Friday, 16 December 2011

Review Kahtoola Microspikes®

Purchased 2010 Price £45.00 weight 360g

It has to be said when it comes to the outdoors, I am an outdoors person first and photographer second. I came to photography via my love of nature and mountains and not the other way around. This approach is often reflected in my choice of outdoor equipment when I am in the hills photographing. In winter when it comes to dealing with ice and snow I have always carried my mountaineering axe and my Grivel 12 point crampons. This kit is perfect on a steep mountain, or when I plan to climb an easy gully or ridge on my own, but if I am simply on walking terrain they are a bit of overkill. The 12 point crampons are also fairly heavy as well and considering I am carrying a load of camera gear on top of my outdoor kit, the rucsack eventually begins to feel a bit of a burden. With that in mind I have to be pretty weight conscious with regards to what should be carried. A further consideration is that I end up having to wear my full mountaineering boots as the Grivel's are not suitable for bendy boots.

03D-0775 lose up View of a Pair of Kathoola Microspike Crampons in Use on Snow UK
Copyright David Forster

Last winter I decided to get a set of  for the days when I was simply out and about in the hills but did not expect to come across too much in the way or steep ice or snow. This meant I could carry a bit less, still enjoy the comfort of wearing my 3 season walking boots and of course still be able to deal with any patches ice or hard snow I may encounter.

I looked at several makes but the Kahtoola's seemed to offer the most aggressive grip in varied snow and ice "walking" conditions. I highlight walking because they are not designed for the sort of mountain terrain where you will experience really steep ground where you need to front point. That said I suppose if you came across the odd really steep bit you could certainly cut steps. I have experimented with them going up and down on pretty steep ground and you eventually get to the stage where the rubber banding that goes around the boot begins to stretch. In this situation your boot tries to slide off the base and places a lot of strain on the rubber. That said this was simply an experiment to find out what the limitations were and is not really a criticism. Price wise at £45.00 they do seem a bit expensive, especially as you do not even get a bag to store them in.

So what are they like in practice? Well initially I was a bit concerned when I took them out of the box and they fell apart. On inspection I noticed that one of the rings that hold the chains on had not been fully crimped. This was easily resolved and all I needed to do was reattach the chain and crimp the ring fully. On inspection the rest of the attachment rings were ok so assume it was one that was overlooked. It did however cause me some concern at the level of quality control.

Attaching them to your boots could not be easier and all you have to do is step the front of your boot into them (they are marked front) and then stretch the rubber backwards over your heel. A quick adjustment to make sure they are aligned correctly and away you go.

Obviously they are not as aggressive as a mountaineering style of crampon with front points and therefore will not provide as much security on steep ground. One aspect I do like is the balance of the points across the foot. They have a 10 point design with 8 of the points spread out over the front part of the foot and only 2 points on the heel. Considering it is the front part of the foot that does the work when going steeply up hill it is common sense really. Going downhill also feels pretty secure although you need to ensure you place the foot fairly flat onto the ground as opposed to stepping down on your heel - again common sense.

Balling is where soft snow builds up on the sole of the boot and between the points of crampons. This can lead to a situation where the actual points do not contact the snow and you loose grip and can end up slipping or falling over. A quick tap of the ice axe shaft on the side of the boot soon clears this, but when you are tired or loose concentration it can be very dangerous; especially so if you fall on hard or steep snow/ice, or near a large drop. It has to be said that balling could be a problem in this respect in soft conditions. Another thing I did notice was that when balling did take place the weight of snow sticking to the crampon points tries to drag the microspikes from the boot. This loads the rubber banding directly, which over time could tear the rubber where the chain ring fits. On other occasions where the snow was changeable I also noticed that when walking I could feel the chains slapping against the sole of my boot (under normal conditions no slap occurs). This "slap" occurs when the points stick into the snow and as you step forward the rubber stretches. When the points break free from the snow they then slap against the sole. This again must place a lot of strain on the rubber banding, however despite this I have not noticed any damage or wear.

On mixed terrain point wear is not too bad and while a little more fiddly to sharpen than standard crampons they are pretty straightforward. The important thing to remember here is that just like all crampons you must not over sharpen the points as they will become blunt much quicker. As far as preparation for emergency repairs on the hill I simply carry the same few cable ties I normally carry with my mountaineering crampons.

In has to be said that in the UK the snow is very variable and you can experience a wide range of snow conditions, even over a few hundred metres. For example yesterday I experienced everything from knee deep soft snow, hard neve, ice, wind slab, sastrugi and more, so they stayed on all day. I have to say that most of the time I hardly notice I have them on they are so light. Another plus point is that the points are set inboard from the edge of the boot and snagging on gaiters or trousers does not appear to be much of an issue. In other words I could walk normally without the "crampon gait".

All in all the I feel these are a decent piece of kit, yes they do have their limitations and I do have some concerns over balling and the durability of the rubber banding. That said they have survived ok so far and only time will tell. These concerns are outweighed by the fact they are light, compact, easy to fit, comfortable and can be worn on anything from trainers to boots.
My Rating - 4 out of 5

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Sheffield Pike - Lake District

Leaving the road that runs along Ullswater and entering Glencoyne Wood the light of my head torch seemed barely adequate for the task ahead. At 5.00am in the morning the last thing I wanted to do was make a wrong turning and end up walking up the drive of one of the houses that were marked on the map. Fortunately it does not take too long for the eyes and senses to adjust to the darkness and I managed to avoid any navigational errors.

As I walked towards the buildings of Seldom Seen and began to climb the wooded slopes above, a Tawny Owl screeched a warning to intruders, a few minutes later across the valley the single bark of a fox indicated I was truly among the seldom seen. I am sometimes asked if climbing up and down mountains on my own in the dark bothers me. While there are occasions where it feels a bit spooky and you sometimes get that feeling of being watched I am not really bothered by the noises of the night. Indeed I tend to find them comforting and would rather be out here alone in the dark than in some urban jungle where nocturnal predators from my own species are much more likely to be prowling around.

Gaining height steadily I eventually left the confines of the wooded lower valley and could clearly see the dark outline of my intended mountain, Sheffield Pike (675m) to my left. Navigation now was easy and all I had to do was follow the field intake wall on my right and when it ended, trend up a well-worn track to the col at Nick Head. Shortly after arriving at the col I thought I heard a stag roaring to the east and sat quietly for several minutes with my torch off listening. Nothing, perhaps I was mistaken, but then again I know there are Red Deer around Haweswater and the hills above so it was certainly possible. After a quick break and a drink I made the short climb to the summit with plenty of time to spare.

