Snowy Walk up the Old Man of Coniston, Lake District
Wednesday – This was the day I had been waiting for and one of the main reasons I wanted to go to the Lake District. I wanted to walk up the Old Man of Coniston. I had done it previously one summer evening in July about 3 years ago and I wanted to do it again.I have just recently completed my #walk1000miles in a year challenge. I passed the 1000 mile mark in front of a picture of a mountain on an exhibition stand at the Ski and Snowboard Show, but I wanted to have the real celebration up a REAL MOUNTAIN.
To my delight, there had been snowfall over night, so it really was a winter wonderland. We set off at about 8.30am. The top of the mountain was not visible at this point, so we were keeping an open mind as to how far up we might be able to safely go.
The first task was the narrow road leading from Coniston village up to the car park. There were tyre tracks on the road, so it looked as if a vehicle had already been up or down here in the snow. Oddly, the tracks suddenly stopped about 2/3 of the way up.
We were the first people in the car park. There is something quite magical about making the first footprints on fresh, powdery snow. It was still cold, so the snow had not yet started to melt.
It was quite surreal because there was mist in the valley below and the mountain top was covered in cloud. Where we were walking was perfectly clear and we could see straight ahead of us into the distance.
The track wound its way upwards towards the next opening in the rocks. As we reached each one, we could see the next one, so it was a case of “We’ll just go to the next one and see how far we can see. If it is not visible, we will turn back.”
The first person we saw was a Ranger. He cheerfully wished us Good Morning and said it was a beautiful day to be on the mountain. Somehow that gave us permission to continue, as an expert had said it was said. It also gave me a great feeling of comfort that we were not the only people up there on the misty slopes of the Old Man of Coniston.
The Ranger set off at great speed up over the slope towards the Tarn. Although it was not clearly visible, we guessed he had taken the path.
Our original plan had been to take the ridge path to the top of the Mountain, although were having doubts about the sensibleness of that plan.
We stopped at Torver Beck for a cup of tea and a sandwich to decide what we were going to do.
Greg had said that there was another path that led up to the Tarn and it was just past the bridge. We set off up the slope, treading carefully in snow that was several inches deep and where there was not a single footprint – not even the sheep had been up there.
It was quite magical to play peek-a-boo with a mountain. One minute the whole mountain face was covered in thick mist and we could not see more than a few metres in front of us and, with the next breath of win, the mist clearly completely and this craggy rockface came into full view, almost as if it was saying, “Now you can see all my majestic glory – and now you can’t.”
The path was winding away from the direction we wanted to go and seemed to slip away into nothing high up on the mountain side.
We got out the Ipad with the trusty OS (Ordnance Survey) GPS maps on it and realized we were going the wrong way and were, in fact on the path towards the ridge. We turned round and headed back to the bridge, where we met other walkers. They had every intention of going to the ridge.
We could partially see where the path should be, so we headed across the snow to where we thought it was. It was hard to see the actual depth of the snow, so were making good use of our walking poles and also following in the trails of sheep and other animals that had passed that way.
It was hard going and we were really not particularly well-prepared for these conditions. We had normal hiking boots on, whereas really we needed ice-boots and crampons.
We saw another couple coming up from the main path. They seemed to be following the route that the ranger had taken. We followed in their tracks and realized that this must be the path because the snow was starting to melt and we could see gravel underneath.
We got to the top of the first level. This is before it drops down into the valley in order to climb back up again to see the Tarn. This point is about half way to the top of the Old Man of Coniston. So far it had taken us nearly 4 hours to go about 2 miles.
We were conscious of the swirling mist and fog clouds above us, as well as the time it would take us to get back down from the Summit.
This was decision time. Shall we battle our way to top and run the risk of trying to come down a very faint track in fading light or shall we call it a day, go back the way we came and come up again another day. This was the Ambition versus Sensibleness decision.
As I stood there, contemplating what to do, there was suddenly an icy blast of wind that cut right through to my bones. I could almost hear the voice of the Old Man saying, “Go down, go home, you have done enough. Come again another day.”
As I made the decision and turned around, the wind dropped and I felt a benevolent smile warm the back of my neck.
We had still climbed over 300 metres to around 530m above sea level, so it was an achievement to be proud of.
We retraced our steps and this journey was even more treacherous than the ascent because the snow was starting to melt, so the path had become a slushy stream of snow and water, that was running over the stones, rocks and loose shale that was underneath.
We picked our way down the slope, gingerly placing one foot in front of the other and relying heavily on our walking poles for support. The grass underneath the snow was showing through and in places that had turned to mud, which meant our walking boots had very little grip. We slipped and fell on our bottoms several times. We were glad to reach the main path.
With the melting snow, this was in a similar condition, although it was not as bad as the upper level one because it was wider and not as steep.
The wind had dropped and the sun had come out, so it was quite pleasant. The dark clouds that threatened more rain and snow seemed to follow us down the mountain, as if to make sure that we went home.
By the time we got to the car park, the solid snow paths that we had marched along at 9am were now slushy, soggy rivers, with patches of white snow. I tried to walk on these areas as my feet felt drier than wading through the water.
I was proud of how far we got. I was also glad that we chose the option of sensibleness. We went as far as we were capable of going. Our safety was more important that the goal of reaching the top. The Old Man of Coniston has been there for a long time and will be there for us when we return in the future.
My next attempt at conquering the summit will probably be on a dry spring or summer day with plenty of hours of daylight.
Still it ticked all the boxes of walking, mountains and snow. I can call myself a true Mountain Walking Girl.