This mid-winter trip in the snow was inspired by the Bob Graham Round, which I’d come across a few months ago. The 70-mile Bob Graham Round is traditionally a fell running challenge around the Lake District, and it includes 42 fell summits. It’s supposed to be done in 24 hours, but I decided it looked like a nice walk. Why rush it? Especially as I cannot run more than a mile on the flat, let alone up a hill.
And so I walked my own version of the Bob Graham Round during the winter of 2020/21. I changed the route slightly (OK, more than slightly) to avoid any ‘out and back’ summits that didn’t seem worth it, and because conditions were very cold with snow and ice. In the end, I summitted 21 peaks, so I’m calling this my Bob Graham Half Round.
I wild camped in the snow every night of this trip. Throughout the walk I was totally self-sufficient, so I didn’t need to go in anywhere for safety reasons due to Covid-19. This meant setting off carrying 5 days worth of food and full winter gear. I’ve included my thoughts on the gear I used, and some advice on how to survive and stay comfortable camping in the snow.
My route and gear
This was also a gear testing trip, mainly the Inov-8 Roclite Pro G 400 GTX boots, Nortec Alp Micro crampons, Granite Gear Blaze 60 backpack and Lightwave S10 Sigma tent. My full winter-conditions gear list is here, and I will review the crampons and backpack in separate posts soon.
I arrived in the Lake District after dark, so I parked my car in Braithwaite and started the climb up Grisedale Pike with my head torch on. I camped at about 375m, already above the snow line. It was a nice camp spot with views over the lights of Keswick in the distance.
Luckily the ground wasn’t too frozen and I could get my tent pegs in, without having to resort to hammering them in with my ice axe.
Peak 1: Grisedale Pike (791m)
The morning arrived with low cloud and no views. I set off climbing the rest of the way up Grisedale Pike. There wasn’t any wind so it was a nice walk over the top. Grisedale Pike isn’t part of the Bob Graham Round, but I included it because this route from my car was much more interesting. It also allowed me to include the ridge of Red Pike, High Stile and Hay Stacks as I had never walked this before. I then picked up the Bob Graham Round at Brandreth.
The route after Grisedale Pike passed Crag Hill 839m and Grasmoor 852m, but the cloud was so dense there didn’t seem any point in climbing them. I was out for a nice walk, not just trying to tick off as many summits as possible. I’ll leave that sort of challenge for a summer walk, when I’m not so loaded with heavy winter gear. So I continued on enjoying the walk on a nice path towards Whiteless Pike.
Peak 2: Whiteless Pike (660m)
By the time I reached Whiteless Pike, the cloud had cleared and the day had brightened up. I got some good views, especially to the south into Buttermere.
I dropped into the pretty valley, and passed an open cafe in Buttermere. However, I refrained from going in because of Covid-19. Besides, I was carrying enough food already and lightening my own load would be good. There were quite a few people out walking here, not surprising as it’s a lovely place.
After crossing the valley, I climbed a steep path up to Bleaberry Tarn. It was pretty slippery and it paid to stay off the stone steps, as they were all covered in sheet ice.
By the time I reached the tarn I was ready for lunch. I was now back above the snow line and it was very cold again. I stopped and heated up some water for a coffee and a dehydrated meal. It was only 3pm and I did considered camping here, because it would be dark soon. But there were already two tents being put up when I arrived and there wasn’t a lot of flat ground around, so I decided to carry on.
Peak 3: Red Pike (755m)
I was glad I’d eaten at Bleaberry Tarn as I knew I was going to need the energy to climb the rest of the way up Red Pike. There were gorgeous views from here, as the winter light changed and the sun began to set.
From Red Pike, I headed south-east along the ridge towards High Stile. I was extremely glad that I had carried on from Bleaberry Tarn, as it turned out to be an amazing walk in the dark. I say ‘dark’, but with the light from a full moon reflecting on the snow, it was bright enough not to need a head torch.
Peaks 4 and 5: High Stile (806m) and High Crag (744m)
It was a very enjoyable walk over High Stile and High Crag.
