Fairfield & Great Rigg on a Dire Day

14 02 2019

Tue 12 Feb 2019
Richard and I have a yearly trip to our most luxurious hotel in Grasmere once a year – generally in February. For this year’s trip, Richard expressed an interest in doing Fairfield from the hotel. Never one to discourage Richard being keen on a walk (he can be unenthusiastic), I readily agreed – but I did have a few doubts about whether I was up to such a large hill – since my hip op, I’ve only really been doing small hills under 2000 feet. Fairfield is over 2800 feet…

No photos for this post I’m afraid – I took my camera but the weather was truly dire all day!

We set off fully kitted up in waterproofs having left it until 1030 to stop raining (which it didn’t). The weather forecast had shown a dry period between 1100 and 1500 but it never transpired. I generally don’t wear proper waterproof trousers so just had my featherlite ones on – they’re more windproof than waterproof and are just designed to stop you getting cold on wet days.

We took the main road up the start of Dunmail Raise to the footpath up ‘The Tongue’ just after the Travellers Rest pub. There are two paths up to Grisedale Tarn – we always use the right-hand one which follows the gillside. There are two reasons for this – the first is that it’s easier graded, the second is that it’s far drier!

We both went well up the path until it steepened and started up stone-pitching to join the other path up the Tongue. Here, Richard started to lag behind. I found I was going really well – both legs-wise and lungs-wise…

Just after we joined the other path, I expected to see the tarn. Not only did we not see it, the path started to rise and was very near Seat Sandal – I was a little worried we were actually starting to head off up there. I had my walking watch on and wished I’d set the altimeter at the start – of course it was too late now!

I expressed a bit of doubt which is totally the wrong thing to do with Richard in a thick mist – I think he then lost confidence that I knew where I was going! We ploughed on and eventually came to the boundary wall crossing our path. I could just faintly see the tarn through the mist below us. Advantageously, at that point, the path from Fairfield comes in immediately after the wall. I was encouraged…

It was quite windy up here and very cold so I stopped to put all my layers back on. I always strip off during ascents but feared Richard was probably going too slow for me to keep warm and also we were going to be in the wind all the way up now as it was gusting across our route. I could feel Richard wasn’t keen and was sure he’d turn back any minute.

We ascended the good track briefly in the mist and cold, gusty wind. Suddenly we came across a patch of snow. I braced myself… yep…

“This is really scary, let’s go back down” was the predictable comment from Richard.

I looked around and saw he looked pretty worried – best to send him back down now. I gave him directions to retrace our route and told him to be careful down the stone pitching and take his time as it would be very slippery in descent. It turned out later he did have one fall down it but luckily didn’t hurt himself.

I plodded off happily up into the mist and strong wind. It was okay on the leftward-going zig-zags but difficult to walk against on the rightward-going ones! Sometimes I had to bend down and go up on all fours! I hoped there would be no more snow on the path and, luckily, there wasn’t really – only a few avoidable patches…

The path headed slightly further around the rounded ridge away from the wind. I was remembering the first time I came up this path in a real gale – this time was nothing like as bad as that. Also, the last time we’d used the path the zig-zags were hard-packed snow and I was worried by the steepness below me. So, despite it being a horrid day, it was much better than my other visits to this route.

Soon, the angle eased – as did the wind. I’d been pretty sure it had been blowing around the curve of the ridge which was speeding it up and it appears this had been the case. I plodded up even more happily.

As the angle eased onto the summit plateau, there was much more snow and ice. Luckily, it was patchy and I could use dry stones sticking through. I’d brought micro-spikes up with me but didn’t have to don them.

A few large cairns loomed out of the mist at the summit – one was a shelter. I wasn’t sure exactly which was the summit so visited both. It was pretty cold up here so I didn’t hang about. I’d donned my compass earlier so now fished it out from down my neck to consult it. At the first cairn, I noted which direction was south – I needed just west of south (South by West) – it was where I thought I should be going…

Then I went to the other large cairn and retook the bearing. Now it was 90 degrees further right than the previous bearing – oooerr! I couldn’t remember any mention of compass anomalies on Fairfield and, on googling them tonight, can’t see any mention of them either. Not sure what was going on.

I set off between the two directions marked and eventually saw, to my left, the way to Hart Crag which was the wrong arm of the Fairfield Horseshoe for me. I then headed on the second bearing which was now pretty steady. I had a moment’s slight worry but soon joined a large path and cairns heading down a gentle ridge – completely correct for my route.

From here to the col there was lots of snow on the path but it was treadable so still no need for microspikes. I romped on down pretty happily despite being now headed straight into the teeth of the strong, cold wind and the rain. I was soon on the col and set off up the very short and gentle rise to Great Rigg.

Leaving the summit of Great Rigg I expected to see a path divert off to the right down the side of the fell for Stone Arthur, the descent I wanted to take. Nothing transpired so I just continued on – it didn’t matter really as I could leave the ridge after Heron Pike and just before Nab Scar – here a lovely path heads back towards Alcock Tarn. I certainly wasn’t going to get the map out in this weather anyway!

On this descent, the wind suddenly gusted really hard and hurled loads of water at me. There was so much it went straight through my trousers and my legs momentarily went freezing cold as the water ran down my legs into my boots. I wished I’d put my winter Paramos on after all!

After a couple of hundred yards of descent, I saw a little cairn off to my right and a bit of a scrape heading that way. I headed off down it and soon saw it was a path and had bootmarks in the mud – must be my path at last.

