St Sunday Crag

14th December 2019

David had to pull out of todays walk not wanting to aggravate a cold he's had this week which left myself and Rod to plan todays walk. Initially with David we had planned to walk from Helm Crag to Steel Fell (The Greenburn Horseshoe) which we'll leave until David is feeling better. I've had a hankering for St Sunday Crag for a few weeks but with Winter well and truly arriving on the Lakeland fells this weekend it was touch and go on where to walk, or so we thought.

I'd been wanting to climb St Sunday Crag via Grisedale for sometime, you know how it is it just sits there at the back of your mind so with the Greenburn walk cancelled I now needed to persuade Rod to join me, the only thing was conditions weren't going our way with rain, hail and summit snow forecast throughout the day so I put it to Rod to walk through Grisedale up to Grisedale Tarn from where we'll access conditions on whether we climb St Sunday Crag or head back through Grisedale, there was even talk of heading up Seat Sandal but if I'm honest, that was never going to happen, and neither was that walk back through Grisedale.

Wainwright Guide Book One
The Eastern Fells
Every walker who aspires to high places and looks up at the remote summit of St Sunday Crag will experience an urge to go forth and climb up to it, for its challenge is very strong.

Ascent: 2,560 Feet 781 Metres
Wainwrights: 2, St Sunday Crag - Birks
Weather: A Day Of Rain, Hail, Snow & Strong South Westerly Winds. Highs of 3°C Lows of 3°C Feels Like -14°C Across The Tops
Parking: Patterdale
Area: Eastern
Miles: 8
Walking With: Rod Hepplewhite
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 5 Hours 10 Minutes
Route: Patterdale - Grisedale Bridge - Grisedale - Ruthwaite Lodge - Grisedale Tarn - Deepdale Hause - St Sunday Crag - Birks - Grisedale Bridge - Patterdale

Parking Details and Map
Nearest Post Code: CA11 0NW
Grid Reference: White Lion Hotel - NY 395 315 - Patterdale Primary School NY 394 516
Notes: Patterdale alongside Glenriddging acts as a hub for the eastern and far eastern fells yet unlike Glenridding Patterdale doesn't have a centralised car park. With this said parking in Patterdale, especially during the height of Summer can be a problem with only two main sites to leave your car. The first is very popular with fell walkers which is just opposite the White Lion Hotel, here you will find a short layby with room for up to five parked cars. Parking is free. The second place to park is found just outside Patterdale Primary School where you can park on the kerb right outside the School, here you will find spaces for around three to four well parked cars. Parking is free.


Map and Photo Gallery


Dollywagon Pike, The Tongue, Nethermost Pike East Ridge and Nethermost Pike from Grisedale.

I hadn't the best start to the day after discovering the bite valve on my bladder pack had leaked a pool of water onto the kitchen floor as I was just about ready to leave, anyone who uses bladder packs will know just what a faff they can be which meant I had to empty the contents of my pack on the floor before sorting out alternative hydration which came in two one litre bottles of water I bought from the Shell Petrol station on the A591 just outside Kendal. Sorting my pack made me late which I hate so instead of just taking my time during my drive north I had to put my foot down which I also hate. My head was making mountains out of molehills but I did have a point for I knew drinking from bottled water would require me to de-shoulder my pack but there's now't I could do about now. After buying the water I packed it carefully and got back in the car feeling less agitated. I left the A591 and took the Moorehow Road on to the Kirkstone Pass, it was still dark and I used my full beam headlights not encountering any traffic coming in the opposite direction. As I approached the Kirkstone Pass Inn conditions changed rapidly. Dawn was about to break but it was still dark not helped by a mass of dark cloud which just sat at the top of Kirkstone Pass. Within seconds I realised I'd driven into a cloud of hailstone which turned the road white, the hailstone was bouncing off my car so loudly I couldn't hear the radio at this point, I had just passed the Inn on my right and the carpark on my left and was just about to start my descent on Kirkstone Pass. The hail got heavier at which point I braked from about 20mph, my car skidded on the hail thankfully in a straight line as the first right hand bend approached, I think a bit of wee came out! and my mouth dried within seconds. Shit, shit shit, what the hell I am going to do here.

