Thursday 6 January 2011

Walk 38
9.3m / 3500ft ascent
Time taken: 430 minutes

142. Mellbreak LDW-168 (SOTA LD-036) 1680'
143. Hen Comb LDW-171 1670'
144. Gavel Fell LDW-158 1726'
145. Blake Fell LDW-140 (SOTA LD-031) 1880'
146. Burnbank Fell LDW-183 1558'

Route taken by Phil G4OBK & Geoff on 6th January 2011
An opportunity arose once New Year was finished to head over to Keswick again for a few days. I usually rely on the BBC Countryfile weekly forecast on Sundays and decide then if a trip to the Lakes in viable. This particular week Thursday and Friday looked favourable. My friend Geoff who now lives near Worcester, was available and we booked into the hotel we normally stay at for the Thursday night.   We had two days activations planned and I decided not to set anything in stone, but to decide at short notice which summits we would activate based on the prevailing conditions.  On Wednesday night the weather forecast on BBC and MWIS looked good for Thursday and rather poor for Friday so I opted for the more difficult, higher level walk in the Loweswater Fells on Thursday and an easier more bitty series of up and back walks on the Friday. Well, suffice to say the weather man got it wrong (including MWIS on the Wednesday) and we battled on in atrocious conditions on Thursday, yet found conditions on what was to be the worst day Friday to be perfect, however it has to be said on that day we stayed below 1700ft. 

Profile of Walk - the large dip in the middle is Mosedale and the highest peak is Blake Fell
Mellbreak - north face - the way we went up and an easier climb than it looks (under ccl by Anton Ciritis)
We decided to park in the free NT car park at Maggies Bridge (NY 134210) and complete a circuit taking in the five Wainwrights of Mellbreak, Hen Comb, Gavel Fell, Blake Fell and Burnbank Fell.  We left the carpark at 0935z with the Melbreak Foxhounds and their keepers who hunt on foot, and we were to be accompanied by the sound of the huntsman's horn then on for most of the day, although we never saw them again as they were hunting in Mosedale and on the lower flanks of the fell.
The fells were in mist and once we reached Raven Crag on the northern side of Mellbreak we saw virtually nothing until we descended into Mosedale.  We lost the views again on the way up Hen Comb and never saw a thing again until we were about to leave Burnbank Fell. As a result photo opportunities for most of the walk were restricted. 
Geoff posing as we drop down into Mosedale
A Wainwright describes Mellbreak as a "Grim sight, heightened by shadow giving the fell an austere effect" as the picture above indeed shows.  We made for the southern top, which is the higher of the two. This means that the fell top, almost 1.5 Km long, must be walked in its entirety. I'm sure this would be most enjoyable with a view but we saw nothing, arriving at the highest point at 1103z.   The radio activation was not too successful either with only four contacts with  Mark MM1MPB, Julian G4ILO, Colin G4UXH and Geoff G4WHA/M in Penrith, which was just enough to qualify for the SOTA points and winter bonus.  The weather was not as forecast and on our way down into Mosedale (where we lost most of the height gained on Mellbreak) it started to sleet.  I had relied on Stuart Marshalls "Walking the Wainwrights" book for our route and should have realised when Stuart's says precipitous (like he did on Troutbeck Tongue) he really means it!  The climb out of Mosedale, the most direct route from Mellbreak to the grassy topped Hen Comb, was a killer. Our desolate moorland climb was made worse by the sleet and a chilling wind. We reached the summit at 1233z in a blizzard after frequent breathing breaks.   A more sensible route would have been to go SSW to Floutern Cop and then ascend Hen Comb by the ridge.  Contacts were just as hard to come by on the summit and again only four QSOs were completed. 

G4OBK Phil on Hen Comb LDW-171
The walk to the sprawling summit of Gavel Fell across White Oak Moss was not as boggy as we thought it might be as we were helped by the frozen surface. The temperature drop (after being quite mild when we left the car park) was most noticable so the extra clothing being carried needed to be put on. I had three layers on myself, with thermal long johns, Craghopper Kiwi trousers and Wynster overtrousers, with three layers under my Bergaus Mera Peak coat thermal vest, polo neck and thick fleece and despite this I was still feeling the wind chill. My fleece gloves were now saturated and becoming frozen as it went colder so I went over to my Trekmates gel lined thicker ones and soon had warm hands again. These gloves are no use when operating a radio though, and needed to be taken off for the radio activation once we were on the summit of Gavel Fell at 1354z.  Again, another four contacts were made with the same stations contacted on Mellbreak. The only difference being that Colin G4UXH was now operating portable from a high  point north of Milnthorpe which enable him to make the contacts with me that day successfully.  We only lingered for three minutes and up to this point the weather had been too inclement to eat or drink. There was no shelter from the bitter wind at all.   I knew there was a shelter on Blake Fell, our highest point of the day and another SOTA summit, so we decided to make for that where we would take a rest and have our dinner.  We were there in 24 minutes and our route took us across Fothergill Head as we followed the fence up to the summit shelter.  Radio wise the activation here was more successful with 12 contacts being logged. ODX being a summit to summit SOTA contact with Neil 2M0NCM/P on GM/SS-281 Cairn Pat near Stranraer, a distance of 113 Km. 

At the Blake Fell shelter with my SOTA Flag

G1OHH Sue in Lancaster was contacted for the first time that day, the extra height gain making the difference.  A bite to eat (Frozen Snickers - quite tasty, but watch your teeth!) and some tepid tea out of the flasks and we left the top of Blake Fell in mist at 1455z to head for our last of the day, the much lower Burnbank Fell LDW-183 lying on the outer fringe of the Lake District.

The mist finally clearing as we leave Burnbank Fell at 1530z

This was only a 20 minute walk and I was on the air from Burnbank and still in mist by 1519z.  From here eight contacts were completed to make 32 for the day. G4ILO was logged first and then GM7PFY/M, 2E0MIX, M0AYB, MM1MPB, G1OAE, G4UXH AND G4WHA/M Geoff, who previously thought that he would not have made contact with these western fells from Penrith owing to being blocked out by Hopegill Head and Grisedale PIke, which are direct line of sight. Blencathra is slightly north of the direct path and so all contacts were completed with Penrith on all five summits activated, allowing Geoff to consolidate his lead as the top chaser!

Top of Burnbank Fell after the mist cleared - Geoff taking in the views and the sunshine
As we packed up on Burnbank Fell, the cornerstone of the Western Fells,  we looked around - there hadn't been much point all day as we had been in mist up to now, but to the west we had the fantastic sight of the setting sun burning away the mist and bathing us in bright light (and a little heat) at last, and giving me a chance to take some photographs of the view.  We stayed on the summit to see everything being exposed in less than two minutes in all directions. It was amazing!

On Burnbank Fell just before we headed back to Maggie's Bridge CP
We now had a 3 Km downhill walk back to the shore of Loweswater and the car park and left the fell at 1538z taking to the rough hillside to reach Holme Beck near to the Bield, half way down the Gill. The water tank mentioned by AW in The Western Fells book was no longer there, only a weir. The tank is indeed still shown on the OS 1:25000 map.  We arrived back at my car at 1643z after a satisfying day in difficult conditions and looked forward to Friday when we would return to the same area of the Western Fells.

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