A hike round Coniston Old Man, Brim Fell, Swirl Hows and Great Carr with a dark descent

July 05, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Hi folks, its blog time again.

Having had a particularly draining week at work on the dyno and conscious of the fact that my Ben Nevis trip is fast approaching I decided last minute I wanted to do a serious hike after work one night to give the old legs some more training. My great pal Steve Waterhouse wanted to do it too so plans were made and we aimed to leave my house in Norbreck at 5pm.

I had plotted a good route and the 4 summits involved were these:

  • The Old Man Of Coniston. (2635ft)
  • Brim Fell (2612ft)
  • Swirl How (2631ft)
  • Great Carrs (2575ft)

After sending the route to Viewranger on my phone and then converting the route GPX file to a KML to look at on Google earth, it looks like this. (This is the actual KML of the route after the event though so it has my every footstep updated every ten seconds)

We walked this route clockwise from the bottom right hand corner, so those of you whom know the area may note immediately that I have chosen an unusual route up. I have never been in this area but my research prior to the trip suggests that the area looks almost "industrial" due to the mining that goes on there and that's just not my "scene" so to speak. As a result, I plotted a longer route right round the back through what looked, to me at least, a better valley with not too many scars from humanity.

Because I was running late, Steve agreed to get some food in as I had missed my lunch due to work constraints so absolutely had to take in some serious calories both before and during the hike as I expected to burn around 4500 calories on this route. I told Steve I am not fussy as long as the food contained some decent protein levels and duly left him in charge of our late lunch and tea. He arrived at my house, we loaded the boot and headed north, enjoying the duck sandwich he bought me on our way. (Duck? Who buys a Duck sandwich?!).

The journey up wasn't too bad, we got parked up just before 7pm and set off at a strong pace. It was our intention to get to the fourth and last summit for sunset. A tall order at my fitness level but pretty easy for Steve. That was fine as I want to push myself a bit more nowadays as my fitness seems to have plateaued and my body needs a good push to break me through to the next level.

The view from the car park looks like this. The whole area is gorgeous, lovely greens and great weather right now. The Old Man Of Coniston, our first summit of the night is the peak visible at rear left.

Our chosen path is round the back of the Coniston range in the image above and it follows this path which is called "Walna Scar Road"

Its a nice gradual build up, just how we like it to get the body and muscles warmed up.

Once you round the corner after about 20 mins, you are confronted with the valley between the old man himself and Dow Crag. This is just as I had hoped... wild looking. Just how the Lake District should be.


After a short walk, looking up to the right we see evidence of a building. We decide to detour slightly to take a look at it.

It seems to be a hut called the "Jack Diamond Hut" A sign on the door suggests its used by a memorial club for climbers.

Moving on, the terrain gets a little harsher and the ascent harder, but its preceded by a nice little hands on section and we meet a couple of hikers coming down so stop to let them by and regain some breath. They warned us it was windy up top!

A little while later I notice a couple of hikers descending the screes of Dow Crag. That looks an awfully steep and treacherous descent path. Fair play to them. I noted they made it down safely. Maybe its not as bad as it looks - but it looks painful. (they are just above right of center in the image below, wearing red clothing)

The tarn here is called "Goats Water" It is very beautiful but due to the suns position I could only successfully shoot it from the other end. So here it is, viewed after we had passed it and started our ascent up Goats Hawse.

Goats Hawse is pretty steep. This is the payback for choosing the long easy ascent round the back of the Old Man. There always comes a point with any mountain hiking where you have to start gaining height quickly. Its a nice ascent on a great quality path built of rock steps though, so its quad work, not calves.

But regardless... it sure is pretty steep!

As we reach the top of Goats Hawse, the view back the way we came towards Goats Water highlights how gorgeous that valley is.

But looking ahead, the sun is low in the sky and the whole area looks amazing. The dynamic range is way to much for my little point and shoot, but I had a crack anyway and did the best I could to capture the atmosphere of the view we were presented with as we crested the ridge.

It is here that we turn hard right and make the ascent up the "Old Man Breast" An unforgiving and hard section that's steep and almost entirely made up of loose slate and scree.

That said, the view to our right of Dow Crag certainly takes the sting out of the ascent.

After a short and steep 10 minutes ascent we arrive on the ridge between the Old Man and Brim Fell. The views out over Coniston open up and we can finally appreciate the views this ridge has to offer. Also, the summit of the Old Man himself is visible from here and even from this distance we can tell its a very large summit cairn.

We crack on and reach the first summit of teh night in great time. Here is Steve at the Old Man Of Coniston Summit.

