Friday, September 5, 2014

A Bivvy Camp on Kirk Fell

Date : 4th & 5th September 2014
Start/End : Seathwaite
Wainwrights : Base Brown, Green Gable, Kirk Fell, Seathwaite Fell
Distance :11.2 Miles
Height Gained : 4426 feet

The route : anticlockwise from Seathwaite (top right)

                                          A quick video of the trip

My decision to try and climb all the Wainwright fells was made at about the time when I had already climbed about 70 of them. Up to that point my walks were aimed at climbing the main fells along classical routes. Many of these hikes had me within spitting distance of other Wainwrights but I walked on by. Three of the fells climbed on this hike were a case in point. I had climbed all their neighbours, some of them many times but never made the extra effort to wander over to them. So this was really a 'mopping up' exercise as well an excuse to revisit a favourite area. And so, having parked up at Seathwaite, I started the steep ascent up to Base Brown at 5pm, conscious that I had about 3 hours of daylight to reach Kirk Fell where I hoped to camp.

Base Brown from the Seathwaite Road

Crossing Styhead Gill

A different stile to the usual ones

Looking back over the valley to Thornythwaite Fell

Sourmilk Gill


A hazy Base Brown summit

Green Gable from Base Brown

 There were hazy views from Base Brown summit across one valley to Brandreth and the opposite one over to Glaramara. The onwards way led up to Green Gable which was moving in and out of cloud and unfortunately was mainly in cloud when I got there. The path up to Green Gable is obvious and easy going. It was therefore surprising to count 18 cairns along a stretch of perhaps 200 yards leading up the summit. Totally unnecessary in my opinion.

A string of cairns along the path up to Green Gable

Windy Gap just visible from Green Gable

From Green Gable summit all the high fells including neighbouring Great Gable were shrouded in mist. Windy Gap was just visible and that was where I headed before dropping down the unstable scree path towards the 'tongue' of upper Ennerdale. Thankfully I wasn't on this path for long before deviating off towards Kirk Fell.

The scree path down the Tongue of upper Ennerdale

Glimpses of Great Gable

First view of Kirk Fell

Kirk Fell from Beck Head

Glimpses of Wast Water

Great Gable now emerging from cloud

It was starting to get dark by the time I reached Kirkfell Tarn so after filtering some water I headed off to the Wasdale side of the fell where there was a flat grassy area and set about making camp. It didn't take long. Just a simple matter of rolling out a ground sheet, inflating the mat and then unpacking the sleeping bag and bivvy bag. Five minutes later, water was on the boil ready to reconstitute a much awaited chilli con carne. I had a tarp with me but didn't use it as it was a calm night with no rain forecast. I fell asleep gazing up at the night sky which by now had cleared to reveal a beautiful star studded scene within which the milky was was clearly visible and odd shooting star streaked across the blackness.

My Bivvy

I woke with the brightening sky at about 6am to find my bivvy bag soaking with morning dew, both inside and out. The sleeping bag was wet on the outside to quite an astonishing degree. In retrospect I should perhaps have pitched the tarp as a lean-to, not to provide any weather protection but to act a 'dew sponge' by having moisture condense on it rather than me. Lesson learned, I made breakfast before enjoying a magnificent sunrise between the 2 'Gables'. By 7am I was packed up and heading off up to Kirk Fell summit, a few hundred yards away.

A nice view to wake up to

There was a lovely view from Kirk Fell summit. Its a great spot from where to survey some of the giants of Lakeland. 

Kirk Fell western panorama

The summit shelter overlooking the Scafells

Great Gable from Kirk Fell

 The next target was Seathwaite Fell around the other side of Great Gable. There is a traverse path which circumvents the apron of Great Gable. It has a reputation for being difficult to follow and a bit precarious but taking it would mean avoiding significant height loss if I had to drop down to the main path.  

Great Gable : there is a traverse path on there somewhere!

Wast Water from the scree slope

Great Gable's iconic shadow on Kirk Fell

 The traverse route was just visible skirting across the flanks of Great Gable as I descended Kirk Fell. Once down, I wandered up the scree slope to pick the path up. It is an exhilarating route, a little like the climbers traverse on Bow Fell but longer and more convoluted. At some points it seems to fade away, only to reappear 20 yards later. Thankfully there are a few well placed cairns along the way to help with navigation.

There is path there ... honestly !

