Monday, 26 April 2010

A walk up Whernside & Ingleborough

I plan to do the three peaks of Yorkshire challenge in the summer. Its a 25.1 mile moorland walk that includes going up Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough (the 3 highest peaks in the county) in under 12 hours.

We did Pen-y-ghent a few weeks ago but I'd never been up Whernside or fully up Ingleborough. With Sue & the kids away at her parents for the weekend yesterday provided an opportunity to do Whernside and ingleborough as a bit of a dry run for the full event.

Here's my account.

By 10pm on Saturday evening I was ready. I'd put out my clothes, my food, my kit and checked the weather forecast: cloudy, with a light shower in the middle of the day.

I woke just before six am on Sunday morning and staggered sleepily downstairs to make a drink. A glance out the window told me it looked alot more grey and misty than I'd expected. A few minutes later I came back up and noticed light rain on the window so re-checked the forecast. It was now 'heavy rain' all day. Oh. At that very moment I started to hear the hammering of heavy rain on the window and decided to postpone the trip.

I've got full waterproof gear but didn't fancy having to be in it all day and more importantly I didn't fancy having to climb up wet rock in the driving rain when near the summit.

I have a thing about heights. I'm fine with looking out a plane window from take-off and will happily admire the view when looking from a tall building but that's because I'm enclosed. If I'm exposed then any sort of height makes me feel nervy, with palms sweating and heart pounding. So climbing up steep sections of mountain isn't enjoyable for me. Climbing up them when wet, in poor visibility on a mountain top really isn't appealing.

Funnily enough though, it was that fear that made me decide, an hour later, to go anyway.

I kept wondering if the decision not to go was more down to excuse making to avoid that which I feared than the lack of attractiveness of walking in driving rain or any fear over safety. Not wanting to give in to it, off I went. Besides which, there had been a number of forecasts in recent weeks for 'sunny spells' that turned into 'cloudy with showers' while we were out so maybe it wouldn't be so bad anyway.

I got to a parking spot near Ribblehead at about 9.20am and set off a few minutes later. My rucksack was far heavier than normal with food, a large sports injury first aid kit, waterproofs, camera, a litre bottle of water, flask of red bush tea, head torch, an additional mid layer top, hat, gloves, map, directions etc. Likewise, I was kitted out for the worst in a Helly Hansen base layer, softshell jacket and Berghaus Goretex jacket over the top; and expecting there to be boggy sections a pair of Goretex gaiters. In the event I needed hardly any of it at all.

It was extremely grey and murky with low cloud and relatively limited visibility but it was dry and there had been nothing more than very light rain on the drive up. After a mile of walking I'd passed alongside the famous Ribblehead viaduct and began a gentle climb alongside the Settle to Carlisle railway tracks but I had to stop at a small stile. I was sweltering. There was a light breeze but it felt extremely close and humid and I was way overdressed, so decided to swap the softshell jacket for a thin midlayer with a half zip. This set the agenda for the rest of the day - always fearing it was about to get cold or wet and almost always way too hot as a result.

Onwards, crossing the railway via an aqueduct built to carry a beck over the railway (where I passed the first walkers I'd seen) and uphill past Force Gill waterfall. I was climbing steadily and by about 2.5 miles had to stop at another stile to remove the midlayer. It was already damp and the baselayer was sodden.

I continued upwards across boggy, misty moorland but generally on a rough pavement in wetter areas and a rock and mud track in others. Just beyond a tarn I passed another couple of walkers (having been passed once myself - for the only time on the walk - when I'd stopped to change and a purposeful looking lad with two walking poles went surging past) and began to head up into the clouds.

I quite liked that section. The path was broad, not excessively steep and though I knew there was a drop to my left the poor visibility meant I couldn't see how far down it went. After a few minutes I saw a large group of stationary walkers ahead, and realised I'd already reached the summit of Yorkshire's highest peak. A quick stop to take a picture of the trig point, grab a drink, cool off and have a mouthful of Trek bar and I set off again.

By this point I'd averaged a few seconds over 20 minutes a mile. I was pleased with that as apart from the first 200m and the odd short section early on it had all been uphill and had included 3 stops and several brief stops to take photographs or check directions. At that sort of rate I'd do the whole 3 peaks in not much over 8 hours - way inside the 12 hour target.

At the summit I'd packed the camera away again. As it was so misty there would be little to photograph and having it dangling round my neck interfered with walking as to prevent it bouncing I walked with one hand holding it steady.

However, as I set off along the broad and gentle path away from the summit a sudden gust of wind blew away the cloud to reveal the valley far beneath - the now tiny looking Ribblehead viaduct, the farms, patches of woodland and the lower slopes of Ingleborough on the other side.
Oh, well.

The descent wasn't too bad. There were a few steeper, rockier bits but I had no choice but to take these slowly as I had caught up the large group of walkers I'd seen at the summit and there were few opportunities to get past - essentially everyone had to go at the speed of the slowest walker.

I made up for it after that bit by running for half a mile, passing the purposeful chap in the process, before halting at some boulders near the first farm in order to change clothes once again. By now the Helly Hansen was so wet I was able to wring water from it so that came off and into a carrier bag and on went the half zip top. The jacket stayed off and also went into the rucksack.

The next bit was the easiest part: very gentle descent along a traffic free tarmac farm track. The lowest farm certainly cashed in though with a caravan in a barn serving sandwiches, hot drinks, bacon, sausage etc. I didn't partake but the three peaks has certainly helped them.

