Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Grasmere Skyline Classic (almost)

Having signed up for the GL3D and also the Grizedale 26.2 Ultra, I have been trying to get some longer runs in.  

Tony Wimbush's Lakeland Trails is a good resource for longer routes and it was from here that I took the details of the Grasmere Skyline Classic, an 18 mile route taking a, rather wide, horse shoe route around Grasmere.

Driving through the lakes at 6am, I saw stars in the sky. At this time of year that means cold and frosty but also clear and dry. Twenty minutes later and a heavy shower made me change my forecast to "changeable".

I was time limited on this run but still wanted to get a decent length run in. This is the reason that I found myself, on a Sunday morning, sitting in my car on the road outside Rydal Hall, at 6.30am, waiting for some daylight.

Loughrigg, not to be

As I climbed up from the road up the pitched winding path to Nab Scar, I couldn't help but stop, look back and take multiple pictures. The cloud was hanging, it didn't look like it would move all day. It was beautiful. 

looking down from Nab Scar over the south lakes

The climb up to Nab Scar and on to Heron Pike was made easier by the repeated photo stops.  Once over the rocky steep tops of Nab Scar, the incline became easier and I did actually start to run for a bit.  There is a good path along this bit, the odd muddy puddle but nothing too serious.

from Heron Pike

From Heron Pike, there is a down hill section which is nice to run before another incline up to a little bump that is Rydal Fell and then the more serious climb of Great Rigg.  I have tried to walk along this ridge before. It was one of the few occasions that I have abandoned a walk, having endured snow, hail and howling winds gusting up the side of the valley and swooping over the top of the ridge.  I got as far as Heron Pike before turning around.

sunlight on Coniston

from Great Rigg looking south along the ridge

From Great Rigg, there is an easy climb on to Fairfield with an opportunity to check out the Grisedale Hause route from Fairfield on to Seat Sandal.  I have half an hour to get up on to Fairfield and then across to Seat Sandal and down to Dunmail Raise where I am meeting Jonathan for the second part of the walk.  I'm going to be pushing it so I send a text saying I'll be an extra half hour.

up to Fairfield

flat top of Fairfield looking south along my route so far

north towards Helvellyn

St Sunday Crag pops up from Fairfield summit

Grisedale Tarn and the path to the left and then back up to Seat Sandal on the other side

Fairfield seemed so much bigger the last time I was here.  It's a great place to have to yourself on a Sunday morning with classic views and fells all around.  As I was on a schedule, I didn't hang around but started heading west until I could see Grisedale Tarn and the drop into Grisedale Hause.  Somebody was camping at Grisedale Hause and this was the first human I had seen today.

looking back up towards Fairfield with St Sunday Crag behind

The path down to Grisedale Hause was steep and a mixture of an actual path and scree.  If there wasn't somebody standing by their tent watching, I would have probably had a go at a more direct route but instead I conservatively ran down using ski-like turns to temper my pace.  This technique seemed to work well and soon enough I was down on the level and heading towards the steep climb up Seat Sandal.

from Seat Sandal looking south.  Cloud still hanging there

Seat Sandal summit looking east to Fairfield.  The outline of Cofa Pike and St Sunday Crag
can clearly be seen dropping down behind the flat top of Fairfield

From Seat Sandal, I was in Bob Graham territory and about to make the classic drop down the side of Seat Sandal towards Dunmail Raise.  I managed to pick out the path perfectly and headed down.  The slopes of Steel Fell across the road looked just as steep as they do when you drive past them.  I also saw that Jonathan's car (and, I presumed, Jonathan) were in position.

Steel Fell across the road.  The next climb (gulp)

"let's go"

As instructed, Jonathan was ready to go without too much hanging around.  No time for a warm up, it was straight up the steep side of Steel Fell.  This seemed a bit early to be playing my, "the worst of the climbing is over once we get to the top" card, but it was true.  We took our time and plodded to the top.  Having just done about 7 miles and finding this climb pretty tough, I made a mental note not to attempt a Bob Graham Round which would involve taking on this climb at about 2am, having just been up and around Skiddaw then on to the Helvellyn and Dodd Range before heading down to the road at Dunmail Raise.

from the side of Steel Fell looking over Helm Crag and Grasmere

From the top of Steel Fell, the terrain becomes flattish with lots of boggy bits.  It was runnable but a bit more of a challenge to navigate.  I was pleased that we never went wrong and, by looking at the gps track afterwards, saw that we took a direct line along our route.

rainbow over Thirlmere

clouds over Grasmere

Dead Pike (the summit of Steel Fell) and some dork

The next objective was Calf Crag.  Another, less than straight forward, navigational exercise but one which we managed fairly easily by using tarns and fence posts as orientation points.  Once we found the summit cairn on Calf Crag, we were certain we were there and this was confirmed by a couple of gents that we met on the way there.

top of Calf Crag looking back to Fairfield.  The little nub of Cofa Pike can be seen
just to the left of centre before the horizon dips down behind Seat Sandal.

The path on towards Sergeant Man is tough going, in the same way that the muddy trudge from Steel Fell to Calf Crag is tough going.  The boggy bits gradually become less and the path is fairly easy to pick out along the left hand side of Mere Beck.  The summit of Sergeant Man is unmistakable, sticking out prominently from the moorland around it.

Sergeant Man summit

From Sergeant Man, we were able to pick out the onward route.  The cliffs of Eagle Crag on Blea Rigg were an obvious target.  The running was a bit easier along here, but the navigation was a bit more difficult and I needed to keep double checking the route.

Easdale Tarn

Jonathan on Blea Rigg with Pike of Stickle behind

From Blea Rigg, the route headed over undulating grassy ground to Silver Howe.  At this point, I was concerned about running out of time.  I realistically had an hour to get down from Silver Howe, back up to Loughrigg and then around to Rydal Hall.  In hindsight, I could have probably made it.  It's a distance of about 4miles and, on the fells, it is doable in an hour but I go fell running for fun and didn't want to stress about anything so I took a safer option which went down, through Grasmere village and along the road to Rydal Hall.

from Silver Howe, looking onto Grasmere with Rydal behind

Silver Howe (busy)

Jonathan on Silver Howe with Grasmere (and Loughrigg Fell) behind

in red is the route I took down from Silver Howe and along the road to Rydal Hall.  The green dashed line shows a route we could have taken.  It's about the same distance but would have taken longer due to the terrain.  5k on the roads was an easier option (and I would have probably stopped to check out the cave on the alternative route).

On the way past, Grasmere looked good for a swim

and so did Rydal Water

So, I ran out of time to complete the classic skyline route, which would have included Loughrigg Fell.  This means that I will have to go back one day to repeat it!  Despite my failure to complete the full route, it was a successful day in terms of getting a long run in and I also bagged a few more Wainwrights.

map with elevation - about 18 miles


  1. Got any tips for GLD3 cause I am clueless. LOL Lovely pictures indeed, feeling rather jealous at the moment. I won't get back to the Lakes until November.

    1. Hi Susie, I would suggest relaxing. It's very laid back. I marshalled at the event last year and you can adapt the course as you see fit. We had some competitors getting a taxi between checkpoints, it didn't really matter (they declared it).

      I'm going to do some practice runs with overnight wild camps in between (maybe in the spring). Good luck, will be nice to meet you.