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20 November, 2005

Walk: Whernside, Yorkshire Dales

Until fairly recently, I wasn't even sure of the location of Whernside (I'd also thought it was called 'Great Whernside', but that's an entirely different hill elsewhere in Yorkshire), the tallest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks at 736 m (2415').  I've walked up Ingleborough several times, and aborted a trip up Pen-Y-Ghent several years ago (that was a very wet January day), but those two have distinctive shapes, unlike Whernside.  I knew the rough direction to it, but wouldn't have recognised it from even a kilometre away.  Indeed, I hadn't; I've visited Ribblehead Viaduct at least five times, and photographed the ridge overlooking it without realising that it has a name... guess.

Despite my ignorance, I've wanted to visit Whernside for a while, so an excellent weather forecast (very cold, but clear) for the weekend after my birthday seemed a good opportunity to do that and perhaps persuade others to accompany me. As it happens, only (certainly not 'merely'!) J was available, and was kind enough to drive.

We arrived and started walking at about 10:00, under a virtually clear sky, though the sun on frosty ground was generating light mist in the valley and wispy cloud near the peaks – see photo. However, by studying the map, I'd decided that we'd need to follow the circular route in a clockwise direction, as we'd both prefer to climb the steepest section rather than descend it. By the time we'd walked ~2km down the valley, rather more significant cloud had arrived, and soon after we started to climb to the ridge, we totally lost visibility. If only we'd done the walk yesterday.
This meant that apart from a lunch stop huddled against a wall, we didn't pause on the summit itself, and had no views of the surrounding area. I'd been particularly hoping to identify familiar points from the top of Whernside so I'd subsequently be able to spot the relatively anonymous profile of Whernside from elsewhere. Never mind.

Despite the weather, the route down was rather busy. It's an easy walk and Ribblehead is accessible by car, so I can understand it being popular. One section of the path was fully paved with 'flagstones'; it must receive a lot of traffic if the National Park managers consider that necessary. Indeed, lower down, we encountered a section being resurfaced. Workers had obviously left the site on Friday and weekend visitors were obliged to cross an area of bare soil. Even within that short time, it had been churned to ankle-deep mud.

Very annoyingly, by the time we'd descended about 200 m, the cloud cleared, including across the summit. I suppose the frost-sourced water vapour had been expended for the day, and the clouds literally evaporated. If I'd been alone, I would definitely have turned back and retraced the 2 km to the top – it was still only ~13:30, with several hours of light remaining – but I knew J had other plans for the afternoon, and I'm sure there'll be another opportunity. At least the interaction of limited direct sunlight and cloud/mist had been photogenic.

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