Friday, 23 January 2015

Hart Fell

Walk Summary
Leaving one camper at Howslack Farm.
Suggestion there will be snow higher up?
This was the first walk of the trip and right on queue the cold but dry, albeit windy conditions of the previous week gave way to warmer wetter weather driven by strong SSW winds. The night before there was a chance that the change would hold off until lunchtime but when I pulled back the van curtains in the morning the light covering of snow on the campsite was starting to recede. No worries I had an achievable 9 mile plan with an early start expected to complete the 9 miles, weather permitting, up Hart Fell then Whitehope Heights and finally along Chalk Ridge Edge before descending back down to Ericstane, well before it got dark at just after 4pm this time of year in Scotland. Well the weather was not permitting.
Pleased of an early finish.
Home at last and the snow has been washed away in the rain.
Don't think it will be gone on Hart Fell though
The persistent rain/drizzle at valley level changed to freezing rain during the ascent up Hart Fell, driven from my right and fortunately more from behind. Even though it was well below freezing at the summit, the rain persisted rather than changing to snow causing ice build up on the fence posts and wires not to mention shrouding the half buried trig point in more ice. So having reached the main peak of the day I decided discretion was the better part of valour and call it a day. Two choices; head back the way I came walking straight in to the teeth of the wind and rain or carry on with the route as planned following the fence down towards Barry Grain Rig and returning back to Ericstane following Lochan Burn and the track out past Newton Farm Cottage. I chose the second option. Still ended up walking nearly 10 miles in just under 5 hours, nearly 2mph, not a bad pace for the conditions.

Walk Statistics
Walk Date - 23 January 2015
Walkers - Steve Smith

Accommodation - Howslack Farm Caravan Club (CL) Campsite
Start Point - 
Howslack Farm Caravan Club (CL) Campsite (GR - NT 07422 09000)
Start Time - 08:59
Finish Point 
Howslack Farm Caravan Club (CL) Campsite (GR - NT 07422 09000)
Finish Time - 13:58
Duration - 4hrs 59mins
Average pace - 1.95mph
Distance Walked - 9.73miles
Height Ascended - ****.**metres


Other walks on this trip
2014
January

23rd Hart Fell
24th White Coomb
26th Broad Law
27th Capel Fell

Peaks visited
Munro (282)

NONE
Murdo (443)

NONE
Corbett (221)

Hart Fell (7)
Graham (224)

NONE
Marilyn (1218S - 1552E,W&S))

Hart Fell (36S - 117E,W&S)
Hump (2168S - 2976E,W&S)

Hart Fell (47S - 181E,W&S)
S: Scotland. 
E,W&S:England,Wales & Scotland

Route
GPX can be downloaded from www.shareyouradventure.com

Walk Description
Hart Fell

Footpath sign off Old Edinburgh Road to Hart Fell Spa
Starting from the van at Howslack Farm meant I did not have to drive to Ericstane the planned walk start point. It did mean an extra 1km walk along The Old Edinburgh Road but it was level and good going allowing me to sort my breathing and warm up ready for the start of the ascent. The footpath sign to Hart Fell Spa just after the corrugated metal clad community centre marked where I turned right and started the ascent up Spa well Burn. The path was well trodden without being obvious but gates through each fence confirmed I was still on track. This path carries on all the way to Hart Fell Spa but I left it at the deciduous wood heading left up towards Well Rig. Very soon visibility dropped to about 30m along with increase in snow cover but maintaining a NE bearing I eventually came across the track marked on the map to Billsceuch Moor.
Heading up an a bearing trying to make out faded track hidden
by snow. Strong crosswind from right and driving cold rain
Gradually this disappeared under the snow which was now about 1’ deep. I know this because it was fairly solid but not solid enough to bear my weight resulting in it giving way under each step. Regular checking of compass along with reappearance of track where wind had blown away the snow resulted in me the fence near Bill’s Cleuch springs appearing straight ahead. This was the last navigational aid until the fence along the summit ridge line. So it was more of the same walking on the same bearing and making sure I was still going up hill. The wind was giving me a good old buffeting and taking off my glove to record the desolate scene with the one picture I bothered to take during the ascent made me realise my brand new £50 waterproof winter gloves had started to leak. Well the one on my right side. So now my wet hand was freezing cold and not warming up when I managed to force the glove back on, restricted by my wet hand not wanting to slide on like it did in the shop or for that matter earlier this morning. A little bit of a wobble in the old navigation caused me to drift right near the ridge top but starting to descend made me reassess and turn left. Now not really knowing where I was on the map magically a fence appeared out of the gloom ahead of me. It was now a case of following the fence looking out for the trig point and familiar summit marker. 
All this way for a frozen trig point.
Not the place to hang around for lunch
The wind, rain and cold did not deter me from photographing the summit and trig point as well as logging its location on my smart phone. It did remind me however of how cold and wet I was especially when putting my wet gloves back on did nothing to restore warmth to my hands. I could have taken off my back pack and got out some dry gloves and an extra layer but that would have extended the time in what was now quite inclement conditions. I therefore decided to call it a day and decided to carry on walking away from the wind but head down and back to home along Lochan Burn rather than go for any more summits. As for my really wet and frozen (figuratively speaking) right hand, I took of the glove and used my spare woolly hat as a makeshift glove. With vigorous wiggling of fingers some life started to return. Turning left at the first fence junction rapidly increased the rate of ascent until the fence kinked to the right where I had planned to follow it to Whitehope Heights. Instead I now had to leave the fence heading slightly left and downhill without being able to see more than 30m ahead. Briefly the wind was straight in my face reminding me what it would have been like had I followed the ascent route back down. Not very pleasant and very difficult to maintain balance heal stepping to make a rapid safe descent. Again I wondered whether to take off my back pack and get out my snow goggles. But instead I pulled the hood across my face and carried on for a while longer to see what happened. Fortunately after a short time and some descent the wind eased and as I peered round my hood could see Lochan Burn below being joined by another burn which turned out to be Strong Cleuch.
Difficult terrain, but safer environment, following
Lochan Burn between Hartfell shoulder and Middlefield Know
e
A long way from home, but now at a safer level and out of the wind. The banks either side of the burn were very steep which meant I had to cross it several times to find the easiest terrain to walk over. At the base of Middlefield Rig there has been a lot of planting of native trees. Brilliant that this is happening, but also a lot of churned up ground by heavy machinery as well as some wheel tracks to follow some of the time. Climbing over the high gate to protect the saplings from roaming deer I could see a track around the bottom of Scaw’d Law. Having made sure it was the track I wanted I headed round the base of Billcleuch Moor contouring at about the 400m level. I could see the ford across Lochan Burn and even better it was now a bridge. All that remained was to follow the track to Ericstane, past Newton Farm Cottage and along the Old Edinburgh Road to Howslack Farm and the van. 
Have written a lot more about this walk than intended and although it seems a bit of an epic, was not really. Rather an example of how with experience what could have been a dangerous situation was dealt with (a) by changing the walk plan when conditions dictate and (b) dealing with each situation as it is presented at the time. All this is self taught so far and learnt in far more benign conditions. Winter conditions increase the stakes significantly and is why I am in Scotland on this trip to prepare physically for a Winter Mountaineering and Skills course next week in Torridon.

More Photographs
Heading up an a bearing trying to make out faded track hidden by snow.
Strong crosswind from right and driving cold rain. Hence not many photographs
Click on photograph to view slide-show

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