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Date: 06 Dec 2005
Start / Finish: Eskdale Green. Small free car park on the main road by Giggle Alley Forestry Commission entrance (141002).
Maps: Explorer OL6: English Lakes South West.
|Day 1||Illgill Head & Great How||8.6 miles / 3130 feet (13.8km / 954m)|
|Day 2||Sca Fell & Stony Tarn||5.3 miles / 1890 feet (8.5km / 576m)|
|Day 3||Eel Tarn & Blea Tarn||6.3 miles / 780 feet (10.1km / 237m)|
A winter circuit of Lower Eskdale culminating at Sca Fell and returning via Stony Tarn and Blea Tarn. Only the highest peaks retained thin traces of the recent light snow, but the rocks of Sca Fell were white mainly from the thick frost.
The track ascending NE from the car park forks, the left branch descends northwards to cross the minor road in Miterdale. A clear path climbs through the forest and emerges on the open hillside at Irton Fell, where we joined the ridge path to the minor top of Whin Rigg. The visibility was excellent as the views opened out and we descended to the tarns and crossed over to the edge path that gives good views down the precipitous screes to Wast Water. A gradual climb leads on to Illgill Head and a fine view of the cirque of mountains at the head of Wasdale.
Veering R on the descent, Burnmoor Tarn came into view with Great How beyond and the little falls of Oliver Gill foaming white. A path leads out to join the main track to Bulatt Bridge, which we followed in preference to crossing the potentially boggy valley floor directly. A left fork in the wet continuation track descends to Lambford Bridge, where a short way up the slope is a thin path that ascends gently back to Oliver Gill and into the ravine before petering out. The sun was sinking fast now and the slopes behind us were illuminated with a rich orange-red light, but there was no suitable vantage to capture the scene from within the deep cleft and no time to stop!. Turning R along a tributary, we collected good water and mustered all our energy to hurry up the pathless slopes in the fading light to find a pitch. The first of the group of tarns near the summit provided a good spot, though there was not enough light to take our customary picture.
The night was certainly not the coldest we have experienced but the frost was among the thickest, coating the grass and the tent in a dense glistening veneer. The excellent tarns of Great How were frozen into intricate patterns reflecting the pink dawn light while the mountain tops to the W were catching the first rays.
Crunching across Quagrigg Moss, we aimed to the R of Slight Side to pick up the main path and we noticed mist caps forming on the outlying tops. There was a grand prospect of the head of Eskdale from the top of the rocks, but just seconds later the first veils of mist appeared from nowhere and quickly turned everything grey. Climbing on to Sca Fell up the frosty scree and rocks, the encrusted cairn and windshelter looked really bleak in the cold wind, but there were very brief gaps in the mist and we photographed just one view.
Returning to the foot of Slight Side, the main path contours SW towards a rock outcrop and crosses the head of Catcove Beck. Further on, a perched boulder betrays the approximate position of the secluded Stony Tarn, and we diverted L from the path until it came into view below. The inflow provided water and we made a good pitch on the shore.
As the forecast predicted, there was rain overnight which had fallen as wet snow on the highest tops, but it was locally clear at dawn. A thin path meanders SW through the knolls and joins the clearer paths around Eel Tarn, where we could see that all the tops behind us at the head of Eskdale were now clear in sunshine.
From the N side of the tarn, we didn't relish the prospect of crossing the thunderous Whillan Beck directly, so we took the main path SW to join the bridleway track that hairpins back to a bridge at Gill Bank. Following this northwards until we were outside the intake wall, we ascended L and picked up a thin path that contours the slope and drops to the ruins at 176019. A good track winds around to arrive at Blea Tarn, looking very picturesque with a backdrop of colourful orange bracken.
A sketchy path continues around the reedy Siney Tarn and curves SW along a line of rocky outcrops to arrive at a ladder stile above Hollinghead Crag. Passing the stile, another thin path heads W to the forest and follows the edge to the fork in the track and the outward route.