Standing among the summit rocks I gazed out over the still dark valleys. To the south west and much higher than my summit the familiar outline of Helvellyn (949m) blocked the view, although in the darkness it was impossible to pick any details of its famous ridges. To the north along the length of Ullswater and above the lights of Penrith I could clearly see the dark mass of the Pennines. There floating above the Eden Valley on a band of mist stood Cross Fell, Little Dun Fell and Great Dun Fell, each outline clearly etched against the pre-dawn sky. I could even spot the shape of the Civil Aviation Radar on Great Dun Fell itself. To the right of these I could also pick out Knock Fell, Meldon Hill and Mickle Fell - all mountains I have had the privilege to stand on at one time or another.

04D-0067 Boundary Stone on the Summit of Sheffield Pike at Dawn with Ullswater and the Distant Pennines, Lake District Cumbria UK
Boundary Stone with Ullswater and the Distant Pennines to the North. Sheffield Pike, Lake District Cumbria UK. Image Copyright David Forster

Eventually very slowly, almost imperceptibly, night began to give way to day. Using pastel shades and sweeping brush strokes of light Mother Nature slowly began painting her canvas from the east. Firstly starting at the horizon the stars slowly faded as she gently dissolved the darkness using soft shades of yellow, then a warm flush of red was gently added to help create an impression of warmth to come. This though was only the foundation and eventually the colours began to merge creating an orange glow that spilled over the eastern horizon. In that moment the onlooker and the surrounding landscape become a part of the scene absorbing the light and warmth of a new day. There is something truly primeval and hauntingly beautiful about standing on a mountain summit watching a sunrise. I could easily understand why our ancient ancestors placed such reverence on its passage throughout the seasons. At that very moment as the light spilled across the land I felt there was a spiritual link right back through time, an unbreakable thread between myself and those who walked this land thousands of years ago.

Once the sun appears the light changes very quickly and I always have the urge to rush the image making process. I can see so many possibilities yet know I will only have time to produce a few images before the light, transient as it is, will simply become a fading memory. On each occasion I have to make myself slow down and be more thoughtful in my compositions. Typically though some don't work quite as I hoped and I have to make a decision, do I persevere and take the risk of not producing that illusive perfect image, or cut my losses and look for a better composition.

Sometimes due to the topography of the ground and the direction of the light there must be compromises and this morning was no different. In the image below I would have loved to have avoided the blank area to the right and have had the rock spikes in a more central position, unfortunately a man made low shelter wall just out of frame to the left and the tumble down cairn next to it would not allow it. Still I think it works ok.

04D-0039 Ullswater and the Distant Pennines From the Summit of Sheffield Pike in Early Morning Light Lake District Cumbria UK
Ullswater and the Distant Pennines From Sheffield Pike, Lake District, Cumbria UK. Image Copyright David Forster

Before the sun got too high I turned my attention to Helvellyn and Raise.

04D-0097 The Mountains of Helvellyn and Raise Viewed From the Summit of Sheffield Pike in Early Morning Light Lake District Cumbria UK
Helvelln (centre) and Raise (right) from the Summit of Sheffield Pike, Lake District, Cumbria UK. Image Copyright David Forster

I then moved a little way south east from the summit to get a better view of Ullswater.

04D-0169 Boundary Marker on Sheffield Pike with Ullswater and the Distant Pennines Behind in Autumn Lake District Cumbria UK.
Ullswater and the Distant Pennines From Sheffield Pike, Lake District, Cumbria UK. Image Copyright David Forster

Eventually when the light became too harsh I headed down into the valley to capture some autumn scenes along the wooded shore of Ullswater.

04D-0352 Autumn Oak Trees and Norfolk Island on Ullswater Lake District Cumbria UK.
Autumn Oak Trees and Norfolk Island on Ullswater, Lake District, Cumbria UK. Image Copyright David Forster

04D-0404 Autumn Trees Ullswater Lake District Cumbria UK
Autumn Sunburst, Ullswater, Lake District, Cumbria UK. Image Copyright David Forster

All text and images copyright David Forster

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Autumn Rut

Below is a quick video edit from a wonderful Autumn day filming the rut. We set out just before first light and watched a misty sunrise slowly burn off the overnight frost. There was lots of noise from roaring stags (Fallow and Red Deer), but unfortunately we did not get to see any battles between dominant males.

I have also added a few of my favourite stills from the day at the end of the clip.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

We regularly get visits from a male and female Sparrowhawk to our garden. Hedge hopping their way across the fields they arrive on silent wings, cause a few seconds chaos as the birds scatter from the feeders and then leave as silently as they came. Very often the only visual sign of their passing are a few feathers from one of the unfortunate victims.

I have to admit that despite my interest in wildlife I came to dislike the pair of Sparrowhawks that came into my garden and began I felt, to decimate the bird population. From the feathers left behind I knew they had taken a few Blue and Great Tits and thought - well its nature. Then over a number of weeks our Sparrow population was reduced somewhat. Knowing how much the House Sparrow is struggling my attitude changed to more of concern. The final straw came when they took one of the pair of woodpeckers that visited the feeders. Those bloody hawks are going to wipe out all my birds was all I could think.

For some reason I found it difficult to accept the fact that these birds were treating my garden as a takeaway. When I really thought about it though and rationalised my feelings I was concerned more because they were taking my birds, birds I had come to know, birds that trusted me and would happily feed only a few feet away as I moved around the garden. It took a little while to realise that actually it was me who was at fault. After all by feeding the birds I had created a Sparrowhawk takeaway, they were just doing what was necessary to survive and bring up the next generation, nothing more, nothing less. It wasn't for fun, or for profit - it was simply for survival. It was me who had tipped the natural balance by encouraging all their prey into a small area and they were simply taking advantage of the situation.

Female Sparrowhawk sitting on our fence. Image Copyright David Forster

Male Sparrowhawk on the Woodpecker feeding post (notice the colouration and size difference between the male and female. The male is significantly smaller and has a slate grey colouration). Image Copyright David Forster
There is another side to this predator story though and that is your cute favourite little birds are also affecting the natural balance in the garden. A few weeks ago I noticed that dozens of Bumble Bees were dying on our path. At first I thought that they had been affected by some sort of poison, but on closer inspection noticed that they all had their insides missing. It was a real "who done it" and I was initially at a loss as to what was going on. The mystery was solved a week or so later when I disturbed a Great Tit and subsequently a Sparrow who both appeared to be taking the Bees. A quick check on the web and I found out that it is quite common for Great Tits in particular to predate Bumble Bees in this manner. The fact that Sparrowhawks take these birds helps to keep this natural balance as well, a balance that very often we see little evidence of first hand and therefore do not always fully understand. Like it or not even the cute and timid are predators just like any bird of prey, we simply see little evidence in our normal daily lives.

