The dry stone wall heads into the gloom.
Tuesday, 8 February 2011
A Cold Day on Fairfield
A Cold Day On Fairfield
31st Jan 2011
We should have known better but of course Lake District weather is spectacularly changeable.
We drove over Kirkstone Pass through thick mist with the hopeful comment of, “ Think it’s brightening up.” Of course every Fell Walker, Runner, Climber, and Mountain Biker thinks this while the factual weather forecaster knows the truth.
We stopped at Brothers Water car park near Cow Bridge: NY402134 and ignoring the fact that there was only our car on it, possibly due to the thick low cloud covering the surrounding mountains. We put it down to being Monday!!
Our planned route was to do a horseshoe from Cow Bridge up to Hart crag: NY368113 then on to Fairfield: NY359118 and finally St Sunday Crag: NY369134. We would then drop off St Sunday Crag and follow the main path to Patterdale: NY397160 followed by an easy walk along the main road to the car.
A few weeks ago in we had been in Little Langdale in icy conditions and had carried our ice axes and crampons with us. As we climbed the side of Wetherlam the day warmed and the ice melted so they remained unused. Today the mild conditions meant that we left the crampons and axes at home. We would come to regret our folly. Other than these however we were fully kitted up for a day on the fell whatever weather.
Not being people to choose an easy start, we crossed Cow Bridge and took the near vertical path through the facing stile and up through Low Wood. It was tough going until our bodies got used to the effort then we felt fine. The path eased slightly as we topped out of the wood and reached open fell but it still went up.
Looking back to Brothers Water.
Onwards and upwards on open fell.
It was very warm and damp with little wind. There was a little brightness appearing through the mist and we both thought that a few more metres of climbing would bring us above the cloud. It has to be one of the best views known to man when you are above the cloud in the mountains. The peaks sit like islands on a white sea. It didn’t happen today but there was promise of the mist breaking.
We reached the ridge crest marked by a dry stone wall that guides the walker up from the usual starting point at a stile north of Cow Bridge on the A592. NY342142. Our route cut through the wall at a stile roughly 2/3rd mile up from this. A lot steeper way but quicker in gaining height and to us more enjoyable.
This mist still clung to the fell and the wall disappeared upwards into it dampening the atmosphere but not our optimism. It still looked like it would lift eventually.
It was still surprisingly warm although specks of snow appeared in sheltered patches. It was too warm for a hat but the damp mist wet my hair and water trickled into my face and down my neck so I plumped for a bandana made from my Buff. We kept the wall on our left until a point NY390123 above Gale Crag. Here the wall drops off towards Dovedale on the left while the main path carries straight on along the ridge of Hartsop above How. Suddenly heavy frost appeared on the grass. It wasn’t a problem as the air felt warm, too warm for extra clothes or gloves.
It starts to look colder.
Steadily though as we climbed the wind began to increase and the temperature fell. Now the grass was covered with light snow although under foot the path was good for walking. It still felt mild though probably because we were moving fast and had been in these conditions hundreds of times so our cold tolerance is pretty high.
It was as we climbed to the summit of Hart Crag that things changed and the wind grew stronger. We put gloves on as now it was cooling off and the summit wore its winter clothing.
We took a bearing to Fairfield as the path faded in the snow and carried on enjoying the scenery though views were out of the question in the mist.
It was when we approached Link Hause NR366114 things dramatically changed as the wind change to gale force and the temperature dropped like a stone. It became hard to keep our footing as the ground turned to instant ice.
Ice on the path.
Keith stood on the path to Fairfield.
It was at this point I could feel something rattling on my head and realised my hair had frozen into icicles.
Icicle Hair. Photo Keith Butterworth
We realised what was happening. The wind was now bringing the mist up from the valleys which the falling temperature turned to ice crystals, which in turn froze to the rocks.
We put on our extra layers and heavy mountain waterproof clothes and decided it was much too dangerous to attempt Fairfield, which lay above Scrubby Crag that was now an ice sheet. It had been a misguided assumption to leave our crampons and ice axes at home.
It took ages to get back to the Hartsop above How ridge and now even this was frozen. The damp peat on our way up was a skating rink on the way back and the wind was trying its best to blow us off our feet. Eventually we got to dry stone wall and found a place out of the wind to eat some food. We had eaten our usual bacon and sausage butty at Pete and Dave’s caravan at the first lay by off the M6 on the A591 on the way up but the energy had burned out and we were hungry.
We were fine now, the wind had dropped as we had got to the wall and the still, misty, damp atmosphere of earlier had returned. We hadn’t seen another person on the fell since we set off from the car but out of the mist a fell runner appeared. He was coming down from Hart Crag in a light cagoule and tracker bottoms. He passed us and said hello but looked a little unsure of his direction as he carried on down towards Patterdale.
Keith and I are both very experienced fell runners and have competed in very tough conditions in Lake District races and we were really surprised to see him.
We could only assume that he had either come over Fairfield or had come out of one of the valleys of Deepdale or Dovedale. Both Keith and I had run in similar conditions in similar clothing so we quite expected him to be fine as he descended into the valley.
We decided to avoid the steep descent of our first climb from Cow Bridge and took the usual walkers path to the stile on the A592. It was very easy going now as we followed the wall down. There was now no hint of wind and what looked like a still cloud cover over the mountains easily dispelled any thought to the casual observer that at 2000 feet there was an arctic storm.
It was an easy trundle along the road to the car park. Its amazing that when you come off the fell how strong the smell of exhaust fumes is to your cleared out sinuses when cars pass on the road.
View from the car park at Cow Bridge after the walk.
We soon changed out of our walking gear that was unceremoniously dumped in the back of the car. The M6, and the thought of hot food at home were foremost in our minds. Oh and of course the nice cool beer waiting in our relevant fridges.
As we reached the Brothers Water campsite entrance at the foot of the climb up through Kirkstone Pass we came across the Fell Runner miserably walking along the road. I stopped and asked if he wanted a lift to wherever he was going.
It turned out that he had been visiting family in Ambleside and decided to run the Fairfield Horseshoe a circular run/walk that starts and finishes at Ambleside.
The route is from Ambleside to Scandale Bridge on the A591 NY 372052 then a footpath through the fields of Rydal Park to Rydal Hall NY 365063. From here the route climbs up to Heron Pike NY 356083 then up to Great Rigg NY 356105 and up and on to Fairfield NY 359118. Now begins the long descent to Ambleside via Dove Crag NY 374105, High Pike NY 374088, Low Pike NY 374078.
The fell runner only a young lad had reached Fairfield and hit the same weather as us but, instead of taking the path to Dove Crag he had gone to Hart Crag and compounded his mistake by dropping into Patterdale. Both Keith and I have made similar mistakes in the past and it’s a disheartening feeling to say the least when you realise you are in the wrong valley. For this lad it was a warm car all the way home.