The Lake District in winter can be harsh. Winter floods at the turn of the year brought misery to many, however at its best, the Lake District in winter can reveal the most stunningly beautiful landscapes. Having spent a lot of time recently in the Big Smoke of London, I had two goals in getting back into the Lakes: firstly spend a great day in the hills testing out some new boots. Secondly, introduce my good friend – all the way from California – to the wilder, more beautiful parts of the UK.
The day was forecasted clear, so the plan – optimistically maybe given the usual changeable conditions – was to find some of the best views we could. Leaving the car at New Dungeon Ghyll, we wound our way up the stone staircase to Stickle Tarn. The wind at the tarn was immense – blasting straight out of the arctic and leaving waves and white horses on the water. Pavey Arc was bare and bright, snow dotting the cliffs, with the white mounds of higher summits beckoning us on.
Stickle Tarn, around the snow line.
We lost the path soon after the snow line. But others had foundered before us and we followed their footsteps in a direct line to the craggy rocks of Sergeant Man. Towards the top, the wind had blasted away any powder, leaving steep ice to scramble up. Cautious of this, we traversed to the right, into a slope of deep powder, before climbing up and around to the top.
The views were unbelievable. 360° of pristine winter Lakeland, blue sky above and the greenish-russet of the valleys below. I may have spent plenty of time in the Lakes before, but their beauty caught me by surprise this time; the winter sun and ice-locked tops giving us perfect conditions and a (literally) breath-taking day.
Mixed snow conditions
After sandwiches and a quick stop for more layers and microspikes, we set off across the broad swarth of snowfield to High Raise. The microspikes were invaluable and we could stride out over wind-scoured ice, where snow had formed sand-like curves and swirls.
Superb clear winter views
Reaching High Raise gave us yet more unbelievable views. Right at the heart of the Lake District, you could spin in a circle and see Skiddaw and Blencathra, Bassenthwaite Lake beyond it, as well as the Dodds, Helvellyn and Fairfield, down to Ambleside, and closer, the crag of Sergeant Man, the Langdale Pikes, Bow Fell, the Scafells and Gable beyond, and the dramatic two-tone gap of Langstrath as it cut knife-straight through the fells.
Soon enough, we set off again, headed for Thunacar Knott which offered more arctic landscapes, with dips in the land hoarding deep drifts to trip us up. Narrowly avoiding an iced over mini-tarn near the next summit, we paused briefly for more pictures and a quick look at the map before heading directly to Harrison Stickle, which loomed out of the plateau studding the bright white with craggy black rocks
Panoramic views towards the distant north west. Great Gable top right.
The summit was celebrated with the last of the chocolate, and we set off down the steep, slick slope of the fell. Then came a pause. The snow had blasted any recognisable paths away, and a confusion of footsteps told us that no previous walkers had been quite sure of the route either. The choice to go down was pressing on us as the sun began to droop towards the further side of Langdale, and we ended up climbing Loft Crags to get an idea of the safest route to descend. After bumbling around the fell for 15 minutes, together with another party, we doubled back to the mouth of a gully we’d been sure looked too treacherous, and wound our way down, after finding another stone staircase.
Back in the valley, the sun had hidden behind the fells, and in another half hour we might have been descending in the dark. But on a day like that, we wanted to make the most of every minute we could, to stretch the pleasure of a gorgeous day with good company and fantastic hills as far as it would go. And now, London beckons once again, but it’s a comfort to know that the Lakes will stay, dependably constant, just a few hours away.