31 years ago this month I took my father up Coniston Old Man - his first and only mountain - to celebrate his 60th birthday. The route we took up was the little used route starting by Boo Tarn. On that occasion we descended by the tourist route through the quarries, visited the "Pudding Stone" and headed back to the car which was parked in the carpark where the tarmac ends and the Walna Scar track starts. In Arthur Ransom's books Coniston Old Man becomes Kanchenjunga to the children and my father's expression as he summited suggested that he thought Kanchenjunga would be a better name than the more mundane Old Man of Coniston.
I have never climbed the Old Man again by the Boo Tarn route in the past 31 years until today. The conditions were very similar to 31 years ago - cloud covering the summits in the morning, brightening in the afternoon and some snow left from a snowfall a week earlier. The route is as quiet as it was then - it could hardly be more different from the tourist route through the quarries. What a change to climb the Old Man with grass under foot for virtually all the way! The summit was duly reached and the cloud stubbornly refused to lift.
Of course, with no father to limit my walking, I planned a longer day out this time and I headed off towards Brim Fell (still in cloud) and Swirl How. I had a bite to eat on Swirl How summit hoping that the cloud would break but it never did. I got glimpses of Great Carrs and was able to see that there was much more snow than I expected on Prison Band, my descent to Swirl Hause. It was very wet snow (so crampons were no use) but in some gullies it was up to 2 feet deep. Sometimes it held my weight and sometimes it didn't - don't you just hate it when that happens? We made it down with no alarms and headed off up Wetherlam. Again the snow was variable and sometimes I sank up to my knees when I least expected to. Wetherlam summit - and the cloud lifted - the sun even came out briefly - bliss!
Then we back tracked to the minor summit of Black Sails, looked over at the Old Man and Swirl How now clear of cloud and then headed off down the Black Sails ridge. What a joy that ridge is - do it soon! I was a bit apprehensive crossing the Levers Water weir but the water over the granite sill was only 3 inches deep - fordable - but preferably with gaiters. Simon's Nick is a hillock which has an amazing collection of mine shafts and tunnels and after walking over this we dropped into Boulder Valley which is home to the famous Pudding Stone. Then a very easy, very flat, mine road led back to the car.
A nice day out. It took an hour longer than planned because of the wet snow but I enjoyed every minute. I do wish Dad had been a bit fitter because he would have enjoyed the long way off Kanchenjunga even more than the tourist route!
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