From the parking area by the junction, head along the Settle road briefly before picking up the track on the right that heads up to a row of cottages. Cross the railway line over a bridge, and head to the farm at the end of the track at Colt Park. Then cross the gate and head up the obvious path running along side the wall. The path is far less busy than most paths in the 3 peaks, and lacks the well crafted stone 'motorways' of the other routes, so the steep climb is over tussocky grass.
Near the top of Park Fell, the wall splits. Stay on the path that follows the wall heading south west. In clear weather the view back to the Ribblehead viaduct are very good. Keep following the obvious path along the top of the escarpment as the wall heads towards the higher ground of Simon Fell after the col. As you turn around the corner of the fell you'll see the first view of Ingleborough. Follow the path along the edge of the escarpment until the far busier path from Chapel-le-Dale joins from the right. Then follow the very obvious stone path towards the summit, over the steep rocky edge called Swine Tail. In winter conditions this can be quite challenging, as the path is covered by snow and ice, attempting this should be be taken lightly, as conditions may be very different to the valley below.
At the edge of the plateau, we decided to set camp right away, rather than go the last few hundred metres to the summit shelter and trig point. Just south of where we joined the plateau, is a small sheltered grassy hollow, which offers some protection from westerly winds, and a grassy surface ideal for tents where we camped. Although wild camping is officially not allowed in the Dales, you are unlikely to be disturbed in a location like this, especially if you arrive late in the day, when most people have left the hill. As always, be responsible and leave no trace. Be warned. Even the out of the worst of wind on the flat featureless summit, on a windy winter's night conditions are very severe, with extreme cold, wind and snow making for challenging conditions for camping. You'll need to be well equiped for the conditions, which will be far windier and colder than the weather forecast might have you believe.
In the morning we headed back down the path to the junction with the footpath from Chapel-le-Dale, and then descended via the steep path next the the wall to reach Humphery Bottom. At the time we visited ,the descent was covered in fresh snow, with ice and old snow lurking under the loose snow, making conditions tricky even with crampons and ice axes, which just goes to show that what looks like a pretty dusting of snow at the valley bottom can be a different story on the hill. We then followed the much easier gradient down over the boggy ground and past various cave entrances and the amazing bare rock limestone pavement, to reach the road above Chapel-le-Dale. If time and our legs had permitted we intended to follow the road and path along Winterscales Beck and under the Ribblehead viaduct, however by this time we just decided to follow the road straight back to the car.
Over the Christmas holiday Dan and myself decided we fancied a repeat of our previous winter wild camp on Buckden Pike. With snowy weather and cold being very much in the news, we figured we stood a reasonably good chance of camping in the snow, if we picked a suitable location. So, I watched the weather forecast with anticipation as the conditions for the weekend varied wildly during the count down to the weekend. As it happened we had snow in the Leeds area the day before, so we figured our chances of a snowy summit were excellent on Ingleborough.
As we drove towards Settle, the previous day's snow disapeared, but we started seeing glimpses of snow on the higher parts of the fells though breaks in the cloud. As we stopped in the Pen-y-ghent cafe in Horton for a belated breakfast, we noticed the valleys were clear of snow with only the odd patch remaining, but on the tops of the fells you could see snow through breaks in the crowds. After parking at the road junction at the of the dale, we faffed around preparing kit before finally got underway about 1:45. With sunset at 4:10 we had enough time to summit before dark if we were quick.
Our ambitious plan started to develop cracks as the steep climb and heavy loads meant more rests breaks than expected. Once we disappeared into the low cloud, and the ground became snowy progress slowed still further. Fortunatly, the slope eased and we plodded on into the cloud over the heavily frozen ground. The odd gap in the cloud allowed glimpses back to the Ribblehead viaduct and across to Great Whernside in the late afternoon sun which was flooding into the valley below. As we cleared the side of Simon Fell, the cloud started to lift on Ingleborough, with the setting sun sinking behind the bulk of the mountain, and making the summit look like a volcano trailing cloud. Although we were making reasonable progress along the melted snow and ice of the path, it was becoming obvious that we'd be arriving at the summit around or after dusk. On the plus side, we had seen nobody else, and had the amazing sight of the peaks starkly lit by the setting sun, towering above the darkened valleys.
