Broken Leg on Bell Rib
When I parked my car at The Green at Wasdale it was still dry but there was plenty of mist on the tops of the hills, the driver of the camper van parked next to me got out and observed that the mist wasn't going to go away. He said he had planned to walk a Wasdale Horseshoe but if he wasn't going to get a view he would try something down here. From the car park I walked the two miles to Overbeck Bridge, I prefer to get the tarmac bashing done first.
When I got to Overbeck Bridge the little car park was full, including the camper van that I had seen earlier. Through the back of the car park there is a path that goes through bracken at first and then begins the steep climb up the smooth grass slope towards Bell Rib on Yewbarrow. I have walked this steep path several times but this is the first time I have managed to do it without taking a rest, I passed three walkers resting near the wall stile near the top of the slope.
After crossing over the wall there is a path that at first leads towards the head of Overbeck but soon there is a path branching up to the right towards Dropping Crag. The path steepens and grass turns to loose stones as you gain height between steep crags until you reach the top of a scree gully. Sometimes there is a cairn on your side of the gully but there is always a low wall on the other side of it.
You can cross the top of the gully for a slightly less daunting climb but the best way is to carry on upwards keeping to the crest of the steep rocky climb. A fine but strenuous rocky scramble takes you to a point where an unlikely looking scramble on the right leads to the horizon and the path straight ahead seems to be the easier option.
You should take the steep awkward path on the right, the horizon you reach is the sudden surprise view of Wastwater, it takes my breath away every time. One of these days I will make the final scramble to the top of Bell Rib on the right hand side but once again the rocks are too greasy for the extreme exposure. There is a rock outcrop to walk over towards the climb to Yewbarrow, as I got almost to the col before the ascent to Yewbarrow there was someone waving at me.
As I got near the end of the rock outcrop there was an older man sitting on the final rock ledge and a younger man asking for help to get the older man to a safer position because he had broken his leg. The younger man David had already called for help and was making sure that the older man Michael didn't fall off the ledge. The man who had broken his leg was the driver of the camper van. The three walkers I had passed at the wall arrived and I asked if Michael could turn round while we lowered him off the rocks.
In order to move Michael off the rocks I had to lift his leg up over the rocks, he howled in pain as I did so but we had to get him off his chest high perch to a safer and more comfortable place on the grass. It was a few minutes before Michael got his leg into a comfortable position and we helped him into his fleece and covered him in more fleeces to keep him warm. The mist was beginning to come in and a stiff cool breeze made this ridge a bad place to have to be rescued from.
It became apparent that Michael was no ordinary walker, brain damage at birth had left him with a spastic left side, his arm almost useless and his leg now broken. He told David that brain surgery had damaged his optic nerves and left him with a narrow field of vision, he is also epileptic and prone to momentary loss of consciousness. You have to admire his determination to overcome his disabilities but it is difficult not to judge his choice of pastime and the route taken. You also have to wonder if he is really fit to drive a camper van and stay in Youth Hostels by himself.
David told me later that he had come across Michael on the way up to Yewbarrow and was uncomfortable about Michael making the steep climb and was walking just ahead when he heard what sounded like a rifle shot. He turned around to see Michael with his arms flailing, he grabbed hold of Michael to stop him falling, sat him down but then had to straighten his badly dislocated broken leg. Michael hardly seemed bothered, saying how lucky he was it was his left leg that was broken as he could feel very little pain in it.
Michael told me he had intended to walk up the valley of Overbeck but had found himself on the wrong path but expected to rejoin the path further along. I would have told him to go back down to the valley path and definitely not to attempt his planned route, the fierce and intimidating descent of the former scree run from Dore Head down to Mosedale. I wouldn't do that descent unless it was unavoidable, climbing it last year was quite a strenuous challenge for someone with two good arms and legs.
It was ninety minutes before the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team and their doctor arrived, it isn't an easy place to get to. Michael was soon wrapped in the largest jacket I have ever seen, the bivvy shelter hid the morphine injections and the pneumatic splint but Michael was irrepressible, I have never met anyone so cheerful.