Peak 6: Seat (561m)
I eventually set my tent up at Seat. This gave me an escape route down Scarth Gap Pass if there was heavy snow fall overnight.
It was another still night with no further snow, but a bitterly cold morning. It had been a while since I’d camped in temperatures this low and I had forgotten to put my walking boots inside the inner with me the night before. So in the morning I discovered that they were frozen solid. In cold weather in the past I’ve even been known to put my boots in a dry bag and keep them in my sleeping bag.
It wasn’t all bad though. I had remembered to put my phone in the pocket of my down jacket and kept that in my sleeping bag to save power loss from the cold. I’d also slept with my hiking clothes in my bag so they were warm to put on in the morning. This makes a lot of difference! Even my dirty smelly socks were warm, but I had kept them separate in a sealed bag (or I wouldn’t have been able to sleep for the smell). One of the many things you do that sound awful when you stop and think about it, but make life so much nicer when you’re actually out hiking.
Peak 7: Hay Stacks (597m)
I continued along the ridge to Hay Stacks. This was an intimidating-looking top from this side and at first, I did consider it too dangerous to climb. However, there were a couple of people climbing it when I arrived. I watched them for a while and they seemed to be getting on OK, so I decided to give it a go.
The route involved some scrambling, and I needed to concentrate in these icy conditions. A bit of danger makes me feel alive but it’s always difficult to know where to draw the line between sensible risk and stupidity. It’s nice to know that the Mountain Rescue Service are there as a last resort, but I believe in being fully responsible for myself, especially at the moment with Covid concerns.
It was here that I started to realise just how good these Inov-8 Roclite Pro 400 boots really are. They’re a good solid boot for using with a heavy backpack, but also their flexibility and grip in these conditions is impressive. I did have to wear two pairs of socks to keep my feet warm enough though. I sometimes had cold feet when I was at a standstill. But they never became wet from sweat when I was hiking, despite the boots being Gore-tex lined. They must have still been breathing well enough.
The snow was still frozen solid up here, even with the sun out. I was loving the walk though and the weather. With all the restrictions of Covid-19 this year, what a treat to be out in the hills in these conditions!
Peaks 8, 9 and 10: Brandreth (715m), Green Gable (801m) and Great Gable (899m)
After Hay Stacks, I reached the end of the ridge and finally joined the official Bob Graham Round route. It was a great walk over the tops of Brandreth, Green Gable and Great Gable.
The weather was perfect but it was very slippery underfoot. I was glad I’d brought my Nortec micro spikes with me; they were essential for safety here. I was also appreciating having my walking poles for stability. There were some pretty steep climbs and descents.
At this point I decided to miss a few peaks in Bob Graham Round and head directly towards Scafell Pike. I had another decision to make though. Do I take the Corridor Route, knowing it would be dark by the time I reached the Scafell Pike summit? Or do I miss it and head directly to Angle Tarn to camp? It was a little too early to camp where I was, so I had to commit to one or the other.
I knew the Corridor Route would be tricky but thought I’d be over the worst of it by the time it got dark. So I went for it and really enjoyed the challenge. The winter light was amazing and I had fantastic views as the sun went down.
The Corridor Route is a risky walk if you’re not concentrating, and there were a number of people who had gone the wrong way descending Scafell Pike. A couple of groups shouted to ask me for the location of the correct path.
Peak 11: Scafell Pike (978m – almost)
On reaching the ridge, I didn’t see any point going right to the summit of Scafell Pike, as it was now dark and wouldn’t get any views. I was hoping for another bright night with the full moon but cloud had covered it. So I used my head torch and relied on my phone’s GPS for navigation. I re-joined the Bob Graham Round here.
Peak 12: III Crag (935m)
There wasn’t any wind (again), so it was a nice walk over III Crag to Esk Hause and Tongue Head. But it was very cold. I had been dressed appropriately for the conditions and hadn’t noticed just how cold it was until I put my pack down. Everything that had moisture in inside my pack was frozen solid. Even things that I’d not considered would freeze were frozen, like the antibacterial wet wipes that I use to wash (meaning I didn’t have to strip off and wash in freezing rivers or snow).
