No Chocolate on Yoke

"The walk back towards Yoke is interesting. The light is fantastic. High clouds curtain the sun, creating dramatic lighting. Hannah is soon far ahead as I keep stopping to take photographs."

Yoke, Lake District. — During our meanderings around the Lake Districts fells, we may come across something that sticks in our memories – Rainsborrow Crag is one of these. It’s not for climbing. Neither does it compare to the classic routes of Striding Edge or Pinnacle Ridge. It is just an emotive scramble, one to savour, to enjoy, to remember. It is a secluded gem, a great find, a route to Yoke that, I suspect, walkers seldom explore.

Last January–as we set out on our first walk to complete the Wainwrights–we stood by Reservoir Cottage in the Kentmere Valley and gazed upon a prominent black crag that runs almost vertical from the valley floor and wondered whether it was possible to climb it one day. Today we discovered that it is possible. In fact, the scramble, hidden from the usual tourist pathway onto Yoke, turns out to be a delight.

Turn left for Yoke

With another early morning start, we set out towards Kentmere Reservoir, but, this time, without a head torch. The days are getting longer, and now the sun beats us out of bed. As we had done just over a year ago, we walk up the valley, but this time instead of passing Reservoir Cottage (now an outdoor centre), we turn uphill, heading for an obvious gaping black hole in the rock face.

In the chilly morning air, the steep climb gets our lungs pumping. After about 30 metres we reach the entrance to the cavern. Short icicles hang from the roof, framing the entrance as we gaze out over the valley onto snow-covered Kentmere and Harter Fell.

Just underneath the clouds, the shelter on Nan Bield Pass sits on the shoulder between the higher mountains of Mardale Ill Bell and High Street that are obscured by clouds.

Looking out of a mine entrance on Rainsborrow Crag towards Kentmere Fell

Delicious spring water

Winding below the crags, the path contours the hillside, so we follow it.  Our objectives are the streams and the waterfalls higher up the fell. Here we fill our water bottles with ice-cold spring water; delicious, with no charge, except the effort required to get to it. Above us, the ridge leads away into the mist.

Standing amidst derelict huts and disused mine workings, we study an inviting steep gully next to Star Crag. Covered with snow, and heading straight to the top it seems possible, but our path goes left, following a zig-zag up the hillside and onto the ridge.

Scrambling up the ridge on Rainsborrow Crag

Scrambling up Rainsborrow

The exposure is breathtaking from the start of the scramble. It was a steep climb, straight up. We are glad just to sit here, catch our breath, and watch the clouds buffet over the distant hills.

Across Rainsborrow Cove, the steep flank of Ill Bell rises into the clouds. After Yoke, it will be today’s second Wainwright. It doesn’t seem promising. Grey, snow clouds cap its head, and already the wind is hitting us hard; a foretaste of how cold it will be up there.

Walker on Rainsborrow with Ill Bell behind

Frozen tarns and strong winds

I had promised Hannah I would brew hot chocolate on the mountain for her – today’s incentive to get her our of bed early during school holidays. If we can find a sheltered spot it may be possible, but already my fingers are being numbed by the wind.

The higher we get, the stronger the wind becomes. The climbing is fantastic, and the snow is in great condition. As the clouds lift, we push on.

Ahead, the ridge bears west towards the summit of Yoke. There is still more climbing to do. With the adrenalin kicking in, I stab steps up into hard snow. The exposure is constant, exciting. The climbing is enjoyable, and the 250 metre ascent seems to pass in no time.

There is a tarn at the top; it’s marked on the map, so there must be. It will be our place to make hot chocolate. But as we reach the top of the ridge, the full force of the wind smacks us in the face, and I know that there is no way I can brew anything in this gale.

A group of ice-covered rocks provide shelter from the wind. It is our snack stop – for at least ten minutes – Hannah is adamant, and I can’t blame her, it has been an arduous climb from the valley floor.

