Saturday, 2 March 2013

Dow Crag & The Old Man of Coniston

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Route: Coniston YHA, Church Beck, Walna Scar Road, Walna Scar, Brown Pike, Buck Pike, Dow Crag, Goat's Hause, Coniston Old Man, Little Arrow Moor, Walna Scar Road

Date: 02/03/2013
From: Coniston YHA

Parking: Coniston YHA / Walna Scar Car Park
Start Point: Coniston YHA
Region: Southern Fells

Route length: 7.9 miles (12.7km)
Time taken: 03:56
Average speed: 2.0mph
Ascent: 885m
Descent: 873m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Dow Crag (778m), The Old Man of Coniston (803m)

Additional summits: Walna Scar (620m), Brown Pike (682m), Buck Pike (744m)

Other points of interest: Blind Tarn, Goat's Water

Just when everyone thought winter had had its last bit of fun, a pre-arranged trip to Coniston looked like being cancelled after a further bout of the cold, white stuff. Fortunately, a series of warmer days leading up to the weekend had thawed the snow enough to make most of the Lakeland fells accessible to the majority of people, myself included. The Old Man of Coniston was to be one of these. Mountains undoubtedly look at their most mountainous when they are covered in snow and one thing on my list of stuff to do is complete a winter walking course to be able to enjoy them at their most entrancing. For now, though, this will do.

Having met a group of like minded individuals from a popular web forum at the Coppermines YHA, we split into smaller groups, each with their own objectives, in order to avoid cluttering up the fell sides around Coniston. Our choice for the day, to climb the imposing Dow Crag and majestically named Old Man of Coniston (The Old Man) by circling the natural ridge around Goat's Water.

Dressed for the cold, we left the youth hostel to rendezvous with some others at the Walna Scar car park which is a good starting point if you're after a head start as it lies at 250m, saving some of the climb from Coniston. Following Church Beck, we descended from the YHA to the Miners Bridge before circling Foul Scrow and joining the road leading up to the car park. Our timing was pretty spot on as the other group passed us as we neared the top (aided by a car rather than walking ability).
Swirl How paints a particularly pleasing picture from the Coppermines YHA
Foul Scrow and Scrow Beck
Walna Scar Road links Coniston to Seathwaite passing over Walna Scar, the col between White Pike and Buck Pike. Historically used for access to some of the mines on The Old Man, it now provides a straight forward route up to Walna Scar and the start of the ridge up to Dow Crag. The path steepens after the bridge over Torver Beck before reaching the top of the pass, introducing a wonderful view across the Duddon valley and Eskdale towards the Scafells. After a brief detour up to the summit of actual fell named Walna Scar (rather than the road, the car park or the col), we undertook the brief, but steep climb up Brown Pike.
A small bridge carries Walna Scar Road over the beginnings of Torver Beck
The Scafells from Walna Scar
The summit of Walna Scar and the high point of the pass between Coniston and Seathwaite
Brown Pike stands imposingly over Blind Tarn, a small, circular tarn so called because it doesn't have an outflow into the valley below, or so it seems. It's fine start to the ridge that crosses Buck Pike and Dow Crag. Continuing on, the path rises gradually to cross Buck Pike and find its way to the highlight of the day; Dow Crag.
Brown Pike and Blind Tarn
Approaching the first buttress of Dow Crag, overlooking Goat's Water
A popular spot for rock climbing (there are over 100 recognised routes), Dow Crag is named after the rockface on the eastern flank with the entire fell adopting the name in the 19th Century. There are also a number of popular scrambles on Dow Crag including the South Rake. Stood above it looking down, it certainly doesn't look like the place for the faint hearted. There are a series of ferocious looking gullies that scar the face of the mountainside, made all the more imposing by their snowy collection. By the time we reached Dow Crag, the wind had picked up and it was time to don the essentials to keep the extremities warm. Hats and gloves to you and me.
The summit of Dow Crag
A view down Great Gully
We descended down to Goat's Hause, the col that links Dow Crag to The Old Man. Standing on the edge gives a wonderful panorama of The Old Man, Goat's Water, Coniston and Dow Crag, made all the more special by the snowy covering.
Goat's Hause must be crossed to reach The Old Man
The Old Man of Coniston, Goat's Water and Dow Crag
There's a steep 200m climb from Goat's Hause up The Old Man which made short work of warming us which was handy as the wind was still blowing, carrying an icy chill. The snow covering obscuring the paths made for a bit of a challenge in places, particularly as some areas were quite slippery. After the climb, you're greeted by a splendid view of The Old Man as you reach the ridge where it's a short, almost level, walk to the summit.
Dow Crag in all its glory
The ridge leading to the summit of The Old Man
 The Old Man of Coniston is a very popular fell, mainly thanks to a series of well laid, easy to follow paths. I also think that it's grand name makes it more attractive than most. There's still a bit of debate over whether or not The Old Man is the highest mountain in the Southern Fells, thanks to the doubt over the height of Swirl How. We made the most out of the large summit platform and cairn, stopping there for a bite to eat before deciding on the best and safest way to descend.
"I can see my house from here!" or in this case, the youth hostel
Low Water, Levers Water, Brim Fell, Swirl How and Wetherlam
Traditional summit pose
Watching many people struggling up the main path from Coniston to the east, we decided we'd make our own way down by following the grassy tongue south towards Crag O'Stile and one of the many quarries that are dug into the sides of the mountain. This proved to be a much easier and quieter route off the summit, avoiding any compacted, icy sections and any crowds that were on the ascent. Picking our way down the hillside, we eventually made it to a slate spoil where we decided on our next move.
Clouds creep in as we descend
One last view of Dow Crag before it's obscured
We decided to add a bit of interest to the climb down by picking our way through a narrow, juniper filled ravine. Despite the thorny plants, this part was great fun and well worth the odd prickle here and there. After threading our way down, we emerged back on the Walna Scar Road.
Entering the ravine.....
Halfway there....
.....emerging from the bottom
Having found the road, we were left with the simple task of following it back to the car park where, helpfully, we managed to squeeze into the car and take a leisurely drive back to the youth hostel. I'm particularly fond of this walk, especially with the added snow. It has some tremendous mountain scenery despite the relative simplicity of the walking. I'd like to do more winter walking in the future and I'm currently investing in some kit to make it a reality. Maybe next time it will time to break out the axe and crampons?