The hail was bouncing and I couldn't hear a thing, I check my rear view mirror, nothing, that's good. I put my hazards on and slowly lift off the brake at which point my heart is in my mouth, it's too dangerous to attempt a three point turn but what would be the point anyway, I have zero traction. I have no choice but to risk the descent at a point when I try not to let panic set in but all I can think is this brand new car with less the 2k on the clock will at some point career into a stone wall and how the hell am I going to explain that to my boss! Ok...I take a gulp from my water bottle on the passenger seat, I check my rear view mirror, still nothing. I ease my foot off the brake pedal and put the car into 1st gear, I let the car roll no more than 6mph and ease it into the first bend while keeping the car dead centre of the white lines, I continually check my rear view mirror and for any headlights approaching from the bottom of the pass, nothing. With shot nerves I descend the pass at 6mph until I get to the bottom at which point my heart was still in my mouth and I felt like I'd just used one of my lives, I look back through my rear view mirror before the top of the pass disappears and just see a mass of black cloud. With Patterdale just a few minutes away I try to compose myself but it's no good, my hands are trembling slightly and I feel pretty pasty. Rod was already parked up when I arrived and was sat in the passenger seat kitting up so I parked alongside and prompt him to lower his window before explaining what had just happened, Rod joins me in my car for a few moments and soon I start to feel normal again, it's still bouncing down only this time with rain and my mood soon returns to jovial and with that, we proceed to kit up with hopes or reaching Grisedale Tarn.

Blimey, what a start to the day eh.

Looking back on Place Fell from Grisedale.
During the time it took to kit up it had stopped raining with a little brightness starting to poke through, this was a major lift as we had expected to start the walk in heavy rain. It had kept dry as we left Patterdale for Grisedale Lane where we experienced sudden gusts of wind howling down the valley.

Dollywagon Pike, Cock Cove, The Tongue, Ruthwaite Cove, Nethermost Pike East Ridge and Nethermost Pike.

The good news was our surrounding summits remain cloud free even during the sudden hail burst and we were able to get a good look at the recent snowfall over Dollywagon Pike and Nethermost Pike.

Up ahead we pass the old barn where Alfred Wainwright spent the night on the eve Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest back on 29th May 1953.

The Grisedale Valley.
It had started to rain again only this time it was accompanied by strong winds that howled down the valley, in most cases the rain stopped as quickly as it had started but it was clear the strong winds were going to be with us for the duration.

Dollywagon Pike and Nethermost Pike East ridge with Grisedale Beck in full flow to the right.

Eagle Crag forming the end of Nethermost Pike East Ridge while Striding Edge is seen upper right.
I guess there was no point in keeping count on how many hail showers passed, this was just one of dozens and dozens we experienced today!

Ruthwaite Lodge.
We continued to walk through Grisedale sometimes not able to lift our heads due to the rain and hail which by now was coming at us with some force, the good news however, was should we decide on an ascent on St Sunday Crag at least the wind will be behind us.

Birkhouse Moor and Birk Fell (Place Fell) with St Sunday Crag over on the right.
It really is starting to feel very wintery with more height gained but morale is kept high in conversation although neither of had mentioned St Sunday Crag yet although I'm sure inside our heads the decision had already been made.

Tarn Crag (Dollywagon Pike)

Seat Sandal and Hause Gap from Grisedale Tarn.

With Grisedale Tarn in sight we left the path and de-toured towards Brothers Parting Stone, it's a place I have seen from afar but had never visited before. Conditions were bleak and my attempts to photograph the inscription on the rock failed, it was just too dark. We used the craggy outcrop as shelter for a moment where I thought it was the right time to ask Rod an ascent on St Sunday "too right" Rod snapped back! Brilliant, bloody brilliant I replied. We left Brothers Parting Stone and made our way over to Grisedale Tarn where we found the ground extremely boggy and a few hop, skips and jumps were required in order to reach the waters edge.

It was bleak but beautiful and the windchill was mighty cold, soon after taking this photo we were hit by another hail shower only this time it was backed by the strongest wind we'd encountered so far, so strong we had to keep our feet wide so we didn't topple over, we were fully exposed to the hail and my only memory was how painful the back of my head felt as the hail hit it, yes of course we were wearing hoods while underneath I wore a baseball cap which doubled as an extra peak, yes this kept the hail mostly out of my face but offered zero protection around the back of my head from the hail which felt like pellets shot from an air rifle as they hit.