No chocolate on Yoke

With kettle in hand, we make our way to the little tarn. Now, the problem in winter, because of the snow and ice, is that things freeze. Perhaps I should have thought about this, but in one of those moments which we all have, I didn’t think the tarn would be frozen solid. Strange, considering that the water is 2,000 foot high and suffering freezing temperatures.

Never mind, Hannah knows the solution. She picks up a huge rock and throws it onto the ice. Like a scene from The Matrix – as time slows down – we watch the rock float, in slow motion, through the air. It bounces off the ice, then bounces again, before sliding along the surface and onto the far bank. Obviously, our plan is not going to work.

Hannah skating on the frozen tarn on Yoke

Skating for breakfast on Yoke

Hannah gives up the idea and decides it is better to do something useful and goes skating. Blown along by the strong wind she glides across the ice. Would the ice break? That would be deadly because the wind chill must be about -10C up here.

Being about two inches thick, it holds. The second tarn is no better, again a rock bounces and slides across to the opposite bank. No hot chocolate today then!

After five minutes of skating and with freezing fingers we head back to the rocks and sit down for an extended snack. Already I am feeling chilled. The views are excellent, though, and the late breakfast is a pleasure. The clouds have lifted, and across the cove, we can now see the ridge that leads from Yoke to Ill Bell.

Running past Yoke

Ten minutes later we have packed up, wrapped up, and are heading up to the summit of Yoke. Two fell runners greet us by the cairn, then disappear into the mist towards Garburn Pass. In April, runners will cover these hills during the Kentmere Horseshoe Fell Race. I ran it once or twice, but that is another story, and I wouldn’t enjoy doing it in these conditions.

Hannah isn’t too enamoured of the prospect of continuing to Ill Bell. But after a little psychology like – we’re almost there, and why miss it out now that you have made the effort to get here, and, the views are fantastic from the top – we set off.

The angry wind is now on our backs and giving us a push. My intention was to do three hills today, adding Froswick to Ill Bell. I think that is now off the cards. On a calmer day, perhaps.

Walker heading towards Ill Bell from Yoke in winter

Triple cairns at the Bell

We reach the triple-cairned summit of Ill Bell. I’m not sure why this small top needs three cairns.

Three different builders maybe, or three people unsure of the highest point. We tap them all, just to be sure, then sit behind the one that is the highest.

The ridge runs before us, over Froswick (the hill we are not now going to go up) and on to Thornthwaite Beacon (the hill we definitely have climbed).

Hannah on the summit of Ill Bell
Looking from Ill Bell to Froswick and Thornthwaite Crag

Two out of three ain’t bad

Another runner passes; they must all be out training today. Within minutes, he is gliding over Froswick.

“Look,” I exclaim to Hannah. “He’s already on Froswick.”


“See, it’s not that far, after all.”

She is wise to my psychology and knows I am hinting that we could soon polish it off, and get three in today.


Okay, that’s it. My last-ditch attempt at bagging the third Wainwright has failed.  I shut up, to keep the peace. It’s a long walk back to the car, so I change the subject.

“Let’s do some pictures,” I suggest.

But the minute we poke our heads around the cairn the wind blasts us. I grab my mat before it flies down into the valley.

“Okay, quick summit picture, and then let’s head back.”

Sunlight over Yoke from Ill Bell

Sunlight and clouds

The walk back towards Yoke is interesting. The light is fantastic. High clouds curtain the sun, creating dramatic lighting. Hannah is soon far ahead as I keep stopping to take photographs. We take the runner’s path which contours below Yoke so we don’t have to climb to the summit again.

Now my plan comes unstuck because I had intended to descend by Buck Crag to the Garburn Pass track, but somehow we end up on the wrong side of the wall. Never mind, there will be a gap somewhere, but there isn’t.

After marching along the stone track for ages, we reach the car and head home to make the postponed hot chocolate.

Although the spring water was refreshingly cold, it wasn’t a good substitute. I could have boiled snow, I suppose. But in those temperatures and with the wind, it would have taken ages, and we would probably be as frozen as the tarn by the time it had boiled!

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