Mandy and I wanted to get out this weekend and do a reasonably small but challenging hike together. I tend to spend a lot of time hiking with my friend Steve and my daughters Steph and Ella, but not enough with Mandy. We try hard to make time to get out together too and this weekend is ours. I planned a few options for us including Dodd and Barrow but ultimately I decided that we should we try one that I have never done either so that we were both in exciting new and unfamiliar terrain all day.
The weather and current ground conditions promised lots of snow and certainly meant there was absolutely no guarantee of us making the summit, but we would certainly get a good day out.
The target fell summit this weekend is:
We had breakfast at our favourite local cafe, The Carousel in Cleveleys. The owner Martin always feeds us up ready for our big day ahead. We left Cleveleys about 10am and were parked up by 11:30 am at Dunmail raise, right next to where the Grasmere to Thirlmere road is closed for repair. We were both raring to go. It was cold and wet but our spirits were high.
A short walk down the road from the car towards Grasmere sees us turn left just before Mill Bridge.
The ascent from here is quite gentle, a nice warm up angle for us. We can see immediately that we would be reaching snow in an hour or so.
Oh look... Here comes some uninvited rain!
30mins or so walking in the rain and we came across a herd of sheep who held us up while they mooched about in this gateway. We never disturb the animals, its their home and we are in no rush... we can wait.
Beyond that gate is the bridge across Tongue Gill.
One of the sheep hadn't seen us coming... I captured this shot as he poked his head above the hill, he sure looked surprised to see us!
Heading up to Rowans Ground. The path is nice and easy underfoot.
Bar the odd quick scramble.
We stopped here for our first coffee and a 20min break before moving onwards. No fear of getting lost on this route just yet.
Seat Sandal is up to the left and it looks lovely. Its height is quite deceiving, at 2'415ft its still some 1'400ft higher than us at the moment.
This area has lots of lovely Gill's and waterfalls to cross and enjoy. Its snowing lightly now.
The climb up to Hause Moss begins.
And into the snowline we go.
We are getting hungry and it's started snowing again, we had made a decision a little earlier to hack onwards until we find something with a decent sized face that will give us a south facing shelter from the wind driven snow. We came across this awesome waterfall!
Perfect... just out of the wind we set ourselves down and got to work cooking. Now as avid followers of my ramblings will know, I normally cook bacon butties, but this time I have taken advice from a friend and decided to try, for the first time in my life (that I remember anyway) SPAM!
Take a bow Mr Paul Bury... you were right, it was lovely. And for hiking, it is indeed a great easy alternative to carting fresh bacon around! I've already ordered more from Tesco for the next delivery! Feeling content after our thickly packed Spam barmcake, we had a hot coffee each and boiled up some fresh water from the waterfall on the MSR Windboiler to go in the flask, just in case conditions later made the stove an unwanted task.
Then we took a quick selfie.
And one last shot of the waterfall before moving on.
We passed a group of about 10 hikers (you can see them in the image below) and had a brief chat. They warned us of 2ft deep snow and strong winds ahead that had seen them abort a summit attempt and choose this descent path back down. Not the greatest of news... But the view down the valley if we have to go back the way we came is awesome. So who cares?
We will go ahead and make the decision for ourselves, but we are prepared to turn back should we need to. We stopped about 20 mins later to put our crampons on too as the snow was getting slippery in places.
The sky cleared up from time to time too. What a difference! This is Mandy just about to breach Grisedale Hause, the saddle between Fairfield and Seat Sandal.
Boom. As soon as we poked our heads above Grisedale Hause the wind attacked us. But there was Grisedale Tarn, a place I have always wanted to visit and it looks amazing. The mountain behind is Dollywagon Pike.
What a great view back up to Fairfield. I took some weather readings here with my Kestrel 2000 Anemometer... The average wind speed was quite high at 28mph. The temperature was -2Deg C with a wind chill of -8 deg C.
Mandy is still smiling, even while trying hard to keep her head on. The snow here was deep enough to keep her upright at least!
What an incredible view. Grisedale Tarn. It sits a tad below 1800ft and is 110ft deep. This tarn is reputedly the resting place of the crown of the kingdom of Cumbria. It is told that the crown was conveyed here in 945 by soldiers of the last king, Dunmail, after he was slain in battle with the combined forces of the English and Scottish kings. The mountain ridge to its right is St Sunday Crag... One of my favourite ridges.
And there, all alone is a brave solo walker making an ascent of Fairfield. (Just above center) I watched his or her progress from time to time.
We discuss options here. I am in favour of going round to the northern side and ascending the less rocky face in view of Mandy having never done an ascent like this on snow in strong wind and also with her only having XTR spikes and not full crampons. Mandy however, will hear nothing of it and wants to try this steeper more treacherous route up. We agree to suck it and see, it should be fine as the snow is still lovely and soft. Had it been hard neve it wouldnt have been an option for her. (Neve is young snow that has been partially thawed, re-frozen and compacted into a glacial type of ice... the walkers nightmare, white, beautiful but deadly) At the end of the day, we can always turn back if its harder going higher up.
