A Snowy Kentmere Horseshoe

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It wasn’t looking good. Obsessively checking MWIS all day and every day did very little to physically shift the forecast from heavy rain and 100mph winds and looking generally grim all over, the uninviting Met Office mountain forecast actually used the word ‘abysmal’ to describe the level of visibility expected in Cumbria on the coming Monday. In spite of the gloomy warnings a winter bag was packed the day before I was resigned to cancel my annual leave and go to work instead….

Monday morning brought a different story, the forecast for Cumbria had improved quite significantly, now just looking to be overcast with even a little sun breaking through with a generous helping of snow due for higher ground for the night ahead. A 17 mile horseshoe route starting in Kentmere taking in Harter Fell and an overnight camp by a secluded lake was mapped out, after that I’d let the weather decide whether I’d stay low or head up onto the summits and ridges.

By midday the sun was shining through the clouds on the secluded village of Kentmere, beyond the cottages and church I passed a few remote farmhouses which were tucked deep in the valley, inevitable thoughts of ‘I wish I lived here’ drifted in.

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A muddy bridleway left the farmhouses behind and snaked past a black icy looking Kentmere reservoir. As the valley came to a head most of the surrounding summits were shrouded in grey mist, there was little snow, just a light dusting near the tops. Trekking with a heavy pack in the sunshine had been ridiculously warm, winter layers were redundant to the point where it was almost t-shirt weather, though nothing seems to stay the same for too long round here and as the path veered east the temperature dropped sharply and the layers were back on.

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Leaving the valley and heading towards Nan Bield Pass it felt like walking into a different world, trekking poles were exchanged for an ice axe on the slopes up to Harter Fell and crampons dug into the frozen ground.

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The cairn on the summit of Harter Fell was adorned with windswept frost that almost looked like down feathers.

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The air became thick with sleet and wind howled over the pass on the approach down to Little Water, after a quick pitch in a sheltered spot it was a relief to dive under canvas and try and get warm. A night camping in Winter is typified by simple pleasures, packets of instant soup and cheapo supermarket value biscuits become cherished luxuries and the hours pass like minutes when you lay down in the dark feeling warm and dry and listening to the weather rage outside.

It’s easy to make winter camping sound idyllic,  but spare a thought regarding the unfortunate episode that occurred at 4:30am when the wind suddenly changed direction blowing fine powdery snow into the tent and all over my head giving a rude awakening. Taking a shelter without a proper zip up door probably wasn’t the best plan.

It was worth suffering a face full of snow to wake up to this though……

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Heaps of fresh snow had fallen over night and drifted up the walls of the tarp, it was freezing cold to run out and take a few photos before brewing a much needed mug of steaming hot fresh coffee. Despite the abundance of white on the ground there was little light, the skies overhead appeared looming, dark and heavy. Glancing at the time it was just before 8:00am, I’d normally be at work by now on a Tuesday.

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Walking back up to the pass revealed the volume of snow that had fallen overnight, the rocky path was well hidden and I sank repeatedly down into deep white powdery drifts, for a while each step involved a knee deep plunge. The slow trudge back up the hill unveiled a different landscape to the one that had been walked through the day before, the mist that had hung on Ill Bell and the surrounding ridge was blown away leaving a more spectacular landscape.

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Mountains just look more like mountains when they’re covered with snow…

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The photos look pretty serene but the sound of the wind was deafening and whilst the snow showers appeared to have stopped the spindrifts were stinging to walk into, the pair of sunglasses I’d chucked in the pack as an afterthought were a real blessing. Past Mardale Ill Bell endless white summits came to view over Fairfield and beyond.

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A brief rest and shelter was taken by the beacon near Thornthwaite Crag for a frozen solid snickers bar, wild spindrifts howled and flew over a snow caked wall and taking gloves off to fiddle with phones and cameras resulted in painfully numb fingers in seconds, my feet felt numb all day (still haven’t invested in new boots)  but aside from that I felt warm and comfortable.  The ridge along Froswick and Ill Bell were beckoning, time to shake off the snow and kick life into toes….

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The views from the summits were just perfect, the south western fells stood out and I could make out a walk I’d done a few months back from Langdale over the pikes to Esk Pike and Bowfell, a white Scafell range and Great Gable peered over everything in the distance. I kept laughing at the idea that I’d nearly gone to work instead of being here…..

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Looking south Windermere disappeared into the horizon…

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Further West the summits of the South Western fells met the clouds…..

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The long descent to Kentmere gave way to wetter snow and rocky crags well sheltered from the relentless freezing winds that had dominated much of the day, one look back to the pass I’d taken out of Kentmere was a reminder of how much can change in a few hours out here, less than 24 hours ago this valley had been mostly green….

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This post is dedicated to my best friend Will who feeds my cat when I disappear up hills.

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