Looking west from the Summit Of Old Man towards the Scafell range. The sun is getting very low in the sky.

Looking down over "Low Water" A lovely tarn nestled high up the Old Man of Coniston. From here I can see what people mean about the more popular route looking a little "man made" and "industrial" The mining operations are very clear and I feel at this point, my route choice was the right one. Certainly all that mining evidence is of great interest to me, especially the old disused parts and I will revisit the area to see it all up close, but tonight was about being on the fells and I am not sad to have missed it all, although we will walk right through it all on the descent path, albeit in pitch black.

The wind up here is incredibly strong. And the sun is very low, so with three more summits to achieve, we quickly move onwards. The ridge from here over to Brim Fell looks pretty easy, and this image shows pretty much all of it. You can "just" make out the cairn on Brim fell in the distance.

And here is a close up of the Brim Fell summit cairn with Steve. This image is better than the last one really as you can see the Old Man summit and our route from it in the distance behind Steve.

The next summit is to be Swirl Hows. Its a few hundred feet of descent down Levers Hawse to Swirl band before we start the ascent up to Swirl Hows. This image shows it well as Steve moves on.

To our left, the sun is threatening to set before we make the final summit. The sky looks amazing with the Scafell range silhouetted in the background there.


Now, regular readers of my hiking reports will possibly have noticed I always include a sheep image if I come across sheep. I don't really know why, but I love sheep in their native environment, I find them very calming creatures, nothing at all like their penned in cousins around our local farms. I had hoped tonight to do one of the beautiful Herdwicks some justice and as luck would have it, this scene presented itself to me. I think my sister will laugh at this one. She thinks its funny that I include sheep, so here you go Val, this ones for you. x

After saying my farewell to the Herdy, we moved swiftly upwards as we are in danger of the sun setting before we summit, so we start to make hard progress up to Swirl Hows. This bit hurt my legs a little really as its quite a pull up here so doing it in a rush was not something my lungs or legs appreciated a great deal, but for sure it will have helped my fitness.

Mind you - if anything is going to spur me on, the fells starting to turn red at the top as the red sky to our left bounced light off them will do it every time!

With a lot of huffing and puffing we are almost there!

We made it, with only minutes to spare. A zoomed in view to my left shows that we were almost out of time! What a sky! Its not technically sunset yet, but the sun is disappearing down behind 3000ft of rock and the light show bouncing up from that rock is incredible.

Steve settles down for a well earned break now and I run about with my camera as usual. Daft really as I need the break more than him as hes as fit as a mountain goat, but I am just loving the views and sunset light doesnt last long!  

The question now, is do we bother doing Great Carrs or not? Our descent point is from here at Swirl hows, so the final summit is a direct "There and back" type route as we still have to come down from this point. Its up this hill here, and out of view to the right. We discuss it for a while while eating hiking bars for energy... making special note of the fact it will be pitch black in under an hour. Should we do the last peak, or call it a night and start our descent?

Well, we have come this far... Great Carrs, here we come! The cairn is visible right on the edge of the ridge here. Its not far really so we crack on. This image just shows the Summit cairns position right at the end of the ridge!


Now the wind was getting very strong, its going west, coming up the flanks to our right and pusing us left. At some points we had to crouch down and hold on to some rock to stay on our feet. I really wish I had brought my anenomometer with me to measure wind speed, but for sure it was well in excess of 60mph if not 70mph+. The strongest wind I recall ever being out in. We loved it - incredible forces! Because it was so strong, we decided to drop down about 60ft to our left to let the shoulders of "Broad Slack" take the force of the wind as it was coming up the side of the ridge and we were getting the full force of it being let free onto the upper side of the ridge so to speak. We are glad we did this as for one it afforded us some shelter and breathing time (The wind was really affecting our breathing due to its ferocity) but also because we came across a memorial that I have read about, but never seen.

Its a solemn view so high up on a mountain range and obviously one of devastation. It was getting dark but I wanted some images so I had to purposely overexpose these to get some clear images of the memory. The sunlight had almost gone, making this a real thought provoking place to be, even though the overexposure of this image makes it look like broad daylight.

A little research tonight taught me that the aircraft, a Halifax LL505 came to grief here on Great Carrs on the night of 22nd October 1944 while the crew were undertaking a night navigation exercise flying from Topcliffe in Yorkshire. The crew encountered very thick cloud whilst over the north-west of England. The pilot descended so the navigator could get a visual fix on the ground but by this stage it was flying too low in the heart of the Lake District. The aircraft hit this sloping grass fellside while flying in roughly from the west and sadly killed all on board.