At the top of the path from Chapel le Dale, we decided to press on for the summit, but retreat to what looked like a sheltered flat spot if we encountered difficulties. The last push up the deep snow covered rocky rib to the summit was done by the light of head torches, as we finally gave up on natural light. The summit plateau, never the most welcome of places, was by the time we arrived a frozen and slippery rocky wind swept wasteland that was almost impossible to walk on. Thankfully, I knew of a sheltered spot below the summit, whch would be spared the worst of the wind, and was less rocky.
In the dark we decended to the small scoop, and after briefly admiring the sparkly lights of Ribblesdale far below we set about clearing an area of snow to pitch the tent. The wind was getting up and we had to use rocks to reinforce the rather badly placed pegs, as snow and frozen ground are not ideal for tent pegs, as it was either too soft or too hard to get the peg placed firmly. We made sure the pegs were as secure as possible and got on with pitching the tent as best we could. Right from the start the tent didn't look very well pitched, possibly because of the wind, the uneven ground or the lack of light. The tent was a decent 3 person backpacking tent, and had proven robust and reliable in previous winters, although it was probably more at home at lower elevations and more gentle conditions. Howver, my mountain tent was just too small for two people in winter, so we took the larger but less suitable tent with us.
We then started to make food. First pot noddle, and then more noddles. Just as we heated the main course of boil in the pouch 'Look what we found' meat balls, the until now robust and reliable MSR reactor stopped working. Rather than mess around working out what was wrong, I decided to just use the small burner and spare gas canister I had packed. As we were doing this the wind had started to get up and the foot end of the tent was starting to look shaky, with the poles noticably bending. I was glad of the rocks and the attempt we'd made at a wind break. As we polished off a few after dinner whiskys and attempted to play chess badly, the wind got busy trying to push the tent around and shove snow and hail into any gap under the flysheet. We were concerned, but not especially worried, although the sound of hail hitting the tent was loud enough to drown conversation. I then rechecked the mountain weather forecast on the phone, and noticed they were forecasting wind at near gale force which wasn't the case when I first checked in the morning. When going outside for a call of nature I noticed already enough snow had fallen to hide our footprints.
I drifted off into the sleep pleasantly full of whisky and food, and warm enough in a down bag, with some down hut boots on. Around 1:30 I awoke to find the flysheet pressing into my face and the wind was now a roar. Dan woke as welll and we sat there in a state of fear, the whisky buzz instantly removed by the frightening sight of the tent poles bending to the point where they lay flat on the groundsheet. I had never seen this before, and simply didn't know how much punishment the poles and the flysheet would take. We didn't get a lot of sleep that night, as the noise of the wind and especially the hail showers made sleep very difficult, and the thought of the tent blowing off the mountain (unlikely - but something you can't help speculate about) wasn't much comfort either. We noticed that even the tent's vestible was starting to fill with snow forced in through a mesh panel. We did consider packing up and running for the valley but decided a descent in the dark in a snow storm was more dangerous than stayng in a tent that was so far at least holding up. The heavy snow was at least helping stop the wind getting under to fly sheet by filling in any gaps, and was burying the pegs which should have kept them well anchored.
I think I managed a few hours kip in a lulls in the storm, although Dan slept very little. I had brought a large bike light with me, which we kept on all night, as it was strangely comforting to at least be able to see the tent was still there, than lie in the dark feeling the tent shake in the wind. I woke around 6 AM, and we at least felt optimistic that with only a few hours until dawn and with the wind fading a bit, we were going to be OK. At that point I remember reading the legend about Cadir Idris, which stated that anybody sleeping on the summit would end up dead, mad or a poet. I wondered what we'd be. We packed as much as we could and ate some of our emergency rations, as the wind was strong enough that cooking in the tentvor vestible was simply not safe. The cookware I had left in the vestible was covered in several inches of snow that had been blown in. Once the light returned enough we crawled outside into a grey half light. We were still in mist, and it was still very windy. Lots and lots of grappel, snow with a hail like texture, had fallen, with a good foot or more in places. Although the snow had probably saved the tent from the wind, it made removing the pegs and finding my buried cookware hard (the titanium mug lid we left there is mine...).
