The popular 8 mile walk over Whernside from Ribblehead made even more memorable than usual due to the covering of snow.
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The winter of 2019-20 was disappointing in terms of snow. Instead we got lots of rain and floods. Therefore, a couple of days after the first significant hill snow of winter 20-21, I wanted to make sure I got out for a proper walk in the snow.
With the snow already disappearing in the valleys I had to decide which of the high fells I wanted to tackle. In the end I decided on Whernside, after all the best place I was likely to still find snow in the Dales was on its highest point.
"As I climbed higher the great long crest of Whernside was gleaming white in the sun. It was a breath-taking view."
I did have second thoughts as I drove past Pen-y-ghent looking magnificent in the early morning sun and into the cloudier skies of upper Ribblesdale. There were no problems with snow or ice on the roads at Ribblehead. While there were still some light snow patches below the viaduct my eyes were drawn up to Whernside which was completely covered in white.
The approach I took was pretty much the popular path heading towards Blea Moor Sidings, the footbridge over Little Dale Beck and then over the aqueduct. I did make the one small detour from the main path to visit the magnificent Low Force waterfall in Force Gill. Up until this point the path was clear but from here on the snow got deeper.
After taking a number of pictures of Low Force I did consider following Force Gill upstream to High Force. In fact I did set off to do this but quickly realised that it would be a real slog in the snow so returned to the main path. By this point the path was about two foot wide of compacted snow. Initially this had been trodden down to between 6-12 inches below the snow level but in places the surrounding snow was over knee height.
There was more than one occasion on my way up that I thanked the hardy souls who had blazed the trail through the freshly fallen snow, thus making it easier for everyone else. It wasn’t a complete doddle though. There were a few areas where the ground was slushy and boggy and in one spot my foot slipped off the compacted snow of the path and my leg went thigh deep into a cold bog!
As I climbed higher the great long crest of Whernside was gleaming white in the sun. It was a breath-taking view. Eventually the path began to curve round to join up with the fence and wall running the length of Whernside’s summit ridge. When I’d set off I’d had it in mind to make a detour to visit the Whernside tarns. Given how deep the snow was on the top I thought better of it so instead settled for enjoying the view down to the semi-frozen Greensett Tarn.
There had been barely a breeze for most of the walk but almost as soon as I gained the ridge a bitingly cold wind made itself known. The walk to the summit on the path between the fence and the steep drop to the left was fantastic, all the better for it being much quieter than it usually is.
Squeezing through the gap in the wall I visited the trig point and then hunkered down in the snow by the wall to have my lunch. I’d brought a flask full of soup and was looking forward to it warming me up. For some reason though my soup was barely lukewarm – the only disappointment of the day! After forcing down the soup and a packet of crisps I took a few more pictures and then set off on the return journey.
I was considering returning the same route as I wasn’t sure how safe the steep descent to Bruntscar would be. There seemed to be enough people going to and from that direction to convince me to give it a go so I set off south along the ridge. Of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, Whernside often seems to come off worse in comparisons with Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent. For me though its long summit ridge is one of Whernside’s chief glories. The walk south with huge views of Ribblesdale to the left, Ingleborough ahead and the hoarfrost covered fence was quite superb, as was the contrast between the green valley and the snowy ridge I was on.
Eventually I reached the point where the path begins its steep descent. This is the part of the walk that I usually enjoy the least as it is quite hard on the knees. The snow, slush and ice were an extra hazard but surprisingly made for a quicker and more enjoyable descent. It was interesting to contrast the approach of other walkers. Some were very carefully picking their way down whereas others were practically hurling themselves down through the snow.
I kind of did a mixture of both, taking some bits with care and then sliding down other sections where there was little to get a grip on. I also, like everyone else, slipped over quite a bit.
Quicker than usual I reached the first gate after which the path was less steep but slippery and slushy. Beyond the second gate the way improved dramatically and by the time I reached the lane at Bruntscar there was no snow at all. On reaching the lane I turned left and took the bridleway passing Broadrake and Ivescar. Turning off this just before Winterscales I took the path to Gunnerfleet Farm. Here I crossed Winterscales Beck at the bridge and took the path back under Ribblehead Viaduct and back to the car.
This was a super day out. The wintry conditions might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it was the kind of adventure that I definitely needed. I’ve been up Whernside many times on many different routes before and all of them have been memorable but this may just be the best of the bunch.