Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Deepdale Horseshoe

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Route: White Lion, Thornhow End, Black Crag, Birks, St. Sunday Crag, Deepdale Hause, Cofa Pike, Fairfield, Link Hause, Hart Crag, Blake Brow, Hartsop above How, Gale Crag, Deepdale Park, Bridgend, Patterdale


Date: 27/02/2016
From: Patterdale

Parking: Patterdale
Start Point: White Lion Hotel
Region: Eastern Fells

Route length: 9.4 miles (15.2 km)
Time taken: 05:12
Average speed: 1.8 mph
Ascent: 1034m
Descent: 1054m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Birks (622m), St. Sunday Crag (841m), Fairfield (873m), Hart Crag (822m), Hartsop above How (586m)

Additional summits: Cofa Pike (823m), Gale Crag (512m)

Other points of interest: Deepdale Hause, Scrubby Crag

Winter is still clinging to the high fells of the Lake District and we went out in search of one last adventure before warmer weather arrives and returns the Lake District to the spring and summer crowds. Our chosen route would be the Deepdale Horseshoe, a fine high level walk around the valley of Deepdale that takes in St. Sunday Crag, Fairfield and Hartsop above How among others. It is a route Sara and I did one a cloudy day a few summers ago but this time we'd be doing it in reverse; ultimately ascending Fairfield along its snow-covered north ridge.

We rendezvoused at the White Lion in Patterdale with the aim of making our way up to Birks and onwards to St. Sunday Crag. A well established path skirts the foot of Arnison Crag and Glenamara Park until it reaches the bottom of Thornhow End. Here a branch rises up the hillside following stone steps to reach the boundary wall of Glenamara Park, a small wooded enclosure managed by the Woodland Trust.
Birks through the trees on a fine morning
Glenamara Park and Place Fell
Ullswater
Birkhouse Moor over Grisedale
Place Fell catches the sun
An interesting shadow in the sky
As the main path traverses the slopes of Birks, a rather more indistinct one leads up above Black Crags and on to the ridge. As the steepness subsides, the summit comes into view, as did the expansive north eastern face of St. Sunday Crag, complete with a significant covering of snow.
Looking towards Hartsop
Birks' summit with St. Sunday Crag behind
St. Sunday Crag
We watched as a group ahead of us made heavy work of the conditions before deciding we'd put our crampons on sooner rather than later, which I'm glad we did. No sooner had we progressed above the snowline, things got all together more wintry - in a good way. The hard snow was perfect for tramping up in crampons and we made our way up onto the summit ridge with little difficulty.
Looking down to Birks
Time for the crampons
I lead the way up the mountainside
Triumphant ice axe shot
Climbing a steep banks of névé
Chilling the summit of St. Sunday Crag
Helvellyn and Striding Edge
St. Sunday has a superb view across the southern half of the Helvellyn range, a view that we admired as we ate our lunch. Ahead was the looming crags of Fairfield and a snow-less descent to Deepdale Hause.
The Helvellyn range
We spent much of the descent eyeing up exactly where we thought we'd re-attach our crampons before a couple passing the other way recommended right at the foot of the climb - they we're wrong. As soon as we began the ascent the snow and ice became solid once again and the crampons and axe were invaluable tools. We climbed up the perfect névé to the airy summit of Cofa Pike, high above Cawk Cove below.
Fairfield
Seat Sandal and Grisedale Tarn
Fairfield
Deepdale
Looking up to Cofa Pike
The view back over Deepdale Hause to St. Sunday Crag
Fairfield from Cofa Pike
The final real excitement came from the final climb up onto Fairfield where a steep bank of hard snow barred the way. It's the first real opportunity I've ad to test some of my winter skills and using the front points on a pair of crampons certainly makes for an exciting ascent. Sadly it was over all-too shortly as we found ourselves on a very quiet summit.
The final steep climb up to Fairfield's summit
Cornice over Flinty Grave
Fairfield's summit
We tramped across the top, in awe of the superb scenery we found ourselves, taking an interesting in and interesting cloud formation over the Coniston fells. Despite being mid-afternoon, it had turned quite dark as a bank of cloud rolled in an threatened a brief spell of snow - luckily this didn't come to pass.
Fairfield's bleak summit plateau
Great Rigg with the Coniston fells beyond
Sunlight over Windermere
Hart Crag
'Drama mode'
Crossing Link Hause we made the final climb of the day up onto Hart Crag before heading east down the the endless sweep of Hartsop above How. I say endless because it constitutes nearly half the walk and seems to last forever. It's summit though does have a fine view back to Dove Crag and Hart Crag that stand either side on the horizon.
A sweep of cloud over the Coniston fells
The Scafells
Hart Crag's summit
Looking down towards Hartsop above How
Dove Crag
Scrubby Crag on Fairfield
Hartsop above How
Panorama from Hartsop above How
Hartsop above How's modest cairn. I nearly knocked it over
Dove Crag
Arnison Crag
A return to civilisation
We eventually made it to the road as it was starting to get dark. There was still a fair walk along the road back to Patterdale, which is quite unpleasant in stiff mountain boots after a day on the fells. Still, we made it back in one piece in time to grab a well earned pint at the White Lion.

I thoroughly enjoyed this walk, it really is what winter's all about and we were lucky that the weather was on our side for once. Approaching Fairfield from the north is a much more satisfying route than from Ambleside as you get to experience the full craggy character of the mountain which makes up for the steep initial climbs.