The patron fell of Wasdale

31st January 2012

Today started so well, If I knew how I would have felt sometime around midday, then maybe I wouldn’t of bothered getting out of bed at 5:30am. Things can go wrong on a day to day basis, however little they may seem as we all may know up on a mountain top, can sometimes seem that bit more bigger a crisis than it usually is.

Sometimes this can be solved with some old fashioned rational thinking.

Well, today I must have left my thinking cap at home, right at the same spot where I left some grit, some spirit & last of all my legs.

But before I start blaming the blame game on yours truly, I need to add that today I seem to be carrying yet another virus, one of the throat kind. This was unbeknown to me up until the previous evening when I found it painful to swallow, the kind of pain that travels up towards your ear, I’m sure you will know what I mean.

Despite this niggling assailant, I was good to go, the kind of good to go when you check & re-check your gear, the kind of good to go when you empty the contents of your pack just for fun, just so you can load it all up again for that last reassurance possibly even 48hrs before embarkment.

For this walk I am carrying full winter kit, in anger too I might add, for I plan to use it.

My pack comprised of the usual spare clothing, there’s only so much you can pack with ease of use in mind, this I found at my amusement when I find my pack only has one top to it, in saying this I mean, what is the most essential items you will need at your instant dispersal the moment you open your pack? for me its my thick winter Mountain Equipment gloves, followed closely by my neck gaiter, hat, spare hat, & the list goes on.

But today, I also have my Grivel Crampons with me, they are strapped to the outer side of my pack for immediate usage. On the front of the pack is my Grivel Mount Blanc Ice Axe.

I am ready for a winter assault in Wasdale, its just a pity my body wasn’t,

Please read on…

Wainwright Guidebook
The Western Fells

Kirk Fell is the patron fell of Wasdale Head, a distinction little recognised. To most visitors in this grandest of all daleheads, Great k fell, Gable so catches the eye that Kirk Fell, next to it is hardly looked at; and even the other two fells enclosing the valley, Lingmell and Yewbarrow, win more glances. Kirk Fell, although bulking large in the scene, is in fact plain and unattractive, a vast wall of bracken and grass, every yard of it much like the rest. Everybody’s camera points to Great Gable, nobody’s to Kirk Fell.


Ascent: 2,700 Feet, 823 Metres
Wainwrights: 1, Kirk Fell
Weather: Overcast & Winter Showers, Some Falling As Snow, Highs Of 3° Lows Of 2° Feels Like-5°
Parking: Wasdale Head, Wasdale, F.O.C
Area: Western
Miles: 4.6
Walking With: On my own
Ordnance Survey: OL6
Time Taken:  
Route: Wasdale Head – Black Sail Pass – Kirk Fell – Kirk Fell Tarn – Kirk Fell Screes – St Olafs Church – Wasdale Head

Map and Photo Gallery



Kirk Fell (L) & Great Gable (R) from Wasdale Head CP.

I arrive in Wasdale a little flustered, for those of you who are un-aware, it seems that the whole of Wasdale has been without power for a month, due to the fact, that the underwater cabling carrying thus electricity supply to Wasdale via England’s deepest lake Wast Water has hit a slight snag, “it could take some time” say the power company’s, if only they were as slow as knocking out bonuses eh?

The whole of Wasdale & surrounding areas are now dotted about with Road Block signs, the main Lake road being one of them, I umm & aye at this, then drive through a deep puddle at the side of Bridge End Farm on the junction with Santon Bridge.

I’ll take my chances I mutter, If need be, I can always turn around & de-tour towards Nether Wasdale & hopefully drop in that way. It turns out, I pass no road block at all, in fact the road block sign at the last junction was the last I was to see. I am late because of other virtues, the ones that come with 18 wheels & eastern European plates, yes again, I am stuck behind a truck travelling at no more than 25mph since catching up with it in Grizebeck over 28 miles away, this & the pain that encores after every gulp puts a slight strain on my morning.

But the best strain is yet to come as I kit up at Wasdale Head.

I arrive at the busiest National Park car park possibly in the country, It is just me & the churning generators at Wasdale Inn. It’s an odd feeling being here on a drab Tuesday in January, with this as I entered the car park, I drive around it whole picking my parking place, this, in all my time being here, I have never had the fortune to do, normally the car is dumped sideways in a bunch of nettles as I clamber out of the passenger door, the drivers door being too close to a stone wall to open.

I am almost ready as I strap on the gaiters while perched on the passenger sill of the car when I hear a car pull on the car park, it is a nearly new Volvo V70 just like my dads. Two lads get out & the driver looks at me, smiles & says “Morning”

I return his compliment.

The next piece of conversation is a legend in its own right, I should of said more, but I didn’t, I think on with disbelieve, the conversation went a little like this…

I have tried to remember it word for word, just for effect.

Where you up today? the driver of the Volvo asked, well, I’m climbing Kirk Fell as I point Kirk Fell out over my shoulder, I don’t return the question, I just want to get on my way.

Scafell’s around here isn’t it he ask?     did… did he just really say that?

I do that quick scan thing you do, I eye the guy up, he seems half ready for a day on the fells, although a half empty 25ltr day pack is not sufficient for a full winter hike, but what the hey. He goes on to say… yeah Scafell is around here isn’t it? err, yeah its behind you, what, that one? no that’s Lingmell. To get to Scafell from here you take in the lower slopes of Lingmell off to the left, which will then lead you onto Brackenclose…

I turn around, shut the tailgate, lock my car & walk away.

In the dead of winter, at the foot of England’s Highest Mountain, I am lost for words at the conversation that just took place.


Pillar seen from Wasdale Inn.

Its mild, but I don’t like the look of it up there, I glance up for chinks of blue & see nothing, I know an in accurate weather report, & it seems, I am in the mist of one.