The only positives to take from these sharp but bloody brutal showers was they didn't last very long and soon spirits were back once the showers had passed.

St Sunday Crag from Grisedale Tarn.
The snow defines the path seen over on the right, it's a path I've used many times only during the heat of Summer when I'm rationing the last of my hydration after a long day on the fells, todays image couldn't be further apart but we're in good spirits and are looking forward to the climb.

A brief glimpse of sunlight dashes over Seat Sandal.
We left Grisedale Tarn and made good with our advances, that was until I failed at jumping over a boggy stream where I landed knee deep mud, well at least the steam offered me the opportunity to clean my boots.

Menacing squalls of cloud.
I love dramatic clouds like these, unfortunately I'm not quite as fond of whats contained within said cloud...

Within minutes the cloud had caught up and dumped a burst of snow over us helped along by what appeared to be gale force winds, this has a tendency of stopping conversation which was possibly a good thing as we need to concentrate on where we are putting our feet.

Dollywagon Pike, The Tongue, Nethermost Pike East Ridge, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn and Striding Edge.
You can just make out the path we used to walk through Grisedale below, we scour for a second but see no one.

Advancing on St Sunday Crag.
Up to now we had only encountered a few inches of soft powdery snow underfoot although as we continued in ascent a few inches turned to deep drifts which totally obscured the path in places, as I was up front I kicked steps through the drifts which at times were up to knee height, this can be exhausting but exhilarating at the same time.

Dollywagon Pike.
Rod had spotted two walkers making their descent off Dollywagon Pike via the zigzags and no doubt they could see us across the valley, I wondered of their route and how challenging it was across the exposed summits.

A close up of Nethernost Cove.
With Nethermost Pike seen left, Nethermost Pike East ridge below, Helvellyn and Striding Edge seen centre right.

Almost at Deepdale Hause now.
That's another hail storm heading this way.

Ascending towards Deepdale Hause.
I continued up front and blazed a trail through the drifts until we reached this area below Deepdale Hause. The path can be seen centre right but its below drift so I opt to go left and follow the narrow ridge line to just below the final push onto Deepdale Hause, it may not appear it, but there's a lot of work to be done between here and reaching the higher ridge.

Dollywagon Pike, Cock Cove, The Tongue, Ruthwaite Cove, Nethermost Pike East Ridge, Nethermost Pike and Helvellyn.
Between the sudden burst of snow and hail the sun was streaking through the valley and if we were lucky we'd capture it.

Spindrift over Dollywagon Pike, Cock Cove, The Tongue, Ruthwaite Cove and Nethernost Pike.
Which had to be the best highlight of the walk so far.

Dollywagon Pike,The Tongue, Nethernost Pike East Ridge, Helvellyn and Striding Edge.
Ok, I guess we best stop taking photos and get on with the climb.

Cawk Cove, Cofa Pike, Fairfield, Seat Sandal and Grisedale Tarn.

Reaching the top of Deepdale Hause was pretty challenging where we had to kick steps into the deep snow which at times felt near vertical, we emerged about 60 yards further up St Sunday Crag's south ridge rather than 'squarely' at Deepdale Hause which was due to the finding the best, and safest ascent onto the Hause.

The good news was we had gained ground without realising it on St Sunday Crag, the bad news was we were about to get a taste of some of the strongest winds we had ever experienced.

Cofa Pike, Fairfield, Seat Sandal, Grisedale Tarn and Dollywagon Pike.

Dollwagon Pike, Black Crag, Nethermost Pike, Nethermost Pike East Ridge, Helvellyn and Striding Edge.
Winter on the high fells.

Storm clouds gather over Fairfield.
With their contents not taking very long to reach us.

The interlude.

Approaching St Sunday Crag summit.

Between Deepdale Hause and the last push towards the summit we experienced some of the strongest winds so far only they were accompanied once again with hail and snow turning conditions into almost whiteout. I do not feel we were in any danger as our experience was foremost maintaining an advance towards the summit, however, for the inexperienced such conditions could bring one to their knees where hyperthermia would set in brutally quick. I say this because of the challenge I was presented with.

