Escaping blizzards on Hartsop

An exciting day traversing Hartsop and Hart Crag

Hartsop, Lake District. — Yesterday we battled through hailstones and blizzards on Brim Fell. Today, with two friends joining us, we are hoping for an easier day.

Leaving Cow Bridge car park on the northern tip of Brothers Water we begin the climb to the ridge of Hartsop above How.

Ahead of us, thunderous-looking clouds, black against a deep blue sky, mingle with white cumulus. The wind, which blasted us yesterday, has eased off. On the ridge, we gaze across Deepdale towards St. Sunday Crag – white in the reflected sunlight. Its ridge extends, like an elongated finger, pointing to Patterdale. Snow covers the dark grey mountains that lead up to Fairfield, its summit hidden beneath the dense cloud.

Scrambling up the rock step, after crossing the stile, we head for the indistinct summit of the curiously named Hartsop above How. A small pile of rocks left by previous walkers could indicate the summit, but on the end of the ridge another cairn appears to be higher.  Hannah is suffering after yesterday’s exertion through the misty valley so, grouped around this first cairn, we stop for a snack.

Heading towards Hart Crag under thunderous skies

Heading towards Hart Crag under thunderous skies

Blizzards on Hartsop

A heavy snow shower obscures the mountains and blows spindrift into our eyes. The lighting grows progressively weaker turning grey and flat. My heart despairs. I remember Brim Fell and hope the weather will not again degenerate into blizzards. These mountains are more challenging than the stroll over Swirl How, but thankfully, within minutes, we are blessed with fantastic views and the storm blows west over the summit of High Street. Above us, the sun blazes out of an azure sky, turning the mountains brilliant white. Covered by fresh snow and with jagged peaks in silhouette they resemble a classic Alpine scene.

We gaze around at the wild mountains, unable to believe our eyes. In our exuberance, snowballs start to fly through the air accompanied by wild shouts that echo off the dark crags, before we take shelter from the biting wind behind the higher cairn.

Sleeping in the Priest’s Hole

The Priest's Hole on Dow Crag
Two teenagers pass us, they have spent the night at the Priest’s Hole below Dove Crag and are heading into Patterdale to stock up with supplies for another night under the stars. I had thought about a visit to the cave – a classic ‘bivvy’ that has provided shelter for generations although, I suspect, not originally the regular haunt of the clergy. I may have visited it once, many years ago, but if I did I have long forgotten about it.
Dove Crag and The Priest's Hole from Hartsop Above How

Traversing underneath the rocks of Hart Crag – not needing to visit the summit as we did that last March – we soon gain the ridge above Dove Crag and follow the wall south. Behind us, a group of walkers, visible through swirling snow clouds, stand on the summit of Hart Crag.

On the summit of Hartsop Above How looking towards St. Sunday Crag

On the summit of Hartsop Above How looking towards St. Sunday Crag

Blown along the ridge

The wind knocks us sideways, thumping onto the ridge from the south-west. The old wall, once the proud handiwork of a lost generation of stone wallers, is little more than a few rocks high and offers little protection.

Descending Dove Crag, we greet a wind-battered team of walkers who have come up from Ambleside. I am tempted to take a diagonal line across the fell towards Little Hart Crag, but the ground is still soft from the recent rain, so we head for the junction, then turn east to follow rusting fence posts.

Penguins on the descent

The descent is delicate and trying to stay upright on wet slushy snow that lies on icy grass, proves difficult. Hannah, penguin-like, glides down the slope – not a bad idea. Skirting above the crags, we veer right towards Little Hart Crag – our second Wainwright today. Little Hart Crag stands at the head of the Scandale Pass and commands a guardian-like position, as AW commented in his guidebook for this area.

A short climb and we are on the summit. Clag still covers Fairfield. Across the valley, St Sunday Crag, still edged with snow, looks impressive. Its main attraction lies on the northern side. Here the crags tumble into Grisedale and breaking through these is the daunting Pinnacle Ridge, a grade three scramble, and on our to-do list for summer.

Descending Penguin style from Dow Crag

A summer of scrambles

We have a bag of scrambles lined up for the summer months: Striding Edge and Swirral Edge on Helvellyn, Sharp Edge and Halls Fell on Blencathra, Cam Crag Ridge on the way up to Glaramara, Ill Crag in Eskdale, Needle Ridge on Gable – many adventures to look forward too.

We also aim to complete a high-level traverse from Eskdale over Slight Side, Scafell and Glaramara into Seathwaite before catching the bus back to Keswick. With these plans churning over in my mind we stomp to our next Wainwright: the indiscernible bump of High Hartsop Dodd.

Summits and rainbows

I puzzle to understand why Wainwright included this in his guidebooks when it is just the end of the ridge marking the place the path falls in a steep, unrelenting descent to the Patterdale valley.

I gaze across at Hartsop Dodd, scene of our lung-stretching ascent last year, and try to work out, with my thighs muscles screaming at me, which was favourable, that ascent or this descent. I conclude that they are both as tortuous and best avoided if possible.

Ahead lies Brothers Water. We cross the field and follow the delightful path that runs alongside the water. In under six hours, leaning on the car, we complete our walk.

It has been a fantastic day. The snow showers dispersed, and we enjoyed a day of amazing alpine-like scenery. White majestic mountains soaked in brilliant sunshine accompanied our walk, and if that was not enough, a rainbow appeared over Hartsop above How as we descended – a fitting end to our last winter’s day.

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