Wainwright Walks 18: Helm Crag to Calf Crag – weird rocks, waterfalls and too many false summits

Hills: Helm Crag, Gibson Knott, Calf Crag
When: 22 September 2015
Who: self and the mountaineering minion
Weather: Sun!
Distance: 8 miles approx
Bog factor: fine until Calf Crag, then pretty awful
Path factor: Great path on Helm Crag, okay on Gibson Knott; boggy after that until the descent through the valley (steep in parts)
Post walk drink: Shiraz
Post walk watering hole: The Lamb Inn, Grasmere

After an uninspiring weather forecast on Monday 21st – which was borne out by the actual weather and therefore we decided to go see the Everest movie at the cinema in Ambleside rather than attempt a walk (this has killed any residual desire I might have ever had to try anything at higher altitude than Scotland!) the forecast for Tuesday was unexpectedly good. However, we both felt rather tired (not due to any excess intake of wine, just generally not a brilliant night’s sleep) so decided a relatively short and lower level walk was in order. The loop over Helm Crag from Grasmere seemed a good bet, with decent paths at least some of the way and also the option of taking the bus which would enable us (a) to avoid the extortionate parking charges in Grasmere and (b) sample one of the local hostelries after the walk. We were off the bus in Grasmere shortly before 11, and ambled past the Sam Read bookshop towards the Easdale road which would lead us to the path up Helm Crag, the summit rocks of which we could already see from the village. The sky was blue, the birds were singing and the route was clear – what could possibly go wrong?

Those of you that read my posts will know by now that if something does not go wrong with the weather something else generally will instead – which has included several mechanical breakdowns and various illnesses. As we were approaching the end of the tarmac road Stuart told me that he had tweaked something in his leg and it hadn’t sorted itself on the walk in. We had a quick conflab and decided that I would continue on and he would amuse himself pottering around the village, which had the benefit of a decent bookshop as well as gear shops and of course places to obtain liquid (and indeed solid) refreshment.

I estimated I would probably be back at around 4 – which as it turned out was a tad optimistic – and decided to try and push myself round a bit faster than my normal pace if possible. The path up Helm Crag is a (mostly excellent) constructed path, and although the first part is a bit of a lung buster heading steeply uphill it then takes a more zigzag line up the fell before a final steep (ish) pull up towards the summit rocks.

The summit is a fascinating place and had I not been aware of time constraints it would have been an excellent place to wander about. Loads of rock formations as well as great views to the higher fells such as the Langdales and the Fairfield Horseshoe. The summit rocks are not (as is sometimes thought) the ‘Lion and the Lamb’ but rather a high, angled rock a bit further along the ridge which is known as the Howitzer because of it’s alleged resemblance to a gun.

That isn’t what I think it looks like, but maybe best not to go there! The true summit is a grade 2 scramble and not easy, so I settled for scrabbling up a bit of the base, getting someone to take a picture and then heading off. Unlike the Inaccessible Pinnacle – the main reason I will almost certainly never finish the Munros – it seems to be accepted you don’t need to reach the true top of Helm Crag to tick off the Wainwrights, so that was good enough for me!

I pressed on along the ridge towards Gibson Knott, which I reached pretty quickly, though this part of the ridge is extremely knobbly with lots of little ups and downs – even the false summits had false summits – but reached the top of hill 2 pretty quickly. The views continued to be great and despite the up and down, and feeling a bit tired from trying to walk a bit faster than usual, I was really enjoying the day.

Unfortunately this wasn’t to last! After Gibson Knott were yet more ups and downs and the terrain underfoot degenerated into bog with the path becoming a bit of a mess. The views continued to be good, but Calf Crag seemed to take forever to appear, certainly a lot longer than the distance on the map suggested it should. I reached the top at about 1.45, took a few photos and decided to press on as I was still ahead of where I thought I would be. I dropped down to the pass where the path is picked up back down Easdale and phoned Stuart to let him know where I was and agreed to meet in the Lamb pub. I was hoping now to be back before 4, after all the path down was on the Coast to Coast route, what could go wrong?

The answer was – waterfalls! I love waterfalls and there were some really nice ones on the way back. However, the path follows the stream fairly closely and at some points is pretty steep and loose which required me to take my time and take care. Some bits are also quite boggy and there were a few stream crossings to negotiate; there was also a (thankfully brief) section where the path was quite exposed above a big drop into a gorge. All of this meant that it was impossible to get any sort of rhythm going and I was losing time fast. I pressed on as fast as I could but had to stop at one point to shove in an energy gel as the tiredness was starting to kick in.

By the time I had got back on the relative flat I realised there was no way I was going to get back for 4 and failed to get hold of Stuart on the phone to let him know – I couldn’t get through on the phone and fired off a text not knowing if that would get through either. Since I was on the flat I decided the best option was to push the pace as much as possible and by the time I was back on the tarmacked road I was practically jogging. I finally made it into the Lamb just after 4.30… no Stuart! Where was he? I wandered out of the pub, walked towards the bookshop and Cotswold Outdoor (both likely locations) then gave up and returned to the pub to be very relieved to see Stuart appear. He had walked up the last bit of the path to meet me, but because I’d been behind on time had turned round and we had somehow missed each other, and when I had first arrived at the pub he had been in the loo (I had missed the fact his rucksack was sitting on a chair). Oh well, at least we had managed to meet up now! Needless to say, this called for a few post walk drinks/ chilling out in the Lamb before later getting the bus back to Ambleside.

All in all a really nice day out (meeting up issue notwithstanding) with some excellent views, but tougher than it looked.. and a reminder that bogs/ scrappy paths are not confined to Scotland!

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2 thoughts on “Wainwright Walks 18: Helm Crag to Calf Crag – weird rocks, waterfalls and too many false summits

  1. I like Gibson Knott best of those – I usually continue round to Steel Fell as I love coming down ‘the edge’ from there (over Cotra Breast) – that’s even more boggy though. Never done the full length of Easedale – looks very pretty! Haven’t tried the new path up Helm Crag though – I still insist on the old route up the end of the fell – I’ll probably get shouted at one day for sticking to that one!
    Carol.

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  2. I’d probably have come down over Steel Fell it I hadn’t had the time constraint – though I guess it’s there to do on its own as a short day.

    Easdale was very pretty – the walk to the tarn looked good too – maybe as a route to Blea Rigg at some point.

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