So how do you enjoy the birds you feed in the garden, yet also allow birds of prey a living as well? The first thing is to accept that birds of prey are just as vital to the diversity of the garden habitat as your favourite garden birds and they will not wipe out every one. I have to admit it has taken me a little while to accept this, however from my own observations it does appear that in reality they make little impact on our garden birds in the long term. In fact this year has been our best year for our Spuggies and we have a healthy population of around forty or so. No doubt the winter will reduce the numbers somewhat but they are certainly up on previous years despite regular visits from the Sparrowhawks.

At a practical level you can do several things to give your favourite birds a sporting chance. For example by placing feeders near natural cover such as trees, thick bushes or hedges the birds will have somewhere to escape to. Don't be surprised to see a Sparrowhawk fly at full tilt into a tree or bush if it has managed to get within striking distance, their skill and agility in such a confined space is incredible.

You can also grow plants or add natural obstacles that do not allow birds of prey an easy line of attack. That said the last thing you want to do is place anything in the way that puts any of the birds at risk. Netting for example should certainly not be used. Personally I think a well planted garden is best, but if you cannot add any natural cover the RSPB has some tips on manmade deterrents that you may find useful.

Finally whatever you do and regardless of its success enjoy the fact that your garden must be a prime habitat in order to attract one of our top garden predators.

Images and text - Copyright David Forster

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Catrigg Force Yorkshire Dales

The weather was pretty wet in the Yorkshire Dales over the weekend and the streams and rivers were in spate. Have they been anything else lately? The walk up to Catrigg Force from the village of Stainforth was fairly steep and muddy in places, but it was certainly worth the effort. As waterfalls go it is fairly small, but set as it is in a narrow wooded gorge it has a secluded feel to it and in spate conditions is still pretty impressive. I used a long exposure to create a sense of movement in the water and to help prevent the upper section of the image from burning out I used a graduated ND8 filter. I also produced a short video sequence using the 5D to give you an idea of what the location is like.

03D-7203 Catrigg Force Waterfall in Early Autumn Stainforth Ribblesdale Yorkshire Dales UK
Image Copyright David Forster

Text and images copyright David Forster 2011

Friday, 9 September 2011

River Tees in Flood Conditions

Throughout its journey the River Tees passes though some wonderful scenery. From its birth in the High Pennines below Cross Fell to the crashing violence of waterfalls such as Cauldron Snout and High Force the Tees has much to offer the photographer. That is not to say the middle and lower reaches of the Tees are less worthy, it's just that in its upper reaches the surrounding landscape feels so wild.

The path from Bowlees over Winch Bridge and upstream to High Force is in my opinion one of the best short walks in this area - its certainly my first choice when I feel like a wander for a couple of hours to blow the cobwebs away. After last night's rain I was certain the river would be quite high, so the plan today was to get both still and video footage of the waterfalls of High and Low Force. As I left the car another heavy rain shower rolled off the Pennines and it was straight on with the waterproofs. This pretty much set the scene for the day and the waterproofs stayed on until I returned to the car four hours later. Not that I am complaining, this type of weather does produce some great lighting conditions and I would rather be out here than in an office all day.

Approaching the stile leading into the wood at Low Force I could hear the roar of the river below and knew I was in for a spectacular sight. Making my way down the path through the trees the river came into view. Looking upstream it appeared as a boiling, foaming, peat stained brown mass, the colour of strong tea. Looking towards Low Force itself instead of being the usual ten-foot high waterfall it now appeared as a smallish three or four-foot waterfall. Clearly overnight a lot of rain had fallen higher up the dale. This contrasted sharply with my experience of two weeks ago when I photographed canoeists expertly dropping over both sides of the fall.

03D-6157 Canoeists on the River Tees at Low Force Upper Teesdale County Durham

03D-6140 Canoeists on the River Tees at Low Force Upper Teesdale County Durham
Canoeists enjoying the river a couple of weeks ago. Copyright David Forster

03D-6556 The River Tees at Low Force Waterfall in Flood Conditions Upper Teesdale County Durham UK
Today the river was much more intimidating. Copyright David Forster

A quick inspection of the rocks close to the river's edge showed that there was a wet debris line about six inches or so above the current river level, this indicated that the flood water was actually receding. The Tees is notorious for the speed at which it rises and falls so there was little time to hang around if I wanted to get the best out of the day. My first task was to get some video footage of the fall itself. Once I was happy I had captured some decent footage I slowly made my way up upstream. From the viewpoint high above the river High Force was certainly an impressive sight as it thundered over the Whinsill into the pool below. Normally the whole of the river is channelled into the left hand side of the fall, however when in flood it flows over the right as well. This was by no means a major flood though, as it can often cover the whole centre section. Being the first of the autumn it was still a pretty impressive sight and certainly worth documenting. I then spent a frustrating hour or so trying to get some footage that was not spoiled by spray on the lens and filters.

03D-6622 The River Tees at Low Force Waterfall in Flood Conditions Upper Teesdale County Durham UK
High Force always looks impressive after heavy rain. Normally the river only flows over the left hand fall. Copyright David Forster

This is the video produced from today's footage.

The River Tees after Autumn Rains in Upper Teesdale, County Durham UK from David Forster on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Iceland Trip Report July 2011

Iceland Trip 2011 Report

There has been quite a lot of interest in our trip from people thinking of visiting Iceland to hike and take photos. In this article I will try and outline what it was like for me to try and produce images while hiking unsupported for 5 or 6 days.

Firstly do not let any media hype of erupting volcanoes put you off. Yes they do play a big part in shaping the country but the risk of being on or near one when it erupts is miniscule. You are much more likely to come to harm on the way to the airport in the car than face any direct danger from an eruption. That said the usual risks associated with the outdoors applies here just as anywhere else in the world and you need to be well prepared, equipped and experienced in mountain travel.

About the Trek
The Laugavegurinn hiking trail (also known as the Laugavegur trail) is approximately 55km long and is Iceland's most popular hiking trail, connecting the nature reserves of Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork. We extended this walk by adding an extra 25-30km to visit the initial eruption site of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano which took place in the Fimmvorouhals Pass. We then continued down the other side towards the coast to the village of Skogar.

