Skiddaw in a White-out

Every February, we spend a weekend walking in the Lake District and every year the weather is very different from the last. This year, two weather fronts – a cold front that had turned seas in eastern Europe into huge skating rinks and a warm front that carried a significant amount of moisture across the Atlantic – were having something more than just a simple playground scuffle over the British Isles; lots of pushing and shoving with no one too sure which would get the upper hand. I’ve never seen the Mountain Weather Information Service weather forecast for the following day studied so carefully before.

Keswick from Skiddaw

On Saturday morning, the warm front seemed to have the upper hand but that soon changed as we made our way up Skiddaw. After studying the forecast myself, I opted for Skiddaw because it has a well-established, wide path to the summit. It wasn’t a day to be on a narrow ridge without full winter climbing kit and experience.

The cloud level dropped to about 400 metres and with the high winds – also forecast – and the snow already underfoot and more falling quite heavily, visibility deteriorated rapidly; to less than 10 metres at times.  I’m reasonably familiar with that route up Skiddaw. Even in cloud or fog, the path is easy to follow.  But when that too is white and indistinguishable, it’s a much bigger challenge.

To give you an idea of what was visible…

                                                                            .                                                            ,                                                /                                                      _                                                                  –                                                  !                                            :                                        ‘                                      /                                                  |                                            \                                                                            .                                                            ,                                                /                                                      _                                                                  –                                                  !                                            :                                        ‘                                      /                                                  |                                            \                                                                            .                                                            ,                                                /                                                      _                                                                  –                                                  !                                            :                                        ‘                                      /                                                  |                                            \

…a few rocks scattered around.

Thus, our summit attempt was thwarted. Micro-navigation was virtually impossible.  On turning back, we didn’t quite turn through 180 degrees and we soon found ourselves on a steepening incline.  My experience of Skiddaw and it’s contours told me almost straight away that we were off the path but without any reference points, all we had to correct the mistake was a general direction.  The danger being that, having zigged one way, we could easily zag back the other and across the path without even realising.  So with a mix of contouring around and gradual descent over already rough ground, we arrived at the saddle between Skiddaw and Little Man summits – still with very little visibility.

To get from 1 summit to the other, there’s a fence that acts as a handrail across that saddle but we couldn’t locate it.  Time to get the GPS out and pinpoint us exactly on the map! As it turned out, aiming off a little too much on the descent, we’d missed the corner of that fence by less than 50 metres but with visibility so low… A few paces to the east and I had my point of reference.

After that bit of excitement, the rest of the walk back to the car was relatively uneventful but it was quite obvious that bad weather was setting in for the rest of the day.  There was absolutely no contrast between snow on the ground and the white-out in the air. I found that very… mesmerising I think is the best description of it. The snow line was at about 300 metres on our way up; it was now firmly in the basin of the valleys.  As we drove down into Grasmere, cars were struggling on the climb up to Dunmail Raise where, only minutes earlier, a bus had made it through.

We found out later that others had similar or worse experiences on the fells that day. I like to think of myself as fairly philosophical and I squared away our experience as Mother Nature kicking off to remind us just who was in charge.

White Fells

By contrast, the next day she offered up an olive branch; a very picturesque Lake District, dusted heavily in icing sugar.

How deep is that Snow!

How to collect brownie points on a birthday

Keeping to the newly established tradition of doing something for Vicky’s birthday (as opposed to presents), this year’s effort was a top-class weekend in London, doing whatever was on her wish list. There were 2 pre-booked events but more about them later.

We caught the 17:45 King’s Cross train out of Leeds, travelling 1st class. Those empty seats you keep eyeing up through the carriage window are really comfy! And they serve a range of alcohol at your table. So much so that the journey of a couple of hours is over in no time. Almost too quick in fact!

We arrived at the hotel in time to freshen up and wander down to The Comedy Store for the late show. The best comedian of the night by far was Paul Tonkinson and not just because he’s a northerner!

Punch & Judy

We had breakfast in Covent Garden on Saturday morning followed by a browse through the enclosed shops and the near-by market. Heading for the London Eye, the long queue and the rain were enough to quickly put us off that idea. So it was back across the river to the British Museum for a different kind of browsing. It’s not my kind of place but then again, this wasn’t my weekend. (I was collecting brownie points!)

We ate a late lunch in a very nice Mexican restaurant we picked off Trip Advisor before getting ready for the highlight of the weekend. Tickets to Jersey Boys at the Prince Edward Theatre (which we both really enjoyed – the show, not just the tickets!) and dinner at an authentic Italian restaurant just down the street. (As I say, some serious brownie points!)

Previously, we had watched a segment of Saturday Kitchen with Lawrence Keogh from The Wolseley as 1 of the guest chefs so that’s where we had breakfast on Sunday morning. And that’s where the surrealism of the day started. Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice place and the food was REALLY nice but I just don’t belong in such relaxed (in inverted commas) yet regimented social settings. Give me a greasy spoon any day!

For my 10-year long service award, I choose vouchers for Harrods specifically as a… well, more than just a birthday stocking filler really. Having rather awkwardly tried to sidle past security (there’s a dress code dontcha know!), walking around the themed areas of each of the 5 floors was a REAL eye-opener. Oh how the other half live! It freaked us both out a little quite frankly. What was to be the icing on the cake for the weekend was on the cusp of ruining it all! Until we both took a moment just to gain some composure. The place has a certain overwhelming closed-in atmosphere but once we realised that’s all it was, we were both able to browse more comfortably.

Totem

To round the weekend off, Vicky wanted to go back to the British Museum again to view an exhibition we didn’t have time for on the Saturday. On the way there, we stopped for tea and cake in Sicilian Avenue.

Finally, it was back “Oopnorf!” again after a very memorable weekend for both of us. Although I suspect for slightly different reasons.