Looking for Winter in Langdale

Early enough to beat the traffic but not so early that it was hard work getting up, I found myself driving up through North Yorkshire under a clear wintry blue sky on the last Saturday of November. I had a simple agenda of wandering into Langdale and making the most of the forecast sunshine before pitching a tent up high and celebrating the virtues of a good winter camp. I was hoping to wake to a tent coated in frost, find my water bottles filled with ice and struggle with laces on walking boots that were frozen stiff after 16 hours of night, and feeling frozen fingertips slowly warmed through by regular cups of tea.

Being too much of a cheapskate to pay for the national trust car parks, where you can’t park overnight anyway I found a place to pull over and ditch the car just beyond Chapel Stile and plodded along the tarmac into Langdale for a couple of miles. Sunshine flooded into the valley, drawing the crowds who were clambering up to Stickle Tarn and the Langdale Pikes.

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The summer postcard conditions were short lived, it had been warm and sunny enough to walk up to Harrison Stickle in just a base layer and still feel over heated, some folks out for the day opting for t-shirts and jeans and getting away with it. Within the hour it all changed and the summits told a different story, the sun all but disappeared and a freezing blast raced across, patches of ice had formed on rocks, removing gloves to take photos made fingertips painfully numb in minutes. But it still didn’t feel like winter

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From Pike of Stickle the mountains to the north west now sat under a thick blanket of cloud, it was nearly 1pm but felt like dusk, a pinkish glow warming the skies and making the afternoon feel like a long drawn out dusk.  It was a stunning scene but the summit was crawling with other people and, not to be misanthropic, but some people who go walking are really really loud and I was craving a little solitude and headed north with a view to camp high near the Ore Gap between Bow Fell and Esk Pike.

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A few walkers were still making their way slowly down past Angle Tarn as the last of the light left the day. The sky began to break with colour, resulting in a dash up to Esk Pike to watch the dark clouds drift under a warm orange and pink sunset, every minute that passed saw the ground get a little harder with frost and breath become more visible as the air grew colder.

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I pitched in the dark a few metres away from a fast flowing stream, it wasn’t much past 6pm but found myself laying down in the darkest night I’d spent in a tent for some time.

There was a brief crisis. Words can’t express the frustration and mental torment of suddenly not being able to find your lighter, resigning yourself to a night without hot drinks and a sombre meal of cold veg chilli and half cooked rice. Then again it’s hard to describe the jubilation, gratitude and ecstasy of finding said lighter and hearing that ‘wumph’ of a gas stove igniting. Lesson learnt, always take at least three (working) lighters. The chilli tasted a lot better hot (even though I do look a bit morose, I was having a good time honest!).

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I played around with some long exposure in between the rain showers, you have to find ways to entertain yourself on these long dark winter nights…

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I was looking forward to a crisp clear winter morning sunrise across to the Scafell range and down into Lingcove Beck, but some scoundrel had set the weather dial to gloomy mist and cloud. A night of relatively mild rain showers and a strong wind had kept any real frost from forming leaving a cool but not a cold morning. Winter was still in hiding.

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The gopro caught a 10 second window when the mist lifted and revealed the shape of Bowfell on the adjacent side of the beck.

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In spite of the pervasive mist I felt the urge to find the summit of Bowfell in the early morning, I knew I’d see nothing but followed the compulsion and packed up. Occasional hints of blue appeared far overhead but they were fleeting and the morning remained damp and wet, though I have to say sitting by the summit cairn eating a mars bar with the place to myself I felt pretty happy.

Emerging from the cloud covered tops I took a descent via Buscoe Sike and found a place which was just crying out to be turned into venue for a mid-morning aeropress break. Not a bad place to find yourself on a cool December morning. I’m looking forward to returning in a few weeks to see if Winter has decided to come out of hiding and grace the hills with snow and ice.

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