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A Night on Blencathra

 Lake District-based landscape photographer Stewart Smith talks here about a day (and night) “in the office”, and describes the process behind the creation of his wonderful images of the northern fells of Lakeland.  Words and photography by Stewart Smith.

Sunset over Derwent Water

Sunset over Derwent Water

Winter is beginning to settle in in the Lakes now, and whilst we’ve barely had any snow at lower levels, the felltops are clad white, with more to come.

In between printing and framing duties in the run up to Christmas, I managed to free up enough time for an afternoon stroll and a wild camp somewhere.  Preferably in the snow.

With sunset time coming in at something past three, it would have to be a relatively short stroll.  As is often the case, I headed out with no real plan, but several options in mind.

The fells around Keswick tend not to attract as much snow as the more southern/central area from Helvellyn across to Scafell Pike, but today Blencathra had managed to swell its light dusting from a few days earlier into a definite snow cap.  I was sold.

A straightforward ascent via Blease Fell would do for a short easy summit hit.  There’s no tent protection up there whichever way the wind’s gusting, but forecast strength had been downgraded from initial reports, so I wasn’t too bothered.

Sadly, I ended up camping below the snowline in the end.  I’d just fixed a broken pole from a previous trip, and what was the right length in the living room the night before turned out to be too long to fit when out in the shrinking cold.

The Dodds and Helvellyn

The Dodds and Helvellyn

Evening light over the Dodds and Helvellyn

Evening light over the Dodds and Helvellyn

After wrestling with it on the summit above Knowe Crags for several minutes, whilst also keeping one photographic eye on the dramatically dwindling sun, I decided it wasn’t going to happen, and resigned myself to heading home with only a brief roll in the snow for comfort.

Zig-zagging back down the path a couple of hundred metres took me out of the wind completely, and in the sudden wintry hush I decided to just sit for a while pondering the quiet, the lights of Keswick twinkling away below.

People would be sat by a pub fire, post – walk pint in hand.  I could still do that, even though I hadn’t earned one – I’d be back in town for five….

But sod it, I was having another go.

Under the light of the head torch, with some base motivational language, and hands slightly warmer and more flexible than they were on the summit, I managed to force the pole to fit.  I would have my night out after all, albeit on a slightly wonky pitch.

Frozen camp the next morning

Frozen camp the next morning

I’d feared for a clear sky washout the next morning, but a wispy overhead glow accompanied me as I messed around on the summit for a while.

Towards Skiddaw, pre-dawn

Towards Skiddaw, pre-dawn

First light on Skiddaw

First light on Skiddaw

Along the summit ridge

Along the summit ridge

Nosing over the edge

Nosing over the edge

My remote release decided it wasn’t playing ball, so I’m still yet to perfect the shot I want looking back along the ridge with a figure ideally placed atop Gategill Fell.  It will happen this winter, honest.

I turned my attention back towards Skiddaw as the light warmed a little.

Skiddaw warming up

Skiddaw warming up

Iced grass and Skiddaw

Iced grass and Skiddaw

With the best of the early light gone it was time to head back, where the early morning sun soon began to heed the pleas of the tent.

Poor tent

Poor tent

Breakfast in mind

Breakfast in mind

Stewart’s work can be seen on his website, www.stewartsmithphotography.co.uk, and he can be followed on Twitter @stewyphoto

 

 

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