Author Archives: philipw

The Lakes in Winter

Two IMC trips to the lakes

Part 1: January

Several groups headed north: Adrian, Eddie, and Sheila travelled in the morning
and did Striding Edge on Friday; David Coupe who organised it turned up that
night with Lafi, Mike and partner.

I went with Steve C and John Buchan on the Friday. Our adventure started on the
Thursday night since John was detained (wind turbine work) off the Essex coast.
We finally left about 8.30pm, but being late meant that we wouldn’t make the
camping barn until it was locked up, so we threw in a couple of tents and warmer
sleeping bags. We expected heavy rain in the NW later, so the prospects didn’t
look very inviting, but we phoned the barn on the way up and thankfully they
agreed to leave our ‘dorm’ unlocked. We finally arrived at Sykeside camping
barn, just below the Kirkstone Pass on the North side close to Brothers Water,
at about 1pm.

As the forecast predicted the weather on Friday looked good. Not quite cold
enough for Steve and John to head off in search of ice, so we decided to have a
go at Pinnacle Ridge on St Sunday Crag, conveniently very close.

St Sunday Crag
The group of three on the skyline are almost certainly Phil and party descending.
Taken on the way down from Strididing Edge on the same day.

To get to the start involves a walk up Grisedale, a steep walk up the NW side
below St Sunday Crag, and then traversing along below the crag to find the
start. This required crossing, and sometimes avoiding, several thawing and dodgy
looking steep snow slopes, which if slid away could dump you at high speed
amongst piles of boulders at the bottom. We should have heeded a guide-book
remark: ‘Unless you already know what you’re looking (and even if you do
frankly), it’s hard to discern the correct line of Pinnacle Ridge among the
jumble of buttresses and gullies overhead’
. So having traversed below the jumble
too far and then having to come back, we finally agreed that we must be at the
start since there did appear to be some of landmarks of the route above. Once
ascending the route and looking back you realise that the easiest way to
identify the start is to look directly across the valley where there is a
distinctive sheepfold at the bottom near a junction with (marked in the 1:25000
map) Nethermostcove Beck, from which you could even take a bearing.

Then it was climbing up heaps of flakes and blocks (the 1:40000 Harvey/BMC map
has a simple geological map on the back which shows that these are Andesite
lavas and sills). We got the rope out for the crux, the steep left wall of a
recess. This was followed by the pinnacled crest, often exposed on either side
and with great views. A final short snow slope led to the summit ridge of St
Sunday Crag (this slope avalanched about a month later and swept two climbers
down 750 ft, suffering serious injuries. See Grough Article,
so it looks like our caution on the lower slopes was justified). From there it
was a simple walk down the ridge in the evening sun.

The weather held on the Saturday, and Steve’s suggestion was for some gill
scrambling. Conveniently nearby is Link Cove Gill at the head of Deepdale, a
grade 3 with *** for quality, ‘one of the Lake District’s most entertaining
gills’. So it was waterproofs and harnesses on in case needed. In these
conditions it was best described as a ‘mixed route’ – rock, snow, water,
vegetation… Great fun.

After a bite for lunch we finished by scrambling up Greenhow End above, and on to
the east end of Fairfield, with a fair depth of snow on the top. On the col
between Hart Crag and Dove Crag in the far southern distance the clouds parted
to let through a shaft of sunlight to shine on a straight ribbon lake that we
were seeing directly along its length. Although surprised, I guessed it must
have been Coniston, which the map later confirmed. We could also see the end of
Windermere to the SE (I wonder what is the maximum number of the lakes – not
tarns – one can see from any one point? It must be at least 3, since surely one
can see Derwent, Bassenthwaite and Thirlmere from Skiddaw?)

