When I last activated cross fell, in August 2021, I had cycled there from home and camped not far from the radar station on Great Dun Fell. I noted during that activation that the summit of Cross Fell provided great camping opportunities.
My XYL needed to drive over Hartside pass on 31 December 2021, and kindly dropped me off at the summit of the pass, to start my walk. One of my current aims is to activate all the Lake District SOTA Fells by arriving via human transport from home – so most of my activations have involved a long walk or cycle. Being dropped-off from a car was an absolute luxury.
The night before I had decided it was unlikely to be possible to camp overnight on the summit, as winds of 50mph to 60mph were forecast – I generally set a limit of 40mph for an overnight camp when using the Hilleberg tent. On the morning of 31 December, the forecast had reduced to around 30 to 35mph winds, so I thought it was worth a try.
The summit of Cross Fell has an easy grassy escape route, with a bothy (Gregg’s Hut) situated around 150m lower in elevation and a short walk from the summit. To the other side of the summit – around 5km away – is the Radar Station and a metalled road, so even if the weather deteriorated there were plenty of safe escape options.
I left the carpark at Hartside pass at around 1100hours, as I had only around 10klm of walking to do, I was looking forward to a gentle stroll along the ridge overlooking the Eden Valley. A clear track heads south from the pass – starting at an elevation of 575m, so not much more than 300m lower than Cross Fell summit.
Heading in SSW direction I made my way across the Malmerby Fell. This is very much grouse shooting country, and the hill side is littered with gravel feeding stations; the occasi0onal squark signalled a grouse rising from the heather – presumably having escaped the shooting season which ended on 10 December.
The weather was overcast, with the occasional flurry of sleet, a the wind blowing across the ridge was fairly slack – around 15mph.
Malmerby Fell afforded a lovely view across the Eden Valley; with the cloudbase at around 900m the tops of some of the higher Lake District fells were lost in the mist but the High Street range was clearly visible. Heading SSE from Malmerby Fell I joined I joined stone wall, providing a useful navigation handrail if conditions had been misty. I followed the wall for around 2km, reaching t small stream of Gregory’s Sike where I paused for lunch.
I filled my bottle from the stream, using a Sawyer water filter, and hoped there wasn’t too much lead in the water (the area is strewn with evidence of the lead mining past). During lunch the weather closed in, a mist descended and a steady fall of rain began . The rain had set-in for the rest of the afternoon.
After lunch I started moving again, my intention was to head or the route of Wainwrights Pennine Journey (a fascinating book if you’ve not read it – I highly recommend – not to be confused with the Pennine Way that was also designed by Wainwrights). Before I reached the Pennine Journey route I found a newly laid wire fence in my path, heading NNE and seeming to follow the Civil Parish boundary. With time on my side I decided to follow the fence line since it appeared to head pas a number of old mine workings and back onto the main ridge.
The fence was a good companion a took my most of the way up to the ridge which I reached at NY675360, I then turned SE to walk across the shoulder of Skirtwith fell, looking to join with the main path again. Back on the main path, I found a spring near to the famous Yad Stone where I was able to fill up with water for my camp. It turned-out that I could have climbed a little higher and filled my bottles at Crossfell Well Spring (at the 830m contour, just 60m below the summit this must be one of the most conveniently placed water sources of any Cumbrian SOTA summit.
With around 3 litres of water (and a further litre freshly in my belly) I headed up to the summit, following the large cairns to arrive at the substantial summit shelter.
With strong winds a possibility I sited my tent as far into the cross-shaped shelter as possible. It was now pouring with rian as a I set about erecting my antennas. A flowerpot antenna was placed on a 4m pole followed by a linked dipole on a separate 7m pole. The dipole passed over the tent and summit shelter.
With antennas ready I dived into my tent a removed my soaked outer garments before calling out on 2m using a hand-held (Yaeasu VX6) connected to the flowerpot antenna, the time was 1517hrs.
