Monday, 1 July 2013

The Old County Tops – 29 June

The "Old County Tops” has always seem too good a route to be merely a fell race – albeit a fell race of 37 miles and 10,000ft of climbing, if you go the right way. The Rucksack Club has a hut in the Duddon valley not too far from the route and the Club enjoys long walks in the hills. Even with the extra miles starting in Duddon instead of Great Langdale the route isn’t long by Club standards but it should be long enough to occupy all of a long June day. The opportunity seemed too good to miss and so I took it by offering to organise a Club Meet involving a stroll round the Old County Tops of Coniston Old Man (Lancashire), Helvellyn (Westmorland) and Scafell Pike (Cumberland).

On Saturday a little after first light Tom and I dragged ourselves out of the hut and up the Walna Scar Road heading for Dow Crag – although off route it is a reasonable way to Coniston Old Man and is often visited, inadvertently, during the race. By about 05:30 we stood on the first of our OCTs for the day, just below the cloud base and in a bitterly cold wind.


20130629-OCT-RC-1Morning light from Coniston Old Man

20130629-OCT-RC-4-EditConiston Old Man summit

20130629-OCT-RC-7-EditHalifax bomber memorial

20130629-OCT-RC-12-EditCoast to Coast Sportif approaching the Three Shires Stone from the west

The bitterly cold wind remained on the tops all day and by the time we were descending to the Three Shires Stone we were wearing all the clothes and waterproofs we were carrying. Fortunately conditions were more pleasant in the valleys and as we jogged through Great Langdale the mountaineering clubs’ huts were beginning waken up with members packing for the day or simply enjoying the first brew of the day. Grasmere was almost awake as we ran through there a little later but strange looks rather than “good morning” marked our progress there.


20130629-OCT-RC-16-EditLooking west over Grisedale Tarn

Our route crossed the Coast-to-Coast route near Grisedale Tarn and the C-t-C’ers we saw looked enviously at our light packs while we looked in wonder at their huge burdens. Helvellyn marked our arrival with rain as well as a strong cold wind so we pulled waterproof trousers and tops on again before descending to Wythburn Church. Summiteers setting off wearing shorts and tee-shirts looked puzzled as we ran down in still dripping waterproofs – they would find out why soon enough.

We met Keith and Pauline with more food, kit and hot coffee at the foot of Wythburn. Fully provisioned all four of us set off for Scafell Pike and then the long trek back to Duddon. Wythburn was less unpleasant than during this year’s race and we were soon mixing with crowds coming down from Scafell Pike – where else would they have been in street clothes? As we climbed from Angle Tarn the cloud base came down to meet us so that by the summit (which we had to ourselves, even if only briefly) we were well above the cloud base.

20130629-OCT-RC-27-EditScafell Pike from the top of Little Narrowcove

The cloud base stayed with us almost all the way down to Upper Eskdale and caught us again before Mosedale. The rain that met us on Scafell Pike (requiring waterproofs for the third time in one day, probably a record) accompanied us all the way back to Seathwaite but we beat nightfall back to the hut which mattered somewhat more.

20130630-OCT-RC-43-EditMade for walking – and they did

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