Through the Viewfinder
And What Alice Found There
With the mornings getting frostier every day, I've had the feeling recently that winter will be here before we know it. And it's safe to say that winter has now well and truly arrived in the Cumbrian mountains! Yesterday I did my first winter hike this season, and it was an amazing start! Unexpected good weather and a load more snow than anticipated meant for an exciting adventure up in the fells, and also the completion of my 52nd Wainwright (only 162 left to go now)!
We began the walk in Sadgill where we parked by the side of the road. On most of my hikes I take my OS map with the relevant Wainwright Guide Book just as an extra reference, however, there were no marked paths for this walk on the OS map so I put all my faith in Wainwright and relied solely on his hand drawn maps for guidance. Wainwright led us through a gate in the wall and up a sloping field where we crossed the wall into a second field. The snow at this point was just a fairly thin layer and as the sun began to peek over the tops of the hills, the valley glistened and twinkled in the light. We made our way up the steep slopes of the fields and the higher up we got, the harder it became. The snow was getting thicker meaning we couldn't tell what sort of ground we were walking on, often meaning we landed in the occasional bog or tripped over a boulder hidden by the blanket of snow.
Eventually we made it to the top of the steep field where we crossed another wall onto Great Howe, where the snow was getting deeper still. The sun was now high in the bright blue sky, lighting up the whole valley. The views were stunning and it was so quiet and peaceful, with not another person in sight. I could have spent hours up there just enjoying the stillness of the landscape, but we had to keep moving to stop our feet getting too cold!
On we walked, up to the survey post on Great Howe where I had a quick check in Wainwright's book to confirm we were still on track. Looking ahead we could see the looming crags, knowing that the summit was somewhere up there in the clouds. With one last look back at the view behind us, we then continued on towards our goal. We dropped down and walked parallel to the fence which we knew we had to cross further up. However, we decided to cross earlier than planned because a hidden stream under the snow was proving difficult to cross and we didn't want to risk either of us falling in. So we jumped the fence, followed it up on the opposite side to the stile where we were supposed to cross, and had another map check. Wainwright's drawing made it look really easy, and I questioned whether or not he'd been up there in the snow himself. A simple line leading from the fence right up to the summit appeared to be an easy route - but in snow everything is different! We headed in the direction we thought was right but again had no idea what sort of ground we were walking on. The higher up the mountain we walked, the deeper the snow got, making it harder to walk in. Occasionally we veered off track and ended up knee deep in snow drifts - a fun way to move over them is to crawl as it spreads your body weight out meaning you don't keep falling deep into the snow!
After a long struggle to the top, the summit cairn was finally in sight! By this stage we didn't care how we got there, we just wanted to reach the top so we ran across the snow, unfortunately both of us ending up knee deep in a snow drift (this probably looked quite funny if anyone had been watching us)! On the top we stopped to enjoy the view, shortly joined by a group of four other walkers. We then slowly made our way down, which was much more difficult than going up! All the snow went up our trousers, freezing our legs, ankles and feet to the point where we almost couldn't feel them. This was the least enjoyable part of the walk but I soon discovered it was easier (and a lot more fun) to just slide down the snow sitting down instead of attempting to walk in it! When we finally made it back down to the field at the bottom, a lot of snow had melted and green grass was starting to show through - a lot different to when we started the walk earlier that morning. After warming up in the car with a flask of hot chocolate we headed home, pleased with our days adventures.
Grey Crag was a great walk, and despite the cold it was a lot of fun in the snow! It's a Wainwright that I'd often overlooked and hadn't really heard much about, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone! It was tiring in the snow but on a normal day it would be a fairly easy walk with beautiful views over the valley of Longsleddale. Parking is available in Sadgill next to the bridge with room for about 10 cars, and the walk begins as you pass through the gate next to the parking area. The route is only 3 miles up to the summit and straight back down, but with a few steep ascents at the beginning. It took us 4.5 hours but this included a lot of photo stops and a lot of struggling in the snow, so in less wintry conditions it could easily be done in around 3 hours, maybe less.
After my first winter hike of the season I can't wait to get out again in the snow, and maybe next time I'll take a sledge to make the descent a bit easier!