The ancient Packhorse bridge over Mosedale Beck.


The valley of Mosedale.

This is a wonderful valley to be in, so mystic & just a ten minute walk from Wasdale Head, ahead we have Red Pike to the left & Scoat Fell lies ahead, over to the right Is the prominence of Pillar, despite the fact that its mild I choose to wear my Mountain Equipment winter gloves from the CP here my hands sweat profusely but yet taking them off now would mean difficulties putting them back on later so I stick with the clammy hands, what I do take off is the neck gaiter & wedge it between my pack & shoulder.


Mosedale Beck & Red Pike.


Eyes are on Pillar for much of the duration before sharply turning right for the top of Black Sail Pass just after the stone wall you see in the photo.


Black Comb & the head of Mosedale.


Heading for the top of Black Sail Pass.

Taken just after I passed through a sty at the stone wall, this is where the climb to the top of the pass begins, it is also where the affects of my sore throat take hold.


Gatherstone Beck.

I have followed Gatherstone Beck for much of the climb out of the valley until here, the path crosses Gutherstone Beck in three places this being first. Here at Gatherstone Head I take of my pack & take out some throat lozenges.

I guess after the short climb & a slight wheeziness I now know, & feel well under parr. 


The iconic ruined gate marking the top of the Black Sail Pass.

Ahead lies the Ennerdale Valley & Black Sail Hut, taking a left here would lead you onto Looking Stead & Pillar, right, is my destination…


Kirk Fell Crags.

A stark resemblance in Monochrome, I kid you not, this photograph has only been cropped & in no way has been tampered with.

I have vivid memories of Kirk Fell Crags from the summer of 2010 when I was last here on an epic tour of the Mosedale Round, being a newcomer that day, the crags you see were a total surprise & took a little effort in reaching the bottom safely.

This walk today was centred around Kirk Fell Crags, this is where I was going to cut my teeth on the rocky scrambles with my Ice Axe & Crampons. This scramble compromises of around 540 Feet of ascent over firmly pitch boulders to sometimes near vertical 8/10 foot rock face, great footings are all around & despite the paths & crevices being laden with Ice patches, I had soon forgotten about my sore throat & was soon enjoying a fantastic little scramble – in maybe, not the best winter conditions as I missed out on the views, but when your face to face with rock & you have an Ice Axe in your right hand, the views don’t really matter!


Kirk Fell Crags.


With views towards Haystacks, Seat, High Crag, High Stile & a rather murky Red Pike (Buttermere)


Looking over Looking Stead from the ascent towards Pillar & Scoat Fell.


Looking down the steep rock strewn path (course of) on my ascent on Kirk Fell Crags.

You can just make out steel fence post which can be used as a guide up through the crags which is just exactly what I did.

This is where I got to grips with my Ica Axe, using it as a walking aid just like you would your walking pole or in more severe circumstances I trusted the Axe’s serrated pick edge with my body weight, you just have to lay some trust in your tools.

In other circumstances the Axe was secured horizontal on the  top of flat pieces of huge rock slabs which had more than there fair covering in ice.  From here I can use the shaft of the Axe as horizontal support as I wedge myself up on what would otherwise be a find a different way around situation.

You could say that after a twenty minute ascent to the top of the crags I was left a little exhausted & I’m putting this down to two things, one; I know I’m not on top form, And two; sheer adrenalin.


With the summit almost in reach at the aptly named area of Pile Of Stones.

From here the summit is easily attainable, its just a case of following the steel fence which will indeed lead you towards the summit cairn

The snow is awkward underfoot & trying. With every footstep my boots sink into built up drift or at times a matter of just around ten centimetres, its that un reassuring crunch when you think, will the snow hold my weight?

All these little things add up, I know I should not be at a summit feeling so empty, I know I’m still not over the Flu I had a few weeks ago, I know its still hanging onto me & draining my reserves.

Weak willed I make it over towards the summit, am I beating myself up? hell yes, of course I am.

I am to make my next decision to carry on at the summit shelter, but in between here & there my GPS batteries fail due to the cold & my Bite Valve freezes.


Looking back on Pillar & the High Stile Ridge from just beneath the summit.


Kirk Fell summit cairn.

With views becoming more & more strict, especially in the direction of what would have been my next destination of Great Gable (seen centre) I guess this view kind of made my mind up.

Everything felt like it was going against me, here I install new batteries in my GPS & ponder; am I making the right decision in not carrying on, well this is how I looked at it, you ask yourself in all circumstances what should you do next?

The first thing that comes to your head is your decision, don’t mess with it, it hurts like hell, but generally the first decision is always the most rational.


Its not easy making a decision especially when you are on your own, looking at this view of my route ahead made it that bit more easy.


Heading down the nose of Kirk Fell, feeling a little deflated.


Hitting the steep scree section where here I dig in making sure I have safe footings before each steep, it was pretty odd here that the the snow had compacted at lower levels & was still relatively crusty on the summit top.


Lingmell from my steep descent.

I have a small ponder at myself thinking I may have chosen the wrong fell all entirely, all the while from my descent Lingmell remains clear & looks positively delightful.


A close up of the Rock Pinnacle on Stirrup Crags.


While out of the scree, I took this picture looking down onto Wasdale Head.


Red Pike, Scoat Fell & Pillar come back into view while the cloud remains positively menacing.


Tough views to take in, as I look east at the skies over Great Gable, Spout Head & Lingmell Crag.


Wasdale under dark skies.


Turn a round’s cut scars deep into the soul, even days after they still run deep, I hate the after taste of a turn around, there is only one cure & that’s to pick yourself up, dust yourself down & carry on walking in the place you love.

Just make sure you are in good health before doing so


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