A few hundred metres on and I was back at the road near the Old Hill Inn. About 100m along the road was the path up Ingleborough so the Whernside section was officially over.

The early stages of the Ingleborough path were simple - clear path across grassy fields only rising gently. They were also very busy, with Ingleborough proving the far more popular climb. After a minute or two I passed a Lancastrian couple who, seeing the camera round my neck, asked if I was here for 'the race'. They were referring to the three peaks fell race - a famous 23 mile event - that they had travelled over to watch. Unfortunately for them, it had taken place the previous day!

A few minutes later and it started to rain and I assumed this was the beginning of the bad weather. Away went the camera, on came the rain cover on the rucksack and I changed tops once more, this time switching to the fleece lined softshell that, I thought, would be shower proof without being too warm.

I pressed on passing several groups of walkers that had bunched together - a family of four, a group of 4 women, two couples from the north east and three posh young pot holers who, dressed in rubberised suits, helmets, ropes and Davy lamps looked like extras from a 1970s Doctor Who.

Before too long the path became far steeper, like on Whernside thick slab steps were used to cross steep sections of boggy moorland and I could hear my breathing and feel my heart bumping as I kept going uphill at a decent pace. I was also roasting once again. The ominous looking rain had stopped before I'd even finished changing and I'd switched the buff to my head (to mop up the sweat) and had the jacket unzipped, giving it the whole bare chested pirate look.

Just ahead I could see the section I was dreading - where the path invisibly went up what looked like a sheer cliff. After taking the climb to there quite hard I should really of stopped to rest for a minute or two but I wanted to get the climbing done so carried on immediately.

The hidden path actually zig zagged steeply along man made steps. These aren't steps in the usual sense of the word, instead they are rocks and slabs of varying sizes put together to provide a generally stable surface to go up. However, they form a series of very steep narrow ledges, and yesterday were wet, often mud covered, occasionally loose and often hidden. It was hard work physically and mentally for me and I spent most of the time using hands as well as feet, partly because it was more reassuring. (Even typing this now my palms are wet with the recollection!).

Towards the top it became more of a climb straight up with the zig-zagging 'steps' replaced with straightforward rock but here at least I got some rest and company as some walkers came down from the summit, allowing me to stop and let them pass for a couple of minutes. With hindsight, tackling the climb alone probably made it feel worse as I'd pulled far enough away from the bunched group that they hadn't started by the time I'd finished. Had I been with others I'm sure it would have been re-assuring.

Having got up that section I still wasn't at the summit, so needed to climb to the right for a few hundred metres, to reach the stony plateau of the peak. On all sides the view was fantastic but aside from changing yet again (the softshell was soaking so on came the thin half zip for the remainder of the walk) I didn't hang around.

The Garmin had beeped just as I reached the summit to tell me the last mile had taken 35 minutes. That wasn't that surprising with the steep sections, the climbing and the stop near the top. The climb itself must have taken 15 minutes for virtually no forward movement - only upward.

If the route up had been unpleasant at times the route down was easy as after an initial steep section I followed a wide grass/rock/mud path steadily back in the direction of Horton in Ribblesdale. Again, I pulled away from a group of walkers early on but aside from meeting a handful of walkers in the first mile down didn't see another soul.

It was during this period my feet began to hurt, which was a surprise. If I run 10/15 miles I get no foot pain or blisters yet here I was having done little more than 11 and my heels felt bruised and my toes blistered. I suppose it shouldn't have been surprising - when running the distance is covered much quicker, with fewer steps and much of the time is spent airborne.

In the middle of passing through some sections of impressive limestone pavement I decided to take a lunch break, partly motivated by a desire to take a look at my feet as it felt like the nail of a toe on my left foot was pushing into the neighbouring toe. I sat there in the sunshine and enjoyed my last remaining sandwiches, took off the largely unnecessary gaiters (which had made my lower legs hot), and had a look at my foot. There were some small blisters on the toes but little I could do about that so I looped a small plaster around the toe I thought was being punctured by it's neighbour and left it at that.

After eating an excessive amount of bread the night before, my stomach had been a bit gripey all morning but it got far worse after this break. I'd made a flask of red bush tea that morning and had saved it for this point. Unfortunately when I tasted it I could taste little but Fairy Liquid as it obviously hadn't been rinsed after it was last cleaned! Trouble is I was virtually out of water and had about another 6 miles to go so I drank 2 small cup fulls and tipped the rest away.

A minute or two after this break I left the three peaks route by a path to the left in order to head back to the car. This was very easy going, short grass and pretty much flat heading across to the hamlet of Selside on the road about 1.75 miles away. Originally I was going to take the road back from Selside but looking at the map I'd seen another path off to the left that meandered above the road coming out only a couple of hundred metres short of the car. That looked a nicer way to walk than 3 miles along the road so I headed off crossing the gently rolling hills with only sheep and their lambs for company.

The Garmin had been bleeping at me to warn of low battery since my lunch break. I'd expected it to last close to 8 hours, the advertised battery life, and hoped it would hang on until the car. In the event, as I passed the six hour mark the screen went blank probably 100m short of the car, with the full walk measuring a shade under 17 miles.

All in all it was a good walk and I enjoyed it.

Today, my toes still feel a little sore as do my glutes but other than that, right as rain!

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