Winter on Mellbreak

The path up from Mosedale is a slog. With the depth of the snow increasing with every few feet gained, the slope feels considerably steeper and longer than I remember from previous walks…

Remembering a special day on Lakeland's winter fells...

Grasmoor from Mellbreak

The path up from Mosedale is a slog. With the depth of the snow increasing with every few feet gained, the slope feels considerably steeper and longer than I remember from previous walks. By the time the gradient eases, I’ve stripped down to my base layer and am panting like a dog. Why bother? I could’ve just stayed at home in foggy Carlisle, warm and cosy indoors. Snow is always such hard work – and fraught with difficulties, which on this occasion started on the minor roads before I’d even parked up. But then I reach the saddle on Mellbreak’s summit ridge…

Alpine. It’s not a word I’ve often (ever?) used to describe the Lakes, but before me is a pristine array of white peaks outlined against an azure sky, something I associate more with Switzerland or Austria than with north-west England. The steep gullies and arêtes on Grasmoor’s west face are plastered with a thick powder, patches of dark rock poking through ominously, reminders of the serious summer scrambling routes that exist here. Beyond Grasmoor, distant summits assume the stature of much higher peaks, the uninterrupted snow cover elevating Hopegill Head, Eel Crag and Raise, among others, way beyond their sub-3,000ft status.

The Lake District's north-western fells in winter

I want to make the most of Mellbreak. This 512m/1,679ft summit stands alone, part of the Loweswater group but separated from its neighbours by steep slopes and the bogs of Mosedale. It’s the only top I’ll have time to visit today, and I know my intended return route via the shadow-bound valley of Black Beck and the shores of Crummock Water will be muddy or icy – or, more likely, an unpleasant combination of the two.    

I make my way to the fell’s northern summit, the lower of the two tops. While I’m there, taking pictures and taking in much-needed sustenance, two RAF jets roar through Mosedale beneath me, slicing precisely but precariously between Mellbreak and Hen Comb opposite, two fells divided by only a few hundred metres. What sort of day are the pilots having? Are they whooping with joy and exhilaration at the sight of this wintry world shooting past at high speed? Crossing back across the saddle to the true, southern summit, I enjoy a fresh, equally sublime perspective on Alpine Cumbria. The Lingcomb Edge ridge leading up to Red Pike straight ahead appears unblemished. Have any walkers sullied those virgin slopes yet? It doesn’t look like it. The near-perfect symmetry of Fleetwith Edge, in monochrome today, is repeated in Buttermere, but just slightly out of focus on the shimmering surface of the water.

Red Pike and the High Stile range from Mellbreak

I dawdle, chatting with a paramedic from west Cumbria who shares with me his video of the RAF jets, captured while he was clambering up the side of White Crag earlier. I linger, letting him go on ahead, telling myself he’ll make a nice foreground distraction among all the white in my photographs; the reality is that I don’t want to leave the summit. I sit again and get my flask of coffee out. Another 10 minutes won’t hurt…

First published in The Great Outdoors (TGO), January 2020. Full walk notes in the January/February 2021 edition of Lakeland Walker.

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