G6LKB was the first caller followed by M0TRI, G0PMJ, 2E0XUP and G6AEK. The callers noted my signal was fluctuating and this was traced to a problem with the BNC on my feeder – I needed to hold the coax in a certain position to avoid the problem. Not a problem, as I had two RH770s and flexible whip and a rubber duck antenna with me also.
With 2m fairly quite I setup my Venus SW-3b CW radio using the BaMatech TPIII paddle. I started learning CW in February and although I am up to around 25wpm when operating at home, I find summit operations more challenging but each time is a little easier. This time I felt the concentration needed was much less and the mode has begun to feel more natural. Although, my sending as rather poor at times as I had forgotten to bring the steel plate with me (which the paddles magnetically stick to), and instead had to hold the paddles in my hand while operating – something I am not used to.
M3PMG was my first contact (he was calling on 7.030 so I thought I would have a chat), I then called CQ myself a little higher on the band and after the marvellous RBN hole picked me up a small pile-up followed, with G8TZA, EA1AAP and G4OBJK first.
Over the next hour or two I switched between 2m and 40m. The weather outside was increasingly foul, and there was no chance of me changing the dipole to 20m.
At about 1700 hrs I spoke with GM4WHA and discussed my plans for the night – hoping to stay up until midnight and amake a few new year contacts.
After speaking with GM4WHA I got ready for bed. I inflated my thermarest sleeping pad, and rolled out my PHD sleeping bag (made with a waterproof outer). As extra protection in case of any difficulties I also had a Rab Survivalzone Bivvy, which coupled with the 4-season Hilleberg tent gave me a secure feeling for the night.
AI cooked some dinner – chicken tikka with rice – and had a hot drink. At about 1830hrs I checked the weather forecast (using three different sources for mountain weather) and the forecast for 0300hrs to 0900hours included 12cm of snow and 50mph winds with stronger gusts. I reckoned that my tent and sleeping system coupled with the shelter afforded by the summit cairn would be sufficient to see me through this. However, in the event that I was wrong or that the forecast was overly optimistic I would be faced with vary unpleasant walk to the bothy in the early hours of the morning.
In the interests of getting some worry-free sleep I decided to unpitch my tent, take down the antennas and head to the bothy. So I got out of my warm sleeping back, packed everything up, preset a bearing on my compass for the safe route off the summit and changed my midnight SOTA alert to notify chasers I would be leaving the summit, while still in my tent. Heading off the summit I got soaked again!
The route to the bothy was easy enough. I wasn’t sure what I would find at the bothy – New Years eve is a traditional meeting time at bothies, so I expected it to be a full house. I was quite prepared to camp outside so as to get a quiet night. To my total surprise the bothy was empty, and it stayed that way for the whole night (I reported my mini adventure in real time on the reflector)
As far as bothies in England are concerned, Mosedale cottage has long been my favourite (and in Scotland, Strathan bothy near Cape Wrath) although I think Greg’s hut may now steal that position. The sleeping room has a small stove which I was able to light, and the spacious sleeping platform gave me a good night’s sleep. The bothy is recently refurbished by The Hook remains.
Warm and toasty in the bothy
The following morning I set off for the summit at about 0930. The weather in the early hours had indeed been bad, with howling winds. There was around 10 to 12cm of snow, on the ground. The ascent to the summit was fairly uneventful – except for multiple post-holing through the snow into boggy ground.
Atop the summit I called out on my handheld only at 100hrs, and made contact with M0TRI, MW0TTK, G6LKB, G6AEK, G0MHF and (just as I was leaving the summit) G0WHA. It was good to catch up with everyone. The wind had dropped to around 30mph on the summit and I was starting to wish I had stayed the night, but on further reflection it was the right choice. The summit shelter can form some nasty drifts and there was always the risk of the tent getting buried, even if it had stood up to the wind.
After the activation I headed down to Garrigil to meet back with the XYL. It was a pleasant walk down into the valley and I was delighted that I had made it back to the summit for a first activation of 2023.