Today is a complete contrast to last Saturday’s challenging walk around the Gowbarrow Fells – the snow is back. On Thursday, it returned with a vengeance. Many roads around the country were blocked. Travel severely disrupted. The mountains were once again resplendent, capped in white. Earlier in the week, the thaw had set in, and their appearance had a spring-like quality. The weather was still unpredictable, so I thought it best to claim another solitary Wainwright, and also give Hannah a chance to have some fun and enjoy the hills instead of having to fight them. We did not have much of a window – in terms of time – so Wansfell fitted the bill perfectly.
This Wainwright is actually Wansfell (482m), the slight summit at the northern end of the Wansfell ridge before the fells shrink down over Idle Hill to meet the Kirkstone Road that winds up out of Troutbeck.
Our route starts from Church Bridge just outside Troutbeck. We walk through the churchyard of the Jesus Church, cross the fields, and turn left towards Troutbeck, before heading up Nanny Lane. Nanny Lane is an old track that leads to the Troutbeck Hundreds and then Wansfell. It is a more direct route to Ambleside than Robin Lane that winds around the side of the fell.
Ice and gale force winds
I was surprised to discover ice underfoot. I hadn’t expected it at this altitude, and it made me think about what we would meet on the ridge above us. We slipped and crunched up Nanny Lane, steadily gaining height. The morning was tremendous. As the sun rose, it glistened over the icy path behind us. High Street, covered in new snow, glowed with a golden hue. Above us, clouds raced across the sky, indicating that although it was peaceful here, it was not so higher up. The forecast had predicted strong winds, possible gale force at times of over 60mph. It looked as though another blizzard or two might blast us. But for now, it was bliss: the sun warmed the valley, the snow shone brilliantly under the morning sun, and we looked forward to the prospect of a gentle climb ahead.
Passing the gate, which led up to Wansfell Pike, we continued to climb the lane. It was then that we felt the full force of the wind in our faces. Across the fell, I could see it whipping up clumps of snow and blowing them erratically around the hillside. We crossed the stile and made our way toward Wansfell, diagonally across the fell side in a northerly direction. At times, the snow drifts were up to our knees. At other times, we walked along frozen paths. It was tough going, fighting against gale force winds, and shielding our eyes from the stinging snow crystals that came at us like shards of glass. I must remember to get some snow goggles, I said this on High Pike and still haven’t. Probably, when I do, I won’t need them again.
Survival training for Hannah
We shelter behind a rock for something to eat, before setting out to climb the last few feet to Wansfell summit. I turned to look back; Mark and Hannah had disappeared. I hadn’t seen them leave the path. Blinded by the snow, I had only been looking at my feet. I heard laughter and saw Hannah’s pink buff above the snow. They were climbing a steep snow slope, sliding down, climbing again, and busy digging a snow cave – Hannah’s survival training.
It was great fun and reminded me not to be too serious. Wansfell is an easy walk, there are no real objective dangers, and so I relaxed and joined in. Before long we had dug a deep snow hole.
Surprised on Wansfell
Wansfell is only 482 metres, and over the past few weeks we had conditioned ourselves to tackling higher mountains. It came as a surprise to find ourselves standing on the summit of our ninth Wainwright so quickly. It was far from peaceful. The wind was howling, and snow cut into our faces. Hannah leant into the wind at 30 degrees without falling; then it lifted her off her feet. Tremendous fun.
The views are fantastic – when the wind drops. The next wave of snow rushed towards us over Kirkstone Pass. We got ready. The views disappeared, and we were flattened by the blast. It knocked Hannah over, and she rolled down the snow slope laughing her head off.
Turning our back to the wind, we heading south towards Wansfell Pike. “Is that another Wainwright,” asked Hannah. “No,” I replied. “We are just going for a walk, ah ah!”
Peeking between blizzards
Between the blizzards, I turn to admire the views. They are tremendous. The clarity is outstanding. Half way along the ridge I
climb a small knoll – it has no name. Hannah and Mark constructed another snow shelter. From this small rise, the views are breathtaking. The whole of the fells are set out in a panorama. Their black ridges protrude out of snowy peaks and slopes, like the teeth of a bread knife. With a 360-degree turn, I can see all the mountains.
Hannah sat behind a snow wall, sheltering from the stabbing snow. We couldn’t all fit in for lunch, so we decided to shelter behind a wall – just before the final climb to Wansfell Pike – and have our lunch there. Hannah penguin’ed down the snow slopes. I did a bum-plant into a drift and sank up to my waist. In the lee of a wall, we had our lunch. It wasn’t the best place, within minutes the wind had blasted snow through the tiny gaps between the stones, and covered us with spindrift. My lunch box filled with snow, it looked as though it needed defrosting. Hannah’s rucksack disappeared under a blanket of snow. Our hands froze. So we decided to move on, just as a group of walkers descended the slope above us, some wearing shorts – what!
Snow steps and deep drifts
Hannah was enjoying herself. She and Mark decided to take the route to the summit via a 30-degree snow drift on the lee of the wall. They kicked steps, disappearing up to their waist. Hannah got stuck, so Mark patted down the snow around her, cementing her into the drift. We waved good-bye and turned to leave. Her shouts brought us back, and she made us drag her out.
Wansfell Pike is as windy, or even windier than Wansfell. I tried to take some pictures of the Langdale and Coniston mountains, but I couldn’t hold the camera steady. In the end, a shutter speed of 2,000th second did the job, although I still used my rucksack as a beanbag to steady the camera: good technique for pictures in gale force winds!
One Wainwright done; another child saved, nine in total and a really fun and exciting day. Hannah’s encouraging comment as we descended Wansfell Pike was, “That was fantastic, I really enjoyed today.”