Not the best angle to view Napes Needle but its up there

The Wasdale valley

The traverse path

Views over to Scafell Pike

Eventually the traverse joins the main path by the stretcher box at Sty Head. From here I took the main path up to Sprinkling Tarn before heading along to Seathwaite Fell. For a change, there were no tents around Sprinkling Tarn but there was plenty of evidence of previous camping activity, with discarded gas carts and litter pushed between rocks. Its a shame that a few mindless morons have to spoil the reputation of the majority of responsible wild campers. Sprinkling Tarn does unfortunately tend to attract these types though. I therefore filled up my litter bag and headed on, now with the extra burden of 'chav campers' garbage.

Sty Head

Styhead Tarn

The other side of Great Gable

Sprinkling Tarn

Great End : aptly named I always think

 Seathwaite Fell is a little gem of a hill, nestled between much higher neighbours but offering a great vantage point for admiring them.

The 2 Gables from Seathwaite Fell

Looking back down the Seathwaite valley

Seathwaite Fell panorama

 On the map there is no obvious path off Seathwaite Fell to the north, so I decided to follow a water course which was fairly steep and a bit precarious in places but I managed to pick my way down until eventually joining the main Sty Head path down to Stockley Bridge. Half an hour later I was back at the car and happy to have satisfied my 'fell fix' for the next few weeks.      

It was a steep descent !

The Styhead path

Stockley Bridge

A last look at Base Brown

Grains Gill and the way back to Seathwaite

 Kit List 

Total Pack Weight = 8.5kg (excluding water)

Bivvy Bag : Mountain Laurel Designs 'Superlight Bivvy' size large (silnylon) 190g Mat : Exped SynMat7 UL LW (595g) 
Groundsheet : Integral Designs solo ground sheet (140g)
Sleeping Bag : Rab Alpine 400 (970g) and Rab silk liner (132g)    

Stove : High Gear Blaze titanium stove (48g)  + Primus 100g Gas Cart    Pans : Evernew Solo-set (250g)
Rucksack : Osprey Talon 44 (1.18kg)

Fluid : 600ml Sigg bottle (100g empty), 1 litre Nalgene collapsible bottle (45g) + Sawyer Squeeze filter (84g)  Food : Fuizion chilli con carne, Buttered Bread, Supernoodles,various sugary snacks.

Bits & Bobs : headtorch and spare batteries, Iphone + Anker 5800mHh battery,  victorinox knife, map & compass, basic first aid kit and Petzl e-lite, spork, various fold dry bags, flint & steel, plastic trowel.   Camera : Panasonic DMC-LX7 & lowepro case.   Clothes : Ron Hill wicking T-Shirt, Rab 100 wt fleece (250g), Montane lightspeed jacket (160g), TNF Meridian Cargo Shorts (190g), ME beany, Rab phantom grip gloves, sunglasses, Buff, Innov8 short socks. Hard Shell = Mountain Equipment Firefox jacket (320g) not used.
Trail Shoes Meindl Respond GTX (820g pair)

Poles : Black Diamond Trail Compact (488g pair)
Tarp (not used) : Backpackinglight solo tarp (278g)

Kit Thoughts

The only thing I used for the first time was the MLD bivvy. This really is appropriately named as it is indeed 'superlight'. It is easily big enough to swallow the mat and sleeping bag with plenty of room left. The only issue I had was with a significant amount of condensation/dew on the outside and inside of the bivvy and as such my sleeping bag was damp. It was one of those nights though. No wind, about 10 degrees and a clear sky. Having camped in these conditions before, any shelter (tent flysheet or tarp) would have been soaking wet. As I didn't use a shelter, my bivvy was essentially the outer layer and therefore got wet. Talking to others on twitter about this I reckon that if I had pitched the tarp, it would have 'collected' most of this moisture and left me much drier. The alternative might have been to use a more 'industrial bivvy' like my Rab Ascent, which is an Event bag designed for stand-alone use but it does weight 600g. Any other thoughts about this would be appreciated though.


  1. I think I missed this post, Steve. Despite the dampness of the bivi it must have been a super experience. I haven't done it since about 1977 or 78. Base Brown is an odd fell. In the heart of the Lakes but out of the way. I think I have only done it twice. Once from Seathwaite and once from Green Gable. Thanks for clearing the litter at Sprinkling Tarn. It's so sad we have to.

  2. It was indeed a great experience David. I do enjoy the exposure of a bivvy as long as the weather plays ball. I was the same regarding Base Brown but now I'm a 'wainwright bagger' it had to be climbed ;-) Unfortunately the litter problem seems to be worsening as fell traffic increases. It's great that so many folk are getting out and enjoying the hills but all this extra footfall does have a downside too. A litter bag is now a permanent resident in the rucksack :-(

  3. Amazing photes.

    There are many regions in the UK where we can find our favourite holiday park. Camping in Lake District is one of my favourite.