We had arrived at Landmannalaugar the previous afternoon after a visually stunning bus ride from Reykjavik. The last few hours of which were on dirt roads only just wide enough for the 4X4 bus which bumped and clattered its way through the mountains, lava flows and scattered boulders. On the way, and in the middle of a black desert, we stopped to pick up a couple of cyclists as well as a pair of backpackers who were clearly knackered so simply waved us down. In the UK there is no way you could flag down a service bus and then pile all your bikes and baggage on and then head off. Here in Iceland though the bus driver simply stopped the bus chucked the bikes and kit on and off we bumped, no hassle, no drama - I loved this country already.

On arriving in Landmannalaugar we set the tents up and had a brew before heading off for a swim in the hot springs. Laying around in the hot water was lovely but getting out into a bitter wind was not so much fun. Later ominous black clouds began to build above the surrounding rhyolite mountains and it was time to get the camera out and capture some images. When the rain came, most people headed for the shelter of vehicles or tents, but we kept on shooting as a double rainbow appeared arcing across the landscape. Seconds later shafts of light began to illuminate the Barmur Rhyolite Mountains to the east. These appeared to glow from within as a slanting curtain of rain doused the mountains on the far horizon. Whatever else happened on this trip this moment would certainly remain etched on my mind.

03D-4739 Storm Clouds over the Barmur Rhyolite Mountains with Icelandic Sheep Next to the River Jokulgilskvisl at Landmannalaugar in the Fjallabak Area of Iceland.

Ominous black clouds began to build over the Barmur Rhyolite Mountains. Image Copyright David Forster

03D-4672 Double Rainbow over the Barmur Rhyolite Mountains and the River Jokulgilskvisl at Landmannalaugar in the Fjallabak Area of Iceland

A double rainbow begins to form over the Barmur Rhyolite Mountains. Image Copyright David Forster

03D-4789a Rainbow over the Barmur Rhyolite Mountains and the River Jokulgilskvisl at Landmannalaugar in the Fjallabak Area of Iceland

The rainbow eventually stretched across the horizon framing the mountains. Image Copyright David Forster

The Start of the Trek.
We were up at 7.00am and away for 9.30am after a very leisurely start in which we enjoyed a couple of brews and waited for the cloud to lift a bit. The aim today was to reach the mountain hut of Hoskuldsskali where it is possible to camp. It's only a distance of 12km or so, but it involves a 1500ft ascent as well as the crossing of a very exposed upland area at around 3,000ft. The weather then, would make or break our day.

Landmannalaugar - Hrafntinnusker Elevation Increase Approx 470m
As we left Landmannalaugar the mountains were still cloaked in cloud so we simply enjoyed the closer views of the Laugahraun lava field where large boulders of Obsidian lava had split to reveal the black glassy cores. With these black heat-contorted rocks it was easy to visualise the noise, heat and smoke as it steadily engulfed the underlying landscape. We were almost across the lava field when the cloud lifted to reveal steam rising from vents on the lower slopes of the Brennisteinsalda volcano. Now in the sun the surrounding rhyolite mountains appeared to smoulder anew. The mineral stained rocks of intense red, yellow, green and blue contrasted sharply with the more pastel shades of greys and browns to form a shimmering backdrop. Approaching the vents the smell of sulphur was very intense and we did not linger in the steam too long. Others though walked into the steam and gas so we photographed their shimmering silhouettes as they appeared and disappeared in the heat.

03D-4848 Hikers Walking through Clouds of Steam and Sulphur Gas from a Geothermal Volcanic Vent on the Laugavegur Hiking Trail Landmannalaugar Fjallabak Iceland.

Clouds of steam and sulphur gas envelop walkers as they explore. Image Copyright David Forster

Eventually we reached the high and exposed upland where snowfields still linger waiting for winter. Lower down we had enjoyed the warm sunshine, up here though the wind had a definite edge to it and we were forced to put on an extra layer. In fact the whole landscape had an edgy feel to it as cloud threatened to descend and cut off visibility. Fortunately as we slowly made our way across ash-blackened snowfields towards the high point it only remained a threat. Nearing the col we came across a cairn with the name of Ido Keinan a 25year old walker who had died here on 27th June 2004 during a blizzard. We knew the hut was only a few km away and seeing this memorial certainly reinforced how dangerous any mountain area can be when the weather turns. Less than an hour later we were at the hut searching out a sheltered spot among the boulders, stones and black volcanic dust that would be our campsite for the night. There is no vegetation here to speak of and it does feel pretty bleak and exposed - it does however boast a "long drop" toilet. Nearby fumaroles produced columns of steam while the all-pervading smell of rotten eggs indicated sulphur gas continually crept across the land.

Day 2 Hrafntinnusker - Alftavatn 12 km Elevation Decrease 490m
We were up at 06.30am to low cloud and drizzle and in the hope it would clear we again had a leisurely breakfast. Leaving camp at 08.30am the trail took us through an area of snow filled ravines some of which had steam vents issuing from them. One ravine in particular highlighted the risks of walking on such terrain. Here the underlying snow had melted leaving several holes and snow bridges. Taking no chances we crossed carefully one at a time. A few yards further and our one at a time caution was justified. Here a large hole had opened up where a snow cave had formed and then subsequently collapsed. While not having the depth of a glacial crevasse a fall through a roof into one of these would certainly cause serious injury.

03D-5002 Walker Crossing a Crevasse in a Snow Field on the  Laugavegur Hiking Trail from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork in the Fjallabak Area of Iceland

These snow filled ravines contained holes and crevasses that were not always easy to spot. Crossing them in the early morning while the snow was still frozen was the safest option. Image Copyright David Forster

03D-5028 Trekker Looking into the Entrance of a Collapsed Ice Cave on the Laugavegur Hiking Trail from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork Fjallabak Area of Iceland.

Graham checking out the collapsed ice cave. Needless to say we did not go inside. Image Copyright David Forster

A steep pull eventually led to the high point of the day. By now the cloud had lifted providing a good view of this morning route from the hut. This was also the point where we would leave the Rhyolite Mountains behind and make our way towards the darker palogonite mountains to the South.

03D-5079 Trekker Enjoying the View Over the Colourful Ryolite Mountains on Day 2 of the Laugavegur Hiking Trail from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork Fjallabak Area of Iceland.

The view back over this mornings route towards the Hoskuldssklai Hut which sits just below the far horizon. Image Copyright David Forster

Beyond on the far horizon we had our first view of the glaciers we would need to find a way through in order to reach Skogar 3 or 4 days away. Below we could clearly see the green valley containing Lake Alftavatn and our campsite for the night. Importantly after the bleakness of the last campsite it had the look of an oasis.

