Monday, 12 March 2018

Arnison Crag Patterdale

After a week of great weather in the Lakes, friends Graham and Sandra plus Moira and I, decided to head over there in the vans for the weekend.  We parked up on the campsite at Sykeside and almost immediately it started to rain, and it did so for most of the next 24 hours.

It seemed pointless to head for the higher hills, so we chose to grab a Wainwright just above the village of Patterdale.  At only 1,421ft (433m) Arnison Crag is a diminutive little hill, but it provides some wonderful views over the head of Ullswater, or at least it should if it's not raining.  It also had the advantage of a pub at the bottom and another back at our campsite.  If done from Patterdale it only takes 50 mins, but we planned to make a day of it and walk from our campsite at Sykeside.

Setting off in the rain is never fun, but as we reached Brotherswater we could at least console ourselves with some rather atmospheric views. 
 I have now got my walking companions trained to spot potential photos.  Sandra spotted this zig-zag pattern reflected in the lake .

Moving on I grabbed a few more shots of the mist and clouds

It was hoods up most of the way, until we reached Patterdale where a brief lull in the rain tricked us into removing our waterproofs.  Five minutes later they were back on and stayed on for the rest of the walk.

We took the path on the left just before the White Lion Inn and after contouring through a little wood struck off up the hill following a drystone wall.  I wasn't sure where the summit was and the 1:50,000 map simply had Arnison Crag written large over an area several kilometres square, so we just plodded up hoping to spot likely tops in the vicinity.  As the clag became thicker this proved impossible and we initially missed the path where it branched off to the top.  Instead we found ourselves on a little craggy hummock surrounded by lots of other little craggy hummocks about 200m away from the main top.  After getting out a 1:25,000 map to check properly we wandered back the way we had come and easily found the top.  Unfortunately there were no views to be had at all.  With the patter of rain on our hoods we only stopped long enough for a coffee and a bite to eat, before deciding the pub would be a much nicer place to be.  

Near Oxford crags a brief window in the clouds gave us a rather atmospheric view over Patterdale towards the head of Ullswater.

The head of Ullswater from Oxford Crag
A pint of Wainwright's (what else) provided the enthusiasm for the walk back to the campsite.

Quite an enjoyable wee hill really, and one we probably would not have bothered with had it not been on Wainwrights list. In fact I might even head back on a nicer day given the potential for some decent shots when the light is better.

Distance 13.8km 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Wainwright's - Loadpot Hill, Wether Hill, Bonscale Pike and Arthur's Pike.

I knew I had been to the summits of two of these, Loadpot Hill and Arthur's Pike, but Moira hadn't so we devised a bit of a round that involved an out and back from Loadpot Hill to Wether Hill, before picking up Bonscale Pike and Arthur's Pike on the way back. 

From the parking at Roe Head we made our way along the rather boggy High Street route onto Barton Fell.  On the way we visited The Cockpit stone circle and then headed across the moor to get back onto main path again.  In between I somehow ended up thigh deep in a boggy hole.  This meant a wet foot and leg almost from the start.  However some wonderful blue skies and far reaching views meant we both still had a spring in our step and we soon found ourselves above the snowline.

Stone marker cairn at the side of the High Street path

The weather at this point was pretty atmospheric with bands of crespucular rays raking the ground between us and the distant pennines.  Occasionally bands of snow also passed by, but fortunately they were well to the east.

Bypassing Arthur's Pike to pick up on the way back we plodded up to our first summit of the day, Loadpot Hill.

The sky looked a bit threatening as we reached the summit of Loadpot Hill

Helvellyn range from the summit

Making our way over to Wether Hill was warm work in the sun and on arriving at the tiny summit cairn, we experienced a bit of a peak baggers nightmare in that the ground a couple of hundred metres away looked a bit higher.  Not wishing to miss the true summit we headed off to make sure.  From here the place we had come from looked about the same, but the GPS suggested it was higher.  Now I remember why I never really got into peak bagging, it's a bloody nightmare.  Cairns aren't always just on the true summit and even the fairly reliable trig point is sometimes on a subsidiary top rather than the true summit, (Burnhope Seat in the Pennines springs to mind as an example of that confusion).

Fed up with wandering around high spots, we returned to the original cairn and declared Wether Hill summit achieved**.

Some spectacular views from Wether Hill across the valley towards the Helvellyn range

It was a bit of a slog back onto Loadpot Hill, so we stopped off at a little walled shelter just below the summit for a break.  By the time we got going again a cold breeze had got up, which stung our ears as it chased us back across the top and down to the path leading to Bonscale Pike.  The lower elevation meant it was less windy here and walking along the edge was really pleasant.  Here the ground dropped away down to Ullswater, giving us some great views of the Helvellyn range and Blencathra to the northwest .  Set above the vivid green fields surrounding the lake the whole range looked more alpine than Lakeland.

