Cracking winter conditions on St Sunday Crag in the Lake District

[singlepic id=1842 w=320 h=240 float=left]When Ullswater Lake is like a millpond, there’s a white winter coat on everything above 500m and fantastic views across manyof the Lake District’s peaks and dales – is it any wonder I was accused of  “dawdling” several times, as I stopped to take yet another picture? But the conditions were superb, and rival those I found on Aonach Mor five years ago – a real cracking late winter day out on the hills of the Lakes 🙂

Taking the “heavier” camera had seemed like a lot of weight to carry up the mountain at first, especially after the previous day’s much lighter load of just 450D and 20mm lens. But the conditions (and activity) couldn’t be more different.

[singlepic id=1851 w=320 h=240 float=right]On the Saturday, as the last remaining patches of snow on the rock to the left of the fourth belay on Nethermost Gully, went drip, drip, drip, I contemplated the forecast that predicted sunny blue skies for the afternoon. That wasn’t to be – dull grey cloud, clag that threatened to descend into the route, and that really cold-feeling temperature just above freezing was the order of the day. And that meant soft conditions underfoot and under axe. Fortunately the hardest move of the route – a short steep section over an underlying band of rock – was in the best condition of anything on the route – solid and providing good placements for both ice axe and crampons. We’d been warned of soft snow by others in our group who’d been out on the hills on Friday, and taking this route – an easy winter climb near to Striding Edge – we also encountered plenty of it, and rather scarily signs of some old avalanche debris. But perhaps the upside of that was that we had the entire corrie to ourselves, while Striding Edge above looked fairly busy!

[singlepic id=1852 w=320 h=240 float=left]Quite apart from the conditions, I was a little apprehensive about the route at the start – I still had a completely irrational fear that the ice axe wouldn’t be any help in stopping me if I fell. So the first order of the day was to do a few ice axe arrests. Despite the softness of the snow I didn’t move more than a couple of inches on any attempt, and that’s put a positive thought in my head to counter the illogical fears. (I had a bit of an epic last summer, but that was on an unexpected steep snow/ice slope without ice axe and crampons – quite different, but the head wasn’t willing to accept the logic over its fear without further proof). So reaching the summit was a real confidence booster, despite the weather. We looked at descending Striding Edge for the route back, but now unroped, the confidence was less sure in such soft conditions at the start of the steep descent, and instead opted for Swirrel Edge.

It was only later in the day, back in the George Starkey Hut, that we heard from one of our party that they’d seen someone (not in our group) falling on the descent. Not Striding Edge, which we’d backed off, but on Swirrell. Fortunately it sounds like they probably weren’t badly hurt (our party was too far away to really know) and only went a fairly short distance, although the distance quoted was beginning to bear resemblance to fishing tales, increasing with every telling!

[singlepic id=1843 w=320 h=240 float=right]On the Sunday, the promised cold snap with blue skies and sunshine finally arrived. The soft snow of Saturday was nowhere to be seen, replaced with that lovely crisp crunching sound underfoot, and occasional clear patches of sheet ice – always fun to romp over in spikey cramponed feet!

Even the potentially long slog up the hillside at the start of St Sunday Crag had amazing views of Ullswater, which was almost looking like a millpond, with only the steamer causing a tide of ripples as it arrived at the jetty. Rising further up the views opened out to give some fantastic panoramas across to Hellvelyn and Nethermost Cove on the right, down to Grizedale Tarn ahead, and eventually out over Deepdale and Dove Crag to the left.

[singlepic id=1844 w=320 h=240 float=left]”Dawdling” wasn’t a fair word in such amazing conditions, but I will admit to being slow – there were just too many awesome images for the taking. And it proves that dawn and dusk aren’t always needed for stunning landscape photography. Sometimes in the mountains, especially in winter when the sun doesn’t get too high in the sky at any point, the middle of the day gives a more even light without the harsh blocky shadows that earlier and later times can bring.

Chough on summit of Fairfield, near Grizedale, Lake District National Park, UKWe eventually summited Fairfield, and continued via Hart Crag, where the long lens finally got to try and play with a few camera-shy choughs before descending via Hartsop above How. We’d originally only planned to have a short day out over St Sunday Crag and down via Grizedale Tarn, but conditions like that are rare enough that they couldn’t be cut short. My trip to Antarctica and New Zealand (while being fantastic) was perhaps unfortunately timed, given the fantastic winter conditions the UK has had this year, but yesterday was a very welcome catch-up on these cracking winter conditions in the UK.