Friday, June 19, 2015

Mopping up the Eastern Fells

Date: 19th June 2015
Start/Finnish: Patterdale
Wainwrights: Arnison Crag, Birks, St Sunday Crag, Dollywagon Pike, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn,
   Catstye Cam.
Height Gained: 5224 feet
Distance: 12 Miles
Time Taken: 9 hours

The route - Clockwise from Patterdale

I had 3 Eastern Fells left to climb; Arnison Crag and Birks (simple enough), and then Catstye Cam (another 2 valleys away). It was going to take a long walk to link them all up. After parting with £4.50 to park at the Patterdale Hotel I headed up the steep path to Arnison Crag. My lack of fell time this year became obvious within about 20 minutes and I quickly realised it was going to be a long, tough day.

Arnison Crag view over Ullswater

Arnison Crag view up to Birks

Arnison Crag summit panorama east

Arnison Crag summit panorama west

From Birks I could see that St Sunday Crag was moving in and out of cloud but all the high fells around Helvellyn were fully shrouded. When I got up onto St Sunday Crag it was under cloud and there was a fierce wind. I headed over to a sheltered spot overlooking the Deepdale valley for a bite to eat and to wait and see if the summit cleared. The last time I was up here visibility was appalling and so I wasn't about to give up too easily. Luckily patience paid off and I was rewarded with a few fleeting views over both neighbouring valleys although all the higher fells remained under cloud. Satisfied, I headed off to Grisedale Tarn.

St Sunday Crag from Birks

St Sunday Crag summit just below the cloud base

Fleeting views over the Deepdale valley

The onwards path

Grisedale Tarn comes into view

Looking down the Deepdale valley

Seat Sandal, Grisedale Tarn and Dollywagon Pike

The path from Grisedale Tarn up onto Dollywagon Pike is a zig-zag upwards slog and it was near the top of this path that the cloud base was reached and visibility reduced to about 50 feet. After small deviations from the main path to bag Dollywagon and Nethermost Pikes I headed on up to Helvellyn. It was not pleasant up there. The wind was a steady 30mph and bitingly cold with occasional drizzle thrown in for good measure. It felt like November rather than June.

Seat Sandal over Grisedale Tarn

Fairfield making a momentary appearance

The last of the views for the next few hours

The stone tablet on Helvellyn summit commemorating the first plane landing on a mountain in 1926

The summit shelter

Helvellyn summit - nothing to see today

I carefully picked my way down onto Swirral edge with the wind showing no mercy. This was new territory for me and the ridge demanded full concentration. It is the equal of striding edge but seemed a lot shorter, but that could be deceiving as I could see nothing further than about 20 feet. I headed off up the short climb onto Catstye Cam but didn't linger as it was obvious that views would not be forthcoming and the wind was relentless.   

The uninviting way down onto Swirral Edge from the summit plateau

Somewhere on Swirral Edge

Somewhere else on Swirral Edge

Catstye Cam summit - imagination required

It was here that I made my mistake. Without checking the compass I followed the only obvious path down in the opposite direction to the one I came up. I inadvertently took the northern path down towards the steep northeast ridge. The path I intended to take was southeast from the summit and I obviously didn't notice it. It was only when I got under the cloud that I realised my mistake. I tried to skirt around the mountain to pick up the correct path but the crags soon became too steep and so I carefully picked my way down the rocky terrain. Ah well. It made for an interesting detour which my knees just managed to survive. It also added a good hour to an already long walk. 

Finally emerging from cloud and realising I'm on the wrong side of the mountain

Ah well, unexpected views of Keppel Cove Dam

Looking down the valley to Sheffield Pike and Glenridding

Heading back into cloud on the other side of Catstye Cam

Finally, the 'hole-in-the-wall'

The homeward path

Views over Grisedale valley to St Sunday Crag ...

... and Birks

Looking back up the Grisedale Valley ...

.... and back over to Arnison Crag, where I was 8 hours earlier

It was a weary hiker that plodded back to the car 9 hours after leaving. That was about the limit of my capabilities for a day hike. It will be a nice, easy stroll next time ....


  1. Well that was an impressive hike, Steve. What rugged and beautiful country and the wind sounded nasty! I love a good fog, probably because we just don't see them much here, but I don't think I'd want to be walking in that kind of country during one. Without many landmarks along the trail it would be so easy to get lost. I wouldn't want to topple off a cliff! :) Jane

    1. Thanks Jane. It's amazing how different the fells seem under cloud. It's a completely different atmosphere and often quite disorientating. Also, as there are no distant views to grab your attention you tend to notice the smaller things like the rock strata, the lichens etc and the noises all seem amplified. You mentioned the dangers and only the day after I was up there a man tragically fell to his death from striding edge. It was a stark reminder that the mountains can be dangerous as well as beautiful.