Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Helvellyn and Skiddaw – 27 February

Armed with a plan that had already been revised and would continue to be revised as the conditions on the fells became more apparent, Helen (a “Bob Graham aspirant” and fellow Rucksacker) and I left Dunmail Raise on our way to Keswick on Legs 4 + 5 of an anti-clockwise Round.

The Smithy (1 of 22) Steel Fell from Dunmail Raise

Always likely to be a hard day, we thought, without realising just how hard it was going to become and although it didn’t take long for the first clues to be apparent (the cairns on the line to Seat Sandal summit were buried in snow) the initial climb was blessed with spectacular views to the south west.

The Smithy (2 of 22) South west from Steel Fell with the Coniston Fells in the distance

The Smithy (3 of 22)West from Steel Fell with Great Gable and the Scafells in the distance

The Smithy (5 of 22)  North West from Steel Fell with Skiddaw partially obscured

On the summit of Seat Sandal we had our first view of the frozen wilderness that the Eastern Fells have become.


The Smithy (6 of 22) Helen on Seat Sandal with Fairfield beyond

The Smithy (7 of 22)  Grisedale Tarn (frozen) with Fairfield on the right, St Sunday Crag in the centre and a series of inversions beyond

The Smithy (8 of 22)  Fairfield

The Smithy (11 of 22)Dollywagon Pike above Grisedale Tarn

The Smithy (10 of 22)  St Sunday Crag catching the sun

The Smithy (9 of 22)  Our Brocken Spectre on Grisedale Tarn

We started up Fairfield and began to realise just how long a day this could turn out to be and decided to miss Fairfield and head straight for Dollywagon Pike instead. Despite the sunshine all around the the Helvellyn ridge, the ridge itself was shrouded in thick cloud. From Dollywagon northwards we followed a compass needle and counted the summits, seeing on the very tops of the largest cairns.

The Smithy (12 of 22)  Helvellyn summit shelter

Between Helvellyn and Lower Man we saw a lone walker, the first person we had seen for almost three hours, and only just found the rising ground leading to the summit of Lower Man and the rest of the ridge. On Raise we met another couple of hikers and a couple of skiers as we continued north in deteriorating conditions. Deeper snow drifts and thicker clouds produced a complete whiteout on several occasions, most notably coming off Great Dodd just before dropping out of the clouds, briefly.

The Smithy (13 of 22)    Looking south west just below the cloud base on Great Dodd

Over Clough Head and down into Threlkeld where Rae welcomed us with hot drinks and real food some six hours after leaving Dunmail on a route we would have done in half that time in reasonable conditions. With considerably less of the day left than planned we settled for Skiddaw on its own. Round to Skiddaw House, up over Sale How and back into the clag where the temperature dropped substantially. The summit ridge, blasted by a strong, cold wind, was no place to dally and we began to wonder if we had overshot the summit so disorienting were the conditions. “Two more minutes then we’ll turn” we agreed and as the seconds ticked away, out of the swirling mist the Trig Point appeared.

The Smithy (14 of 22) Skiddaw Pillar

The Smithy (15 of 22)

The Smithy (16 of 22)

It was cold on the summit ridge

Down off the ridge and below the cloud base we started to thaw out and enjoy the last of the day’s panoramas. Reaching Latrigg car park after almost nine hours running and walking and despite our earlier intentions to run down to The Smithy in Thirlemere we gladly called it a day and accepted a lift from Rae back to a warm fire and hot drinks to complete a wonderful winter day on the fells.

The Smithy (18 of 22) Towards the North Western Fell as the sun begins to set

The Smithy (17 of 22)Latrigg, Derwent Water and the high fells beyond 



  1. Beautiful shots, as ever. I think that coffee table book is a winner.

  2. Breath-takingly beutiful.

    I think I will stay 'down here' where it's warmer and just enjoy the pictures though!

  3. Wow! Where is this? It looks a lot like the alpine regions that we have about four to five hours north of Los Angeles in the Sierra Nevada.

    Beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Fantastic pictures again Ian - views I'm never likely to see in real life (I wouldn't go up in those conditions).

  5. Wonderful pictures.

    Do you know you can stay at Skiddaw House hostel, go to to make a reservation

    Carl Bendelow
    Skiddaw House Foundation Trustee

  6. awesome photos, looks like a fantastic day out-the first half anyway ;) that shots of the two of you are brilliant, really capture the essence of winter training!!!

  7. Awesome pictures, Helen your nose looks really cold!

    Love the silouette photograph, well done!