03D-5304 Tents at the Alftavatn Camping Area on the Laugavegur Hiking Trail Iceland.

11.30pm This campsite was like an oasis compared to last nights. Image Copyright David Forster

Day 3 Alftavatn - Emstrur (Botnar) 16km Elevation Decrease 40m
I awoke in the early hours to the sound of wind sweeping across the hillside and shaking the tent. It would then go completely silent and I would doze off, only to be awoken again as the next blast came down off the mountain. Every now and again the wind would also bring rain, which rattled against the tent. Not a very good omen for the start of day 3. We were up at 6.00am but the strength of the wind meant we were forced to make a brew and eat our breakfast inside the tent. This is a slow process as moving around with a lighted gas stove in the porch is not safe, so things like dressing and packing away sleeping bags have to wait. Anyway laying back having a brew in the warmth of your sleeping bag is always a luxury on trips like this. It was also noticeably colder so it was a good excuse anyway.

Within minutes of leaving camp just after 8.00 we came across our first obstacle of the day, a small stream. Fortunately we were able to find a way across without resorting to wading. Unfortunately we were not so lucky 15 minutes later when we were faced with the River Bratthalskvisl. It was off with the boots and socks, up with the trousers and on with my new £6.99 plastic shoes, bought especially for the job of crossing rivers. The river was fairly shallow but very cold and we were all left gasping when we reached the other side. Graham provided a bit of light entertainment by wearing a plastic bag on one foot to prevent the strapping on his heel from getting wet. It worked fine and he seemed quite chuffed.

By the time we reached the nearby small mountain hut of Hvanngil the wind was still coming in strong gusts but did not really bother us. A little further on we were able to cross the River Kaldaklofskvisl on a substantial bridge only to be met a few minutes later with another river, this time without a bridge. This was substantially more powerful and a lot wider than the last but we all waded across without too much trouble. Well all except Graham who's plastic foot bag leaked - snigger.

03D-5406 Hikers Crossing a Bridge Over the River Kaldaklofskvisl on the Laugavegur Hiking Trail With the Mountain of Storasula Behind Iceland

Hikers Crossing a Bridge Over the River Kaldaklofskvisl with the Mountain of Storasula Behind. Image Copyright David Forster

Ahead we had the flat desolate volcanic area of Emstrur to cross and initially this went easily enough. Ahead we could see a heavy mist sweeping across our path and partially blocking out the mountains ahead. At first we assumed it was low cloud sweeping down from the glaciers and it was only as we got closer that we realised it was volcanic dust being driven along by the strong wind. I took a few quick if distant pictures before stowing the 5D away in a dry bag. There was no way I was going to risk damaging the best part of £3,000 worth of camera. Instead Moira passed me the G10 so that I could get a few stills and some video. Big mistake, within a couple of minutes and despite protecting the camera from the worst of the dust it soon started to malfunction. Eventually the shutter would not fire and the video would only record monochrome, I was certainly glad I put the 5D away. This was disappointing, as words cannot describe adequately just how bad these dust storms were. At times it was not possible to see more than a few meters and at one stage we nearly missed a marker pole that would take us onto the correct track. With hoods up and buffs protecting our mouths we trudged on. Every now and again the wind dropped the sun blazed down and we had extensive views to the glaciers of Myrdalsjorkull (which overlays the massive Volcano Katla) and of course Eyjafjallajokull under which the volcano that produced this ash still simmered. Minutes later the maelstrom would return and we would retreat into our hoods like tortoises.

03D-5445 Hikers and Volcanic Dust Storm in the Emstrur Area on Day 3 of the Laugavegur Hiking Trail from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork Iceland

From a distance we initially thought this was mist decending from the glaciers. Image Copyright David Forster

03D-5465 Volcanic Dust Storm in the Emstrur Area on Day 3 of the Laugavegur Hiking Trail from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork Iceland

Getting closer we realised it was volcanic ash still moving around the landscape. Image Copyright David Forster

Much later we discovered that Sandra had fallen foul of the dust squalls when she realised she had lost her camera at our rest stop five or six kilometres back. Unfortunately there was no way we could manage an additional 10km round trip to go back into the dust to look for it as we were all pretty tired by now, so instead we simply plodded on. Eventually when the worst seemed over I chanced using the 5D again to capture some of the drama behind.

03D-5550 Hikers and Volcanic Dust Storm in the Emstrur Area on Day 3 of the Laugavegur Hiking Trail from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork Iceland

This image still cannot truly convey how bad it was to be engulfed in the dust. Image Copyright David Forster

03D-5585 Hiker in the Emstrur Area on Day 3 of the Laugavegur Hiking Trail With Volcanic Dust Storm Behind Iceland

Graham with dust storms behind. Image Copyright David Forster

Then rounding a corner we saw the hut. So all in all it was an exiting if slightly challenging day and we could get the tent set up and relax over a brew. Err well no the wind and volcanic dust had far from finished with us. At the camping area below the hut we managed to find three unoccupied spaces on a ledge in a small valley. Two were on flat volcanic dust covered ground while a third was on lumpy sloping grass. We chose the flat ground only to find that when the wind changed direction it blew extremely fine dust through the tents side vents and eventually even through the fabric of the inner. Within minutes our sleeping bags, tent and clothes were coated in an ever increasing layer of dust with the consistency of gritty talcum powder. The only way to improve our situation was to take the tents down and move them onto a steep and bumpy grassy slope below. Hopefully most of the dust would blow over the top of the tent rather than under and inside. Even so once set up it was only a marginal improvement as it then started raining, turning the dust to sludge instead. Still it could have been worse. A day later at Thorsmork we got chatting to a schools expedition from Bath who were camped in the dusty bowl below us. They had experienced an even worse time with the dust. One teacher in a more exposed tent awoke in the early hours covered in so much dust she simply sat with her waterproofs on until everyone got up. The kids though loved it and despite the hardships had had a great time and were justly proud they had completed their challenge.

Day 4 Emstrur (Botnar) - Thorsmork 15km
The rain driven by a strong wind had been hammering against the tent intermittently for the past couple of hours. It was now 6.00am and I had slid down the slope into the bottom of the tent yet again. It was pointless laying here wide-awake until the others woke so I sat up to put a brew on. Reaching for the stove I could see a thin film of dust on my dry-bag and when I moved my jaw I could feel the dust crunching between my teeth. Even my ears and hair were full of dust and as I looked over to Moira who was in the same state we started laughing - it sounds strange but we were still having fun. It seemed to take ages to get coffee and breakfast sorted out but the delay meant that by the time we emerged from the tent it had stopped raining. We were on the trail by 08.30 but before leaving the area we stopped to read the warning sign at the top of the hill. "When it has been confirmed that Katla is erupting maroon flares will be fired". The warning went on to advise which routes to use in order to escape the mountains. I photographed the warning sign for later reference just in case.