I tracked on ahead but had to stop twice because my pack waterproof cover had blown off and was now acting like a sail much to my annoyance, Rod managed to secure it the first time but after it flew off again I'd had enough it was starting to become a safety concern so within the lee of an outcrop I stubbornly dropped to my knees and scrunched it into a tight bundle before stuffing it into the little pocket at the base of my pack, it was then I spotted my water bottle which I had bought from the petrol station earlier so I unscrewed the lid and took three long gulps of what was now, freezing water.

St Sunday Crag summit appears.

After re-shouldering we continued our advancement towards the summit but the wind and sudden burst of hail were causing problems. I selfishly went into 'self mode' where all I wanted to do was achieve todays goal of reaching the summit, I pushed forward and for a few minutes stopped checking if Rod was ok behind me, after stopping to check some minutes later on I found Rod a short distance behind I shouted over the wind "OK" and Rod's reply was simple, he shook his head.

For a second my heart dropped into my stomach, after all I look up to Rod with all he has achieved so much in completing the Wainwrights numerous times, the Birketts, the Outliers, the Howgills, the Cumbrian Way the list goes on...I let Rod approach and he told me the wind was getting the better of him which was good news and not what I feared that he'd twisted his ankle or injured himself. Rod soon perked up and we agreed to slow things down so instead of trying to reach the summit with all guns blazing we approached in a controlled manner side by side while the wind howled all around us.

St Sunday Crag summit.

We reached the summit at the same time another hail storm approached and we were left with no option other than to 'stand it out' and again tiny balls of hail making big indentations into the backs of our heads, it hurt like hell and I was pleased once it had passed we would be out of the worst of it, or so we thought anyway.

We had already agreed instead of making our descent via the direct route we would head for Gavel Pike just east from the summit, this descent should prove easier and less exposed.

Gavel Pike through spindrift.
Gavel Pike is easily sighted and we started to make our descent thinking that soon we would have a respite from the wind but if anything the wind appeared to be getting stronger.

Gavel Pike.

Descending St Sunday Crag via Gavel Pike.
The first part of the descent was relatively easy but once the col was reached we had to wade through knee high drift which on one occasion each caused us to topple over, we made light of this while trying to locate the path which was buried below the snow. The path was located from the bottom up, we simply had to trace a contour in order to reach it which was easily done.

Retreating hail cloud reveals Ullswater and Place Fell.
With Birks seen right which is where we are heading next.

Looking back on our descent.

Birk Fell, Place Fell, Gowbarrow and Great Mell Fell.
We had managed some respite from the wind during our descent and had sighted three walkers ascending the direct route on St Sunday Crag and I wondered did they know what they were letting themselves in for.

Approaching Birks.
With the descent of St Sunday Crag behind us we started our approach on Birks where again we had to hop, skip and jump over saturated ground. We had descended some considerable height but there was no let up with the wind and it hurt just as much when a hail shower passed!

Dashes of sunlight over Dollywagon Pike and Nethermost Pike.

Views beyond Gavel Pike towards Hart Crag and Dove Crag.

Dove Crag seen beyond the Hartsop above How ridge,

Birk Fell (Place Fell) and Ullswater seen during another hail shower.

We soon arrived at Birks summit right at the same time a shower of hail arrived which was easily shrugged off before starting the steep descent of Birks where we were met by a final and ferocious hail shower which battered the life out of our waterproofs, I heard Rod shout over the wind "where the hell has this come from!" We laughed that mother nature hadn't finished with us just yet. The deep snow made the steep ascent quick underfoot but nevertheless this is a steep descent and care had to be taken. The hail slowly turned to rain and by the time we were out of the snow line it was falling vertically and lived up to the namesake of 'Lakeland rain'. With Grisedale Lane reached we walked our way back into Patterdale passing Patterdale Mountain Rescue quietly thinking they weren't going to be called out today.

With the cars reached we started to kit down and the rain let up for a little while, I sipped on hot vimto which I could sense warming my inner core almost instantly. I shook hands with Rod and wished him Happy Christmas as I won't see him before then got into my car and whacked the heater up until I had pins and needles in my face. It would have been silly of me to even attempt driving back up Kirkstone Pass, in fact as I write this I have just read it's to be avoided at all costs with "countless cars left abandoned" I guess I got lucky there but I also got lucky in being able to enjoy such a fierce but grand day on the fells which left me feeling more alive than ever.


Back to top