Backpacking the Ennerdale Horseshoe

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A grey damp Sunday was spent driving to just about the furthest corner of the Lake District to use up the last few days of my annual leave and to give myself a birthday present of a few days of walking a horseshoe route round the Ennerdale valley with a few wild camps thrown in. It was only a few weeks since the last visit to Cumbria, a wintry wander round Kentmere in fresh deep snow, clear skies and a high wind that sent spindrifts flying over the ridges. The snow had now all but melted away, the landscape rapidly transformed from Winter to Spring and now with a little extra evening light. The air felt mild during the climb along the gorse lined bridlepath above Ennerdale Water.

I camped by Floutern Tarn just under the craggy silhouette of Great Borne, the night was overcast but calm with barely a breath of wind, it was still and warm enough to cook outdoors. I noticed that the enormous tin of veggie chilli I’d bought was a good few grams heavier than my tent, it’s funny when your tea weighs more than your house.

As night fell, an occasional pair of headlamps glided along the road below in the Buttermere valley a few miles in the distance.

Dawn came just before 6:00 with a pale blue light on the horizon and then reflecting pink in the tarn, the ground was hard with frost and the air completely still, I can’t think of many places I’d rather be on a Monday morning.

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It always feels like the coldest part of the night is the hour just before dawn, rather than the usual thin layer of frost on the tarp there was a thick icy sheet with frozen dewdrops covering the canvas.

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The frost didn’t stand much of a chance as warm light flooded into the valley. A quick pack up and I headed up to the ridge to the summit of Starling Dodd (Ken’s brother), the route for the day was all set out along the ridge to High Stile and High Crag, Haystacks  and Great Gable. The north western fells were soaking in the morning sun, I knew the forecast was pretty decent but the views from the summits were unbelievable this morning, it makes up for all those times I’ve woken up in clouds…

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It remained relatively still and by 09:00 the sun was beating down the air felt motionless and silent, the only sound was the song of a few skylarks who sounded like they were enjoying the weather as much as me. The only indication of it being early March was the remaining snow on the north flanks of some of the higher fells beyond the reach of the sun, hard to believe they were all wearing a white winter coat a few weeks ago.

A lazy lunch on dry grass next to a stream underneath Brandreth gave chance to dry off a tent that had been soaked with melted ice as the view back to the dark cobbled summit of Haystacks sat underneath the steep slopes of High Crag.

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As the weather and I were getting on so well I headed up Brandreth and over to Green Gable, passing the only other person I saw that day. A little snow clung in the recess of Windy Gap looking down into a very sunny Ennerdale Valley. 

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A scramble up Great Gable gave clear views in every direction, a perfect place to be on a perfect day I stayed up there for an hour or so just sitting and staring.

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A steep descent on the scree slopes to Beckhead Tarn presented a perfect place to call home for the night as the light began to dip, I was tempted to lay in the tent for a while but ventured back out without the weight of a pack to try and get a phone signal and to find a sunset from Kirk Fell.

Sometimes those spontaneous decisions pay off,  as the sun began to set the temperature plummeted and wisps of mist began to creep up to the summits as the sky grew pale highlighting the unique profile of the Great Gable with the country’s highest points in the background.

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The mist suddenly grew thicker and completely swamped Kirk Fell temporarily turning the sun into a fuzzy dull white circle, I was all set to head back down through the clouds when it sank back down creating an all too brief inversion.

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The stars soon appeared in abundance, I took a few long exposure shots that turned out pretty good in the darkness with a torch lit inside the tent to make it glow.

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Despite the high camp in an exposed mountain pass it was unbelievably still, a long days walk over some sizable fells with a heavy pack had done me in and I slept like a baby. The morning was predictably freezing, a thick coat of ice had formed on the inside of the tent and I made good use of handwarmer to keep numb fingers at bay.

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If anything, Tuesdays weather was warmer, sunnier and clearer than the previous days. The horizon was distorted by heatlines on the long climb up to Pillar and again it felt more like trekking on some remote area much nearer the equator rather than the north of England.

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The broad summit of Pillar gave views out to sea with what I guessed to be some of Snowdonia to the south and Scotland and few Isles clearly visible to the north.

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After heading over Scoat Fell it made good sense to descend from the ridge and find a place to eat, I’d been a bit mean with food on this trip and only had a cheap packet of soup and a few squares of chocolate left, a good reminder to bring more food than you need, walking 20 odd miles in the unseasonable warmth over thousands of metres of some lakeland behemoths probably requires a few more calories than my humble breakfast of cous cous and coffee, I was a bit dizzy when I finally got back to the car.

Still I look pretty happy with my budget picnic right?

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7 thoughts on “Backpacking the Ennerdale Horseshoe

  1. I stumbled across this blog a long time ago and have followed it ever since. I really do like reading your adventures, it makes me want to do something similar… Alas, if only I was more outdoorsy! I like the comfort of my nice warm house too much to camp outside without my comforts. I also love your photography too, being a photographer myself. Some stunning landscapes, A particularly favourite is one of you sat there with all the mist around you. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks so much, really appreciate your comments. For sure spending the night sleeping outside in the middle of winter isn’t for everyone, but its surprising how comfortable you can be whilst doing it, and the occasional bad night is usually compensated by the waking up on a clear morning and experiencing your surroundings in a way that most will miss. I feel like I miss out if I don’t get to watch the sun rise and set whilst I’m outdoors.
      Thanks again

  2. Looks like you had a good birthday backpack Rich. The Ennerdale Horseshoe has been on my list for a while. Done all the hills along it but not in one big walk. It appears that you did not bump into the nutty farmer when passing Whins farm? Google him!

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