We kitted up into down and gortex jackets, dismanted the tent, and donned crampons. We then waded through the thick cornice above our sheltered spot on to the summit plateau. Without crampons the combination of ice and wind would have made walking upright impossible. We decided to not bother finding the summit proper, and retraced our steps. Being tired and lacking a proper breakfast, we made slow progress through the very thick fresh snow and wind slab, untill just at the top of the path from Chapel we met two walkers coming up. They had wildvcamped somewhere below and were heading for the summit. We exchanged pleasantries and information about conditions, and then went on our way. The temperature was still well below zero but the wind was noticably less strong away from the top.
The steep section of the Chapel path was covered in deep soft snow, with the odd patch of water ice. Without crampons and an axe, descent down there, in strong wind, with spindrift flying all around would have been very tricky indeed. Eventually we reached safer ground and began our trundle to the road. Dan was looking pretty haggard, as a combination of lack of sleep and breakfast was taking it's toll. With wet snow underfoot, and comfortably below the cloud base we met a large group of walker snaking there way up. We had the usual conversation about conditions, and they seemed suprised at the severity of what we reported. Seeing that only one person had an iceaxe, and most of the group lacked winter boots, and carried little spare clothing I attempted to explain they would be safer to avoid the summit, as they didn't look as if they were expecting the summit conditions.
We decended still further passing others heading up towards the clouds. The summit was still in cloud, and the sun was only just breaking though. The beauty of the snow clad sunlight uplands was lost upon us, as all we could think about was getting to the car and heading for breakfast at the Pen-Ghent ASAP.
After a long trudge to the car along a slush covered road, we made it back to the car around 12. So, we been on the hill for 22 hours, and covered 9 miles. Not really very impressive. On the other hand, the hill was in full winter condition, and we'd spent a night on the summit in winds gusting up to 55 mph in a tent more suited to summer conditions. Although the tent was arguably not up to the job, we had plenty of other kit that was. Sadly, all the spares and extra layers added up and we carried a lot of gear up with us.
Over breakfast at the Pen-y-Ghent we chatted to the people in the cafe about our night. We had mentioned our intention the previous day at breakfast, and they seemed slightly suprised at our plan. We had at least earned some bragging rights for being stupid enough to carry through the plan, and live to tell the tale over breakfast.
- Hot food is essential. A small spare burner and a small gas cansister are easy to carry if there'smore than one of you and provide a backup if the main stove has a problem. It's much easier to get another simple stove going than debug a complicated modern high tech stove.
- Sometime weather conditions make it impossible to cook. Having some food you can eat without heating is a good backup. Although dehydrated is light, having something you can eat without cooking is better sometimes.
- Take a decent sized tent rated for the worst possible conditions you might expect. A long night in a small tent is not pleasant, and a tent that blows over is downright dangerous. My fairly old wild country tent was clearly not ideally suited to the actual conditions, but to it's credit, held up with nothing broken.
- Head torches are of course essential, but something better suited to comfortably lighting a tent interior is a good idea on a long night. Having a nice bright light seemed to make the long windy night slightly less scary.
- Always take the time to make sure the tent is really well anchored for all wind directions. Consider using rocks to strenghten peg placements you are not sure about. Digging a slight depression in the snow for the tent to sit, and trying to make some form of wind break in helps stop the wind getting under the tent.
- A snow shovel is dead handy for winter camping in digging out the snow. Ice axes are not particularly good at clearing a large area of snow. A shovel that fits in the shaft of an ice axe works pretty well. Had we had time, in retrospect, we should have dug a trench into the side of the snow bank to further protect the tent from the full force of the wind.
- Winter demands spare hats, gloves and more layers, which all add up in weight terms, so lightweight camping is not particularly possible, or indeed desirable.