Middle Fell, Seatallan and Buckbarrow in high winds

February 08, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Hi Folks,
Its not been a great year for weather in the Lake District so far, but undeterred, my daughter Steph and I were going hiking no matter what. I studied the weather pattern like the greatest of geeks all week and decided that our best chance of staying reasonably dry was going to be Wasdale area. I have learnt a lot about the weather this last year or so and so far, armed with various premium apps I have pretty much got exactly the weather I have expected on the fells.

So today we are going to do a classic Lakeland route, taking in:

  • Middle Fell: (1910 ft)
  • Seatallan: (2270 ft)
  • Buckbarrow: (1388 ft)

In a Topo map, the route looks like this:

And on a normal 2D map, it looks like this: (Active Viewranger map, feel free to zoom around)

Its a route we have done part of already, having visited Middle Fell quite recently in snow. The images from that trip were far better. Feel free to take a look here. ( (Open in new window)

Today, we will try to complete the full round, but we already know the weather may win. It's forecast to be very cold, and very windy!

Here's the mountain weather forecast as of 5am for our highest summit of the route.

Screenshot

The only "problem" with Wasdale, is that its a 5hr round trip by car from Blackpool, which makes it a long day trip. That said, as long as we always balance out hours in the car with hours on the fells I am happy, so we packed and got ready to roll. Steph arrived at my house and we hit the road at 7am, boot loaded up with our full winter kit, including Ice Axe and Crampons just in case.

Stephs gear is on the left, as Dad's are always right. (Well, I smiled at that anyway)

After an uneventful 2.5hr drive with a stop for a snack, we arrive at Wasdale and park up on the grass verge in the little hamlet of Greendale. You can see the ascent path up Middle Fell immediately from here.

Geared up, we hit the trail. The great thing about this route is that even from the word go, the scenery is stunning. The incredible backdrop of Whin Rigg and Illgill Head see to that.

Looking back to Greendale and our tiny looking car to the left of the buildings.

A quick selfie with the screes behind us.

And then onwards.

To our left is Buckbarrow, which we hope to visit as the last summit of the day.

Steph wasn't feeling herself today sadly, she had been kept up by the kids until the early hours and not had much sleep. She is also having problems with pain in her feet so we were taking it nice and easy. We never rush anyway but the speed of any hike is always dictated by the slowest member of the group and that's the way it should always be.  Anyway, with scenery like this to enjoy, how can that ever be a bad thing? I truly believe some people dash about way too quickly and don't enjoy the day anywhere near as much as we do. 

   

 The ascent up Middle Fell is steep, but the terrains easy. 

But it is very wet and boggy after all this recent rainfall.

As you near the top section of the fell, it becomes a lot rockier.

Looking over to Seatallan now, we can see that not only is there still snow up there, but the summit is well in the cloud. We are probably a couple of hours away from there yet at our current pace so plenty of time to worry about that later.

For now, we have some serious wind to contend with. Its becoming fierce, and bitterly cold. From this point on we are actively looking for shelter for a break. We head off route to various crags and rocky sections looking for some respite from the wind but cant find any for quite some time. Its definitely time for a break and some hot food so we keep on looking.

Eventually, we found what was to be the best option, a nice tall outcrop of rock which shielded us from the worst of the wind. It was time for Steph to learn just how hard it is to open a packet of bacon with freezing cold hands! No easy task.

But she succeeded and I got to work frying us up a nice bacon butty while Steph made coffees! The wind was still howling round the rocks so I had to shield the MSR from the worst of it. I will be glad when the MSR windproof Skillet lands in the UK so such problems are a thing of the past.

The butties were awesome... Stephs were cooked first and then mine had traces of a secret ingredient added that I won't clarify too much other than to say the wind picked up the frying pan, threw the hot oil all over me and my bacon landed in something that wasn't just mud and grass. Bloody Sheep!