The descent via Dovedale was entertaining, our feet breaking through and sliding
down deep or steep areas of thawing snow. And I’m sure that it was a beautiful
and impressive tree-sized juniper that we passed, although Steve was not

By the Sunday my heels were trashed, as John put it. Resurrecting my old stiff
leather boots for feet that I hadn’t used for years on feet that hadn’t even
been in a boot for many months was always going to be risky. So Steve and John
went off to do a v.diff in Langdale (Scout Crag?) whilst I relaxed in Ambleside.
But in any case we all had a great 3 days.

Part 2: February

Thanks to Maddy and Al had for arranging this trip, staying at Wythmoor Farm
Camping Barn near Kendal. Those who also went were Steve, Jeremy with daughter
Annie and partner Tom, Martin H and Eddie, but unfortunately John, Suzanne, and
Thomas had to drop out.

The weather forecast looked good for the Friday as well, so Eddie and I had
decided to travel early, and Martin H joined to drive us, leaving at 5am from

We got to the Lakes late morning. Martin suggested Blencathra to get high quickly
and survey the extent of the snow, so we bypassed the bunkhouse and carried on
the M6 North to leave it at Penrith, and started walking at noon. The route that
we took was Hall’s Fell, the most direct South facing ridge to the top. Quotes:
‘Hall’s Fell that ends well’ (Martin) and ‘Halls makes you breathe more easily’
(Phil). We reached the snow at 500m or so and followed the rocky crest of the
ridge, only putting on crampons less than 100m from the top, where we had fine
views to the South and West. Even at this distance Derwentwater appeared to me
to have signs of ice on the surface, but I could not convince Martin. The route
we took later to the bunkhouse passed Thirlmere which was frozen for most of its
length. Strong evidence! Not really surprising since it had been so cold now
since late December.

The accommodation was a recently converted barn with a very large and high main
room, with the sleeping areas arranged as two raised balcony/platforms at the
sides, and a few settees and a table under one side that constituted ‘the
lounge’. At the back was a large kitchen area. The under-floor heating was
driven by a ground source heat pump. Considering the outside temperature and the
height of the barn, it worked quite well, but you could not sit still
comfortably for long periods. When we arrived it was about 9° C., and by the
time we left it had risen to a balmy 13 degrees!

Saturday morning was bright and very cold, so it was fairly certain that there
would be some ice to be had. Martin had his eye on a gill above Bea Water at the
head of the Haweswater valley; Steve and Eddie were keen and Jeremy persuaded!
There were many other possibilities there for the rest of us, so after a few
hasty fittings and repairs to some old spare crampons that Martin had brought,
we all headed there, a short drive up the M6 followed by minor roads to the end
of Haweswater, along which to its SE side the road was dodgy in places due to

Whilst the gill gang of 4 headed for Bea Water Gill, I led the others over a
horseshoe route, up the long ridge over Rough and Riggindale Crags, High Street,
Mardale Ill Bell, Harter Fell and back down from Gatescarth Pass.

The gill gang didn’t appear by 5pm, it was clouding in, and there was no phone
signal, so we left a note on their car and headed out of the reservoir valley,
also trying from the landline at the Haweswater Hotel, and finally making
contact once we had left the valley. Steve and Jeremy had got down first but
Martin and Eddie were some way behind. They topped out at 6pm, so had an
interesting walk down in the dark. Their full illustrated story was shown at the
IMC slide show in March.

Overnight there was some snow. On Sunday Jeremy, who had had plenty of excitement
the day before, headed home with his daughter (who had hurt her back) and
partner, whilst the rest of us headed for Langdale with our sights on Jack’s
Rake (grade 1 in summer). The roads were very slippery from the camping barn to
Kendal (I don’t think that frequent expletives from Martin who was driving were
a reference to cow dung on the road), and it started to snow more heavily. But
the outlook suggested it would ease off so we headed on up from the Dungeon Gill
Hotel, donning harnesses and crampons at the base of the Rake. Although the snow
had stopped (and no wind) it plastered the Rake, quite deep in some places, and
higher up it looked like icing sugar had dusted the boulders. Stiffened muscles
from yesterday were well stretched and a rope only needed once for security. A
great wintery scramble and a fitting end to memorable weekend.