Cross Fell Overnighter

DSC_0050February already! Rik and Andy and I decided that it was time for a bit of an adventure, rubbish weather not withstanding. A few options were discussed before we settled on exploring around Cross Fell and visiting the bothy known as Greg’s Hut for an overnighter, combining most of the fun of a bivvy with less of the discomfort and potential hypothermia of a winter night sleeping outdoors. We set a date and, despite weeks of horrible Atlantic storms, on the day the wind dropped, the rain dried up and it looked like we might enjoy near-perfect conditions for the first proper trip of the year. It didn’t quite turn out that way as you’ll see, but we still had a great time.DSC_0046We set off from Kirkland, ten miles or so past Penrith, at about 10.30pm, climbing straight up into the dark over the slowly freezing mud. The track grew rougher and more vague until after an hour or so it vanished into a bog, by which time the snow was covering the ground and we were carrying the bikes for long stretches.  We followed the footprints of walkers through semi-frozen sphagnum swamps and over the saddle of Skirwith Fell. At the top the frozen crust was mostly hard enough to ride over. A  kilometre of entertaining snowy descent took us to Greg’s Hut, which is a renovated miner’s shed, well-sealed from the elements and kitted out with a wooden sleeping platform and even a working stove.  It had taken nearly two hours to reach our accommodation for the night, rather longer than expected due to the heavy going in the snow. Even at -5°C outside the bothy was comfortable enough, and once we had fuelled the stove with the heat logs we had carried up taped to our bikes we got the thing sufficiently hot to more-or-less dry our socks out. There were also gas cannisters, instant noodles, even a half-bottle of decent single malt, all presumably left by the mountain rescue team who had used the place as a marshal point for the recent Spine Race. The whisky in particular was appreciated, as my hipflask chose this trip to develop a terminal leak – as a result my rucksack now smells more stereotypically vagrant than ever, and I was left without anything to drink, which is frankly intolerable for a night on the hills. Greg’s Hut is positively luxurious compared to most bothies, and we half-jokingly discussed making up some story of being trapped by adverse conditions to enable us to stay for a peaceful extra day away from home.12742137_909122402534547_6997884873013273279_nWe slept well, and were back on the bikes by 7.30am, setting off into fog and snow. The clear conditions we had hoped for failed to materialise but we determined to stick to our planned route over Cross Fell and down from Tees Head.  Retracing our tracks of the night before to just short of the ridge, we then turned south towards the summit, and head on into the wind and snow. Awkward ground conditions and a fair amount of navigational uncertainty meant that it took us nearly an hour to reach the huge shelter that tops the fell, and we didn’t hang around for long in the blowy spindrift.DSC_0061The going wasn’t much faster on the way down, and with no sign of the path under the white stuff I was very thankful for the little blue arrow on my GPS keeping us on course. We still overshot the junction for our descent from Tees Head, and floundered along for a good distance trying to spot what amounts to little more than a sheep track in amongst the drifts. Any attempt to ride was thwarted by sticky snow clogging in our frames and locking our wheels solid. We had to shoulder our bikes again, frustratingly, even to walk downhill. Then, at about 700m, the snow thinned significantly, the mist and snowflakes cleared as we dropped out of the cloud, and we spotted a cairn marking the trail. Finally we could ride for more than a few yards.DSC_0072The subsequent descent was fast and smooth, snaking rapidly down, around Wildboar Scar over frozen ground until we were nearly at the bottom. The sun was out,  the views were dramatic and wide with the Eden valley spread out in front of us. Brakes squeaked back into life and I managed at last to shift into the big ring, the bike finally becoming useful rather than an encumbrance. Traction was minimal but nobody had any serious crashes, and sliding the back wheel around the corners was easy fun. The final kilometers were soaking wet and left us caked in mud and sheep shit, so we were glad to get back to the van and peel off filthy outer layers. DSC_0076The round trip took us around four hours, excluding our stay in the hut, but we guessed that we could easily knock at least an hour off this with drier, snow-free ground conditions. Our average moving speed was an appropriately glacial 5.7 km/h, and we were aching all over from all the pushing, carrying and yomping through icy bogs and snowdrifts. The views were non-existent, the trails were mostly unrideable, the accomodation didn’t even have running water: we all agreed it was a cracking night out.12733631_909122329201221_3532198626023378064_n11057119_979506488761893_7490402695182866653_oDSC_0066DSC_0067(Additional pics by Rik and Andy.)