Wild camping on Haystacks
I have been wild camping on Haystacks above the Buttermere Valley in the Lake District numerous times over the years. Its a great wild camping location as its summit plateau covers sizeable area and has many sheltered spots on which to pitch a tent. However Haystacks is popular with wild campers so its rare to have the fell to yourself. Also I have always been unlucky with the weather whenever I’ve slept there and have returned with very few photographs.
Recently, on seeing a promising dawn forecast, I decided to try yet again as I’m a stubborn Yorkshireman. The fact that the evening and overnight forecasts weren’t so good wasn’t going to put me off.
Gatesgarth Farm to Haystacks
On parking in one of the lay-bys that line the road beside Gatesgarthdale Beck at teatime I decided to think through my plan. And wait for the rain to stop as it was chucking it down! The forecasted inclement weather had arrived early. Eventually it did ease a little so it was time to set off, up the Warnscale Valley.
The walk from the road up the Warnscale Valley to Innominate Tarn is only about 3 miles but it is steep in places.
There weren’t many people heading down from the fells but those that were were well clothed in waterproofs. It seemed there was only one person heading up.
Part way up the Warnscale Valley I had the option of crossing Warnscale Beck and taking the shorter route to Haystacks. As it had been many years since I’d last been on this route I left the main path here, forded the beck and continued up the right hand side bank. As the path climbs the views up the gully below Warnscale Bothy open up and a mighty impressive gully it is too.
Rowan tree above Warnscale Beck gorge
The path inexorably leads into a small, steep rocky ravine that is the last part of the climb onto the fell tops. It was at this point I remembered my previous visit here and what a good little scramble this was. However scrambling is less fun when weighed down with camping and photography kit! I did consider heading back down and taking the easier route up but sunset was closer than I’d like it to have been so I couldn’t afford the time. And also it would have been much easier carrying on upwards than getting back down!
Eventually, with a scraped, bloody knee and having uttered quite a few expletives, the ground levelled off and I emerged above the crags lining the head of the Warnscale Valley. Phew! I wanted to stop to take a photo of the gully from above but thanks to my delayed start and the time it took to get to this point I was behind schedule so pushed on. I would return this way the following morning anyway.
On joining the path circling the head of the valley between Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks my progress improved markedly. From here it was only a short half mile hike past Blackbeck Tarn and up to Innominate Tarn on Haystacks, my destination.
As soon as Innominate Tarn popped into view I was chuffed to see that no one else was there. As antisocial as it might sound I do like wild camping by myself. Camping in bad weather often ensures this is the case and it was closing in again so first things first: get the tent up while it was still dry.
Exploring Haystack’s Tarns and Crags
Tent pitched in my favourite location (no photo supplied as its a secret spot!) it was time to indulge in one of the best reasons to wild camp: it gives you time to explore. All too often when out fell-walking the aim is to get from one fell summit to the next, only taking a short break on each peak. Wild camping gives you the luxury of being able to spend hours in a given location and time to get to know the place. And there are few better places to explore than Haystacks. The summit plateau is a random jumble of crags, tarns, nooks and crannies. Every time I visit I find something new.
In the last half hour before sunset the all-enveloping cloud did lift a bit and offered up a few opportunities for photography. Fortunately I was in the right spot to grab a series of four photos from Innominate Tarn as the last light of the day lit up the crags. Later on I would stitch them all together to produce this large panoramic photo.
Just visible in the tarn are three grassy islands which are supposed to resemble loaves of bread. It was these islands that gave the tarn its original name – Loaf Tarn. The small body of water has since lost that title and is now curiously named Innominate Tarn.
Scafell Pike can be seen in the small gap between Great Gable and Kirk Fell. To the left of Great Gable is Green Gable which is shrouded in cloud, cloud that was heading my way and would ultimately lead to me having a very poor night’s sleep.
The path to Haystack’s summit crag leads past an unnamed tarn. While there, the setting sun’s light turned an incredible red colour and I was able to get one last photo.
That ominous cloud in the background was getting closer. Time to don my waterproofs again.
Disturbed night on Haystacks
After making the most of the fading light, eventually it was time to retreat to my dry tent. The night ahead proved to be anything but peaceful.
Firstly there were the little flying things. As it was so warm for the time of year I didn’t bother zipping up the inner layer of my tent, essentially using it as a tarp. This let the little buggers in. Fortunately they weren’t biting midges though so I just put up with them.
Secondly my pillow developed a puncture. I managed to improvise though.
Next I was woken by some voices around midnight. They sounded very close by but reckon they must have been on the path running past Innominate Tarn. Who goes out fell walking in the dark so late at night, especially when the weather was so bad? I had neither the energy or curiosity to find out.
And then in the early hours the thunder and lightening started. In the past I have always been amazed at how light it gets before dawn. I now know it gets even lighter when lightening is striking overhead! I knew the chances of me coming to any harm whatsoever were very slim but lying next to my metal tripod did set me off wondering.
Haystacks dawn after the storm
Eventually I must have fallen asleep as I was woken by my alarm. Time to get up and see if the world survived the night.
Well, it had but it didn’t look in very good shape. The storm had passed over and gone but left behind a very grey scene. It was thirty minutes before the sun would make an appearance but the growing light showed clouds of mist slowly rising out of the surrounding valleys.
My favourite photo from my pre-dawn wandering on Haystacks was this atmospheric one:
Dawn itself was an unremarkable affair, the cloud just getting lighter. The sun didn’t make an appearance until about an hour later but when it did, the day turned out to be a scorcher! Just as well really as my tent was soaked and I wanted it to dry out before packing it away. Until then I had time for breakfast and some more exploration. The fell was still all mine for a few hours more I reckoned.
While near the main summit crag on Haystacks I found this.
Small marble gravestone on Haystacks
I haven’t a clue who BJL was, despite trying to find after returning home. If they loved the fells so much I do wonder why they would want to leave such a permanent mark on them? Whoever put it here also took the time and effort to drill into the rock behind it and ensure it is locked in place.
Anyway, I had time for one last photo before packing up and leaving. Returning to Innominate Tarn, the view across to the impressive north face of Pillar overlooking Ennerdale was excellent.
Pillar reflected in Innominate Tarn
Haystacks back down to Gatesgarthdale
Having broken camp, I retraced my steps back past Blackbeck Tarn and Green Crag. I had remembered the previous day’s scramble up and wanted to have a look down that damn gulley. However I discovered that without climbing part way down I wouldn’t be able to get a decent photo of it and I simply didn’t have the energy. Suffice it to say it was very steep though. The view of Haystack’s northern face from this point was very good though so I’m glad I made the detour.
Crags on the north face of Haystacks
Its always very rewarding to look back up at a fell, knowing the previous night you had been up there.
August 2016’s blog entry was about a visit I had made to nearby Warnscale Bothy. I have since read that the owner had made some improvements so decided to descend via the path that passes nearby and check it out. And it is indeed true: a new woodburner has been installed and I have updated my Warnscale Head Bothy visit blog entry appropriately.
It was late morning now and getting very warm. Having run out of water I restocked at the top of Warnscale Beck and slowly made my way back down. Very slowly.
Eventually I made it back to my car, still parked in the same lay-by but a very full lay-by now. People were obviously making the most of the unseasonal Indian summer. My day was done though. Time to head home.
In hindsight although I would have slept very well if it had been a clear, calm night I’m glad it wasn’t. I feel I have definitely had a great night on Haystacks now and it deserves its place on my list of places to camp in the fells. And I have added to my Lake District landscape photo collection. I’m looking forward to my next night spent wild camping on Haystacks already.
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