Not quite Grisedale Tarn

2nd December 2023

After a week of winter sunshine, the weather turned for the worst on Saturday. Mountain forecast had predicted sunny spells throughout the morning for the north and east of the park, which would have given me ample time to climb St Sunday Crag from Grisedale Tarn after walking through the Grisedale Valley first.

I was umming and arring whether to go north and climb Blencathra via the Hall's Fell ridge, but St. Sunday pulled the most, and I stuck with Patterdale instead. Had I known the fallout from today's heavy snowfall where six inches fell in just two hours, stranding motorists and leaving most to sleep in their cars over night, I wouldn't have left the house this morning.

Call it intuition or divine intervention. It wasn't just the heavy snow fall that forced me to turn back today, for I was feeling unwell with a dicky stomach from the start. Then I slipped heavily on snow-covered ice, twisting my right knee in the process. Then came the snow, which was being blown down the valley by an icelandic wind, forcing me to the point where I couldn't keep my head upright any longer. There was only one decision I needed to make, which came without question.

Wainwright Guide Book One
The Eastern Fells
Every walker who aspires to high places and looks up at the remote summit of St Sunday Crag will experience an urge to go forth and climb up to it, for its challenge is very strong. Its rewards are equally generous, and altogether this is a noble fell.

Ascent: 885 Feet - 269 Metres
Wainwrights: N/A
Weather: Feezing Temperatures, Snow Flurries Turning To Heavy Snowfall. Highs of 1°C Lows of 0°C Feels Like -2°C
Parking: Parking Spaces, Patterdale C.E Primary School
Area: Eastern
Miles: 6.2
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 3 Hours
Route: Patterdale - Grisedale Lane - Grisedale - Ruthwaite Lodge - Grisedale - Grisedale Lane - Patterdale

Parking Details and Map
Nearest Post Code: CA11 0NW
Grid Reference: White Lion Hotel - NY 395 315 - Patterdale Primary School NY 394 516
Notes: Patterdale alongside Glenriddging acts as a hub for the eastern and far eastern fells yet unlike Glenridding Patterdale doesn't have a centralised car park. With this said parking in Patterdale, especially during the height of Summer can be a problem with only two main sites to leave your car. The first is very popular with fell walkers which is just opposite the White Lion Hotel, here you will find a short layby with room for up to five parked cars. Parking is free. The second place to park is found just outside Patterdale Primary School where you can park on the kerb right outside the School, here you will find spaces for around three to four well parked cars. Parking is free.


Map and Photo Gallery


The Grisedale Valley 8:30am 0°C

I didn't take any chances and drove to Penrith instead of risking an early morning descent via the Kirkstone Pass, which added around eleven miles to the journey. Patterdale was quiet and I parked easily at the layby outside Patterdale C.E. Primary School, where I dropped a handful of pound coins into the honesty box. Rod was supposed to be joining me today but snow was causing travel chaos in his neck of the woods, and he decided to play it safe and turn it into a rest day. There was no sign of any sunshine, but I wasn't expecting it being so early as I kitted up in full winter gear, packing spikes and, for good measure, my ice axe which I looped onto the front of my pack.

During the time it had taken me to kit up I'd not been passed by a car, resident, or walker, but I could hear voices from the George Starkey hut next door, where the owners or two camper vans chatted nearby. Kitted up, I locked my car and headed towards Grisedale Lane, almost opposite Patterdale Mountain Rescue. With Grisedale Lane reached, I passed the Cricket Ground, where half a dozen cars were parked. Most were frozen, looking like they'd been there all night, and I wondered about their occupants. Up ahead, the incline of the lane increases, while to my right, I could hear Grisedale Beck cascading through the trees below. I looked back and spotted no one as I reached the top of the lane, where I was treated to my first view of a frozen Grisedale Valley flanked by low clouds on both sides, which I was hoping would lift once Grisedale Tarn was reached.

Cruck Barn from Elm How.
Snow flurries came and went as I passed through Elm How Farm where my nostrils were treated to the smell of slurry and from the nearby sheds I could hear cattle rustling about. Up ahead is Cruck Barn where Alfred Wainwright spent the night on the Queens Coronation back in June 1953.

Eagle Crag dominates the valley over to the right.

I continued into the valley, experiencing more snow flurries, some lasting longer, and noticed that the snow was beginning to stick. For the most part, the path was frozen with just the odd frozen puddle to skip over, but there were large sections of path that had fresh snow on top, disguising the frozen water below. Minutes earlier, I'd come a cropper on more than one occasion, managing to keep upright while winning gold in the 'how to keep upright olympics' but on the third occasion, after planting my right boot over fresh snow, my right leg buckled on the ice below, and I crashed to the ground in spectacular fashion, landing hard with a thud.

The moment I picked myself up I felt like I was walking from the wreckage of a plane crash. Nothing was broken, which was a good thing, but my right knee hurt, as did my left hip and I seemed to pull my left hamstring in the process. I brushed myself down, and after a minute or so, I began to walk it off.