Two hours after meeting David he and I set off to finish our walk, we had both planned the same route; the conditions had changed from fairly reasonable to completely misty while we were waiting. The climb up Yewbarrow is interestingly rugged but nothing like the scramble between Dropping Crag and Bell Rib. The summit is deceptively far away but after the cairn at the southern end of the summit plateau the walking is reasonably easy. The summit is much flatter and wider than you would suspect looking up from Wasdale, the summit cairn was passed and we walked on to the cairn at the northern end of the plateau.
This end of Yewbarrow has excellent views of the Scafells and Great Gable and an intimidating view down to Dore Head vertically below, except that today all there is to see is mist. The mist didn't affect the scramble down to Dore Head but you can't help but wonder how Michael would have coped with the leg stretching rock steps especially with them being damp and potentially slippery. There was enough visibility at Dore Head to see that the descent from there is very steep and a long way down, we headed back into the mist on our way to Red Pike.
The climb to Red Pike feels fairly tedious in the mist, having just been on an interesting scramble coming down of Yewbarrow. With being denied the view of Great Gable too it was just a case of getting our heads down and making sure we didn't lose the path. Eventually the summit cairn of Red Pike looms up on the left, it could be easily bypassed in the mist if you are concentrating on following the path onto the ridge.
The path fades away as you get on to the flat ridge, it reappears occasionally but in these conditions I navigate by following the edge of the crags on the right hand side. As long as you don't go over the edge you won't get lost on another grassy plateau that changes to a more bouldery surface before you start to descend. As you get to a wide shallow col there is a small cairn and signs of a footpath or two in the direction you want to to. Generally you would go straight ahead upwards to get to Scoat Fell and you would get to the wall running across the summit.
Given that we had lost so much time and the mist was thick and persistent we missed out Scoat Fell and followed a more obvious path bending around to the right. We joined the path coming down from Scoat Fell again to make the short ascent to the summit of Black Crag, as rocky a summit and as substantial a cairn as would do justice to a much bigger hill. It was at this stage that rain took over from the mist with an accompanying breeze that made it necessary to put on waterproofs.
I have descended from Black Crag in several directions before over the mass of boulders but because it was wet and windy I must have been trying harder and I actually found the cairned path off the summit. There is another wide flat area to cross and again it is worth remembering that it is a ridge, don't go off downwards either side and you can't help but get to Wind Gap. There is a large cairn here marking the start of another unpleasant descent to Mosedale but we were always going to climb Pillar rather than descend from here.
Pillar ahead was just like a big shadow fading into the mist with no indication of how big a hill it is. The rugged climb is interesting without any problems and much better than the grassy climb up to Red Pike. As the gradient eases the ground becomes covered in stones, the path and the cairns being more difficult to spot. If you keep going upwards in a straight line you will get to the summit of Pillar with its shelter cairn and triangulation column.
There was no reason to hang around in the gloomy wet conditions, the plan was to go along the High Level Route but in these conditions I decided to descend by the ridge, it was going to take a couple of hours to get back to Wasdale anyway. The ridge is interesting enough and there are a couple of places where the ground drops steeply away on the left towards Ennerdale. The last part of the descent is more rugged and eroded and as we got the the cairn marking the start of the High Level Route we got a glimpse of Ennerdale below.
The mist was threatening to clear, weird misty shapes were being blown over the ridge of Looking Stead, by the time we got to Black Sail Pass the mist had cleared but it was still raining. Kirk Fell was on the original route plan but it will have to wait for another day and we set off along the long footpath down to Mosedale and on to Wasdale.
As we got close to the little footbridge behind the Wasdale Head Inn, another walker asked if we had seen his dog, a border terrier. He had last seen it at Dore Head when he decided to descend that way, the dog obviously had more sense and didn't follow him down, you would have thought he would have noticed though before he got to the pub.
Andy Wallace 11th September 2004
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