I could have carried on all the way to Angle Tarn, but I know it’s a popular place and I expected people to be camped there already. Instead, I stopped a little earlier and found a lovely camp spot by the river.
I had got my routine perfected by now so it didn’t take me long to set up camp. This is a good thing when it’s so cold! It wasn’t long before I was snug in my -25C sleeping bag and making dinner.
Luckily, my PlatyPreserve still had some contents left in it. It’s definitely a non-essential luxury item, but it’s becoming one of my favourite pieces of kit, making it into my gear list for every trip over the last few years. So while the water boiled for dinner I was able to enjoy a nice mug of red wine (just for the calories I needed obviously. It also stores my wife’s home-made sloe gin well).
There was some snowfall in the night and the wind got up for a while. My Lightwave tent handled it well though, with no issues at all. I did have some condensation in it, but nothing like I would in my previous double-walled tents. This x-tex breathable fabric seems to work well. It’s reassuring to be in such a stable four-season tent designed for the conditions. It doesn’t even flap noisily in the wind like many.
I’ve had the Lightwave tent for a while now but never been able to use it in these conditions. I’m now feeling very pleased that I purchased it. I’ve used three season tents in similar conditions and they’ve performed OK, but it is a very reassuring feeling to be in a tent that’s actually designed for winter storms and snow loading.
The day started cloudy and still again. I walked past Angle Tarn and as expected, there were other people camped there. So I was glad I’d camped where I had and had my campsite to myself.
From Angle Tarn, I deviated from the Bob Graham Round (again) and headed north-east towards High Raise. This morning was another lovely walk, even though I was in the cloud. It was very atmospheric with great cloud formations and even a completely white rainbow. Possibly not called a rainbow for obvious reasons, it probably has its own special interesting name which I don’t know, sorry.
Peak 13: High Raise (762m)
As I climbed the side and neared the summit of High Raise, I slowly climbed out of the cloud into glorious sunshine.
There were amazing views all around and I felt very lucky to be here. It felt very far from the issues affecting the world at the moment.
The summit of High Raise was very special in this weather. I stopped to heat water for a coffee and a dehydrated meal, melting snow because I wasn’t carrying enough water. I spent an hour here enjoying the peace. The views were spectacular.
I was only forced to move when I started shivering. There was only a light breeze but the wind chill must have been very low. It didn’t take long to drop off High Raise and on to Greenup Edge.
At Greenup Edge I could have turned for Keswick and my car here, but the weather was perfect and I was having too good a time to head home just yet. So I turned right down to Thirlmere, and crossed the A591 towards Helvellyn.
It was getting dark as I climbed past some waterfalls to Grisedale Tarn. I needed my head torch for the last hour to the tarn. The path up was very steep and slippery, so I needed my micro spikes on again. The path stayed close beside the river and waterfalls all the way up.
Grisedale Tarn is fairly big and there were loads of possible wild camping spots. I dropped down from the path and camped as soon as I reached the tarn. It only took a couple of minutes to find a flat enough piece of ground for my tent and put it up.
There was another group camped at the other end of the tarn. I couldn’t see their tent but I could hear them as it was a very still evening.
I’d another problem today: things freezing in my rucksack during the day. The cloth I use to wipe the condensation off my tent was frozen, so I had to thaw it out on my stove while cooking dinner. I still had not solved the problem of frozen wet wipes, and I needed them. There was no way I was stripping off to wash in the tarn. However, I had solved the problem of not being able to get the water out of a frozen water bottle in the morning. I put that water in the saucepan the night before, so I could just light the stove to thaw it out.
I enjoyed a nice few hours with the tent door open looking out over the tarn while making dinner, drinking the last of my wine and eating chocolate. A lovely way to end 2020.