The wind today was much more powerful than yesterday although the heavy showers meant there was much less dust in the air. After 45 minutes or so the first obstacle appeared - the descent and crossing of the canyon of Syori-Emstrua. Moving down towards the narrow bridge that spanned the canyon a rope was already in place to help on the last few metres of the descent. Safely down we could now get a good look at the narrow bridge high above the raging torrent. It looked fine but unfortunately the wind was now being funnelled between the canyon walls. It was certainly a little un-nerving as it blasted past grabbing at our rucksacks and threatening to unbalance us. In these situations it's often best to get on with it, so we did and were all safely over quite quickly. An easy walk/scramble soon saw us out of the canyon where the walking was easy and the trail straightforward to follow.

03D-5656 Hiker on the Bridge Crosssing the Canyon of the Syori-Emstrua on the Laugavegurinn Hiking Trail Iceland

The bridge across the canyon of Syori-Emstrua. Here the strong wind was being funnelled through the canyon which made for quite an exciting crossing.

From now on the vegetation increased considerably with lots of Dwarf Willow, Lupin, Sweet Peas, Thrift, Bladder and Moss Campion as well as numerous other flowers appearing. Several hours later we eventually arrived at the River Pronga, the deepest and most dangerous of the rivers so far. To cross we needed to strip down to our underwear in order to prevent our trousers from getting soaked, so just in case we were not enjoying ourselves enough it also decided to start pouring with rain - typical. While getting sorted we watched two other groups cross over and it looked a little hairy at times. One guy only rolled up his trousers and paid the price with a good soaking up to the top of his thighs. Next went a young woman who was rather petite and was clearly struggling to stay upright as the current tried to drag her legs from under her. Her friends though were quickly on hand and stepped back into the river themselves to provide assistance. Next it was our turn so we verbally went through the drill we would use should one of us be swept off our feet, made sure our rucksack straps were loose, poles lengthened and off we went. While only just above the knee the current was very strong and the boulders in the bottom meant it was awkward to keep your balance. With all four of us safely across we got dried as best we could and made our way through birch woodland to arrive in Throsmork just as the rain stopped.

03D-5737 Crossing the River Pronga in the Rain

Graham and Sandra crossing the River Pronga in the rain. Image Copyright David Forster

Below is a short video of another couple making their way across

Hikers Crossing the River Pronga in Iceland Credits Filmed by Graham Brown, Edited by David Forster on Vimeo.
Day 5 - Thorsmork - Basar Campsite 5km
Officially we had now completed the Laugavegurinn hiking trail, however we also wanted to visit the site of the initial Eyjafjallajokull eruption and then continue on to Skogar. To do this we had several choices, we could climb to the very exposed Fimmvorouhals Pass where the eruption took place and stop overnight, or we could do the whole walk of 25km and an ascent of 2,000 feet or so in a single day. This could certainly be done with the current food supplies, however we felt it would be a good idea to have a rest day. Asking around to find out where we could find a shop to obtain some extra supplies the School expedition from Bath we had seen earlier generously offered us some of their spare food. They had achieved their goal and did not need it as they were heading back to Reykjavik the next day. Thanks everyone.

Being a rest day we had a short walk of 5km to the Basar campsite from where we would begin our ascent the next day.

Day 6 Basar Campsite to Skogar 25 Km
When we set off we had still not fully decided if we would spend the night at one of the two mountain huts on the Fimmvorouhals pass, or continue straight over to Skogar. The weather it has to be said was not looking all that promising so we decided to make a decision when we got to the hut. That way we could either stay at the hut, push on to Skogar, or retreat as conditions dictated. We did speak to the campsite warden about conditions and being aware of what we had already achieved his advice was simply to turn back if you have any problems. Weather wise though it was not an easy call - it never is in Iceland. At two of the huts we had passed earlier in the week I had looked at the weather reports. All they said was "RAIN or SUNSHINE - accuracy 50%". To be fair that had been our experience as well.

Starting from Basar we would walk through the area known as Gooaland, the Land of the Gods. Making our way steadily up the Kattarhryggir ridges I could certainly appreciate how the name came to be. Surely in these green steep sided mountains covered here and there with trees and wild flowers, there could be elves and other mythical creatures. They must be there, at least in a spiritual sense anyway. Gaining height we eventually left the lushness below and stepped onto the desolate rocky plateau of Morinsheioi. Immediately the mood changed, the wind was much stronger here forcing us to put on extra layers. To the left the volcano Katla slumbered quietly under its glacial blanket of snow and ice, while to the right the Eyjafjallajokull volcano rested after its recent labours.

03D-5829 2 Hikers on the Kattarhryggir Ridge in Gooaland Looking Towards the Katla Volcano Which is Covered by Myrdalsjokull Glacier Iceland.

Graham and Sandra on the Kattarhryggir Ridge looking towards the Katla Volcano which is covered by Myrdalsjokull Glacier. Image Copyright David Forster

Crossing the plateau we came to the point where lava from Eyjafjallajokull had poured over the cliffs creating an extremely rare lava fall into a deep valley that barred our way. Steam was still spiralling out of the larger flow to our left. Ahead the way was clear, first we needed to descend a short way to a mini col before making an upward traverse through a broken crag above a very steep slope. This path was protected by a wire rope and would give access a small snowfield above. As we looked up a small group began descending so we took the opportunity to have a quick break while they cleared the steep ground.

The first down stopped to talk. " How's it going, are you going over the top to Skogar"?


"If you are it may be best to stay at the hut tonight as there is a big storm coming in behind us, 70 mile an hour winds and heavy rain are expected. "You will feel the wind once you are over the top here" he said pointing at the hill above. Adding "Once on top it will take you an hour to reach the hut"

This was bad news but we had planned for this eventuality anyway - we would still decide what to do once we reached the hut. It was a bit of a slog up to the pass and it was as he had warned very windy. Bad weather clouds were arching over the mountains to the north and the sky had an ominous look about it. Our exploration of the volcano would need to be quick. Fortunately marker poles had been placed across the lava flow and we carefully made our way over to meet Magni and Modi Iceland's newest hills and craters. Each was formed during the initial Eyjafjallajokull eruption and have been named after the sons of Thor the mythical Norse god of thunder.

