Walk date – 16th December 2019
Distance – 4.8 miles
Weather – brief sunny spells but mainly cloudy, strong gusty wind
Probably the best day of the week, or so the forecast predicted, with sunshine and lighter winds than of late. However the day dawned dull and overcast so we waited a while and eventually the cloud began to break up and scraps of blue started to appear in the sky. As a result we were a little later starting out so we only had a short outing today. It would have been a bit longer, and there would have been more photos, had the forecasted lighter winds ever materialised, but they didn’t.
Uzzicar parking area – Stoneycroft Gill – High Moss – Outerside – Stile End – Stoneycroft Gill – Uzzicar parking area
A very snowy Skiddaw range from the roadside parking area at Uzzicar. The wind was gusting at some strength along the valley and blew my hair horizontal the minute I stepped out of the car. Hmm, that doesn’t bode well I thought, as I yanked my jacket hood up. Close by another car was already parked, the occupants of which were busy getting their gear together and they were on their way by the time we were ready to go.
Catbells from the approach path to Stoneycroft Gill. There’s plenty of snow on many of the fells throughout the Lakes, but it seems to have fallen rather selectively with some, like Catbells, having hardly any covering while others have had bucketloads dumped on them. As we headed for Keswick I could see that even lowly Heughscar Hill had a fair amount while the likes of Latrigg and Binsey had none at all.
A look back as we climb alongside Stoneycroft Gill. The gusty wind is coming straight at us through here, doing its best to push us back and making the climb hard work. Time to get the tissues out and do a bit of mopping around eyes and noses so we can at least see where we’re going for the next five minutes.
The higher we go the stronger and gustier the wind became, or so it seemed. After another bout of eye mopping I took a look back towards Stile End and Barrow. A largish group of male walkers are a couple of hundred yards ahead of us having just crossed over from Barrow along the path cutting across the slopes of Stile End.
From the same spot I turned around for a look at what’s in store for us. The walking group have blended in with their surroundings so its not easy to pick them out but judging by their pace they were also having a battle with the wind. It was as damp and clammy as it looks in the shot, slushy wet snow underfoot and dark billowing cloud threatening to envelop the tops at any moment. A crisp winter morning it most definitely isn’t.
We had a stop at the sheepfold and, having got fed up with trying to gain traction on the slushy snow, put our spikes on and treated ourselves to a mug of hot coffee, mostly to keep our spirits up rather than keeping the cold away. It wasn’t especially cold anyway but it was quite gloomy and miserable in the damp conditions.
After our break it was back up onto the path and a look back to where the Skiddaw fells and Blencathra were now getting the benefit of one of the very few, and brief, sunny spells that were around today.
After only a short distance we left the gill path, although we could have gone on a little further and joined the path coming across High Moss from Sail, and made our way up to the top of Outerside. The snow here was knee deep for J so you can imagine how this little shorty was progressing. I certainly wasn’t ‘dashing through the snow’ I can tell you! Progress was also hindered by the dreaded sound of squelch as our feet sank through the snow and plunged into the waterlogged ground beneath it. Just to add to the fun the gusts of wind became as one and several times we were stopped in our tracks. Poles dug into the ground with the pair of us leaning against it, hanging on for dear life and hoping not to be hurled all the way back down Stoneycroft Gill. Paul, if you read this, I did spare a thought for you as I remembered the time you were hurled off your feet when walking down the gill with David. The wind today was strong enough to wreak the same fate on us although had it managed to do so we would probably have had a softer landing than you did.
A slight lessening of the gusts at this point so I turned around to take a shot looking back at the climb, complete with our deep footprints and walking pole marks. Across the slopes of Scar Crags is the path leading up to the hause between the Crags and Sail. Again they are not easy to pick out but just below the skyline at the hause the group of walkers I mentioned earlier were just about to reach the ridge. As I turned round and continued with the climb I kept taking a look back to see which way they would go from there. There must have been a bit of a discussion about that, or the wisdom of going any higher in the windy conditions, because they stood there for quite a while. I don’t know what the final decision was because the last time I looked they had disappeared from view. I guess that they didn’t continue up Sail or I would have seen them climbing and I didn’t, so perhaps they decided on Scar Crags and Causey Pike instead. I turned round and carried on with the climb with J some distance ahead of me by now and reaching the top before me. Not that he went over to the top but he put enough of himself above the parapet and immediately descended a few feet quite swiftly. When I reached him he told me he couldn’t stand up when he reached the level ground a few yards from the rocky top. Well, I hadn’t slogged this far through the slush to go home without any shots from the top so we each grabbed hold of the other’s jacket and, bracing ourselves for the onslaught, stepped out onto the summit area. Keeping a very low profile we made it to the summit outcrops and hunkered down on them while I took the following shots from whilst kneeling down …..
