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Morning sunshine

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Dappled birch woodland and early morning sun

It was a magical morning when we left the car. Not quite so cold (only -16c) but with a warm glow of sunlight flooding the valley. We followed  an existing skinning track north-eastwards, zig-zagging our way through soft, powdery snow up to around 1100 metres.

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Around 1150 metres on the eastern slopes of Steinbunose

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Pete and Steph nearing the summit of Steinbunose

From here we turned north-west and began the short climb onto the summit of Steinbunose. A broken summit with numerous outlying satellite peaks.

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Looking across Storeskardbekken

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Point 1354 from Steinbunose

Today was the first day where we appeared to be making good time, but we pressed on, mindful of the increasing atmospheric haze. The snow was less stable on these scoured and east / south-east facing slopes, occasional whopping noises and crack lines appearing. Thankfully the gradient was not too steep. But it was a reminder of a rapidly changing snow-pack and served as a useful note of caution.

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Steph traversing north-west of Steinbunose. Storebottskarvet behind.

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Me, feeling the chill

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From the summit we dropped down through patches of scoured ice and ribs of windslab before we picked a circular line northwards around west facing slopes towards Storeskardnosene. The snow here was better, softer with little in the way of windslab. But the wind was keen, biting into my exposed face, as shards of diamond-dust twinkled in the weak sunshine, signifying the  set of a weak weather front which was bringing increasingly hazy skies to the west.

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Pete and Steph setting tracks above Raudbergtjerne

The view from the summit matched anything we had seen on previous days. Even as thin clouds began to obscure distant summits, the vista was wide with far reaching views across to Hydalsberget and its jagged band of cliffs. One wonders how much unexplored or rarely frequented climbing there must be here in Norway, such is the vastness of this relatively empty landscape.

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The summit of Storeskardnosene, looking north-east

From the summit, our line of sight was initially obscured, the broken and rocky terrain hiding any obvious ski descent. We retraced our route back westwards for a few hundred metres before taking a chance and heading south. The skins came off, we locked in our ski’s and set off, ready to do battle through windslab. We on,y contemplated this because of the nature of the terrain and depth of snow-pack. It was a revelation. The snow was forgiving, yes we scraped over a few rocks but it was worth it as we swooshed down.

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Heading down, Pete makes the most of a some tracks to build a little speed

We bottomed out in a high hanging valley, a few hundred metres of sliding before another great descent through dappled birch woodland and a great powder. A great end to a another great day in Norway.

 

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