03D-5907 The Initial Eruption Site of the Volcano Eyjafjallajokull With the New Craters and Hills Known as Magni and Modi in the Fimmvorouhals Pass Iceland

Magni and Modi Iceland's newest hills and craters formed during the initial Eyjafjallajokull eruption. Image Copyright David Forster

03D-5876 Collapsed Lava Tube at the Initial Eruption Site of the Volcano Eyjafjallajokull Iceland

Collapsed lava tube. You needed to be careful walking over the cooling lava flow as there were lots of holes and hollows. Fortunately yellow poles mark the trail. Image Copyright David Forster

The marked trail actually passed inside the eruption craters and in places steam and gas swirled from the still cooling lava. Photography wise there was little opportunity for creative shots as the light was extremely flat so we had to make do with some simple record shots and some short video clips. We would have liked to have spent much longer here exploring, however we still had a fair way to go to the hut and the wind was increasing by the minute so we pushed on.

There are two huts at the Fimmvorouhals Pass. The first Fimmvorouskali is manned and sits on a ridge just off the trail. The other Baldvinsskali is not manned and is in a pretty rundown grubby condition. The original plan was to stay at the manned hut if the weather was bad or we felt we needed to rest so now that we were here we needed to make a decision. Push on or stay. Clear views under the cloud down to the coast suggested that the weather while clearly turning stormy was not going to arrive for perhaps 3 or 4 hours. In that time we would be off the high ground and well on the way to Skogar. We all felt fit so the decision was made to take a quick break at the unmanned Baldvinsskali hut and then push on for Skogar.

At the hut we met a young couple from Switzerland one of whom was injured and recovering from an epic couple of days. Sharing some of our hot water with them we quickly got some hot food into us while the young lad recounted their experience.

The lad had badly injured his knee yesterday while trying to cross the pass with two friends and could barely walk. Fortunately they had stumbled across the hut in the thick mist so the couple sensibly decided to spend the night there. The two so called friends took their map and stove and carried on over to Thorsmork, leaving them to try and return to Skogar on their own. Luckily for them a rough vehicle track leads across the nearby hillside and by chance a group had turned up with a large off road vehicle. The group had now left to visit the other hut on foot but would return in 3 or 4 hours to take them down.

03D-5912 The Baldvinsskali Hut on the Fimmvorouhals Pass Between Thorsmork and Skogar Iceland.

The unmanned Baldvinsskali Hut is in a pretty rundown and grubby condition. That said it was ideal for us to get the stove on and have something to eat before the long decent to Skogar. Image Copyright David Forster

While eating we were constantly reminded of the urgency to get down, as every now and again the wind would drone past the windows causing the hut to creak and groan. That said it is a balancing act to progress safely in the mountains and you cannot move quickly in deteriorating weather when energy levels are low. What we placed in our reserve bank now calorie wise, would see us most of the way to Skogar.

In the end this proved a good decision and several hours later in heavy rain we eventually dropped down the side of the Skogafoss waterfall to the campsite. That was it, the end of our adventure. Next morning we photographed Skogafoss in the rain, had a meal in a restaurant, bought our bus tickets and were enjoying a whisky on the campsite is Reykjavik by 9.00pm. Unfortunately it continued to rain for the next few days so photography wise we did very little. All in all though it was a brilliant trip and I cannot wait to go back.

03D-5932  The 200ft (61m) High Skogafoss Waterfall Skogar Iceland.

It rained all night but it did not spoil the spectacle of Skagafoss waterfall. Image Copyright David Forster

03D-5989 Tourists Below the 200ft (61m) High Skogafoss Waterfall Skogar Iceland

No chance of getting a shot of the rainbow that appears when the sun shines. Still a long exposure adds to the drama. Image Copyright David Forster

Further Information

The Country
Iceland is often referred to as the land of ice and fire and for good reason. It has several large glaciers and around 130 volcanoes, a small number of which have been active over the last few decades. Given that some of these volcanoes lie under glaciers when an eruption does occur it tends to be explosive and coupled with severe flooding. Two of these volcanoes have erupted during the last year or so. The Eyjafjallajokull volcano which erupted twice in 2010 and the Grimsvotn volcano which erupted on the 21st May 2011. Both caused air travel disruption by ejecting thousands of tons of ash into the atmosphere. The shorter Grimsvotn eruption alone produced 2000 tons of ash per second! I don't know how much ash was produced by the much longer Eyjafjallajokull eruption, but it certainly provided us with some challenging conditions for a couple of days.

The People
There are only three hundred thousand people in Iceland, the majority of which live in the capital Reykjavik. Friendly, laid back and good-humoured is an easy way to describe our dealings with the locals.

While there are several mountain huts on the trail it is not possible to buy food so we had to carry enough food for 6 days (6 days walking + reserve food). We did hear from other trekkers that we could get some basic if expensive provisions once we got to Thorsmork, however we had no idea what these would be food wise so planned to be self sufficient. Considering we also needed to carry tents, sleeping bags, first aid, spare clothes, professional camera equipment and the usual kit you need for a day in the mountains we had to give a lot of thought to what would go in the rucksack.

Food wise for main meals we purchased freeze-dried meals from Be-Well Expedition Foods. These proved excellent value for money, were easy to prepare by simply adding boiling water and were very tasty. From the range of meals available we all agreed that The Beef Shepherds Pie and Thai Chicken were our favourites. The Beef Stroganoff and Beef Curry were also pretty decent. For those who like vegetarian fare the Vegetarian Cottage Pie was excellent. Least liked was the Chilli Con Carne which for me was barely edible. I will try to do a balanced article specifically on these foods if anyone is interested. To cook we used Coleman gas cylinders available from either the City Campsite in Reykjavik as well as most gas stations (petrol stations).

Camera Kit
There is no getting away from it I want decent quality images that can be reproduced in magazines, books, newspapers etc and as such need to take an SLR camera. Yes they are heavier than a compact, but while most small compacts are great for general images they cannot match the quality of an SLR such as the Canon 5D - not at present anyway. The Canon G series of campacts are fairly good but only as a backup in desperation. Forget the argument I often hear that most 10 -14 million pixel compacts will match a SLR. They won't - sensor sizes are different and high pixel counts crammed onto small sensors do not produce quality images. So with weight issues in mind I decided to accept the risks of carrying only one SLR camera body instead of following my usual rule of having a second as backup. Instead I decided to compromise and Moira would carry a Canon G10 as backup and for personal use. Had this been a purely photographic or client funded trip then the risk of carrying only one camera would have been unacceptable.

