Hills: Steel Fell, Calf Crag, Gibson Knott and Helm Crag
Date: Tuesday 26th December 2017
Company: Myself and Ann-Marie
Distance: 10.1km, Ascent: 610m
Time: 4Hrs 40Mins

On Christmas Night, subsequent to spending the day with my family, eating enough food to feed a horse, and after checking out the various MWIS forecasts, I decided to drive to the Southern Uplands/Lake District to catch the best of the weather during the next three days. 90% cloud-free Munros to the south was more appealing than 30% cloud-free Munros to the north-west and west. I set off from home around 18:00 driving as far as Moffat before parking up for the night. The following morning I drove to Ambleside stopping only briefly for some shopping before seeking something to ascend on the drive north towards Keswick.

On passing Helm Crag, I suspected getting to the top of the Howitzer would be difficult and potentially dangerous, however, neighbouring Steel Fell looked quite appealing. On checking the map, I saw a potential circuit taking in Steel Fell, Calf Crag, Gibson Knott and Helm Crag. With only five hours remaining until sunset we would potentially be hard-pushed to complete the circuit of four, given the snowy conditions, before sunset. We therefore set off walking with a view to ascending Steel Fell only but with the option of undertaking the circuit if we made good time up Steel Fell.

I parked in a farm car park at Town Head (parking charge £1).

Click here to see a map of the route undertaken

From the car park, we walked towards Ghyll Foot and then towards the Fairy Glen.

Looking towards the South-East ridge of Steel Fell:

After passing the second house in the next photo we passed through a gate leading to the open hillside.

Fairy Glen houses:

We then walked alongside a stone wall up the south-east ridge of Steel Fell reaching the snowline at a height of around 250m.

View towards Grasmere and across to Helm Crag:

The easy-angled ridge made for fast progress. The ground was already frozen hard as we made our way towards the gate in the wall ahead.

Ascending the south-east ridge of Steel Fell:

As forecast, the weather improved throughout the afternoon with more and more blue skies appearing overhead. The first rocky section ahead was easily ascended via a path winding its way between the rocks.

Easy rock section ahead:

The views looking back towards Grasmere continued to improve as we gained height. Undertaking the full circuit round to Helm Crag was becoming increasingly tempting.

Looking back towards Grasmere and across to Helm Crag:

As we continued uphill we met a walker coming downhill who advised that he had traversed the hill. I suspect he was not being entirely truthful as his footsteps only continued as far as a steep rocky section ahead and there were no footsteps beyond that en-route to the summit or at the summit. He had in all likelihood went up the same way as ourselves but had turned back at the rocky section ahead.

Steel Fell:

During the ascent of Steel Fell, I took a full-zoom photo of the Howitzer on Helm Crag. From a distance it did not look easy.

Full-zoom view of the Howitzer atop Helm Crag:

As we continued up Steel Fell we had a bit more snow to contend with but it was never more than a couple of inches deep.

Snowy Steel Fell:

Looking back towards Grasmere with Windermere in the distance:

On reaching a level section of ridge, we stopped to take some photos. The views temporarily diminished as a bank of cloud passed over.

On the level section of ridge:

We took care on ascending the rocky section below the summit as a slip could have resulted in undesirable consequences. Beyond the rocky section we were treated to lovely views down to Thirlmere albeit with a bank of cloud capping the summits.


On reaching the summit of Steel Fell we stopped for a quick drink and decided to have a go at the circuit. All going well we would be off by sunset and it wasn't an issue if we weren't as we were carrying headtorches.

At the summit of Steel Fell:

The walk round to Calf Crag involved a bit of route-finding to pick out an easy line through the snow and between the various small outcrops. During this part of the walk we met a couple with their Cocker Spaniel who were undertaking a traverse of Steel Fell.

Heading from Steel Fell round to Calf Crag:

One of numerous sheep on the hill:

It was great to finally approach the summit of Calf Crag which we could have easily chosen to bypass en-route to Gibson Knott.

Approaching Calf Crag:

Ann-Marie approaching the summit of Calf Crag:

At the summit of Calf Crag:

View from Calf Crag towards Fairfield, etc.:

From Calf Crag, we made our way across to our third intended Wainwright, Gibson Knott. To get to Gibson Knott we had to skirt round some peat hags, had to negotiate several rocky knolls and had to work out which of the knolls was highest.

Heading for Gibson Knott:

Ascending Gibson Knott:

Looking back:

On ascending one of the knolls, I thought it was the highest. On ascending the next knoll, I thought it was highest. On ascending yet another knoll, I thought it was highest! I used my GPS to confirm that we did visit the Wainwright summit albeit we also visited each of the knolls just to be sure.

At the summit of Gibson Knott:

From Gibson Knott, we followed a path skirting round the hill to reach the col between Gibson Knott and Helm Crag.

Path skirting round to col between Gibson Knott and Helm Crag:

It was already 15:00 and I was conscious of sunset being not that far off. I thought it was fairly pointless to continue on to Helm Crag as in all likelihood it wouldn't be safe to ascend the Howitzer. However, we decided to give it a go anyway and it would be worthwhile having a look at the Howitzer even though we didn't summit it. The descent looked straight-forward so there wouldn't be an issue if it started to get dark.

Helm Crag ahead:

On reaching the base of the Howitzer, I had a good look at the scramble/climb and a good feel of the rock. It was almost impossible to get a good handhold as the rock was soaking wet and very slippery. There was also a thin coating of snow on some of the rocks. Having not researched beforehand, I didn't know the best route up and didn't know the grade i.e. whether it was a scramble or a climb. I therefore decided it would be foolhardy to attempt to ascend this without knowing the easiest ascent route and in such wet, slippery conditions. I am therefore not claiming to have summited Helm Crag and will likely be back on a better day to give it a go.

The Howitzer atop Helm Crag:

The Howitzer atop Helm Crag:

To descend to Fairy Glen, we doubled-back from Helm Crag to the col between it and Gibson Knott from where we followed an easy zig-zagging track down to the glen.

Descent to Fairy Glen:

Green Burn:

We got back to the van shortly after sunset but with sufficient daylight remaining to not necessitate headtorches. We then made our way to Keswick for some dinner. Big thanks to Keswick YHA for use of shower facilities in return for a small donation.

A good half-day outing.