The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Great Whernside and Buckden Pike

Tuesday 3 March

Mick was keen on today’s plan to go up Great Whernside, as it gave him the opportunity to revisit the remote hostel of Hag Dyke, which he recalled from the week spent there (and scampering around the nearby lumpiness) whilst undertaking his RAF Aircrew training in 1977. Things looked different today to how they looked on that visit, but that was on account of the amount of snow that was lying today. So much snow that even I, hater of gaiters, decided that it was most definitely a gaiter day (a very good decision, even if I do say so myself!).

Having parked Colin in Kettlewell, as neatly as we could without any visibility of the markings of the car park (turned out, once some of the snow had thawed on our return, that the car park wasn’t set out as we had expected and that we had parked straight across 3 spaces!), we headed uphill and were soon wading through the result of fresh snow and strong winds: extensive snow drifts.


Nice blue sky, but how were we to know where the car park lines lay?!


Good visibility in between showers, and a consistent blanket of snow

Regularly we were post-holing to knee deep (and occasionally deeper), but the wind was on our backs and there were some good sunny intervals, so even though it was relatively hard work to haul ourselves up the hill, it was a good enjoyable outing…

IMG_4451 …except for about five minutes as we set off back down (wind now in our faces), which was timed nicely as a hail shower came through.


By the summit there had been no question that this wasn’t an appropriate day to complete the originally planned 12.5 mile circuit, taking in Buckden Pike too, hence the retreat was made, which saw us arrive back at Colin a few minutes before 1pm.

Now, that was a bit early to just spend the rest of the day sitting around so, over lunch, I contemplated the map, with a riverside amble in mind, whereupon it occurred to me that if we drove a few more miles up the road, we could still do Buckden Pike as an out-and-back. Somehow I thought we were opting for a 4km walk; looking at the map now I have no idea how I reached that conclusion, considering that as the crow flies, the summit lies around 2.5km from the road, and the crow-flies route wasn’t even feasible!


What we also hadn’t appreciated as we set out was that the weather was about to worsen (contrary to what the forecast had told us this morning), with the wind picking up even more and the periods of blue sky becoming a rarity. Spindrift was our almost constant companion on much of this walk, along with some surprisingly deep drifts:


Not one of the deep bits!


A bit inhospitable (actually on the descent, but if I sneak it in here, I’m sure no-one will notice)!

By the last bit of the ascent I was beginning to dread the descent, knowing that the spindrift (and any passing hail shower) was going to be hurled straight at us, but first we had to visit the trig point, which we did, having avoided the ice-patches and having managed to stay on our feet in the wind. It certainly wasn’t a place to hang around, though.


We even walked beyond the trig point to get to the cairn.

The descent wasn’t as bad as I had expected, but it did highlight quite how much the wind had picked up (amazing how fast knee-deep post-holes in the snow can fill in too; even though we spent very little time on the top, our footprints were gone by the time we retraced our steps). I also came to appreciate how deep some of the snow was, when a step into an unexpectedly-hip-deep bit saw me face-plant. My mind went back to my snowboarding days as I thrashed around in the drift, struggling to get back up with nothing solid beneath me to push against. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t had the exact same thing happen again a dozen paces later!

Back at the road, the weather south of Kettlewell was so calm, with such a thaw going on in the nearby fields, that it was hard to comprehend the conditions we’d been in an hour earlier. The difference a few hundred feet makes!

The stats for this good-fun-but-quite-tiring day were 5.5 miles for the first outing and 4.25 for the second, with around 2800’ of ascent between them. For some reason, it wasn’t a popular day to be out; a group of five people were seen (at a distance) ascending Great Whernside as we descended; two other sets of footprints were seen on the lower reaches of Buckden Pike; otherwise there was no evidence of anyone else on these hills today.

(Post Blog Note: My proof-reader says that he doesn’t think that I’ve conveyed there quite how windy the second outing was, nor quite how spindrifty it was. Here’s a 19-second video snippet that perhaps illustrates the windiness, even if the spindrift doesn’t show up particularly well:



  1. Well done. I have happy and adventurous memories of many visits to Hag Dyke when I was in the Scouts. I have done the full round of these two twice. Both times conditions were appalling, the first one being the wettest walk I can ever remember by a long way. Buckden Pike summit is deceptively remote.

    1. I would like to go and revisit these, as a single walk, in more summery conditions. I bet there's a substantial path, when it's not obliterated by snow!

  2. I've walked there in the summer months. Nice to see it under snow for the first time. Looks alpine.