|Outline Map →||Route file →|
Date: 21 Mar 2006
Start / Finish: Braithwaite. Several marked car spaces by the school, also other roadside parking.
Maps: Explorer OL4: English Lakes North West.
|Day 1||High Spy & Dale Head||7.7 miles / 3340 feet (12.4km / 1018m)|
|Day 2||Hindscarth, Robinson & Ard Crags||5.4 miles / 1770 feet (8.7km / 539m)|
|Day 3||Scar Crags & Causey Pike||5.0 miles / 1250 feet (8.0km / 381m)|
A short circuit around the Newlands and Coledale fells from Braithwaite. Approaching this Spring equinox, Winter had returned to the mountains with unseasonal vigour and produced conditions we had not seen for years - refrozen icy hard snow that demanded the greatest respect, as the reported fatalities and accidents in the past week had testified. As it turned out the snowfall was very uneven and the NW fells escaped most of it, and we walked much of this circuit without encountering any tricky conditions.
A footpath leaves Braithwaite and follows the stream around the campsite and over a footbridge to arrive at the minor road at Little Braithwaite. The lane contours around the wooded Swinside to Hawes End at the foot of Cat Bells, where a popular and well worn path climbs steeply up the first rise to reveal the Newlands fells, capped with snow today and clear despite the pervasive thick grey cloud above. Only a few little pockets of snow and ice remained on the rocky clamber to the summit with its view over Derwent Water.
The path descends to Hause Gate and climbs to Narrow Moor, an easy level section with patchy thin snow and fine views of the mountains to the W. The N top of High Spy is the first summit a short climb to the L of the path, and the main top is close to the edge of the crags marked by a large neat cairn. Dale Head across the valley had caught most of the snow here and looked particularly fine today, with a small cornice near the summit and the dark rock faces and ribs strongly highlighted by the snow. An easy descent avoiding the patchy snow and ice brought us to the partly frozen Dalehead Tarn and we collected water a short way upstream at the headwaters of Newlands Beck.
A good pitched path (not shown on the map) climbs from the N end of the tarn directly up towards Dale Head. Near the top we encountered the first snow/ice fields that could not easily be circumvented, and they were bone hard making it impossible to kick steps. We noticed a group of walkers above us presumably without crampons trying very slowly to descend them, they gave up and retraced their steps upwards. Although short, these treacherous bits forced us to don our crampons for the first time in years but mercifully only for a few minutes, we removed them at the summit. Being mindful of the small cornice we had observed earlier, we enjoyed the wintry mountainscape to the S where there was more extensive snow and looked superb despite the overcast sky.
The descent of the W ridge presented little difficulty and boots alone were adequate with care. We found a snow-free flat spot on Hindscarth Edge and pitched the tent, using a small rock to hammer the pegs through the hard frozen ground. The sky started to clear and the sun appeared near dusk to add some colour to the greys of the mountain backdrop through the tent door, which was facing the view for once due to the easterly breeze.
At dawn there was a deep frost and the sky was clear, the first rays of the sun casting the familiar pinkish light on the mountains to the W. The small thin remnants of snow were rigidly frozen and supported our weight without breaking, and the cropped grass was hard as a bullet. Nevertheless it felt quite warm in the calm air as we climbed to Hindscarth, and the sunlight reflected like silver off the unbroken icy snowfields of the highest mountains, a good indicator of the potentially treacherous conditions that prevailed there. We weaved along the ridge to the summit on dry rock and it was simply magnificent, a rare fusion of snowy mountain views, warm sunshine and no wind. It was obvious that this was a day for spending more time relaxing and drinking in the experience than making progress, and we altered our schedule!.
We descended erratically from Hindscarth almost entirely on snow-free grass patches and climbed to Robinson, where we lingered a while longer in the crystal clear views. Rather more snow had collected here but it was slightly crunchy on the descent and provided a certain amount of grip, and boots were again sufficient. Encircling Buttermere Moss, we descended E to a side tributary of Moss Beck above the partly frozen falls, a lovely quiet spot where we collected good water. Walking NW we located the top of the steep and partly ice covered path down to Newlands Hause.
The steep path up the nose of Knott Rigg was lined with building bags of stones, we assume in readiness for another pitched path. This steep sided and underrated ridge out to Ard Crags is delightful, with good views of Robinson and beyond to the SE and the towering heather covered slopes of the Sail ridge to the NW. The flat cropped heather at the summit of Ard Crags made a very comfortable pitch for the night.
The dawn was more hazy today but the tops were clear. The valley enclosed by Sail Beck and Rigg Beck is impossibly steep for most of its length, but at the summit of Ard Crags the angle briefly relents to give an easy direct descent NW to the saddle. This excellent and little walked valley formed part of one of our favourite low-level day walks from Braithwaite. A short sharp climb alongside the head of Rigg Beck, which yields very good water, leads to a good path that slants easily up the steep slopes of Sail to the col before Scar Crags. From the summit we could now see the distribution of snow in the Coledale fells: it covered only the NE slopes of Crag Hill and stopped abruptly at its sharp E ridge, the other fells had none at all on this side.
The frozen ridge out to Causey Pike was a fine vantage to survey our route, with the tall cairn on Dale Head clearly visible at the far end. Returning to the dip before Scar Crags, we descended to High Moss to join the track around Outerside and branched L on a side path to Stile End, a pleasant little top with a good retrospective view of Causey Pike. Climbing to Barrow we could now see as far as the gleaming densely covered Cross Fell group, while closer to hand the Helvellyn range retained a white mantle. A good path descends directly from the summit to Braithwaite.