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PW day 12: Fri 04 Mar 2016; Langdon Beck to Dufton

PW day 12: Fri 04 Mar 2016; Langdon Beck to Dufton
Walk descriptor Pennine Way Day 12
Date Fri 04 Mar 2016 Start to end time 06h 10m
Start point Langdon Beck End point Dufton
Miles today 13.18 Cu miles 181.39
Ft today 1,684 Cu ft 29,575
Route miles left 105.84 Route ft left 16,211
Today’s weather Heavy cloud, a couple of minutes of sun in occasional breaks.   Heavy sleet and snow all day, blizzard at High Cup Nick.   Strong north easterly wind, gale or severe gale at the top.   Temp approx. plus 3C in the valleys, minus 3 at the top.
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Today’s location
(the red cross in a circle shows where I am at the moment)
GPX based track of today’s walk
(click button to download file) GPX
Commentary

Today’s blog is a bit longer than normal, because there is simply so much to write about. If you can’t be bothered to plough through it, here’s the digested read digested:

Snow, slow, and splendidly spectacular.

Normally when friends, passers-by and landladies offer helpful views about the weather, and how dire it is about to become, I disregard it, on the basis that it’s either better not to know, or it’s usually wrong.   And over the last couple of days, I’ve been getting plenty.

Typical examples have been:
Have you heard the forecast for Friday – it’s terrible!, or:
You wouldn’t want to be high up in the hills with all that snow forecast!”.   Or, most theatrically of all, this morning:
“The last person who attempted this section of the Pennine Way almost died.   The mountain rescue found him a day later and he only survived because he sheltered in a hut.   If it hadn’t have been for the hut, they would have been bringing back a body”.
Yes, thanks, everyone.

Well today, I had to rather grudgingly admit to myself midway through the walk, they did rather have a point.

So far on this walk, I’ve enjoyed the Pennine Way in Gold and Lite flavours, and even managed to relish the challenge of the Classic sections.   Well today was something entirely different.   It was Pennine Way Max®.   Yes, this was full blooded Pennine Way on steroids.

I really enjoyed my stay at the Langdon Beck Hotel – friendly, cheerful and welcoming – and a lovely log fire.   So I set off this morning in a good humour, looking forward – hopefully – to seeing High Cup Nick.   This is generally held to be the best section of the Pennine Way, with spectacular views over to the Lake District. In 1977, I’d completely failed to see anything at all, as I’d done this section in heavy rain and thick mist.

The route in the early section of the walk, along the banks of the upper Tees was, in my view, the hardest and least enjoyable part of the day. The path, such as it was, stayed close to the river bank, and clambered over big awkward boulders, made Teflon-like because of their covering of wet snow.   At this stage in the walk, although it was snowing hard, the snow was very wet – too warm to freeze properly, and when it settled, capable of absorbing at least its own weight in icy water.   So within a few miles, my boots and feet were saturated – despite their multiple encasements of Gore-Tex.

I soon reached Cauldron Snout (a waterfall, not a biological feature) and really enjoyed the rocky scramble up the side to the top.   A fabulous, boiling cataract, with nobody there to see it except me.   It was possibly my favourite of all the big falls I’ve seen on the Way so far – except of course for Hardraw, which I can’t comment on as I didn’t see it.

To my relief, once I’d climbed a bit higher to the top of Cauldron Snout, the temperature had fallen sufficiently for the snow to be a lot drier.   So instead of sticking to me as they fell, the wind-blasted ice particles just bounced off me and around into the distance.

There’s a good path from the top of the waterfall for a couple of miles, then it stops in seemingly the middle of nowhere.   You are then well and truly on your own in the pathless wasteland until you pick up the track to Dufton, five miles to the west.   So I consulted my GPS, left the track, and plunged off into the snow.

It was hard going, as the snow was lying in drifts one, two and sometimes three feet deep.   On more than one occasion, I sank in waste deep and was only able to escape by flattening myself out on the surface, to spread my weight, then rolling over the snowfield until the snow became thin enough to hold my weight.

I’ve come to learn that the more tired I get, the less hungry I feel, and the less I want to eat.   This can quickly become a vicious circle, and I recognised that as I was stumbling through the deep snow, I would be burning up energy by the bucketload and in danger of entering the downward spiral to exhaustion.   There was no real shelter up there, but eventually I found a snowdrift that afforded a bit of relief from the wind (which, incidentally, was coming from the east – a huge bonus as I had it on my back the whole way).   I stopped briefly and ate all the calorific things I could find in my rucksack (which didn’t include salad, thank God) and then set off in the swirling blizzard towards High Cup Nick.

As I got there, miracle of miracles! The sky cleared briefly, and I could just make out the stupendous, ice-covered, cleft in the hillside which forms the spectacular highlight of most Pennine Way journeys.   It was majestic today, in its icy desolation, and for a moment or two, I could just see the distant hills of the Lake District, similarly blanketed in white duvets of snow.

I didn’t hang around here, despite the splendour, as the wind increased to what felt like near hurricane force, and I could barely stand – and was acutely aware of the plunging precipice close to my left.   The ground was frozen, so I couldn’t get decent purchase and I was worried that I might slip and that would have been that.   To compound matters, the clouds closed in again at that point and the blizzard resumed with a ferocity that I’ve only encountered once or twice before in my entire walking career.

I headed over to the north of the Nick, found a path, and dropped rapidly to Dufton.   The vistas opened up as I fell below the clouds, revealing a large wintry plain, with pretty Dufton Pike standing out like a miniature (or perhaps oversized?) Roseberry Topping to my right.

I made it to Dufton much earlier than I expected.   I hadn’t walked fast over the top – it was impossible to do so – but I’d only stopped once, for a few moments, meaning I completed the whole journey in only just over six hours.

So now I’m going to dive in and have the hottest shower I can bear, then start planning for tomorrow’s walk, which passes over Cross Fell -the highest point on the Pennines and on the Way.   It’s also a long day, over 20 miles, so I’m aiming for an early start.   I am going to roll up my ears to any dire prognostications about how horrible tomorrow is going to be.   But I will be listening out for any signals that it’s going to be a bit colder than today, perhaps sufficient to convert the blanket bog of slush into a hard frozen carpet of ice, helping speed me on my way to my distant destination at Alston.

Today’s photos (click to enlarge)
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In a brief sunny interlude as I set off this morning.   This was actually one of the hardest bits – clambering over the slippery boulders alongside the upper Tees Cauldron Snout.   Really very impressive today – Perhaps the most impressive of all the falls I’ve seen, because it was so full and you could get so close
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This was the view of the path most of the way over High Cup Plain today Lonely signpost indicating the way.   I had to navigate by dead reckoning and relied on the GPS, as the path was completely invisible
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The path when the weather cleared.   Best to keep to the right hand edge, as the snowdrift isn’t so deep I defy any boot ever created to keep your feet dry in these conditions – deep icy slush
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On the way down to Dufton.   Dufton Pike, to the right, is a perfect conical hill and is made of different rock, 200m years older than the rest of the Pennines
The previous day’s blog follows below the blue line