Not to be deterred, I figured I beat the famous three-second rule and gave it all a wipe down and an extra few minutes on the heat for good measure. It tasted good and I am sat typing this feeling healthy enough, so no harm done. Suitably fed, watered and feeling refreshed, we set about fighting the wind again. What a view this is back across Wastwater to Illgill Head and Whin Rigg!

Finally, the summit comes into view. It was a genuine battle to get up to that cairn safely in the wind. The wind was just constant and blowing us about on the slippery rock section. Not so much gusting, just a pure solid yet invisible force of nature pushing us around.  

While Steph clung to the side of the summit, I messed about with my Anemometer and took some readings. It was 1 deg C with an average wind speed of 46mph and a peak of 52mph. I have been out in much stronger peak winds, but nothing like 46mph as an average. It really is surprisingly hard work.

I grabbed a nice shot looking over to the Scafells. Since the 2200ft Seatallen is in cloud, I reckon a good 1000ft of Scafell and Scafell pike are hidden in cloud over there. That really gives their height some reference. What a moody day!     

To our left, Seatallen and Haycock. Both in cloud and there is snow visible on our ascent up to Seatallan. From here it looks an easy walk though.

But of course, as soon as you head that way you learn there is a 300ft valley to first descend and then to ascend back up the other side of to get back to this viewing height. Down we go...

Looking back to Middle Fell after we start the ascent from the saddle floor up towards Winscale Hows. Greendale Tarn looks lovely nestled in there.

Looking a little further left, passed Knott Ends, towards Yewbarrow and the Scafells.


 

Looking upwards, the sky isn't exactly begging us to climb higher...   

I discuss with Steph the very real possibility of being faced with extremely bad visibility with the potential for us needing to do some very serious and potentially scary navigating in bad wind and zero visibility as I know that this area is renowned for folk getting lost and needing rescue.  Steph has never been into or above the cloud base before, let alone in high winds so I wanted to brief her first and let her make the decision as to whether we continue upwards.

Brilliant,  let's  go was her reply!  Who am I to argue, since I was the one who got some sleep last night and am feeling very good, plus of course  I love hiking with Steph and new experiences and challenges are the best ones, even if she isn't feeling her usual self, so up we go!

Its worth mentioning something here for others to consider.

I have a bail out rule, if any member of our group feels uneasy for any reason at all, we stop dead, discuss, and bail out back to ground level if necessary. It's a rule I think more hikers should discuss, and discuss regularly as I believe that one of the biggest causes of little problems turning into big problems is when people get too far out of their comfort zones.

Once your too far over your own personal line, panic sets in. Problems almost always begin right after panic sets in. Often the whole situation is primarily caused by simply not turning back when you should have done, and in a group, that's often borne from a simple fear of you being the one to "Let the side down" or a fear of looking weak. As a diver, this is a problem drilled into me as it's something discussed a lot. In diving, the rule is "If one person has a problem, we all go up immediately" Ego's never come into it and that's how it should be.

For me, hiking is the same. There's no shame in calling it a day. We are all human and we dont know where our comfort zone ends until we personally exceed it. For me, that was a white-out with bad winds and a ripping spin drift on Scafell Pike about this time a year ago. We couldnt figure out a feature to use the map and felt lost for a while, I was scared and dont mind admitting it. The descent down Mickledore on our butts in snow did not add any comfort at all but we felt it was our only option. Anyway, my point is, the fells will be here to climb forever so we can always try again another day. 

I know Steph will tell me if she is feeling uneasy, so we crack on upwards. The snow cover was quite light and soft so crampons aren't needed yet. Our Scarpa Manta boots are perfectly adequate for now with plenty of rock to get a foothold on. 

Looking back, Haycock showed its summit to us very briefly. 

It's a steep ascent though and we are getting peckish again too... There is nothing like hiking in strong, cold wind to make me hungry!


So I call break time at some suitable rocks where Steph can have a seat. Hot coffee and a bite to eat with snow at your feet while looking over to Haycock, Red Pike and the Scafells. What could be better?

