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Low Cloud on Harter Fell

Posted by Daniel Paulo on

On Sunday 19th January 2020, with a very good weather forecast, we set off to Haweswater after the usual Morrison's breakfast.  The road in was populated by a long stream of parked cars, and we ended up some way back from the small car park at Mardale Head.  

Harter Fell

Lots of blue sky, but the sun had not reached this side of the valley, and the road was perilously icy.  Cars didn't have a problem with this, but just walking to the gate at the start of the walk was a nervy affair.  At 11:45am we began with a steady climb up to Small Water which we expected to find frozen, but a lively and very cold breeze ensured that the tarn was choppy and liquid.  Underfoot was often frozen, and every step had to be more careful than usual. 

After a brew from the flask we completed the rise to the top of Nan Bield Pass, but it was clear that the day's promise would not be fulfilled.  Low cloud predominated on the tops, and further south a thick blanket of fog hugged the land. The wind was piercing and the shelter was fully occupied.  Plan 'A' had been the full High Street/Kidsty Pike circuit, one of our most favourite walks, 'B' was the descent of Riggindale Crag which we rarely do.  Here, though, it was Plan 'C' - the traverse of Harter Fell, the safest and shortest option.  A nice climb on a fairly narrow ridge rises from the pass but we were soon in the cloud with occasional openings revealing grand visions of mountains and hills.  The gaps in the fog would close quickly and once we reached the summit and it's lumpy cairn there would be nought to see for some time.  

Near the top of Harter Fell

The way continued north east - at last the wind behind us! - a pleasant gradual descent to the top of Gatescarth Pass.  We rested with a tea and a sandwich, a view of the winding track below us occasionally emerging out of the gloom.  That track was followed back down to Mardale, made interminable by the persistent low cloud which seemed to follow us down.  We were quite low before we were definitely out of the fog and it was close to sunset as we reached the car, with the morning's ice now melted but ready to freeze again.

As we left the dale the sky reddened whilst the tops stayed covered, and a richly coloured sunset interweaved with the mountains and the clouds. 

Sunset behind High Street and Kidsty Pike

It was a walk of what could have been and we would have done something less ambitious if we'd had a more accurate forecast.  Maybe next time...

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