….. we were treated to a short sunny spell at the same time as the Skiddaw fells, big clouds and big winds all around us …..
….. still kneeling down for a look beyond Barrow and across Derwentwater to Walla Crag, High Rigg, Clough Head and Great Dodd. The distinct white line on the left skyline is the snow covering the North Pennines.
Looking south from the top of Outerside towards Sail, Crag Hill and Coledale Hause …..
….. followed by a swift turn to the west for a view of Grisedale Pike. If these shots from the summit hadn’t turned out there would have been nothing to show for our effort because I just took the one of each view and hoped that all would work out well. It was just too windy to hang around any longer so we didn’t …..
….. and began making our descent and hoping that before too much longer we would have the buffer of Outerside at our backs and get some relief from the battering the wind was giving us. The snow was very deep down here but at least there was one set of footprints to lend a hand, or should that be foot, and help us on our way. In places the walker creating the footprints had come a cropper and the resulting deep and watery hole he/she had dropped into was swiftly avoided. That does not mean that we also had a straightforward passage down because by avoiding the deep, watery holes we, of course, had to step onto virgin snow which instantly gave way and plunged both of us on several occasions into snow up to our unmentionables whilst also managing to tip us sideways into it for good measure. If anyone wants to know how to make large deep holes in snow just ask, we’re experts at it. At least its a soft landing, although getting out again can be tricky. Still, if you make a big enough mess you do eventually get enough solid ground beneath your feet to get upright once again so its not all bad!
More sun breaks through as we approach one of the steeper and rockier sections of the descent and before tackling it …..
….. I made a turn to my right for a shot of Causey Pike …..
….. before reaching the drop zone where the camera went away while we slithered, slid and scrabbled our way down the steep, narrow and rocky path.
Safely down over the tricky section so out came the camera again to catch this view of the sunshine lighting up the tops of the now cloud free Helvellyn range. Nice to see them so clearly at last.
A look back at Outerside, on the left, and the steep drop down from the summit which we’ve just left behind. Over on the right we can just see Hopegill Head at the end of the long sweep down from Grisedale Pike. We decided not to bother with the Stile End path so here we’re cutting across to pick up the path across its lower slopes on the Stoneycroft Gill side.
The downside to opting for this route is being back in the gusty wind once again as it sweeps down the gill. But its six of one and half a dozen of the other because, had we followed the path over Stile End, we would still have been exposed to it as we made the climb up. Looking back up the gill towards Outerside where everything looks like burnt toast with not a scrap of greenery anywhere to be seen.
Down to Barrow Door where we stopped for a break and got out the soup. We had thought that we would find a bit of shelter from the wind down here but not a bit of it was to be found so it was quite a quick stop. Skiddaw still has sunshine but the brightness and a lot more white cloud made it quite difficult to make out where the fell tops ended and the cloud began. By now we had both had quite enough of being bashed about by the wind so we decided against going into it once again and didn’t bother going up to the top of Barrow.
In the bleak mid-winter. Even though it isn’t properly winter for a few more days it definitely looks as though it is. Which also made me realise that as we quietly drift into the winter season we will also pass beyond the shortest day and the hours of daylight will gradually increase. Look for the positives as they always say on football programmes!
On the gill path now where all the rain from the last few days and the snow melt running off the slopes of Barrow converged at this point. Streams, brooks and becks flowing down every available gully and culminating in a series of mini waterfalls down this rocky section of the path.
On the final stretch now as we round the corner and head back to the car. Beyond Walla Crag only Clough Head is still on view. The cloud has descended once more and hidden the rest of the Dodds.
The muted slopes of Lonscale Fell and Blencathra on the skyline as the cloud cover increases …..
….. and its now impossible to differentiate between cloud and snow across the Skiddaw group. Just a few more yards to go from this point and we’ll be back at the car where the soddened gaiters and clarted up spikes can come off. They could have been taken off a bit back but we didn’t want all that wet and mucky stuff messing up the packs. The car which was already parked up when we arrived is still there so its occupants are still out braving the wind somewhere, we of course are heading home for a refreshing and much needed cup of tea. On the way back I took these shots of …..
….. Blease Fell and Hall’s Fell ridge
….. Clough Head …..
….. and Hall’s Fell ridge leading up to the summit of Blencathra, all of which makes for a lovely drive home.