Maybe the cloud base moving up instead of down would have been nice? I love this pic of Steph with her head almost in the clouds. I'm sure there is a joke in there somewhere...

We zig-zag our way up and eventually, our prize comes into view. The Seatallan Summit. As luck would have it, the cloud isn't quite as bad now as it was thirty mins ago. Bonus.

I grab a pic of Steph at the summit and we quickly move on. The cloud could worsen again any minute in this speed wind and quickly turn rubbish visibility into dangerous visibility so I am keen to make progress before the map and compass are forced into play.

I grab a snap looking over to Raven Crag on one of the few moments it was visible.

So, our descent path off Seatallan is a two-part route. Initially, you follow a direct line from the summit, across Nether Wasdale Common and look for a Cairn at the end on a point called "Cat Bields". This section has reports of being very boggy and occasionally impassable so we were dreading having to ascend back up Seatallan just to then descend back the way we came. Moving on we are expecting the worst, but up here the only problem really is that it's just bleak. There are no actual terrain problems.

Naturally, the lower we go into the saddle between peaks, the worse it will get as the water accumulates at the lowest place.

Luckily for us, this is about as bad as it got thankfully.

Ahead... I spy Cat Bields!

The view from Cat Bields looking back up at Seatallan in the cloud line.

At Cat Bields you turn hard left and head towards Buckbarrow.

Approximately half way across the plain, there is a cairn clearly labelled on the OS map. You can see it here too, so it's used in my route as a very handy waypoint

The wind hasn't let up much and it's still hard work and very cold. Steph takes a few minutes here to rest while I take pictures.

The view over to our next destination, Buckbarrow.



The view across to our first summit of the day, Middle Fell, which looks much nicer from this angle.

        Moving on again, and Buckbarrow summit is now right ahead.



And here it is, with views right out over to Seascale. We actually spent very little time here, it was cold, windy and also starting to rain. So...

We found a perfect little area sheltered from the driving rain and made some bacon butties and a brew. :)

Feeling content, I grabbed one last shot over towards Middle Fell and Scafell before we headed off to start our final descent.

We descended via the Harrow Head side of Buckbarrow.


And this view of Gill Beck and Tosh Tarn is possibly the only landscape type image I have taken all day that I actually like.

The path down is steep, slippery and very boggy a lot of the way.

But down it goes and today is one of those days when we are both glad to see the road. We turn left onto it heading for...

Low Greendale. And our car parked just beyond it.

It's absolutely pouring down now and we are very happy to be sat in a nice dry car with the heated seats on full power with a nice hot coffee in our hands. The end of yet another successful day and my 118th and 119th Wainwright summits in the bag.  With 11 months to go, I am still on target to complete the list in under 2 years. Happy days... I might have to move to Scotland next year to make the Munro's a little easier!  

Here are the ups and downs of todays hike.       

And some data from my Suunto Ambit3 peak. (Heartrate, health data and calories monitored via the Suunto smart sensor.)

 

Finally, a short 60 second video of the route courtesy of Suunto Movescount.

Thanks for reading folks. I hope you enjoyed taking a little trip with us and that it inspired you to try the route. Remember, take your time, don't ever rush. The fells are there to be enjoyed, not endured. If you want a navigation GPX file for the route, just drop me an E-mail, I am happy to supply it. (For free)

While you are out there enjoying the beautiful fells, remember the golden rules... "Take only pictures, leave only footprints and keep only memories".

 

Camera Details:
All images in this blog were taken with my little pocket sized Canon G7X point and shoot. Its not a patch on my Canon 5D MK3 of course but I no longer lug all that around with me hiking as its just too cumbersome. When I find a scene worth of the 5D3's talents, I usually return one day to make the best of it.

****

Route Completed on January 7th 2016 with Stephanie Sanderson

New Wainwrights: 118th and 119th of 214
New Birketts: 168th, 169th and 170th of 541. 

   


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