Across the valley, Low Spying How.
For anyone who has had their lunch at Hole-in-the-Wall this is the same wall on the Grisedale side.

Crossing Grisedale Beck.

The path climbs around 300 feet where the wind grew stronger and the snow fell thicker. It was also here that I began to lose visibility while underfoot water courses had frozen over large sections, causing me to ascend off-path altogether.

It was also here that the thought of not being able to climb St Sunday crept into my head, but I remained focused, concentrating on a possible summit of Seat Sandal or a circuit around Grisedale Tarn before heading back through the valley.

Grisedale Beck, Grisedale.
After crossing Grisedale Beck at the footbridge I continued headfirst into the snow, the wind and hail was so strong I could no longer keep my head upright forcing me to look at the ground which isn't good when I was on ice watch. The path inclines and links up with the path on the opposite side of the valley and takes me away from my centralised position as I continue the climb towards Ruthwaite Lodge as the wind, snow and hail whip at my face. I am no longer enjoying this.

Calling it a day.

With Ruthwaite Lodge reached at least I had shelter from the wind using the gable wall to compose myself and assess what to do next. Sheltered the snow continued down the valley while ahead my view was filled with dense grey cloud packed with snow and more snow. I didn't need to second guess my decision I had already made it and more importantly I felt comfortable with it too. I tried to take a couple of photos but my phone's screen was smeared with snow and it couldn't recognise my thumb print to unlock it.

I changed from my mitts to my Montane full winter gloves as I eased my hands which felt the benefits instantly treating my fingers to a bout of pins and needles. Still at the lodge, still snowing heavily as the wind roared down the valley I left the comforts of the gable wall and began the descent noticing that my footprints had already been filled by fresh snow.

Eagle Crag, Grisedale.

Cruck Barn, Grisedale.

Grisedale Beck, Grisedale.

The fresh snow was causing havoc with the underlying ice as I slipped over and over concentrating on losing height rather than slipping my spikes on. The more height I lost, the clearer the conditions became, and the snow began to fall more vertically than horizontally. To my right, I could hear voices as I spotted three walkers ascending towards Hole-in-the-Wall with a solo walker a good stretch behind. Spotting them did cause me to second-guess my decision, but what I was more focused on was the snow on the ground and getting the hell out of dodge. Besides the walkers I hadn't seen anyone all morning, with the exception of the farmer driving his pickup, who nodded at me through an open window as he passed. The pickup's tyres had compressed the fresh snow, making it lethal underfoot, so I descended straight down the middle of the tarmac until the end of Grisedale Lane was reached where a Red Squirrel crossed my path.

Just the odd car now, but more walkers than earlier, some already wearing spikes as they tramped up and down the pavement. I began to collapse my walking poles and noticed tmy right hand pole wouldn't collapse all the way which is probably the result of my fall earlier, bollocks jusy two weeks old. I soon reached my car where I kitted down and poured myself a cup of hot summer fruits from my flask. The road appeared clear, and seeing that I was facing the direction of Kirsktone Pass I left Patterdale passing Cow Bridge where I spotted more walkers returning to their cars. Even as I passed Brothers Water Inn, the Pass was clear. I noticed that it wasn't just 4x4's coming down but conventional two-wheel-drive vehicles too, so I decided to press on it being the shortest route home. Despite the Pass being open there are still roadworks, encountering two sets of temporary traffic lights where, amazingly, workers were still at it. Leading a pack of four cars, I passed through the first set of lights without any issues, but the second set, much higher-up where slush covered sections of the road-surface, and the higher I climbed I began to encounter more snow. Halted at the second set of lights , I set off. my car's front tyres struggling for traction but thankfully finding enough grip to see me over the Pass, where I stopped not far from the Kirkstone Inn to let the three cars behind me pass. The car directly behind me pulled in too, and I noticed two women inside.

The other two cars drove past, and once clear, I set off, and so did the car behind me as we descended the Troutbeck side of the Pass, where snow was still falling and sticking to the tarmac. I drove no more than 15mph, forcing the woman behind me to do the same. I wasn't taking any chances. The road eventually descended into Troutbeck Bridge, where I passed a full car park along with more cars parked along the roadside, and I wondered their fate. The snow continued to fall. I joined the A591 and headed for the M6, passing hoards of cars heading towards Ambleside and Windermere, one of which was a distinctive gold Lexus IS200 which I spotted stranded on Sky News that evening.

Approaching Troutbeck Bridge.

Nearing the end of A592 / Kirkstone Pass with the A591 below.

Two days on Lakeland is still licking its wounds, with dozens of major roads still closed and homes without power. It was reported that over two hundred motorists spent the night in their cars after getting stranded in the snow. The lucky ones had the luxury of spending the night in the schools and halls of Ambleside and Windermere. Thankfuly, my knee and hamstring are feeling much better, but I still can't help but wonder how lucky I was to dodge being stranded myself, had I continued to Grisedale Tarn, I would have.


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