Ullswater with Blencathra beyond from Bonscale Pike

Time was getting on so we only stopped long enough at the cairn to grab a few pics, before descending to the ruined building at Swarth Beck.  By now we were feeling the miles and the final pull out of the beck and up onto Arthur's Pike was rather taxing on the legs.  Especially so as my right foot, which had been encased in a soaking wet sock all day had now developed a blister under the big toe. On the top, and determined not to just bag peaks and charge off, we had a break and grabbed a few photos. 

Still smiling on the last top -  Arthur's Seat.

The descent down to the car was straightforward, if a bit of a hobble at times, and by the time we arrived back we rather lacked the spring in our step we had when we set off.  Hardly surprising I suppose after an 18.5km snowy walk - it was great fun though.

** Wainwright's 214 tops are subjective and are simply tops he chose to include in his books, and as such they are not each and every mountain summit, or top in the Lake District.  There are other lists for bagging a few of those Birkett's Hewitt's, Nuttall's and Marilyn's for example.  


Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Peak Bagging - The Wainwright's

Despite spending most of my time in the hills, I have never put much effort into ticking off peak bagging lists.  That said a few weeks ago in an idle moment I had a tot up to see how many peaks I had done in the Lake District.  I discovered I have 75 peaks to do to complete the Wainwright's.  Of those I am fairly certain I have already done 20 odd, it's just I don't have any records.  For example I know I have been up Hallin Fell several times, but have neither a date, or photo to confirm it.  Similar doubts arise for Sca Fell.  Having done winter routes on Scafell crag such as Moss Ghyll with my pal Robbo, as well as similar summer routes with other friends, I know I have been on top, but am not sure if we bothered to go to the actual summit.  In fact I am almost certain I went to the summit with my friend Chris once, but it's not really in the spirit of the peak bagging game to be fairly sure of a summit is it.

I mention all this to Moira, and in a rash moment declare it's time for me to get on with it and bag all of the Wainwright's.  Mmmm she says, I wonder how many I have done.  We check and find she has definitely done 92 of them with me.  They say the gods laugh when people make plans, so expect a bit of laughter because we are going to start from the baseline of 92 Wainwright's and have a bash at bagging the rest - all 122 of them.

I suspect a few folks will say what's the point?  Well all I can say is why not?  It will be nice to get onto a few hills we probably wouldn't have bothered with, and anyway if nothing else it will be a good opportunity to obtain few publishable pics to further expand on my portfolio along the way.

Blencathra sunrise. Hopefully there will be a few wonderful sights like this along the way.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Burnhope Seat. A short Ski Tour in the North Pennines

Burnhope Seat sits on open access land straddling the border of Cumbria and County Durham.  There are no footpaths as such and all approaches are pretty boggy, making this a hill I prefer to visit in winter using skis.  If you are a hill bagger it is worth noting the trig point 746m is at the eastern end, but the true summit of 747m lies a couple of hundred metres away to the west, just inside Cumbria. 

Same Hill - Different Times

Ski touring in the Pennines can be a bit hit and miss at times.  Thin snow cover, wind scoured heather, rocks, peat hags and half frozen bogs to name but a few obstacles.  Throw in some typical North Pennine weather, and all in all, the skiing here can be rather challenging on occasion. 

The Character Building Day
The last time we got the skis out for an ascent of Burnhope Seat, it is no exaggeration to say it was a character building day.  Things started out ok but within 20 minutes the weather started to deteriorate.  A total white out and winds so strong it was hard to remain standing tested both our both skiing ability and our navigation.  

Perhaps we should have turned back, but as the forecast was not that bad we put it down to a localised squall that would soon pass.  For a short while things did improve a little, but when I couldn't find the summit trig, I did wonder what the hell we were doing there.  We must have come within feet of it on the first attempt, but arriving from its ice covered side it must have blended into the white out. Fortunately on the second sweep we came at it from a different angle and spotted it. Standing next to it, backs to the wind, were two other skiers who had only just arrived.

The trig point.  Even standing up was a bit difficult in the gusts

After a quick chat about the weather (what else was there to talk about?) they left to make their way down.  By the time we had grabbed a quick drink and a snack the weather began to deteriorate even further.  Turning tail we too headed back the way we had come.

Not sure, but perhaps the saying "there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad kit choice" has an element of truth to it. Moira still smiling despite the conditions.  

At times the skiing really did feel a bit sketchy and to make matters worse my ski goggles gave up when the sponge seal disintegrated as I adjusted them.  This caused tiny bits of sponge to be blown into my eyes.  Then to make matters worse, with the seal now useless they iced up on the inside.  Stuffing them into my bag I skied blindly on. To cope with the wind and poor visibility we kept our skins on to control our downhill speed.  It was just over 2km from the trig point to out start point, but by the time we reached the car again we really felt we had had enough.  I know I certainly had and to cap it all I had sore eyes for a couple of days as well. 

The Pleasant Day 
Good conditions when they do arrive always make up for those less than ideal days and so it was for our latest outing on the skis. Today while the tops were clagged in, the weather was pretty benign at -4, with little wind and no precipitation.  Even better the forecast was for things to improve further.

Skinning up, all was silent save for the sound of the odd car heading along the road below.  Otherwise it was just the swish of skins on snow and the occasional cackle of grouse.  As patches of mist came and went we made a mental note to avoid a couple of stream gullies on the way back down, some of which had rather large cornices on them.  Normally these gullies just fill in, but over the last few days the wind had been blowing up slope before veering across slope, so not enough time for them to fill fully.

The snow was pretty variable too, but generally got better as height was gained.  Arriving at the trig point there was little to see other than the rimed up fences and the trig itself.  Occasionally the odd patch of blue appeared overhead so we were optimistic for an improvement.  Deciding to hang around we had a leisurely break and a warm drink. 


We didn't have to wait long and 20 minutes later the cloud sank and broke up to reveal Weardale stretching out below us.  

Worth the short wait
Dragging ourselves away we headed back across the fence line to the Cumbria side

Skiing down, the conditions just got better and better and we had to keep stopping to look at the view. 

Some great snow conditions as the views opened out

Cross Fell and the Dun Fells soon appeared through the mist, as did Meldon Hill, all seemingly close, but in reality miles away on the opposite side of the Tees valley. 

Ahead (L-R) Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell

Part way down we met a kite skier who stopped for a chat.  Like us he enthused about the great conditions and told us he had been up here during the week too - all the way from Doncaster.  

His enthusiasm for the area only slightly dampened by a gamekeeper telling him he was not allowed to kite ski on the open access land on the Teesdale side.  Sadly I had thought this kind of conflict relating to outdoor activities was a thing of the past in Teesdale, but apparently not. 

Nice cornice, but not something you would want to ski over in bad viz

All in all, we had a cracking day, although sadly probably the last one for a while as a thaw has now set in.  Even so, great conditions like this do make up for those less than ideal days. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

Harnisha Hill Weardale

It was only 4 deg as I headed out to catch the sunrise on Harnisha Hill (Raven Seat), on what is the first day of the Metrological Autumn.  Wandering along in the tiny pool of light cast by my headtorch, my feet blurred by a sea of purple heather flowers, I had visions of grabbing some wonderful shots of these white gritstone rocks contrasting with the heather as the sun rose.  Sadly as I reached the top I realised this was not to be as this years heather burn has blackened this particular area. 

Living in the Dale I do try to see the wider picture when it comes to managing these moors for grouse shooting and know it should recover.  That said the rocks here stand out like bare bones in an apocalyptic landscape and it does not sit well with me at all.  It has however given me an idea for a project to photograph this patch to see how it recovers.

PS, apologies for the colours and contrast being a bit off, uploading to the web seems to be doing odd things to the image.

Text/images © David Forster

Monday, 24 July 2017

Rescue on the River Tees

I spent part of the afternoon photographing a river rescue above Low Force in Upper Teesdale the other day.  The situation came about when four teenagers got trapped on one of the islands after heavy rain upstream cut them off.  Generally it's not too much of a risk to visit these islands in settled weather when the southerly channel is dry, but of course people from outside the area don't realise how fast the Tees rises here.  In fact it only takes a few minutes for the islands to be cut off completely.



Once they had been safely rescued I kind of felt sorry for the youngsters.  In part because I heard them get a bit of a talking to by one of the rescuers, which to be fair was probably all that these young people needed at the time anyway.  They had after all just experienced first hand what can happen to the unwary.

Mainly however, it was because I knew the incident would bring out the keyboard warriors on Facebook and elsewhere.  Many of which have obviously never been young, made a mistake, or experienced a bit of bad luck.  A lot of the most vocal of course will never have done anything remotely adventurous, but all the same they were lining up to comment and pass judgement.  Some were even critical of these youngsters for swimming in the river.  The fact they did not get into difficulties swimming and had actually been camping on the island did not seem to matter.

Of course it is easy to play the blame game - my pet hates as it were - are people who head out without a map, and those who don't carry a torch when out in the mountains.  It winds me up every autumn when the clocks change and the callouts start, although to be honest it is more to do with the bad publicity it generates for more responsible hill walkers, who get tarred with the same brush, than anything else.  In reality of course criticising people on social media is unlikely to help anyone and may in fact may make inexperienced people too cautious when it comes to making that call to the emergency services.

The important message in this recent rescue really should have been about educating people who don't know the area and highlighting how rain further up in the dale can cause flash floods, even I might add, if it is not actually raining where you are.  To be fair a number of people did try, but sadly it was lost among the general noise of uninformed comment and criticism.  The incident did get me thinking about my own experiences of the river as a youngster and how we learned about the dangers.

The Tees at Low Force in more benign conditions.

The Tees in the same location on the day of the rescue.

Despite its reputation locally, it's worth noting the Tees is a much tamer river than it was before Cow Green reservoir was finished in 1971.  There are many stories and tales linked to the Tees and the threat it posed for the unwary.  One story passed down by word of mouth is linked to the "Tees Roll", a wall of water that used to sweep down the valley from the hills above. The incident itself occurred during the 2nd World War when seven soldiers from the South Staffs regiment were trying to cross the Tees just upstream from Barnard Castle during a training exercise.   It is said they were trying to build a pontoon bridge when they were hit by a wall of water six feet high which swept them away.  Such was the speed and power of the water they never stood a chance - all were drowned.

As a kid the most sinister tale for me however, was that of old Peg Powler the river hag, a spirit who it was said would seek out unwary children and drag them down to a watery death.  These stories were passed down either from our parents, or by some of the old fishermen we came into contact with.  This never stopped us from floating down the river on old inner tubes, or jumping from the bridges on warm summer days though.  The stories did however make us wise to the moods of the river, especially the possibility of being cut off on the riverbanks and islands when fishing.  These stories, sometimes embellished a little for effect, meant the river often had something of an atmosphere.  Some days we would head down there and despite the fact it was a nice day for swimming, the river would have a real feeling of menace about it.  Sometimes the water would just appear dark and brooding, creating a sensation of unease in us.  On other occasions there would be patches of foam known locally as Peg Powler's Suds floating by.  This foam often appeared when the river was rising and we always took it as a warning.  At such times I used to wonder if old Peg Powler really was around.  On those days we would just fish, making sure of course to keep a wary eye out for a flash of green skin, or her shark like teeth grinning up at you.  Interestingly I still sometimes get that feeling of unease when I am around the river, especially so when photographing along its banks when the light is fading, or storm clouds are building.  Something hard wired and linked to a basic survival instinct perhaps?

For my own part my real education came from my time in mountain rescue.  Helping to recover my first body from the river and the realisation that through a mixture of a lack of knowledge, poor decision-making and of course bad luck, a life could so easily be lost.  It's worth noting that in all those years and many incidents later, I never really felt people should be given a hard time for getting it wrong, whether that was walking in the mountains, wild swimming, or whatever.  When you speak to the casualties, or indeed see the effect such incidents have on their families, you realise the last thing they need is people with the benefit of hindsight slating them.

Instead I always felt that the way forward was to try and educate people to the dangers.  Even today I still firmly believe that to be the case.

Text/images:  Copyright David Forster

PS as usual blogger will not format the article properly, apologies for that.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Shooting the Moon

I have had a few people ask me for some tips on what camera setting to use when photographing the moon.  Clearly there are many variations on composition and whether or not you want some identifiable foreground to provide some context, so these thoughts are only a very general guide to get you started.

Three things on your camera affect exposure (often referred to as the exposure triangle).  These are aperture, shutter speed and ISO.  Changing any one will affect the others.  With this in mind you may need to compromise a little on two of these to keep the shutter speed at an acceptable level to prevent camera shake.  In short a little less depth of field, but a fast shutter speed, or a slightly noisy image and a fast shutter speed are much better than a blurry image due to a slow shutter speed.

Shutter Speed
As I have said when it comes to shutter speed the higher the better and even if using a tripod you still need to avoid the actual movement of the earth/moon rotation.  As a general rule with a tripod I try to use 1/100 sec and above.  If hand held I aim for a shutter speed of at least equal to the lens focal length. For example with a 400 mm lens aim for 1/400th sec or above.

Aperture (f number)
Lots of folk say you need to use a high f-number of f16 - f22 to get a good depth of field.  I don't recommend this for two reasons. 

1. It reduces your shutter speed and means you must increase your ISO to maintain it.

2. Another problem with a high f-number, is that while giving an apparent increase in depth of field, it can actually soften the image due to diffraction. 

So with this in mind an f-number of say f5.6 to f11 is more than adequate (I use f8 as a start point on my 400mm lens)

When it comes to ISO we ideally want and image that is fairly noise free.  With this in mind 100 ISO is ideal.  That said most cameras are capable of producing decent noise free images at much higher ISO's and if you are struggling to get a fast enough shutter speed then increasing your ISO will help. 

So there you go, head out and give it a try, have fun.

Camera settings for this moon pic were:  Camera: Canon EOS M. 1/200th sec at f8, ISO 100, Tripod.  Camera set to AV.

Text/images copyright David Forster/