A Walkers Dozen
After listening to the rain all night and getting wet on the way out to the car I feared the worst for the walk that was planned. As I drove north there was a beautiful sunrise giving way to blue sky and as I drove west along the A66 Blencathra looked magnificent in the morning sun.
I met Andrew and Lorraine at the top end of St. Johns in the Vale near the end of the old coach road. The single parking place there has been blocked so I left my car in a hedge by the side of the road, we drove to Dunmail Raise to leave another car there. Carolyn arrived at Dunmail just in time for us all to get into Andrew's car and drive to Rydal for the start of the walk.
From the road outside Rydal Hall, walk up the road where the tarmac ends and you are on a track leading to Nab Scar. Jackets were soon taken off as we quickly warmed up in the sun although it was far too cold for shorts today, even for me. It was a lovely start to the day as we walked along the rough track through the greenery, as we gained some height there were splendid views of the Coniston Fells and Crinkle Crags and Bowfell.
We made sure to visit the summit cairn, easy to spot today in the bright sunshine, easy to miss when it is misty, easy to miss if you keep to the footpath. The views of the hills on every side except east, the lakes to the south and down into the valley were excellent. Onwards along the obvious path towards Heron Pike, it takes a little bit more effort to visit its summit cairn, but some of us think it is worth it.
You have to start putting in a bit of effort now as the path steepens and you gain height on the way to Great Rigg. The views, the views! Back along the ridge to Windermere, Esthwaite Water and Coniston Water, down to the west Easedale Tarn in its corrie, and further to the west the bookends of Great Gable and Pillar. Not to mention the view ahead where Fairfield and Helvellyn impose themselves at the hub of the Eastern Fells.
By the time we reach Fairfield's flat top the jackets are already back on, the breeze is strong and cold, time to put on gloves and hat as the wind chill starts to bite. The broad summit is featureless apart from the many cairns, too much information when you are trying to find your way around in mist. No navigational problems today, just head in the direction of where you want to be and you'll find the path. Where we want to be is Grisedale Tarn and the path is probably the most awkward one on Fairfield, steep and eroded to gravel just waiting to move beneath your feet.
From now on the going starts to get a bit harder, the descent from Fairfield has lost a lot of height. My legs are in descent mode but get a bit of a shock as we make the steep climb by the side of a wall directly up the side of Seat Sandal. Looking backwards, the path on Fairfield looks as difficult as it feels, the valley of Grisedale looks beautiful in the bright sunshine and St. Sunday Crag is really showing off.
The summit of Seat Sandal adds Grasmere to the collection of views. The descent is easy over grass down to the head of Raise Beck, my legs are becoming too comfortable again. At this point Carolyn had to leave us, something about a gas leak at home needing urgent attention.
The direct climb over grass up the side of Dollywagon Pike didn't look too appealing so we walked over to the start of the newly refurbished zig zag path. Better that plodding up steeply through grass I suppose, the path was easier but my calf muscles especially were upset that we weren't still going downhill. Yet another hill that needs you to leave the path in order to visit the summit cairn, the view of St. Sunday Crag makes it well worth the effort.
The next section of the walk is also in full view, a very obvious path leading all the way to Helvellyn. However, it really is worth the effort keeping close to the edge and making your way over to the intermediate summit of High Crag before heading towards Nethermost Pike. The first signs of bad weather became apparent at this stage, the blue sky was replaced by dark grey clouds beyond Helvellyn.
Walking is easy across the broad flat plateau of Nethermost Pike to its summit cairn, it is only the height of the cairn that lifts itself up enough to qualify as the highest point. Leaving the sunny summit behind we walked over to rejoin the main path towards Helvellyn when the first shower of hail hit us, stinging the face as it was driven horizontally by the strong breeze.
At the summit of Helvellyn were the usual crowds of people, lots of them first timers judging by the non mountain clothing. It was surprisingly calm considering the strength of the breeze on Fairfield, the edges of Swirral and Striding might not have been so crowded otherwise. As we walked over to the subsidiary Lower Man summit it became clear that the weather was going to be be more variable for the rest of the day. The view to west was bright and sunny, to the east were grey ominous clouds.
From the summit of Lower Man you lose height again walking down the rough path, there is a brief glimpse of Thirlmere below whilst on the other side Swirral Edge looks very impressive. As you start to climb again towards Whiteside the change in the nature of the ridge is obvious. No more steepness just long easy ascents and descents, all right you could call the ascents tedious if your legs are beginning to feel tired.
From the summit of Whiteside is an easy descent towards Raise, at this stage the clear view of Skiddaw began to change as it was quickly covered by clouds but the view eastwards became clear. Another easy (or is that tedious?) ascent takes you to the summit of Raise, at least it has a rocky outcrop that looks like a summit. The descent from Raise is a bit more interesting down a rough path towards Sticks Pass where the next hail shower met us, heavier than the last one and it kept us company on the ascent of Stybarrow Dodd.
The shower was over as quickly as it started and as we again left the main path, this time to visit Stybarrow Dodd's summit cairn, Great Mell Fell was visible in all it's umm glory. Once again we rejoined the main path and made the easy walk to Watson's Dodd, or it would have been easy if I hadn't tried to keep up with Andrew and Lorraine. It was misty as we walked to the summit of Watson's Dodd but when we got there another shower of hail came in, soon to be replaced by what could only be described as snow.
The snow stopped suddenly, Skiddaw was bright and sunny again and looking back there was the ground had its first covering of snow of the winter. I stopped trying to keep up with the others as we made the climb to the top of Great Dodd and I was left a long way behind as we descended towards Calfhow Pike. The final easy walk, well more like a painful slog, brought us to the summit of Clough Head, it was fortunate that this was the last climb of the day.
The last descent of the day, heading north east over pathless grass down to the old coach road, now a reasonable stony track. The walk back to the car along the track was accompanied by fantastic views of Blencathra, resplendent as it was lit up by the setting sun.
A walker's dozen? Fourteen Wainwrights and a couple of intermediate tops in eight and a half hours.
Andy Wallace 4th October 2003
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