Kit Carried on the Trek
Canon 5D Mk2 with 24-105 IS L series lens
Remote cable release
2 Spare batteries
4 Compact Flash cards 1x32GB 2x16GB and 1x8GB (enough for 2000 RAW images)
Graduated ND Filter
Polarising Filter
Mini tripod adapted to fit onto 3 trekking poles to form a tripod (it worked brilliantly)
Small Cleaning Kit
SLR camera bag

Camera Equipment Left in Storage at Reykjavik
1x Battery charger
1x Extender

Further Information
Part of our walk was also completed by Julia Bradbury for her BBC Walks Series. Its well worth watching if you are planning to complete this trek.

Text and Images Copyright David Forster 2011

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cross Fell in Winter

I have explored the area on and around Cross Fell on over a dozen occasions and only recall having a view from the summit plateau twice. On the first occasion I mountain biked up to the bothy known as Greg's Hut with 3 friends and then walked up to the summit. We considered ourselves lucky in that we managed to get a few brief glimpses of featureless moorland through fast moving cloud that was being shredded by a bitter northerly easterly wind - and that was in summer.

On the second occasion I was part of a search team looking for an experienced walker who became disorientated and eventually benighted somewhere near the summit plateau. We searched during the night probing the slopes in a howling wind and driving rain before being forced to take shelter ourselves for a couple of hours in Greg's hut. Come the dawn we were back on the plateau being battered by a gale so strong it was impossible to communicate with team members only feet away. The wind was a continual bully roaring in our ears, pushing, pulling and twisting our bodies as it gusted and tore at our clothing and equipment. Then all of a sudden the wind would drop or change direction and still leaning we would be pitched forward or sideways only for it to begin all over again. Hunched up, tripping and staggering like drunkards we continued searching conscious that in these conditions anyone injured would not survive very long. As we searched I became very aware of just how variable the wind was. In the middle of the plateau the wind while still incredibly strong was pretty constant. In contrast the nearer we got to the plateau edges the worse it became. Here the harrying nature and increased velocity became much more extreme as it rose over the scree and boulder fields to the north and east before accelerating across the plateau and down into the Eden valley. Perhaps we were experiencing the birth of the "Helm Wind" a local and very powerful air stream noted for its ferocity and ability to cause localised destruction down in the Eden Valley. However such musing were cut short when we heard on the radio that missing person had been found on slightly lower and more sheltered ground to the north west of the summit. He did bear some scars from his night time adventure though, with a cut to his head and a broken compass as a result of being blown over. Surprisingly despite his night out he was only suffering from mild hypothermia - his slightly lower elevation and more sheltered location clearly made a considerable difference.

What of the view then? Well just before leaving the summit the cloud began to break and we had extensive views east down into upper Teesdale and south across the Eden Valley. However by then we could not have cared less about how good the view was, we were all too cold and tired. To add insult to injury in those few hundred meters to the hut the wind dropped to much more manageable levels and even allowed the helicopter to recover the casualty from the hut itself. I knew though that the "helm wind" - if that was truly what it was - would be still at work up there scouring and shaping the summit just as it has done for thousands of years. Experiencing such conditions really does reinforce the need to respect these mountains even when conditions in the valleys appear benign.

Another opportunity to enjoy a view from the summit came during the winter when a friend of mine offered to be a porter for the day and help carry up some of the camera equipment.

The forecast was ideal with clear overnight skies and a hard valley frost predicted. Leaving the car in Kirkland we could see Cross Fell and its neighbours had a good covering of snow and with the predicted clear skies being correct we had high hopes of some extensive views. I even dared hope that this would be the time I would stand on the 2930ft (893m) summit with views all around and nothing other than the pin drop silence you are sometimes lucky to experience in the British mountains perhaps once in a winter.

Picking our way around frozen puddles and some more extensive ice patches running across the track we made good time up to the band of scree, crag and boulders that mark the edge of the summit plateau. This area can be quite awkward to negotiate when wet and slippery but fortunately most obstacles were buried under fresh snow which made the going relatively easy. Progress however was a little slow as the extensive views called for several photo stops. Capturing pure landscape images that demonstrated just how wild and barren this part of the Pennines can be under snow was quite a challenge though, as the lack of identifiable features made it difficult to convey a sense of scale. This can be solved by placing someone in the frame and provides a better perspective for the viewer, so with Alan acting as model we slowly made our way towards the top.

09-9785  Hill Walker on Cross Fell and the View Towards Great Dun Fell and Beyond. North Pennines
The final snow slope that leads to the edge of the summit plateau. Image Copyright David Forster

On reaching the summit plateau itself my hopes of quietude were completely blown away. Here evidence of the winds work was all around. Spindrift forced on by a bitter northerly wind streamed across the ground. It hissed and wormed its way through wind carved sastrugi which in turn squeaked and crunched as we made our way around the plateau edge to get better views of Great Dun Fell. Only then did it hit me that I had never truly seen a view from Cross Fell. Ahead I could see the golf ball dome of the Civil Aviation Authority radar on Great Dun Fell with Knock Fell and Meldon Hill behind. Further to the east the bulk of Mickle Fell could also be seen, but views to the north were limited by a band of cloud and mist. Below but unseen the infant river Tees flowed into Cowgreen reservoir.
09-9897 Hill Walker in Winter on the Summit Plateau of Cross Fell and the View Towards Great Dun Fell. North Pennines

Alan on the summit plateau of Cross Fell with the view towards Great Dun Fell. Image Copyright David Forster

Making our way over to the Summit trig point the mountains of the Lake district came back into view, but views into the Eden valley were obstructed by the plateau rim. Frustratingly the strength of the wind put paid to any good quality summit images using a tripod. It whistled through the tripod legs and rattled the camera to such an extent that low ISO and therefore slow shutter speed images with a decent depth of field ended up completely blurred. Handholding produced a hand full of record shots, but that was all and none met the quality I needed to get them published. Instead with numb fingers and the threat of getting seriously chilled we retreated to the low walls of the summit shelter. After hot drinks and a bite to eat we then made our way north towards Greg's Hut to pick up the path that would take us back to Kirkland. All in all it was a successful trip and I came away with some decent images, some of which were later published in various magazines.

What of the mountain experience - well cold and windy it seems will always be my abiding memory of Cross Fell. Perhaps next time I will visit at night to capture a star lit sky and then with luck capture the sunrise above mist filled valleys. Who knows I may even enjoy that level of quietude that only those who walk above the clouds can ever experience.