The Coniston Range in a Proper Winter (Jan 2009)

5 01 2012

January 2009 in the Lakes was good practice for a forthcoming trip to Scotland in February – the place was wick wi’ deep snow and pretty hard and icy. That was South Lakes anyway – I could see Skiddaw and the Dodds Ridge just past Helvellyn and they didn’t have any! Glad I took my ice axe and crampons…

White Connies

On the Monday of the trip, me and Rich set off up Walna Scar from Little Arrow (near Torver)- definitely the prettiest route to the Coniston range. It didn’t really get snowy until near the top of the pass where it was hard-packed and slippy. I had my doubts about Richard getting up as he didn’t have any winter gear (he doesn’t own any as he hates winter walking! – of course, I’m trying to convert him 😉 ). He decided to press on up the very steep climb to the top of Brown Pike at the end of the Dow Crag ridge but then turned back as it had become misty and he didn’t like the look of a long ridge covered in snow and with a cornice. So I carried on alone – it being the Dow Crag ridge you probably didn’t really need crampons but I left them on, even though a slide would just end up being down a long, grassy slope which isn’t even steep or particularly rocky.

About half-way along the ridge, when you get above the gullies of the eastern crags, there is a little window of rock with an interesting route to get to it, firstly down the top of a gully to a bend and then along a rising ledge. I usually visit this and went for a look – hmmm – not in that snow!

It was difficult getting up onto the summit rocks with crampons on until I figured out I was best to use the snowy bits (I’m pretty new to this cramponing stuff!) I then found a nice narrow mini snow gully leading up the final rocks to the summit and a nice completely snowed-over miniature arete to get back down (we’re only talking a few feet here 😉 ) The snow was quite deep going down the far side to Goats Hause but fairly crisp so I didn’t sink in too much. It was very icy along the side of Goatswater and then it was crampons back off for the long and mushy walk back across Torver Common.

Tuesday was a write-off as it threw it down all day non-stop. I was worried it would have washed away all the snow but of course couldn’t see the mountains for all the low cloud.

On Wednesday we decided to try Coniston Old Man up the miners’ track despite it being low cloud and dull and miserable in the valley – I just had a feeling there was probably a nice inversion and lots of sun up top. We got as far as just below Low Water before we really met any snow on the track, then we met a very awkward bit of frozen snow for a short distance. We really couldn’t grip at all with boots but managed to find enough bald patches to get to the next direction of zig-zag where it wasn’t icy. Soon after we reached Low Water and the frozen, hard-packed snow started in earnest. At this point I told Richard to go back as I thought it was too dangerous without crampons and ice axe. I suggested a nice walk which included the Red Dell and Boulder Valleys and Levers Water and he eagerly scampered off, no doubt feeling glad to escape my planned icy route. I was really surprised that the guy who’d just appeared behind us with just boots and walking poles thought it was okay to continue…

I had been going to take the grassy route via Brim Fell Rake but decided I should, for the experience, try the normal route which is very steep from there on. So off I set followed by Mr. Over-confident. It was hard-frozen snow all the way, occasionally deep and sinkable but mostly rock-solid. I got just above Low Water and decided to take some piccies of the tarn so Mr. Poles passed me. Just above me he started to slide off the path and down the slope but luckily stopped. I was just thinking how he would ruin my day if he fell off as I would have to interrupt my valuable, experience-gaining walk and sort it out.

Low Water, Black Sails & Wetherlam

Luckily for him, just as we reached the stupendously steep bit of the route by some old quarries I got it wrong and went up a side track leading to one of them, telling him that was the route – oops – not often I get it wrong as I know ‘The Connies’ like the back of my hand – just they look completely different under lots of snow! He followed me to the quarry where of course the track suddenly ended. There was a perfectly feasible route up from there to join the top of the proper track though. I attempted it but it was really soft, deep snow so was going to be bloody hard work.

As I had my crampons I thought it best for me to descend back to the proper route onto the hard stuff again and he sensibly carried on up the soft stuff. When I got back onto the proper route I was really surprised how steep it really is. It seemed not far off vertical and I could only get my front points and a couple more spikes in the ground – my heels couldn’t get their spikes in as I can’t bend my ankles that much! Mostly there were ‘footprints’ which had been stamped in when it was softer. Anyway, I stomped up hoping The Connies don’t avalanche or anything and ended up on the ridge just behind Mr. Poles. I was completely knackered by this point (very unfit at the time). From there it is a further (not quite so) steep climb to the summit but it seemed a really long way to me in those conditions.

By now we were in bright sunshine and it was pretty warm. There was a sea of cloud covering everything between me and my home area of the Dales but the Scafells were sticking out plastered in snow.

I collapsed on the summit for a while – so tired I was too shaky even to take photos at first – and had a coffee and a chat with the guy then we both took some photos and went our separate ways – him for Dow Crag (I think) and me along the ridge to Brim Fell etc.