It seemed ages heading down the wet and boggy path in the mist and, at every craggy set of rocks on my right, I thought I’d reached Stone Arthur. Eventually I did but didn’t bother to re-visit the peak – I’ll go another day in better weather (I’ve been plenty of times before).

Just after I’d rounded Stone Arthur and started a short, steep descent, I saw a couple obviously ascending as she was sat having a rest on a rock below. They set off up again after a few minutes and, on my reaching them, they stopped me to ask about the route.

Around this point I also got a glimpse of the valley below. To ensure I was really on the correct route I looked above it for Alcock Tarn on the next ridge – yep, there it was – it’s a very distinctive shape!

I was a little worried as they obviously weren’t fell-walkers and it was a truly horrible day. He only had a duffle coat on and she just had a street parka type coat – showerproof but not fully waterproof.

They asked about going up onto the ridge (by Great Rigg) and then heading back to Heron Pike where there is a right of way marked straight down to Alcock Tarn. I said it was a good long way to the ridge and very wet walking. I also said they’d be heading into the wind and rain all the way to Heron Pike and, furthermore, I’d never seen an actual path straight down to Alcock Tarn. I pointed out where the other path was raking back to the tarn from near Nab Scar.

I was as discouraging as I could be and pointed out to the chap that his coat wasn’t exactly waterproof and told him how wet I’d got heading that way. I also pointed out Stone Arthur which was doing its best to clear the mist above and had become visible. I said that was a Wainwright if they wanted to just bag a summit and advised they just do that and come back down. Richard later confirmed he could see a couple heading down not long behind me (he was watching from the bus shelter by The Swan Hotel in Grasmere).

I was now out of the mist and romping happily down the good path. There is some steep stone pitching to finish but neither of my legs were complaining. The only things which weren’t happy were my feet as they squelched in boots half-full of water by now – ugh!

On reaching the main road and crossing it, I noticed Richard sat in the bus shelter. I noted the time and saw I’d just been 4 hours… We had a bit of a chat and then headed off into Grasmere to peel our wet stuff off – I was obviously a good deal wetter than him. Our clothes were so wet we filled the whole bathroom with dripping gear and my upended boots managed to fill a boot tray with water.

I spent a few hours stuffing my boots with newspaper until tea time when we found out there is actually a drying room – we didn’t know that before despite staying there quite a few times.

I was delighted I’d done the walk anyway as these were my first big hills since the hip op. What a shame the weather from the previous day hadn’t continued though – that had been gloriously calm and sunny. It had been so nice I’d nipped up to Alcock Tarn despite it being 1530 by the time I arrived so only an hour and a half off dark – now I was glad I had!

Stats: 8 miles, 2790 feet of ascent, 4 hours

You’re reading a post by Mountain Coward. If you’ve enjoyed this post, be sure to follow The Mountain Coward from my homepage

Advertisements

Actions

Information

13 responses

15 03 2019
tessapark1969

Not sure how I missed this! Good to see you getting back out again.

Like

15 03 2019
mountaincoward

Did Blencathra 2 days after that too 🙂

Liked by 1 person

3 03 2019
underswansea

Great report. Good to see you won’t be denied, bad hip or short leg be damned! I missed the photos, however understand not carrying a camera in such inclement weather. Keep them coming.

Like

3 03 2019
mountaincoward

Oh, I carried the camera – but there was nothing to see – just thick mist! I really enjoyed the day – the weather was the worst thing. My legs and chest performed really well 🙂

Like

3 03 2019
underswansea

Good thing you didn’t become disoriented in the mist. It is easy to do. Once I had to convince myself the creek hadn’t started flowing the wrong direction.

Like

4 03 2019
mountaincoward

I was a bit confused for a minute or so leaving the summit but mainly because my compass did a sudden 90 degree shift to the right (and then stayed there).

Like

16 02 2019
John Bainbridge

Sad about the weather, but still a wonderful few mountains

Like

16 02 2019
mountaincoward

I didn’t mind at all – was just glad to be back out there

Liked by 1 person

15 02 2019
bob

Enjoyed reading that Carol. Would not like to have been out in it as that’s my kind of weather for low level stuff or village wanders down there but good to see you are back to big mountain fitness again.

Like

15 02 2019
mountaincoward

I really enjoyed it – it was great to be back out there on a proper mountain again!

Like

14 02 2019
Alli Templeton

Good Grief, what an adventure! You’re amazing tackling all that mostly on your own – especially after a hip op! Well done enduring the vile conditions, but I expect that part of the world is beautiful whatever the weather. I’m planning on moving up to Northumberland after doing an MA in medieval studies at York Uni, so we’ll practically be neighbours! Have you done any of Hadrian’s wall? One of my favourite places is the Sycamore Gap. Great post, a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Like

15 02 2019
mountaincoward

I’m planning to do Hadrian’s Wall but probably not all in one go. I’d be interested in doing it with others so you’ll have to give me a shout if you’re doing any of it. Haven’t been to Sycamore Gap yet but I’ve been around the Housesteads bit

Like

16 02 2019
Alli Templeton

I’d love to do a that. The Sycamore Gap is stunning. Apparently it’s the most photographed tree in Europe and it’s easy to see why when you’re there. Chesters is well worth a visit too. Have a great weekend. We’re off on a 10 mile walk, but sadly not up there.

Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.




%d bloggers like this: