Grisedale Pike

Published 6 January 2019

Scrambling up to the top of Grisedale Pike in the cloud
Scrambling up to the top of Grisedale Pike in the cloud

The Coledale Horseshoe. A classic round, visiting the fells that surround the Coledale valley. Majestic, wondrous, a delight. Not to be missed. Assuming you go in decent weather that is. Guess what we didn’t have? The fun all started at Grisedale Pike.

In the North Western Fells Pictorial Guide, on the second page dedicated to a fell called Outsider, Wainwright drew a diagram. It was a simple map. An overview of the area. Marked on one side was the village of Braithwaite. A line extended west heading to Grisedale Pike. From there the line went south to Coledale Hause and Eel Crag before going east to Sail. Beyond Sail it split into two. One line went east to Scar Crag and Causey Pike before finishing up at the village of Stair. A more northern route went back to Braithwaite via Outsider, Stile End and Barrow. And in the middle he noted the valley of Coledale.

Wainwright rarely mentions specific ways to chain fells together. He wasn’t one to say “hey, this is something you can do in a day.” He left that as an exercise for the reader. He did provide connections for each fell. Ridge routes you can follow from one fell to another. But a chain of them? Not likely.

But with Coledale he provides his little diagram. Whether he intended there to be a suggestion you walk these fells together or not, isn’t clear. Wainwright didn’t refer to the map in his text. He just drew it.

Wainwright's diagram of the Coledale fells, from the Pictorial Guide to the North Western Fells
Wainwright’s diagram of the Coledale fells, from the Pictorial Guide to the North Western Fells

He may have drawn it to show how the ridge of the fells arcs round the valley. Or he may have done it simply to fill some space in the page. Who knows? But whether by intention or not, the presence of the map on the page is a subliminal message. A message that says go on. Pick a branch, and walk me.

And that’s what we did.

It was a cold, rather autumnal Wednesday in October. We were staying in Keswick. The children were being looked after by doting grandparents. And that meant my partner Catherine and I, had the day to ourselves. A day we could go out for a walk.

Our plan was to head to Braithwaite and walk the Coledale Horseshoe. We’d end at Barrow, visit Outsider before that. Sail would come after Crag House. And it would all start at Grisedale Pike.

Bracken lined path going up Grisedale Pike
The grassy path through the Bracken, leading onwards up Grisedale Pike.

Well actually it would start a little outside Braithwaite, a short way up the Whinlatter Pass. It was here that our three mile ascent of Grisedale Pike would begin. An initial steep climb up saw the journey kick off, and then the gradients became more gradual. Walking along a grassy path surrounded by bracken, all in a autumnal hues of brown.

As we gained height, the bracken gave way to heather. The grassy paths became more rocky. And the views began to disappear.

Thick fog was hugging the higher ground. We’d expected some. The mountain weather forecast for the Lake District had told us it would be there. Although it also said the fog would clear, and there was a 70% chance of cloud free summits. Things didn’t look great right now, but there was promise. So we pushed on, walking into the clouds as it got thicker and thicker.

Grisedale Pike covered in cloud
The summit’s back there somewhere, but it would take many false summits before we found it.

“Reminds me of the Pennine Way,” I grimly noted, and Catherine nodded in reply.

We’d walked it together some years earlier, and had spent a lot of time on heather topped hills and moorland. And quite a lot of it we had walked in heavy cloud. Although on the Pennine Way, it had rained more.

With little visibility, we had no idea how far we were from the top. This saw us trooping over a continuing parade of false summits. We would get close to something that looked like a summit. And as we did, an even higher point would start to loom out of the background. A kind of dull shadow, that became more and more defined. Then the whole cycle would start again. Even when we reached Grisedale Pike’s true summit, I wasn’t quite sure I really believed we were there.

But there we were, sat next to the simple cairn that marks the highest point of the fell. As we huddled together for warmth, I whipped out my Wainwright guide to find out what the views were of. Or, what we would have seen. Because all we could see was cloud. Thick, grey and ever present. Somewhere out there was Blencathra, Skiddaw and Bow Fell. But who knew where.

Standing on the rocky summit of Grisedale Pike
791m above sea level, I stand on Grisedale Pike’s summit.

The lack of visibility was, perhaps, fitting. We hadn’t seen much of Grisedale Pike on the way up. Wainwright describes it as “one of those fells that compels attention by reasons of shapeliness and height.” But we had to take his word for it. Well we had no idea what it looked like. The cloud had seen to that. And now the summit, it refused to reveal its secrets too.

Still, 70% chance to cloud free summits eh? Grisedale Pike had not rewarded us, but at least the odds looked good for the rest of the day.

Only time would tell if those odds were accurate.

Next time: Hopegill Head.

Catherine at the top of Grisedale Pike
Catherine at the top of Grisedale Pike

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