Volume 47 Number 1 Article 7
5 January 2010
A number of years ago, during the last significant snowfall seen in the Dales, conditions were just right to make an ascent of Ingleborough’s front (North-West) slope using crampons and axe. I had assumed it would be unlikely that I would ever get a chance to do a repeat of this, given what the media is always telling us about global warming and the like, but I was wrong.
Christmas 2009, and the start of the winter arrived with a vengeance. Very quickly the Dales had significant depths of snow interspersed with periods of minor thawing and hard freezes and on the higher fells this soon created fantastic Neve – the stage was set! Tuesday 5th January arrived, along with three inches of fresh snow overnight. As dawn broke the visibility proved to be poor, to say the least, but I remained enthusiastic whilst I dug out and dusted off my ice gear from the garage.
I was soon stomping up out of Ingleton and onto Storrs Common in fresh powder deep enough to be well over my boots, but the weather was deteriorating, rapidly! I began to lose motivation as I trudged up the walled track with a horizontal blizzard blowing straight at me; bloody mindedness being the only thing keeping me from turning back. Eventually I arrived at the half buried bench at Crina Bottom and paused to take a photo as a record of the conditions – white snow, white sky and a bench.
Poor visibility at Crina Bottom
As I climbed above the house at Crina the visibility was beginning to improve slightly. The snow was getting noticeably deeper with drifts up to waist level and this made progress much slower and energy consuming than normal. I left the path to head for Quaking Pot and things started to get even worse. Mid-thigh or waist deep was now the only option and with a mixture of irritation at my slow progress and elation at how much snow there was, I aimed for the barely visible mass of Ingleborough.
After what seemed like an eternity, and some considerable effort I arrived at the foot of the climb. I tried to pick a line of ascent up the near forty five degree slope as I faffed about trying to remember how to strap my crampons on and cursed myself for bringing my axe without a wrist strap. The lower section of the climb, up to the first plateau, was in good vis but after that there was nothing – the summit becoming lost in a white out. That was going to make things interesting.
All of the day’s little setbacks were soon forgotten as I began kicking my way up on front points, taking in the spectacular view across to Ribblehead Viaduct and back towards Ingleton. Another brief stop was made to take photos, but all too soon the best part of the climb was over and I arrived on the half way plateau. I decided it was time for refreshments, but my water bottle had frozen shut and Mars Bars don’t make good ice lollies.
Highlight of the day – halfway up the NW slope
This is where things started to get a little more difficult. I could no longer see anything above me so I set off without any real idea of what I was heading into. Very soon I encountered waist deep powder snow and came face to face with a wall of snow towering above me, capped with a menacing cornice. This was not part of my plan. I assessed my situation – it was not a good one. A large, two inch wide crack had formed in the snow immediately in front of me, stretching left and right as far as could see and the waist deep snow I was stood in was beginning to slide down the slope beneath me! I quickly decided retreat was the safest course of action and gingerly descended diagonally across the slope in an attempt to escape the potential avalanche conditions.
I soon found more stable ground and began heading for what looked like a break in the cornice. Conditions were now dire in an almost total white-out and all that was on my mind was making it to the summit and getting the hell back down. A prolonged section of thigh deep trudging ensued until suddenly the slope began to ease, the wind became more violent, and I found myself on the summit. I kept right, following the edge waiting for the large cairn that marks the way down to Crina to appear. Ten minutes later and it still hadn’t. I began to smell a rat. Had I passed it but noticed it because it was half buried by drift? Or had I underestimated how far away from it I was? I continued in the same direction convinced I hadn’t missed it. I passed a couple of smaller cairns and almost convinced myself that they were the ones, but I knew they weren’t. All I wanted was a break in the cloud for a few seconds to get my bearings. I was getting annoyed with myself.
View from the front slope towards Ribblehead Viaduct
The thought crossed my mind that I should get my map, compass and GPS out of my rucksack and sort myself out, but I was being too bloody minded and was determined to find my own way of a hill I had been up countless times and knew like ‘the back of my hand’. I turned ninety degrees towards the middle of the summit and tried to find the shelter. Nothing. I intently scanned left and right as I walked. Without warning I arrived at a drop – I was back at the edge! I turned left and followed the side again. Then, out of nowhere, the shelter appeared! What a sweet sight! From here I could just see the trig point a few metres away and knew which bearing I had to take to find the way off.
Crina Bottom and Ingleton in the distance
I began my descent in the deep drifts using a combination of sliding and semi-controlled tumbling. Metre by metre the visibility improved and I eventually was able to make out the faint shape of the house at Crina Bottom in the distance. I could now confirm that I was descending the correct side of Ingleborough!
By the time I was back down at the level of Quaking the visibility was fantastic. I made rapid progress back down to the walled track, which had now been visited by the farmers tractor making going much easier underfoot. Impressively high drifts had collected against the dry stone walls and spin drift blew furiously through a gate hole. If the light hadn’t been failing and I had been feeling a little more enthusiastic, I may have taken better advantage of the photographic opportunity that was being dangled in front of me like a carrot on a stick.
Descending the Crina track towards Ingleton
As I walked back through Ingleton I reflected on the events of the day; the varying snow and weather conditions, the navigational challenges and the apparent dangers. I had experienced a mental and physical challenge that would have satisfied any alpine mountaineer. The only difference was, it was on my doorstep, in the Dales.