Thursday, 4 February 2010

Fairfield & St Sunday Crag

I got up at 6am so I could get up to the Lakes in time for an early start and get in a proper winter mountain day. Its hard this time of year to put in a full days winter walk when you live two or three hours from the start of a walk in the Lakes. I still hadn't got to use my ice axe and crampons properly yet so wanted to head for somewhere I was guaranteed some good snow and ice. I finally took delivery of my new winter boots and new antiball plates for my crampons. I'd been monitoring the webcams and fell top assessments which made me decide to head for the Helvellyn range. I've done Helvellyn a few times before so decided I would do something a bit different and on Memory Map the night before I planned a challenging Deepdale Horseshoe taking in a total of six Wainrights on the way. I've always wanted to do St Sunday Crag, it is one of those huge fascinating mountains with a profile like a mountain is supposed to look.

Absolutely stunning views from Hart Crag

I managed to get up as planned and had packed the night before. Unfortunately the day didn't start too well and I ended up on the toilet five times before I got to the Lakes, having to stop at four seperate services on the way. Not a great start to the day but I fixed myself up with a large Mocha from the Costa at Burton services. While I stood paying for my Mocha I looked out to my car with slight paranoia, as you do when the car is full of outdoor gear on show. I saw a man trying to get into my car. I sped out of the Costa but just as I reached the doors I realised what had happened. There was an identical car parked two spaces behind me and this fella was clearly so tired he'd mistaken my car for his!

Gray Crag and Hartsop Dodd above Brothers Water

I arrived in the Lakes at around 8:30am and sat in a layby beside a stunning Ullswater just staring at how beautiful it was. The water was incredibly still and reflected the snow covered fells beyond, the only thing that disturbing the still water was the odd fish rearing its head then quickly disappearing back into the icy waters leaving hundreds of rings that ruined my glass like reflections, so sel'fish'. I drove through a quiet Glenridding and Patterdale then pulled up at the, somewhat surprisingly, still free Cow Bridge car park at Hartsop.

Hart Crag and The Step

I went through a gate at the back of the car park and headed up the initial steep climb through Low Wood. Once out of the top of the wood the path headed off to the left and took a much steadier route contouring the shoulder of the ridge until it eventually reached the top of Bleaberry Knott. I could tell on the map that the Hartsop above How ridge was long and it really was, I wasn't complaining though as the views from this ridge are pretty incredible with St Sunday Crag above Depdale to the right, Red Screes and Dove Crag to the left, Angletarn Pikes with Place Fell behind and finally in front, the inviting easy ridge walk to Hart Crag leading up onto the Helvellyn ridge. Despite the easy yet long walk along Hartsop above How ridge, my anxiety started as I reached Blake Brow the last nobble on the ridge as the clouds lifted as I could see the only way up onto Hart Crag was up a very steep deep snow filled gully.

Myself loving the awesome views from Hart Crag

Luckily several people had already passd this way and kicked steps up the route though it was still quite hairy in places and the steps went three or four feet deep at times. When I reached the top of the gully I was relieved to see the familiar gentler boulder strewn dome of a mountain summit appear. Then all of a sudden I reached the summit cairn and in front of me the clouds drew open like curtains and revealed the kind of view that has you shouting "WOW" in an agressive way at yourself even though there is no one around for miles. It was absolutely stunning with clouds all over the place, sun spots on Windermere and Coniston in the distance and awesome snow covered mountains. I left this magical scene after taking photos and shook my head at the thought that people still don't come with me on these adventures when I invite them and some even have the ignorance to ask why I do it! This is why! Ach well it is their loss and this was a moment for me and me. As I left Hart Crag to head towards Fairfield I met a nice chap from Penrith called Matt who was also revelling in the views. This chap had Inov8 fell running trainers on! He was doing the exact same route as myself but in reverse and this was extremely handy at times as his trainers sole prints being so recognisable were used in Hansel and Gretel fashion at times.

Grivel G10 Crampons and Kayland Apex Treks

By the time I had reached the final ascent of Fairfield I couldn't actually stand on my own two feet as the snow had turned into a solid wind blown ice pavement. This was most certainly crampon wearing conditions so I happily attached my crampons and plodded on. The clouds had come in now and I couldn't see a thing unfortunately, just one small window for a few seconds that allowed me a jaw dropping view of Cofa Pike and St Sunday Crag. The descent off the north side of Fairfield was really hairy with very steep and deep snow. I hooked my Pacer Poles onto my pack and grabbed my axe for this descent just in case. The bottom of the descent brought me to the col between Fairfield and Cofa Pike which is surprisingly narrow. With several feet of snow on it the col had turned into a precarious ridge of snow like two cornices pushed into a ridge, its stability wasn't easy to judge. I watched as someone else went first gripping their ice axe ready just in case, I followed and luckily made it to the other side. Cofa Pike wasn't much to write home about really so I descended to Deepdale Hause.

St Sunday Crag above Deepdale Hause

At Deepdale Hause I had a great view behind me to a frozen Red Tarn. The ascent to St Sunday Crag started off an enjoyable jaunt up a snowy ridge but as the view disappeared it turned into a bit of a constant slog up another precarious ridge of packed snow. I have never in my life known so many false summits on a mountain! Every time I thought I'd made it, I hadn't. It took me quite some time to reach the actual summit and by this time I was truly cream crackered! I downed a Snickers and some more water as I realised I was starting to feel a bit exhausted. One thing I really hadn't done all day was eat and drink enough, especially considering how much I had lost during the mornings multiple trips to the toilet.

Snow on St Sunday Crag ridge

The obvious route back to Cow Bridge from St Sunday Crag would be down its interesting East Ridge, I decided to instead bag the two Wainwrights of Birks and Arnison Crag as I was there I may as well see why Mr Wainwright mentioned them. To be honest I wish I hadn't bothered as neither was that impressive and the descent route I chose off Arnison Crags was a bit of a mess. I decided to descend off Arnison Crag down Arnison Gill to the wall behind the farm. This was a very steep and pathless descent, not the best of things after a 14km jaunt in new boots. Once down at the bridleway in Deepdale I headed to Deepdale Bridge and then took the road then alternative Low Wood route back to the car. Back at the car I realised that not eating and drinking enough and being ill in the morning had taken its toll on me and I was feeling very wierd so I eat a pie, two Snickers and a litre of water with a Nuun tablet in it. After twenty minutes I started feeling better and headed home, stopping en route at the Ullswater layby I'd stopped at in the morning and assessed what a great day I'd had.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...


  1. Been enjoying your travels for some time now. Another great report. To fit all that into one day is amazing (to me anyway).

    An inspiration.

  2. Very good day on the hills. Shame about being ill in the morning but the day turned out well there.