Grisedale Pike and beyond – Day 3 (Northern Lakes)

The Route: Grisedale Pike to Hopegill Head with return via Coledale Beck
Distance: 11.6km (7.25 miles) | Time: 4 hours | Ascent: 2,700ft
Start: NY227237 | Map: OL4 | Date: 22/06/2010

Grisedale Pike to Hopegill Head

Grisedale Pike is a large fell throwing down three long ridges to the valley floors and an additional two shorter ones that link to the adjoining fell of Hopegill Head and the strategically important Coledale Hause, which in turn links the fell to the rest of the Coledale Fells. As Alfred Wainwright put it so dramatically “All visitors to Lakeland who come to walk on the hills turn their footsteps in due course to Grisedale Pike”. It is a nagger of conscience!

With such an illustrious intro I just had to have a crack at the also oft named ‘Lakes Matterhorn’. Whichever angle you view it from Grisedale Pike always looks steep, high, exposed and pyramidal. It is the classic ‘ask a kid to draw a mountain’, and they will invariably draw you Grisedale Pike. If it were not for its lack of a moniker proclaiming it a 3,000 footer it would surely be right up there with your Great Gables’ and Helvellyns’ etc.

Grisedale Pike the 'Matterhorn of Lakeland', photograph taken from Whinlatter Forest.

And so it was with great excitement that I set out on my own with a very heavy rucksack in the extremely early hours of the morning from the village of Braithwaite. The sun was shining and the birds were singing, I had the route all to myself, (or so I thought). I set off through lush greenery and pine scented woods to attack the mountain via the Sleet How approach. A clear and well used path wound its way up ‘Kinn’, past Lanty Well, and eventually breaking through the bracken onto the hillside. In no time at all I had made it up and onto Sleet How from where a deep valley revealed itself beyond. This dark and quiet valley is ‘Grisedale’ after which the mountain itself is named.

I stopped for a quick refuelling of energy drink and Mars bar as I surveyed the steep path in front of me. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of another fell walker, out early and following in my own virginal footsteps. The game it seemed was afoot. At that moment I became determined to summit quickly and savour selfishly the momentary solitude of a peak top all to myself. I threw the rucksack on my back and set off at great pace towards the stony arête which climbs steeply to the summit.

The last 500 metres were steep and at times quite exposed as the wind swirled up both sides of the narrow arête. It is at moments like these that I always wish I had taken the lightweight option when packing my rucksack for the days hike. Finally after much puffing and panting, (caused mainly by my incredibly heavy rucksack) I managed to peer over the rocky crux and got my first glimpse of the summit proper. I summoned a deep breath and pushed on to the top where I was rewarded with a magnificent 360 degree panorama of the lakes and northern fells.

Alas my sneaky plan to have the summit to myself became dashed as an elderly – but super fit looking hiker – peered above the rocky crest having summited from the Hopegill Head approach and beaten me by several minutes. We exchanged pleasantries and weather forecasts then headed in our separate directions, me for Hopegill Head, he for Ladyside Pike and a descent back down to Whinlatter.

Meanwhile my nemesis – the other hiker – was now summiting Grisedale Pike as I made it quickly across Hobcarton Crag towards Hopegill Head determined in my mind to bag a peak in some solitary bliss. At 2,525ft the summit is an easy gain when attacked from the approach ridge. It oversees the dramatic valley that sits below Hobcarton Crags where the tiny Hobcarton Gill gently meanders its way down to the Whinlatter Pass road below. The valley is home to the ‘Viscaria Alpina’ the only English home of this particular species of alpine plant. But I was way too preoccupied with a fast ascent to savour the beauty around me as I pressed on with my single minded one man mission.

View from Hopegill Head back to Grisedale Pike's summit.

