Haystacks and Fleetwith Pike – Buttermere – Sunday 18th March – Week 4

S.M.A.S.H. Pay Tribute to Wainwright’s favourite mountain.

It’s not often I admit that one of the lasting memories of this particular outing was formed in the car on the way. The Lakes are home to some fine passes. Kirkstone,  Hardknott. I wasn’t expecting such a scene as we turned into the Butteremere on the Honister Pass. Wedged between Dale Head and Fleetwith Pike we rolled down the steep ribbon of road to Gatesgarth. The enormous fells either side and the view in the valley is a mixture of claustrophobia shared with the immense space that opens out before you. I’d have been satisfied with that view alone.

I’d never been to this valley. I’ve climbed to Dale Head a few years back and only searched back through old photos to see if I’d shot any of Buttermere from there or maybe Hindsgarth. If I’d known just how stunning this valley was I’d have come here well before now.

Fleetwith Pike

Today my walking buddies are S.M.A.S.H’s founding father Abs of course, bringing a fine selection of shades under his Aussie hat. A welcome return of John last out on Latrigg in October bringing a suitable wide lens this time. Nicole, obviously impressed from the last walk up Wansfell and Baytones, up for another challenge bringing a dry boot. Then there’s a full Bowen squad. Lesley (my wife), with her pockets full of trepidation and the small people Jack and Emily bringing chaos, entertainment and mountains of energy.

So spring has sprung and the sun shone between massive white clouds. When it dipped behind them you were reminded that it’s still early and a slight chill lingers about you.

We leave Gatesgarth and it’s dairy cows and head straight down the BW to Peggys Bridge and stop to take in the beauty of this valley from the pasture so green and set against the painted blue sky evoking a real feeling of summer. Short sleeves, shades and packing light jackets in case winter decides to make a surprise return, it was good to be up and outside.

To Peggy's Bridge under High Crag

There’s an added silence to this valley that was apparent from the other walks.  Warnscale beck was even respectful enough too by just keeping the noise down and not rushing to fast as to interupt the peace but just babling along gently.

Sshh..Haystacks over Warnscale Beck

It was becoming clear to me that Wainwright’s favourite mountain; Haystacks was not necessarily just about the mountain, but probably because it was so quiet, ideal for a loner like him who would give a greater appreciation for the silence and lack of visitors. Only that now because he made it his favourite, Haystacks ironically sees more than its share of walkers as we step aside to let a few gents overtake us onto Buttermere fell.

Buttermere from the Fell reflecting Goat Crag

From Buttermere fell we aim for Scarth Gap easily visable. Getting there though was not so easy. We negotiate the wet boulder garden where the path fades and you just tend to step up onto anything that looks like it won’t roll away. This is where the small people excel. Their low centre of gravity lends well to scampering over this type of terrain and before long they are out of sight. We don’t see them again until we reach the gap.

Making the most of his size, Jack enjoyed the climb to Scarth Gap.

Most of us adults kind of flop down on the short grass mounds that make up  the various view points at Scarth gap where as Emily seems to get charged from any summit. She’s not a valley person, her mood dips in the lowlands, but once she feels the breeze and the openness of a pinnicle she’s all full of energy and constant chat. She knows what it is to celebrate on a summit.

Will Emily be as enthusiastic later on Fleetwith Pike seen behind?

Lesley asked “where now”? It’s fair to say this is all new to Lesley and she’s still scoping out this fell walking malarky, constantly assessing her mood and how she feels about exerting herself on the fells for pleasure.  I think we’ve all been at that place where you kind of wonder what there is that’s so enjoyable when the effort required to get to a peak does not outweigh the satisfaction from standing on one. She openly admits to not enjoy the climbing but understands it’s an unavoidable part of what we’re here for, so talks herself to accepting that she must push on but unfortunately upwards. I point over to Big Stack on Haystacks, not playing it down but setting the expectation. I say “it’s right up there, over that crag”. A wall of rock somehow to be walked over. She looks at it thinking ropes must be required at some point.  We set off, the small people lead the way and again out of sight dashing towards the rock section onto Haystacks. This is where having the kids lead is somewhat encouraging to Lesley. She can see they are enjoying themselves and making it look easy too. She want’s to see them show her mum which way to go. The stand high up on the side of Haystacks shouting down to the rest of us. “Come on”. We smile, thinking, cheeky little so and so’s. It’s encouraging though and we put or hands on the rock and take more consideration to each step.

Buttermere and Crummock Water, climbing of Haystacks

On the peak we gather together for the big arms photo.

Haystacks - SMASHed!

With the photo session out of the way we search out  the south side of Haystacks for somewhere out of the breeze. There’s some nice little alcoves to sit in facing the sun looking over to Great Gable or Pillar and you can get a good view of Ennerdale too. During lunch all call everyone together and ask for some quiet.