I was woken in the night a number of times with sleet and high winds hitting the tent. However, I never felt uneasy about the tent staying put. It felt stable in the wind and the flysheet walls weren’t even deflecting like my previous tents would have done. I’m not using the standard pegs supplied with the tent though. I always carry the MSR 9″Core and 6″ Carbon Core stakes so I’ve no issues however windy it gets, or how soft the ground is where I want to camp.
I woke early and laid there for a while, very reluctant to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag. Probably I was extra snug because I’d put my down jacket on in the early hours, when I got up for a wee and had never taken it off again when I re-entered my bag. I even had coffee and breakfast without getting out of it. But somehow I still managed to be packed up and away by the time it got light.
Peak 14: Dollywaggon Pike (858m)
It had been a wild night and it wasn’t much better as I set off up Dollywaggon Pike. I had reservations that this was not a good idea and did consider turning around. But I knew that retracing my steps wasn’t going to be easy either. The climb past the waterfalls had been hard on the way up, so it was going to be even more difficult and dangerous on the way down.
Peak 15: Nethermost Pike (891m)
So I plodded on slowly over Dollywaggon Pike and then Nethermost Pike, struggling to stay on my feet in the wind. It would have been difficult seeing where I was going with all the spindrift blinding me. But I had kept my 30-year-old winter sunglasses to hand for this reason and they worked well. With these I’ve never found the need of heavier snow goggles.
Peak 16: Helvellyn (949m)
In the photograph above, you can see the pleasure in my face for actually reaching the summit of Helvellyn! I did see a couple of other people on the way up, all with their hoods pulled up tight, ice axe in hand and crampons on.
I had been planning on getting off the mountain as soon as possible after the summit. But by the time I reached the summit, the wind seemed to have abated a bit and had turned onto my back. So I decided to continue along the ridge and ended up summitting White Side, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd and Great Dodd in succession. These are all part of the Bob Graham Round.
Peaks 17, 18, 19 and 20: White Side (863m), Raise (883m), Stybarrow Dodd (843m) and Great Dodd (856m)
I ended up quite enjoying the challenge of navigating in the sheer whiteness of just snow and cloud. And also the challenge of keeping warm in the bitterly cold wind. I was dressed for it and felt comfortable all the time. Well, until I phoned my wife to let her know where I was and my plans, or really lack of them. I think she was a little put out when I ended the call fairly quickly, as I’d realised my single-gloved hand may have frozen to my phone. It didn’t take to long to warm up again after returning it to my rather over-the-top but snug PHD Kappa mitt.
Peak 21: Clough Head (726m)
I finally got some views when I dropped out of the cloud towards Calfhow Pike. Then I climbed Clough Head, which isn’t particularly high, but did seem like a bit of an effort to reach the top. I think I must have been starting to feel the effects of all the effort it had taken to get here.
There were surprisingly good views from Calfhow Pike and Clough Head across the valleys to Keswick, Skiddaw and Blencathra. They are also part of the Bob Graham Round, but due to the time of day and not having much day light left, I decided to leave them for another day and better weather, and head home. It also would be a very steep and dangerous climb up Blencathra in these conditions.
I took the most direct route off Clough Head towards Keswick. It was a steep and very slippery descent on the frozen path down. But it was fun!
It was then an easy road walk all the way to Keswick. The roads were very quiet and I only saw a couple of cars. Even the road walking is nice in the Lake District with the lovely stone walls, old houses and especially the views of all the fells all around. So I didn’t mind the walk back to my car. All was good, I’d been lucky with the weather and had a great walk.
Keswick was a bit of a shock; I had forgotten it was Christmas.
It was nice to pass the Keswick Moot Hall all lit with Christmas lights. This is the traditional start and finish point of the Bob Graham Round. I hadn’t run any of it, or completed it in 24hrs, or even climbed all the summits, but I’d had a great walk. I was happy. Especially after the fish-n-chips.
The fish and chips from the chippy in the centre of Keswick are compulsory when passing through. They’re always very good.
It was an easy two miles from here to Braithwaite and my car to complete the circuit, and head home.
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