My plans though were foiled yet again upon arrival at the summit as two climbers appeared from the ‘Notch’ approach greeting me as they set foot atop the summit rocks. I returned the compliment through gritted and ungracious teeth. There I sat on the rocky, razor sharp, and amazingly small summit for about 10 minutes before deciding to press on and across to the subsidiary summit of Sand Hill. The route to Sand Hill consisted of masses of loose scree and a quick scree run would be in order to mange to descend quickly. A quick burst of energy and accompanying adrenaline rush caused by the scree run saw me hit Sand Hill within minutes. From there I caught my first glimpse of Gasgale Gill a challenge I would later set down for myself on another day sometime in the future.

From Sand Hill I descended to Coledale Hause and rested amongst the grazing sheep beside the tumbling waters of the infant and clear Gasgale Gill. As I sat in the shadows of Grasmor and Eel Crag I knew that this area of the lakes could offer me endless opportunities for adventure and long hikes amongst supreme wilderness for many years to come. I consoled myself with this thought and the realisation that there may yet be other days in the future when I could possibly have these hills all to myself, (give or take a few dozen sheep for company). I scoped an interesting route up Grasmor and surveyed the north-east slopes of Eel Crag for possible routes up – consciously looking towards another time – as I sat beside the trickling gill.

Having finally recovered from my bout of selfish machismo I picked up my heavy rucksack once more and started out on the route back via Coledale Beck in the shadows of the mighty Eel Crag. Soon enough I could see Force Crag on my path down. This hanging valley with Pudding Beck spewing over it from a vast height is a sight to behold, and one not repeated anywhere else in the lakes. Below this area can be seen Force Crag Mine and my next destination on this hike.

The desolate and now disused Force Crag Mine.

It’s a cold and desolate place is Force Crag Mine. Nestled in the shadows of  Eel and Force Crag, the small mine buildings look consumed by their lofty surroundings. I hopped down the rock strewn ankle busting path towards the deserted mine buildings in the valley below, stopping more often now, to take in my amazing wild surroundings. I walked over rusting and corroded drainage systems funneling the mountain waters down to the mine – presumably for shifting and cleaning purposes of some sort. At the bottom I stooped at the small stream and gulped down some fresh mountain water and splashed yet more over my sweating brow to cool my core temperature down.

Abandoned mine workings at Force Crag Mine.

Tentatively I walked towards the ghostly deserted mine buildings. When I found there were no fences to obstruct me I spent some considerable time exploring and investigating the old shells of buildings, free to roam at will. I later learnt that Force Crag Mine was the last working metal mine in the Lake District, prior to its final abandonment in 1991. I also found out that the site had been mined for lead from 1839 until 1865, and for zinc and barytes from 1867. The job of the mill had been to separate these minerals from each other, and from any other minerals and the county rock. The mine had in the past used both 1ft 10in and 2ft 0in gauge railways, originally connecting the mine to the nearby town of Braithwaite. In later years lorries had became the favoured mode to transport the spoils leading to an abandonment of the tracks. A rusting sad-looking conveyor belt at least 50ft long can still be seen running from an adit down to an old abandoned crushing mill, it is another poignant reminder of this country’s once great industrial past long since forgotten.

The derelict conveyor belt at the mine.

I had scrambled around the ruins for too long as the weather was becoming ominously dark and so I decided to move off and follow the metalled track back towards Braithwaite as quickly as possible.

Above me birds of prey circled nonchalantly letting out occasional cries and below sheep grazed munching along the banks of the tiny Coledale Beck, but other than that not a soul or a sound could be heard in the valley as I hiked solitarily through. After about 30 minutes of walking I arrived back at the small disused quarry near Braithwaite where I had parked my trusty car all those hours before. I clambered in and drove back towards civilisation and the A66 back to busy Keswick.

That afternoon as I sat back at the tent and gazed across the fields towards that Matterhorn shaped mountain looming in the distance I no longer had that nagging of my conscience as described by the late Alfred Wainwright, my conscience was now clear, at least that is in terms of Grisedale Pike!

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