Its steep and deep. We stop for a breather at about 2200ft as the going is starting to get tough. This last 200ft is looking very steep and it is vitally important that we dont let ourselves get out of breath because thats when mistakes tend to be made. Accurate footwork and balance is vital up here and that requires a calm mind. Slowly but surely is the best mode of progress on snowy ascents in wind.
Relaxed again we move on and agree to stop at the next clump of rocks.
Waypoint reached, Mandy still loving it. That can only mean one thing...
And a quick seven shot Panorama of the amazing view of course. Dollywagon Pike, Grisedale Tarn, Fairfield and St Sunday Crag with Ullswater way in the distance. What a vista!
And not forgetting of course, the beautiful Mandy. So proud of my wife, this is a serious route today... certainly not one for the feint hearted. Mandy doesnt believe me when I tell her a lot of the hikers we know wouldnt have continued this hike. She is braver than she knows.
The ascent angle is shallowing off now, but the higher we get the stronger the wind becomes.
One last shot of the view before it disappears as the weather seems to have just changed for the worse.
We have made it to more level ground but the wind is strong and its getting quite aggressive up here.
Mandy battled with the side wind and the spindrift. (Spindrift is the term given to snow being lifted and blown by the wind. It can be very painful indeed on any exposed skin and walking into it requires goggles, which we had if we needed them.)
I tried to capture an image of the snow being blown about. I think this one covers it.
Images can't really tell the story properly though of course, so here is a short video. (You can't hear a word I'm saying for the wind, but I probably had nothing interesting to say anyway)
Looking towards the summit, with the Langdale Pikes in the distance beyond it.
Finally... we reach the 2'415 ft summit of Seat Sandal. This is the view back to Fairfield.
In the distance, ahead of us, is Easedale Tarn surrounded by the Langdale Pikes.
And that's the way we need to head as we are going to stick to my circular plan and walk right down the very front of this rock... Mandy is in the lead as I am messing with the camera... as usual. And my phone just froze solid and switched off with 55% battery... as usual. That's my Viewranger track buggered again!
The wind isn't as bad at all on this side of the summit. The light spindrift makes for nice scenery.
Down below us, Grasmere seems to be having some nice weather this afternoon.
As we reach the edge of the summit plateau, Easedale Tarn is looking gorgeous in the late evening light surrounded by the Langdales.
The beauty of the scenery may have tricked Mandy into dropping her guard for a moment. But never fear, I had my camera ready!
While Mandy was struggling to get up out of the deep snow,
I rushed to help her... I created a quick panorama using my ice axe as a prop.
What a view to descend with. Perhaps the best I have ever had to date, and having my wife with me to enjoy it really is the icing on the cake.
Only those angry clouds to our right can spoil the view! We are hoping they dont unload anything cold and wet on us as we have quite some way to go yet!
So lets just look the other way at Grasmere and forget the clouds are there. I mean.. who would know?
So many different bodies of water in this shot. Windermere, Alcock Tarn, Elterwater, Grasmere and Coniston.
And here we are, enjoying it all from 1'500ft on the side of Seat Sandal, stood in deep snow. Perfection!
Ah... I had to mention snow didnt I? 30 mins or so later as we were leaving the snowline, It transpired that the dark cloud I mentioned earlier was indeed laden with snow and it had just caught us up.
Which, as we dropped to about 1000ft was reduced to just rain.
The return from here was very muddy and boggy in places.
But what a day. As far as we are concerned the weather we experienced just added to the day. All four seasons at different altitudes. The Lake District as we know her best... Unpredictable.
And that was the end of another epic adventure. We drove the car a mere 300yds or so down the road towards Grasmere and parked it right back up at the Travellers Rest Inn as we had never tried it before and had always wanted to. What a result, its a great pub, with great staff and great food. We even got the best seat in the house, right next to the log fire!
On the way home we saw a family of wild Deer just wandering up the road. I grabbed a shot with my phone fast before the biggest one jumped that fence too.
Amazing... You just cant beat that for a perfect end to an awesome day.
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".
Here is a little 60-second video of the route, courtesy of Suunto.
Here is some data downloaded from my Suunto Ambit 3 Peak watch.
(Health data courtesy of the Suunto smart heart monitor) (Ascent data incorrect as its affected by the wind we had... a failing of barometric altimeters)
The route looks like this mocked up in Google Earth.
(This is my exact route, recorded from my Suunto Ambit 3 peak with GPS fix every 1 second)
And the route looks like this on a topo map.
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 March 5th, 2016 with Mandy Sanderson
New Wainwrights: 1. New Total: 125 of 214.
New Birketts: 1. New total 176 of 541.