A Dicey Day on Skiddaw

It was one of those days when it was quite impossible to stay at home and concentrate on household chores. The sun shone from a cloudless sky onto a world covered with deep fresh snow. It had been snowing on and off for several days now and the roads were in dubious condition. It would have been foolish to take the car out unnecessarily so it was a day for Skiddaw once again.

I set out with the intention of heading straight for the tourist track but suddenly changed my mind and diverted across the fields to Millbeck. The easy track up Carlside looked irresistible. Its lower reaches are forbiddingly steep however for slippery snow conditions. I pioneered a route alongside the forest, following a line of footprints which I thought to be human. Later I concluded that they were made by sheep. This brought me up to the magnificent vantage point of White Stones. The Vale of Keswick lies beneath ones feet and it is quite unusual to see it completely white, for the surrounding mountains protect this sheltered valley from storm and snow. The path to the summit, usually something of a motorway, was spotless untrodden snow today, making for an arduous but exceptionally enjoyable ascent.

Enjoyable is hardly the word which could be applied to the continuation onto Skiddaw. My hopes that the soft fresh snow would make for an easier ascent than the usual stony struggle were quite unfounded. No doubt it was the wind which had swept this steep slope almost clear of snow. Almost, but not quite. The thin covering of soft snow on loose icy slates was extremely treacherous but by the time I had decided that this was not a sensible place to be, it seemed easier to go on than back. Had I slipped the ice axe would have been quite useless with nothing there to bite into. Its only function was as a walking stick and as a quite unwarranted confidence booster. The dicey section lasted perhaps no more than a couple of dozen yards and as the slopes rounded off onto the familiar summit ridge I had never greeted it with more delight.

It really goes without saying that it was beautiful up there. Cloud was building to the east, apparently rising upwards from the valley below so that Blencathra and the closer summit of Lonscale Fell were sailing above a sea of mist. Soon mist swept into the gap between Skiddaw and Little Man. I plunged down into it and up the other side, feeling rather disappointed that it dispersed behind me and spoilt both my expected picture of Skiddaw above the mist and my prospect of seeing a Brocken Spectre.

Considering the magnificent weather I was quite surprised to meet no more than a dozen people on the mountain. It seemed that most had contented themselves with Latrigg which was crowded with runners and walkers and strollers and echoing to the happy screams of kids with toboggans.


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