Friday, 13 April 2012

Arnison Crag & Birks

Arnison Crag - 433m (1,421')
Birks - 622m (2,041')
Completion date: 10.04.12
Pie: Pork Pie (from Samuel Valentine The Urban Food Hall, Allerton Bywater)

The first walk...

As I described in my earlier post, I wanted to bag Arnison Crag as my first fell as it was also AW's first. The walk I had drawn up was an 8.9mile circular route from Patterdale taking in Arnison Crag, Birks, St. Sunday Crag, Fairfield, Hart Crag & Hartsop above How. Here is the route.

However, due to adverse weather conditions approaching St. Sunday Crag we had to turn back! This was a pretty big decision at the time, but common sense (or Katie as I also know her) prevailed. If we were to continue it could have landed us in a situation that could easily have gone very wrong. The conditions underfoot were poor; the snow although looking fresh & crisp, was beginning to melt under the top layer making it very slippery. The snow had blanketed the fell meaning that even in clear conditions it was virtually impossible to find the path leading up to St. Sunday and we had no idea what the conditions were further into the range. Finally, the wind whipping over the fell tops was hurtling hailstone straight at us and bringing thick cloud down with it too meaning that visibility was dropping the closer we got to St. Sunday. So as much as I would have loved for the first walk to have bagged some of the bigger fell tops, it was just not meant to be. They're not going anywhere so they'll still be there for another try.

In the end we turned back after Birks and descended back to Patterdale. This is the route we took: Arnison Crag & Birks.

I must admit that after orientating myself from the campsite, looking across the river and working out which of the looming hulks of rock we would be trying to climb, it was very daunting. I've climbed hills in the Yorkshire Dales before and I've done a couple of walks in the Lakes, but I've never attempted any fell tops.

After a quick breakfast we set off across the river towards the hotel in Patterdale. The path towards the fell took a couple of moments to find as it begins in the back car park (to the right hand side as you look at the front) of the hotel. The steady climb began there until we reached the style in the wall. This is where our route turned towards our first summit. Following the wall (keeping it to our right hand side) we quickly learnt that walking in the Lakes is a whole different beast. The path climbs steeply past Oxford Crag, a good initial vantage point back across Ullswater and to the campsite and a great place for us to catch our breath. The climb continued upwards past the remains of a decomposing sheep (I will save you from the gratuitous picture) towards our first fell top destination.
First view of Arnison Crag
To get onto the fell top we followed the track around to the south-west of the crag and after a small scramble we had achieved our very first fell! It felt great! But the realisation that there were still 213 fell tops to go, and this was only one of the baby ones was not lost on us. It is going to be a huge task.
Adding our rock to Arnison Crag cairn
Our next task was Birks. The route from Arnison Crag took us around the large hillock to meet the wall once again that lead us to Trough Head (description in the notes of the walk). The ascent alongside the broken wall was tricky. We had reached the level of the snow and thus had lost any clear view of a track. We followed the broken wall as far as it went, but the melting layer of snow under the top crust meant that both of us had our fair share of falls and slips. A mental note was made to investigate the pros & cons of trekking poles!

Once the wall had finished we headed in the direction of the fell top at Birks (with the help of the GPS on the iPhone - Cheating? Maybe? - Quicker than map & compass? Yup!). We intersected the path that led us finally to Birks.
First view of Birks fell top
The fell top itself was pretty uninspiring considering the climb to get there. And I'm sure that in better weather conditions that the views are amazing. But we couldn't say as visibility was getting worse.
More pointy

More Hooray! (...trend?)
It was at this point that we attempted and St. Sunday Crag and decided to turn back. As I said, it'll still be there another day... So, our route took us back towards Patterdale and down the shoulder of Birks. I had been warned by my friend John that this route was very steep, but being stubborn and obviously knowing best I thought he was just being melodramatic... It turns out though that it is really steep (another occasion for those trekking poles?) but it does offer some pretty spectacular views. On the other side of the valley towards the howling pack of dogs in the kennels we could pick out the ascent up to the Hole In The Wall that we will be doing to get to Striding Edge and eventually Helvellyn... But that is for another day also!

After a good old work out for the quads, and a bit of punishment on the bad knee, we reached the road that winds down into Patterdale and this is where I found the silver lining on having to turn back early. If it wasn't for of our impromptu change of route, then I would never have passed this wonderful banner:
Pint anyone?
In reflection it was a great walk. It may have been shorter than we originally planned and there was definitely disappointment in not being able to make the original walk, but we had our first 2 fells under our belt and we had undergone a steep learning curve. But at least I'm still here typing this and not still lost on the fells!

St. Sunday, we shall return. And Patterdale Playing Field, we will be back for your wonderful beery offerings!


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