We went on to Summit Great Carrs and from there, our view back to the Swirl Hows descent point onto the "Prison Band" looked like this.

Its getting too dark for photos now, but we decided that we would get up to Swirl Hows, eat our tea to give us a calorie kick and then get ourselves down. It was also starting to rain now too. Typical lake District weather. So, we trecked back to Swirl Hows and dug out our seating mats, drinks and food. Now, you may remember right back at the start that I had greatfully been able to task Steve with the job of providing something for our tea, and I had told Steve I will eat anything but would like some protein if possible. Well... I didnt expect what he pulled out of his rucksack tonight! A FULL ROAST CHICKEN! Cut nicely in half... LOL. Here he is with the prized food. Supper time by torchlight at 2600ft!

As we ate, the unmistakable sound of heavy thunder started to roll in. Quite a scary sound when your up so high. Then the lightning started too. I was dumbstruck. I have never seen lightning from so high up before and it looks so different lighting up the cloud on your horizon instead of up above you. Sadly, my little point and shoot camera cant capture anything worth looking at in this light, but I managed to get a bit of video that you can see later. The storm seemed to stay at least 30 miles or so away which is great news because if it had headed our way we would literally have had to run for our lives to lower ground as we were stood on one of the highest peaks for miles!

As you might expect, by the time we had eaten and recovered enough to start the descent, it was very dark. So off we go... The light circle you see is the full range of my head torch. I wouldn't be without it at night. It makes my immediate vicinity brighter than daylight.

Steve and I both use the simply awesome LED Lenser H7R.2 head torches and with these, darkness ceases to be a problem. Images don't do them justice but here is an image of our view descending down the ridge called "The Prison band" in pretty much complete darkness. (We also both carry back up torches and USB power banks for recharging too, so we are never in any danger of being stuck with no light source)

After a while a bit of the storm caught us and we had to stop and change into our waterproofs before we could safely continue. Steve was quite pleased as it happens because it was a great opportunity for him to test out his new Rab waterproof top layer. Naturally, it served him well as Rab gear usually does. I donned my Montane Direct Ascent hard shell... unbeatable in any wet weather no matter how hard the wind tries to drive it into you.


While we were stopped, I tried in vain to capture some lightning, but to no avail, although I did manage to "just" capture a split microsecond after a burst and there was still some energy left after the discharge leaving a nice kind of glow in the sky.

And that was it for interesting details worthy of including in this blog. Well, bar the fact we missed a turning and walked around 20 mins back uphill that we really didn't have to. Regardless, we got back to the car at just after 1:30am and I was home in bed for 3:30am. It was an incredible nights hiking and one that I wont forget in a hurry. Thankfully, Steve took over driving duties as the night took its toll on me and I started to get too sleepy to drive safely. He delivered me home safe and sound and I was asleep before he got off my street in his vehicle I am sure. What a night!


I will leave you with a little 3 minute video showing a few highlights of the night.



Here is a little Suunto movie of the trip, showing the route via Google earth.



And some data aquired by the Suunto Ambit 3 peak watch too. Interesting for ascent, descent and mileage etc. (calories are pretty accurate as I wear the Suunto Smart HR monitor too.)   



Here is some data from my Viewranger Account.  (This is active and you can change the maps used to OS maps etc instead)


All images in this blog were taken with my Canon G7X point and shoot pocket camera. My camera of choice when hiking any distance. The Canon 5D3 SLR stays at home and only comes back with me if I come across any location really worth coming back for with time on my hands to make the best of it.


A little about me:

For as long as I can remember I have been passionate about landscape photography. I love nothing more than leaving the house at 4am and heading to some distant landscape with a view to capturing an awesome sunrise during golden hour and then staying out shooting all day until night falls and trying to capture an incredible sunset... this escalated into a love of hiking.

Sometimes it's very successful, as you will see from this website, but other times its extremely frustrating and I just spend 12hrs getting cold, wet and downhearted with the weather, but that comes with the British climate and makes the great captures all the more satisfying.

My equipment centres around the incredible Canon 5D MK3 Body which is a fantastic camera by any standard and with a resolution of 22mp allows me to create very large prints with no loss of detail, and I have the amazing 18mp high speed Canon EOS 7D as my backup body... just in case of disaster! If hiking any distance, or with long, hard ascents I often just take the awesome Canon G7X, a 21mp pocket camera that is almost as capable as my 5D MK3.

I hope you enjoy reading my trip reports and looking at my images. If you would like to hang any on your wall and its not part of my main gallery (A trip report image for example), please feel free to drop me a line and I will upload a high resolution version to the main gallery for purchase.


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