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Very snowed off in the Conistons

Very snowed off in the Conistons


Postby The English Alpinist » Tue Mar 01, 2016 4:12 pm

Wainwrights included on this walk: Brim Fell, Coniston Old Man

Hewitts included on this walk: The Old Man of Coniston

Date walked: 15/01/2016

Time taken: 4

Distance: 11.5 km

Ascent: 863m

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0 Fell end.jpg
The Old Man of Coniston, as seen at the end of the day.


Following on 3 days after 'The lion in Winter', this was leg 18 of my bid to walk all the Wainwrights in one winter. It was mid-January, and there'd been a heavy snowfall 48 hours ago, and this was where some of the big serious stuff was to start: the Southern Fells. The forecast was for a clear day (unless I'd read it wrong, which is possible), therefore I was optimistic about knocking off the entire Coniston group of 7 in one mission. I'd managed a walk of that size on Helvellyn in similar snow conditions, so why not, I thought? Ha!

1 Coniston Lake.jpg
Coniston Water.


2 Road approach.JPG
Cometh the clouds.


3 Walna Scar.jpg
Walna Scar Road.


On the drive up along the Torver road, already it seemed to me not to quite resemble the forecast. The view along the lake was sublime and clear, but to the west were banks of cloud creeping towards the Coniston fells. I did not like the look of them, but hey they might come to nothing. My chosen route into the range was to be up the celebrated Walna Scar Road. It's celebrated because it's old, and beyond the parking area at the top is not suitable for vehicles. On this occasion, none of it beyond the village was suitable for vehicles. I anticipated this, and did not attempt to drive up it, instead parking in the Visitor Centre car park in Coniston itself. This was a fine decision, which boded well for my prospects of return from the fells themselves. At times I almost needed to put on the crampons to walk up the road, laced with sheet ice as it was.

4 Path start.JPG
Start of the path was obvious enough.


5 Path higher.jpg
The climb begins in earnest.


6 snowline.jpg
Into the snowline.


7 snowline2.JPG
Higher into the snowline.


I've done Old Man Coniston several times before, and it always seems one of the most deceptively high blighters. From the village, in clear conditions, it looks like a mere hill. It's a very big hill, though, more distant than it looks and it's a slog that goes on and on when you're on it. Especially in deep snow, which today got considerably deep the higher I climbed above Walna Scar. There was a single set of footprints going up this way, or 2 if you count paw prints too, otherwise there was soon very little evidence of it being a path. Well, this was true winter mountaineering, and the views back to the lake were magnificent. Um, those clouds though...

8 Axe.jpg
Wetherlam far right, down which I was supposed to finish the full set of 7.


9 Clouds.jpg
Almost into those clouds now.


10 summit.jpg
Conditions not good.


11 toy.JPG
Did not want to end up like that doll!


As the gradient got easier, the wind got fiercer and the temperature got colder, and I was absorbed by cloud. Noble beauty had turned to sheer menace and hostility. Welcome to Coniston Old Man summit in winter. It was obvious when I was at it, because there is a great big cairn and a trig point. Apart from that I could see nothing, although I could detect where the edge was if I ventured close enough to it. The only other evidence of human life up there was a deep frozen little soft toy lodged into the cairn. Snow was driving in viciously, and it was very cold indeed. My clothing was up to it, but for how long I would not like to say and did not intend to find out. No way was I going to stagger around those other 6 peaks for hours like an impersonation of Captain Oates in the blizzard. I ruled out the quick descent route which led straight off the summit down to Low Water. I couldn't tell for the life of me where to start it, and if didn't hit it exactly I'd be flirting with a precipice.

12 drawing.JPG
As might have been on a good day, according to AW.


13 edge.jpg
An edge to avoid very carefully.


14 Brim Fell.jpg
Deciding the way off Brim Fell.


15 Brim way.JPG
Still deciding the way off Brim Fell.


The simplest thing would have been to go back exactly the way I had come, but this felt a little too cowardly. I opted to go on to Brim Fell, as per the original plan. This was easy enough along the broad ridge with a compass bearing. The tops of cairns poked through the snow every so often, proving I was on track: without all the snow these are huge and the path up there is a veritable A road. Not today though. Whiteness everywhere, on the ground and in the air and in my face. At Brim Fell summit, marked by a cairn of a massiveness I was grateful for, I weighed up my options again. If I continued along, I would be committed to lengthy high level walk. I admit it - too scared :-( The only descent option was west down to the col at Goat's Hawse, which would lead me down to Goat's Water and back around to Walna Scar Road. I could choose whether to attempt Dow Crag if I went this way, which would at least tie together the southern half of the Conistons.

16 clear Brim.jpg
Summit of Brim Fell as might have been.


17 whiteout.jpg
Whiteout nightmare.


I almost did not find the col, although ridiculously simple in good weather. I did not hit it exactly, but in the end took an educated guess which way to turn: the blanket of white appeared to be trending upward and funnelling in to my left. That was indeed it, I discovered to my relief a few minutes later. I emerged from the cloud and a sighting of the little tarn of Goat's Water was conclusive proof at last of where I was. I could very easily have been blundering around for hours, getting exhausted and cold at the back of the Conistons, perhaps finally ending up on completely the wrong side at Seathwaite reservoir, miles from the car and in one of the Lakes' most isolated valleys. I wrote off the idea of trying Dow Crag, deciding instead to devote my remaining energy to getting out of there. It took a lot more stumbling and straining and sinking, even so.

18 descent.jpg
I got down, but none too pleased.


Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I was back in one piece, and never really got seriously cold. It was a big setback not even getting Dow Crag in, as it sticks out on its own and I'd have to do virtually the whole route all over again to include it, or else bag it separately. That would turn what was hoped to be one outing into 3 to despatch the Coniston Fells. No excuse not to have done Dow, damn it, it would have been easy enough to navigate, and I reckoned I had the energy (in hindsight). As I was driving away at the end of the day, by the way, the summits had cleared.


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Last edited by The English Alpinist on Tue Mar 01, 2016 9:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
The English Alpinist
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Re: Very snowed off in the Conistons

Postby ChrisW » Tue Mar 01, 2016 6:14 pm

That's a gruller TEA, I think you did the right thing calling it a day...there needs to be some enjoyment in your hiking challenge and carrying on in this wouldn't have been much :shock: Some lovely views and so much promise on the way in too :roll: Better luck next time mate :clap:
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Re: Very snowed off in the Conistons

Postby trailmasher » Wed Mar 02, 2016 1:52 pm

Nice to see you back again TEA :) to relate another part of your winter challenge and though it irks somewhat to cut short a walk :( the hills will be there for a long time yet and it was a good decision to get off them :clap: and you will be able to walk 'em again at a later date. Good report and pics :clap:
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