Lesley on Haystacks - High Crag and Ennerdale forming the backdrop

Some of us know of Alfred Wainwright, may cropped up in conversation during past walks but I thought if fitting to bring with me a eulogy of the great man and tell my walking companions about him and how he lived his life for the love of the fells. A tribute then to AW on his favourite mountain where his ashes were scattered as was his wish. So pay respect he said to that piece of grit in your boot it may be me.
After a half hour break we set off down to Innominate Tarn. The small people took off early with a GPS to find a Geocache that was placed near the tarn.  When we got there we could just make them out in the crag and

Innominate Tarn - Pillar on the left and the back of Haystacks on the right.

out crops that surround this stunning body of water. I lent a hand to find the geocache, unfortunately it was one of those with nothing in bar the pads to log your visit with. Jack and Emily like geocaching for the small trinkets and cheap toys found in them. So a little disappointed this time.
Knowing that the next aim is to Fleetwith Pike the drop of around 100meters is welcoming but there’s that sense that the climb with be more challenging. There’s a good path down to Black Tarn which makes another good view point straight down the gully into Buttermere valley

Buttermere and Green Crag from Black Tarn

and behind offers a good view of Green and Great Gable which I pointed out SMASH would attempt in June. Seeing it so clearly, we were excited by the prospect.
The waters of Black tarn looked evermore inviting as the afternoon sun was about as high as it gets in March getting us all a little more than just hot under the collar excluding Jack and Emily lobbing stones into the water.

Jack at Black Tarn and a Green and Great Gable skyline.

Next we push on towards the manmade spoils of Dubs Quarry. A much contrasted landscape from the views so far. This quarry was closed in 1932 after it employed over 100 men producing 3000 tones a year in 1891.  Just over 100 year later the mines were reopened by Mark Weir in 1997 who developed the quarries into a thriving tourist attraction, and at the same time producing small quantities of roofing slate. Mark Weir was killed in a helicopter crash at the mine on the evening of 8th March 2011.

Push up the quarry Path towards Fleetwith Pike

This part of the walk required at least in my opinion to pick up the bridleway heading away from Fleetwith Pike in an attempt to even the climb. I was a little unsure if we could walk straight through the qaurry, this would have been tougher on tired legs. Emily was looking waked now but she was determined to keep walking. Looking around the group I sensed we were all a little quieter now and tried to lift the group by pointing out we were not that far from the Pike. It was later in the day now that I had anticipated but we had taken some time along the way to rest. We’d taken our time but a walk like this needs to be appreciated slowly and not rushed.
Through the quarry Lesley’s mood crashed a bit and Emily surrendered her legs to a shoulder carry from her dad. Carrying the back-back and Emily on my shoulders I put my head down and headed to Fleetwith Pike with steely determination accepting that maybe it was time to get this walk finished. Emily recounted one her songs she learned from Brownies to keep my occupied. It was lengthy enough to see me all the way to Fleetwith Pike. The remaining crew rocked up after about 10 mins to admire the spectacular view.

Family portrait on Fleetwith Pike

With spirits lifted once more the end and Gatesgarth was in sight but not before we clambered down Fleetwith Edge. Again Emily was energised on the summit and took off with her brother down through the channels and narrow paths on the edge.

Abs and Lesley easing down Fleetwith Edge

We all realised how tired our legs were, now trembling as we resisted the gravity of the drop.  Fairly soon Jack and Emily were nowhere to be seen. Occasionally appearing where the ground leveled clear of any technical features. John and Nicole dropped back. There must have been over a quarter of a mile between Jack and John.

John and Nicole pull off Big arms on Fleetwith Edge

Then I saw Abs running down a section of single track. Wondering if this was a burst of energy he’d acquired, was he inspired by the small people? Or was this an example of involuntary running because it was just easier to run than hold back any longer by walking. Lesley and I found it was just easier to let the forces of gravity take over as we giggled all the way down to Gategarth.

Jack and Em had sniffed out the Ice Cream van. Needless to say they got what we deserved

Haystacks, Ice Cream and rosy cheeks. SMASHed!

We dashed along to Buttermere village for a toilet break and a top up on coffee and cake before making the long journey home. The small people were asleep at Keswick. Little wonder! Well done everyone. A tough walk in such a short distance, but well worth it. Incredible views. I think I’ll come back sometime on two wheels to take in more of this area.
Loughrigg in April from Ambleside…. see you on the top.
P.S. I apologise for the late posting but as the weather has been improving there’s been so much more opportunity to get outside, I admit it’s a bit of a wrench to sit in front of a computer screen to get words down.  I have Saturday’s CRASH ride in Reeth to type up too. Coming soon.
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