There’s definite advantages to being impulsive and having a spontaneous streak running through you. For example, a recent weekend mountain forecast promising clear skies after a heavy snowfall prompted cancelling all plans, packing a bag the night before and setting an alarm for 5am. There’s excitement and adventure in the unpredictability of it all, not knowing quite where you’ll end up and how it will all work out.
Then there’s the disadvantages, packing said bag in a rush and forgetting to charge the camera battery on the weekend that brought the first proper snowfall and some of the best light of the year. Incidentally I have been forgetful and prone to bouts of confusion lately, the kids still haven’t forgiven me for putting cayenne pepper in the apple crumble instead of cinnamon. The hypochondriac in me suspects a case of early onset dementia, but all things considered it’s more likely to be the stress of buying a house on my own and generally being a bit rushed around being a dad and working full time. So on the positive side, I was fortunate enough to find myself heading north to fresh snow on the summits of Cumbria for a horseshoe route and a winter wild camp around Dale Head and Hindscarth, but all these photos are from my phone, an uncharged camera sat uselessly at home on the kitchen table.It was a fairly simple route, not too far with a light pack as I’m on the mend from an irritating back injury which I blame entirely on sitting at a desk for too long. An early start from a blustery wet Nottingham meant I didn’t see sunrise until I was well into North Yorkshire and passing a white capped Whernside and Pen Y Ghent. An hour or so later I set out walking from Little Town and looked back to take a photo of one of the country’s more picturesque car parks. It didn’t take much climbing to find the familiar but much missed sensation of snow underfoot. A few deep drifts had formed on higher ground, for the most part it was just a dusting, soft and powdery, hopefully the first chapter of a deep frozen winter. A predictable crowd had gathered in the distance on the top of Catbells in the early afternoon to the north to enjoy the views over to Blencathra and Skiddaw, the long straight ridge over to High Spy was left surprisingly quiet. I didn’t see a soul after stopping for lunch under a low sun at the tarn under neath Dale Head. The tarn was well sheltered and gave a little respite from a wind that had been both persistent and bitterly cold for most of the day. The water I’d collected from a stream before climbing to the ridge had turned to crunchy ice and it was definitely time to layer up. Winter has been late to arrive this year, only four weeks ago I’d been up in the Rhinogs in shorts and a base layer. The sun began to set just after 3pm, the sheltered shores of the tarn would have been more than a decent place to camp but the temptation to go a little further and see a little more gave way. It was a decision well made, as ever the best scenes of the day are the first and last light. From the summit of Dale Head the ridges of the South Western fells were lit up and became more magical with every minute that passed. The temperature plunged with the sun turning the snow on the ground from soft and powdery to hard and frosty. A quick descent down to the streams near Tongue Gill made for a good place to pitch, still up in the snow yet out of the wind with the door unzipped looking over the steep black western face of High Spy. The first of many pots of water were boiled up in preparation for a long night. It was pitch black by 4pm and not light again till just before 8am. A heavy layer of foggy murk smothered the morning and only broke occasionally, it wasn’t a morning that encouraged exiting the warmth and dry comfort of the tent. When I did finally crawl out into the cold damp morning to fill a water bottle there was a cluster of sharp pointed icicles overhanging the stream. The great blanket of greyish murk looked like it was set to hang around for a few hours, it was tempting to head straight down the valley and enjoy an easy morning following the stream all the way back to car. It seemed too early to head down and leave all the snow behind, so it was back up into the fog and into winter for another few hours. The mist was as white as the snow on the ground and became fairy unforgiving near the summit of Hindscarth, a pair of shelter cairns marked the top though neither gave much shelter from the wind. An easy path led the way back down the ridge and gradually the surrounding summits came back into view as the world turned from white to green. A spontaneous end to the weekend worked out well with a few chance messages leading to an unplanned drop in to the Kendal Mountain Festival, where a packed crowd of people wearing bright coloured down jackets made much harder navigating than the foggy summits I’d been up an hour before. I signed up with the John Muir Trust and had a wander round before hanging out with three of the nicest people on the planet, Tom, Menna and Steve, old friends and new. An impulsive streak and a swiss cheese memory might make for some bad packing decisions and some unforgivably spicy apple crumble but it also made for an unforgettable weekend. Welcome back Winter, don’t be late again.