Dow Crag with cloud below

Brown Pike from The Old Man

Brown & Buck Pikes

I did tell him I didn’t see how he’d got up in boots and with poles and he actually agreed with me and said he hadn’t thought he’d make it at times. I wouldn’t have tried – there was no grip whatsoever – he must just have great balance and found lots of ‘footsteps’ previously made – I had tried step kicking early on but you would have needed steel toe-capped boots! From there the ridge was easy enough walking for a while and would have been fine in boots but I didn’t bother to take my crampons off.

Coniston Old Man – solitary figure

Looking back to Summit

Coniston Old Man from Brim Fell

It was deeper snow descending to Levers Hause – sometimes I broke through the surface, sometimes I didn’t. I managed to pretty much perfect a technique of treading really gently so I didn’t sink in.

The Ghost of Me

Dow Crag across Brim Fell

Looking back along the ridge – into the sun…

Brim Fell & Dow Crag from Great How Crags

When I got to the Hause I got to the bit where the sun had been on the ridge all day. Of course this meant soft snow, and about a foot deep. It was even more tiring ascending this (as I’m sure you all know).

Misty Seathwaite Tarn

Harter Fell from Levers Hause

By the time I reached Great How Crags and taken loads more photos I’d run completely out of food (as in needed to eat, not used the food out of my pack) and was really getting shaky.

Cloud Across Dow Crag

I decided to try to burn some of my fat and carry on without food until Swirl How’s summit – not much further really. I felt quite sick by the time I got there and took off my pack to search for my usual choccy bars etc. Zilch! I found some of my emergency ‘pressed fruit’ bars and ate one of them, got a quick coffee and decided to head down straight away – I’m not one for hanging around anyway.

Great How Crags from Swirl How

Wetherlam from Swirl How

Descending Prison Band’s steep, rocky ridge was really hard as the snow was so varied. In places it was soft and I sunk in really deep, but just for one step – that really put me off balance. It was no good using my ice axe for balance as it would invariably sink in to the hilt but mostly I wouldn’t – again putting me off balance. Sometimes a block of snow would give way under my foot. Also sometimes I would sink in deeply and hit uneven rock underneath – that would also put me off balance. And of course, sometimes I didn’t sink in at all and the crampons bit nicely…

Took me around half an hour to get to the bottom of the ridge – normally would be 5-10 minutes! I was pretty glad to get off it but conditions didn’t really get any less challenging… From Swirl Hause down to Levers Water, there was a thin covering of really soft snow. It wasn’t really suitable for crampons so I took them off, however, it wasn’t really possible to walk on it at all without falling. At that point you’re traversing a slope and the snow just slid away from under your feet every time you put them down, so you generally went with them. At least the axe in my uphill hand was now a help as it just hit firm ground through the soft snow and stopped me falling over.

Descending To Levers Water

Raven Tor, Brim Fell

When I got to Levers Water that was the end of the snow so I just headed quickly down on the ‘landrover’ track and back into the murk which the valley had been in all day.

I got to my car on the Coppermines road at 1530 (we’d set off at 1015) and found Richard had just set off back up towards me and was looking grumpy. He said he was about 10 minutes off calling the mountain rescue! I told him that he obviously had no idea how much longer you have to allow for winter conditions and that they’d have just laughed at him and told him to ring back in a few more hours! I also told him I was surprised to find him at the car and had been fully expecting to go straight to the Black Bull brew-pub to collect him (he had at least been in there for a while trying their new real ale).

So, all in all, a pretty successful trip. I got a lot more experience in winter walking, especially on steep ground… and I found out how miserably unfit I was!




6 responses

9 01 2012

Great photos Carol.Nice to see the Lakes in full winter conditions.I,m inspired to get back down there again for a weekend in the spring.We might even pass as you zoom northwards towards Scotland.


10 01 2012

Hi Bob, thanks for the compliment on the photos – they would have been much better with a lens cap. I normally use Richard for that but he wasn’t with me of course on that walk 😉

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s really any snow up there just now (it’s really warm in England – we haven’t had any cold weather yet at all which suits me as I like it warm). The last 3 winters would have been great there for you as we got proper winter conditions. I’m off up this month and next to the Lakes so will let you know what the conditions are like if you want?


6 01 2012

Thanks everyone! 🙂

Paul, we could definitely do with less of these horrific winds – we’re turning into a hurricane zone I think! And it’s much worse in Scotland. My last walk up Ben Vorlich was put off by around 3 weeks by the high winds.


5 01 2012
Paul Shorrock

Great pics, carol. I love winter walking/climbing but the high winds over the past month have really put a blight on things!! Fingers crossed for a change in conditions soon.


5 01 2012
Michael (@easyhiker101)

Respect! Those are great shots, too.


5 01 2012

God, what a challenging hike…but oh, so beautiful photos!! Good for you! 🙂


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