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The Lion in Winter

The Lion in Winter

Postby The English Alpinist » Sun Jan 24, 2016 6:55 pm

Wainwrights included on this walk: Calf Crag, Gibson Knott, Helm Crag, Steel Fell

Date walked: 12/01/2016

Time taken: 3

Distance: 10.5 km

Ascent: 668m

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Helm Crag, aka 'The Lion and The Lamb'.

The 'lion' here is one of the big rocks (or more than one of them, as AW explains) on top of Helm Crag. I was doing this as part of a neat little horseshoe starting with Steel Fell, looping around over Calf Crag and returning via Gibson Knott and finally the Lion itself. Cute and tame in summer - highly to be recommended - wild in winter. It was the second half of a larger route I didn't have the morale to finish 3 days ago, and the conditions today were hardly any better with wind and icy little showers. Cloud generally crept around at summit level allowing intermittent views, and some sections of knee-deep snow above 1500. All in all, a rough day without being horrible, and I was only out there for 3 hours so didn't mind. Just a classic winter Lakeland experience!

I started the round with Steel Fell.

Timeless Lakeland.

'The approach is pleasant and the climbing along the mile of ascending ridge is very enjoyable, the slope being well-graded and of good dry turf.' AW. It was very wet turf, actually. TEA.

A view of The Lion from the north.

About half way up Steel Fell, just below the snow level, I encountered the first of two other human beings on the route. This was a man with his dog. He (the man) was in the act of fitting, or trying to fit, some microspikes. "I just hope I've got these on the right way round," he said. "I'm not a high level walker or into mountain axes or crampons". This did two things for me. I wondered whether I should have brought my own crampons, with a little rocky and icy section up ahead. I'd decided against, and just to tread carefully where need be. Secondly, his tribulations made me feel better about my crampon-fitting fail on my Red Screes day (which will never happen again, because I've rehearsed since). Microspikes were probably the perfect compromise on the sort of walk today was, and I told him so, so hopefully that made him feel better. We parted company, and I was off up into the rocks, snow and mist.

Higher up Steel Fell.

One man and his dog.

Rocky upper climb of Steel Fell.

Once more unto the breach (frozen clag that is).

Inspiring, daunting? I don't know.

It was no trouble negotiating the steepish upper reaches of Steel Fell and I was soon on the summit. This fell, which would normally have great views all around, was barely above 2000 feet but its great significance to me was that is was the HALF WAY POINT on my Wainwrights 'do them all in one winter' odyssey! Coming hot on the heels of the century reached in the Langdales with my friend Al yesterday, this ought to be a bigger boost to my morale than it feels like. Realistically, it's probably not half way in terms of effort, especially psychological effort. I've got the journeys out to the remotest, highest and craggiest part of the district to come (Scafells, Pillar, 'Wasdale in Winter' - wonderful). Also, I felt strongly that the weather had worse to throw yet. Trying not to think too much about all that, I suppose the 107-up merits come kind of celebration. I think I'll start feeling good when I'm two-thirds of the way.

Steel Fell summit hasn't changed much.

Onward to Calf Crag.

The section to Calf Crag, and getting down from it, was the wildest part of the walk. This was all in snow, exposed to the wind, and most of all extremely boggy. This is the upper reaches of the Wythburn valley which has its source up on High Raise and runs down to Thirlmere in the north. 'A supreme study in desolation," Wainwright calls it. Well, it certainly is in mid-January. "Once will be enough for most folk," he says. That is perhaps a bit harsh of him. The views, if you have them, are the redeeming quality. For the last part of the horseshoe from Calf Crag and down the ridge to Gibson Knott this is especially true. Easedale down to the right, and across the valley of Greenburn bottom is Steel Fell whence you've come. I had the added satisfaction of getting a different vantage on Tarn Crag, which Al and I had found with a touch of difficulty yesterday.

Calf Crag done.

The ridge towards Gibson Knott.

Gibson Knott's cute cairn.

The final bit of the walk.

Calf Crag summit, number 2 of the day, was not a place to linger. I didn't have time anyway, needing to move on to Gibson Knott and tie up this adventure. The descent here was the point where crampons would most have helped, slithering about a bit in the snow. It seemed certain by now that the man with his dog had retreated after Steel Fell, or even before. I had not sighted them anywhere behind. If so, I took further heart from my intrepidity. This was dented a little by one of my oddest encounters yet. I heard a fast patter of footsteps behind and just as I was wondering what manner of creature it might be (I'd seen a stag a few weeks ago), a foxhound type dog came cruising past. I've never seen such fluidity. Snow, rocks, squalls - no trouble to it whatsoever. It knew where it was going, did not take the blind bit of notice of me, and was over the horizon before I could fire up my camera. It definitely wasn't the walker's dog (or I would have been worried). This one was more beagle than his. After Gibson Knott, and a brief encounter with another walker wearing goggles (I've considered it!), it was Helm Crag last but not least.

The Lion and the Lamb themselves.

AW recommends exploring the summit area.

I was making good time, and on Helm Crag I had the rare luxury on these winter trips of sampling the summit scene rather than a quick hello and goodbye. I took AW at his word and felt game enough for a little rock-climbing to the true summit. The luxury of time is one thing, but the luxury of weather quite another. After about 10 minutes of malingering I'd had enough of being gusted by ice-water and made my way off. Only now did I have the first hitch of the day, as I couldn't be bothered to follow the proper path down, which deviated annoyingly from my place of carparking (the roadside on the A591). I attempted to make a beeline for it, but I should know by now this never works well. I had an unpleasant trudge amongst bracken and rocks, over walls and barbed wire. All in all, nicely done and a classic horseshoe route in 'bracing' weather. The lion had growled at me a bit, but I was undevoured.

Care needed, ropes not.

Grasmere below.

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Last edited by The English Alpinist on Mon Jan 25, 2016 3:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Lion in Winter

Postby dav2930 » Sun Jan 24, 2016 9:06 pm

I enjoyed reading that TEA - you have a nice line in dry humour. Nice little round too. Well done for clambering to the top of the Howitzer (the true summit of Helm Crag) despite the inclement conditions. Wainwright himself should have been a little more adventurous in this regard IMHO. And a really significant milestone reaching the halfway point. :D
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Re: The Lion in Winter

Postby ChrisW » Mon Jan 25, 2016 6:07 am

107 is definitely inspirational rather than daunting TEA....well for us armchair warriors anyway :lol: :lol: Keep it up mate, even if the weather gods want to be miserable again. I would have liked to see that beagle gliding by, they area a surprisingly elegant creature in full flight :D
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Re: The Lion in Winter

Postby trailmasher » Mon Jan 25, 2016 12:56 pm

Good on you for following up a 1st hard day with Al :clap: In the construction industry we always reckon on February being the worst month of the lot :( but hope that it will be a user friendly one for you this year :) especially on the higher fells yet to come :clap:
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