Seeing as the festive period is a time when you are widely encouraged to indulge yourself, it made sense to spend some time doing what I love. This was my first ever christmas away from the boys and although I’d had numerous offers from friends and family to spend the day with them, wherever I would have ended up would have involved a little heartache. A condition best alleviated by going out and doing something, in this case heading out somewhere remote to watch the sun fall and rise and maybe even find a little snow in between.
An hour or so before sunrise on Christmas Eve I was driving north to Cumbria with a full pack, curious to see if the roads would be empty and the hills quiet. A forecast had suggested heavy snow on christmas eve with a brighter day to follow, so an ice axe and crampons had been brought along for good measure. The view from the narrow flooded roads that led into Langdale revealed nothing in the way of fresh snow, the heavy grey clouds above had the look of bearing something that suggested a white christmas wasn’t out of the question just yet.
Even on the dullest of days the base of the valley was lush and green, all the brighter against the dead brown bracken of the slopes. The odd curls of smoke from remote farmhouses were the only sign of life in a valley dotted with dead looking brittle trees. I left the car by an old stone bridge and took a steep path up and over the Langdale Pikes, it was midmorning the air freezing and damp with no shift in the temperature since sunrise.
The walk up had been well sheltered and warm enough to take off a couple of layers, the bitterly cold wind that raced across the tops quickly reversed this decision. There may have been no ice or snow on the ground but it certainly felt like midwinter, removing gloves to take photos for just a few seconds left fingers frozen and numb.
The cold meant fewer breaks and a quick pace to stay warm. I stopped just once by the black icy waters of Angle Tarn to warm up with hot soup, the odd patch of snow remained in the deep crevices on the higher flanks of Bow Fell. It was sheltered enough to consider a camp but there was an hour of light left and I was lured on by higher ground. I’d planned on a camp on the edge of Sprinkling Tarn, a perfect high spot I’ve walked past several times, surrounded by the black rocky face of Great End on one side and the looming mass of Great Gable immediately to the north. The clouds stole any trace of a sunset, the light just grew gradually dimmer, the weather conversely grew wilder. Gusts of icy wind raced up and over the tarn rippling the dark water and flattening the long grass. I’d brought a decent winter tent but gave up on the idea of pitching in such an exposed area. A nameless tarn a few minutes walk away was much better sheltered and made a good place to call home for the night.
The wild night was well worth enduring for the morning. A fiery sunrise in a perfect place was just about the finest gift I could ask for. The high clouds blew over and left open spaces in the sky for the morning light to pour down.
Wearing every item of clothing I’d packed I sat on the edge of the tarn for a while with a cup of coffee and a few snowflakes started to blow around in the wind. The vision of waking up in thick fresh snow hadn’t quite come to fruition so after packing up I decided to make for the summit of Great End.
The snow started to fall a little heavier as I headed into a cloud covered plateau and the visibility was reduced to a few metres, but I could see snow and that was enough. A celebration of a white christmas was had in a mid morning christmas dinner of a frozen solid mars bar and more coffee in the cover of a summit shelter. The light snow carried on for much of the walk back down.
The long walk back down to Langdale left the snow well behind, bright rays of sunshine broke through pockets in the clouds and lit up the side of Pike of Stickle. After a memorable 24 hours in the hills it was time to head back across the empty roads of north yorkshire to spend a more traditional day with the boys this time hidden away amongst a mountain of presents.