Wainwrights: Arnison Crag, Birks, St Sunday Crag, Dollywagon Pike, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn,
Height Gained: 5224 feet
Distance: 12 Miles
Time Taken: 9 hours
|The route - Clockwise from Patterdale
I had 3 Eastern Fells left to climb; Arnison Crag and Birks (simple enough), and then Catstye Cam (another 2 valleys away). It was going to take a long walk to link them all up. After parting with £4.50 to park at the Patterdale Hotel I headed up the steep path to Arnison Crag. My lack of fell time this year became obvious within about 20 minutes and I quickly realised it was going to be a long, tough day.
|Arnison Crag view over Ullswater
|Arnison Crag view up to Birks
|Arnison Crag summit panorama east
|Arnison Crag summit panorama west
From Birks I could see that St Sunday Crag was moving in and out of cloud but all the high fells around Helvellyn were fully shrouded. When I got up onto St Sunday Crag it was under cloud and there was a fierce wind. I headed over to a sheltered spot overlooking the Deepdale valley for a bite to eat and to wait and see if the summit cleared. The last time I was up here visibility was appalling and so I wasn't about to give up too easily. Luckily patience paid off and I was rewarded with a few fleeting views over both neighbouring valleys although all the higher fells remained under cloud. Satisfied, I headed off to Grisedale Tarn.
|St Sunday Crag from Birks
|St Sunday Crag summit just below the cloud base
|Fleeting views over the Deepdale valley
|The onwards path
|Grisedale Tarn comes into view
|Looking down the Deepdale valley
|Seat Sandal, Grisedale Tarn and Dollywagon Pike
The path from Grisedale Tarn up onto Dollywagon Pike is a zig-zag upwards slog and it was near the top of this path that the cloud base was reached and visibility reduced to about 50 feet. After small deviations from the main path to bag Dollywagon and Nethermost Pikes I headed on up to Helvellyn. It was not pleasant up there. The wind was a steady 30mph and bitingly cold with occasional drizzle thrown in for good measure. It felt like November rather than June.
|Seat Sandal over Grisedale Tarn
|Fairfield making a momentary appearance
|The last of the views for the next few hours
|The stone tablet on Helvellyn summit commemorating the first plane landing on a mountain in 1926
|The summit shelter
|Helvellyn summit - nothing to see today
I carefully picked my way down onto Swirral edge with the wind showing no mercy. This was new territory for me and the ridge demanded full concentration. It is the equal of striding edge but seemed a lot shorter, but that could be deceiving as I could see nothing further than about 20 feet. I headed off up the short climb onto Catstye Cam but didn't linger as it was obvious that views would not be forthcoming and the wind was relentless.
|The uninviting way down onto Swirral Edge from the summit plateau
|Somewhere on Swirral Edge
|Somewhere else on Swirral Edge
|Catstye Cam summit - imagination required
It was here that I made my mistake. Without checking the compass I followed the only obvious path down in the opposite direction to the one I came up. I inadvertently took the northern path down towards the steep northeast ridge. The path I intended to take was southeast from the summit and I obviously didn't notice it. It was only when I got under the cloud that I realised my mistake. I tried to skirt around the mountain to pick up the correct path but the crags soon became too steep and so I carefully picked my way down the rocky terrain. Ah well. It made for an interesting detour which my knees just managed to survive. It also added a good hour to an already long walk.
|Finally emerging from cloud and realising I'm on the wrong side of the mountain
|Ah well, unexpected views of Keppel Cove Dam
|Looking down the valley to Sheffield Pike and Glenridding
|Heading back into cloud on the other side of Catstye Cam
|Finally, the 'hole-in-the-wall'
|The homeward path
|Views over Grisedale valley to St Sunday Crag ...
|... and Birks
|Looking back up the Grisedale Valley ...
|.... and back over to Arnison Crag, where I was 8 hours earlier
It was a weary hiker that plodded back to the car 9 hours after leaving. That was about the limit of my capabilities for a day hike. It will be a nice, easy stroll next time ....