Sunday, 7 June 2015

A Great Langdale Round

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Route: Campsite, Rakerigg, Wrynose Fell, Pike O'Blisco, Red Tarn, Great Cove, Bad Step, Crinkle Crags, Shelter Crags, Three Tarns, Bowfell, Ore Gap, Angle Tarn, Angletarn Gill, Stake Pass, Martcrag Moor, Pike O'Stickle, Loft Crag,Mark Gate, Sticklebarn, Campsite

Date: 07/06/2015
From: Great Langdale

Parking: Great Langdale NT Campsite
Start Point: Great Langdale NT Campsite
Region: Southern Fells / Central Fells

Route length: 11.8 miles (19 km)
Time taken: 06:15
Average speed: 1.9 mph
Ascent: 1,534m
Descent: 1,560m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Pike O'Blisco (701m), Crinkle Crags (859m), Bowfell (902m), Pike O'Stickle (709m), Loft Crag (680m)

Other Summits: Crinkle Crags (South Top) (834m), Third Crinkle (840m), Fourth Crinkle (832m), Gunson Knott (Fifth Crinkle) (822m), Shelter Crags (815m)

Other points of interest: The Bad Step, Three Tarns, Angle Tarn, Langdale Combe, Dungeon Ghyll

Our WaterAid mountain challenge this year involved climbing the mighty Bowfell, a fell that commands one of the most notable and impressive views in the Lake District. Though Bowfell alone presents a challenge on its own, perhaps not enough to get people digging into their pockets for donations. With this is mind, I made the route a little bit longer - a full circuit around the head of Great Langdale from Pike O'Blisco to the famous Langdale Pikes - a worthy challenge for any fellwalker.

Firstly, an admission. The official WaterAid challenge date was the day before, Saturday, but the forecast had been pretty shocking - see this post for a summary - so we decided to do our walk on the Sunday instead under much more favourable conditions.

We chose to take the path up towards Side Pike rather than the obvious path alongside Redacre Gill, not one that ranks highly in our list of paths worth climbing.  Not long after we had started up the indistinct path on Wrynose Fell, a soaking, drizzly rain had started to fall and accompanied us up much of the route to Pike O'Blisco
A dull morning in Great Langdale
The route for the day, right across the skyline
Kettle Crag and Pike O'Blisco
Mickleden
The Langdale Pikes
Patches of sunlight in Great Langdale

Following the path across Wrynose Fell
Our path eventually met the route coming up from Redacre Gill, on the flat plateau of Wrynose Fell, and began the final climb up onto Pike O'Blisco, characterised by a trio of short, entertaining scrambles. We reached the summit ahead of scores of others climbing from the Wrynose side of the fell and took a moment to enjoy the views as Pike O'Blisco probably has one of the most extensive views of any fell in Langdale, one we could see this time once the light drizzle had dissipated. A few swirls of cloud were shrouding the very top of Bowfell but, other than that, the day was shaping up to be a rather good one.
Sara tackling one of the rocky sections
Sunlight breaks on the Pikes
One of a few short scrambles
Great Langdale
Sun catches Great Knott
The summit of Pike O'Blisco
The Band leading to Bowfell
Pike O'Blisco's other summit
A steep descent follows, down into the col containing Red Tarn, a height loss of some 200m but the climb back up towards Crinkle Crags is long and largely shallow which makes the going much easier. The path here must be one of the most trodden in all of the Lake District but it seems to have received some much-needed care and attention recently from the gang at Fix the Fells. They've done a superb job which you can read about here.
Cold Pike over Red Tarn
Cold Pike
Looking back to Pike O'Blisco
Great Langdale
Great Langdale
As the path returns to the rugged and stony beginnings of Crinkle Crags, we paused for lunch with a commanding view of Great Langdale before we began the rollercoaster ride over each of crinkle of Crinkle Crags. As I've no doubt mentioned before, the route across Crinkle Crags can be as straightforward or as difficult as you want to make it and it may not come as a surprise to learn that I intended to cross every peak (as you do). This also included tackling one of the trickier parts of the walk; the Bad Step.
Approaching Crinkle Crags
Looking down Great Cove
Crinkle Crags South Top - the First Crinkle
Long Top, the summit of Crinkle Crags
Bed Step is the dark patch in the centre of the photo - the routes around it can clearly be seen
The Bad Step is a deep declivity in the side of Long Top, Crinkle Crags' summit, and requires an awkward scramble to get up it. Having been up and down several times now, I can say that up is much easier than down. I believe the trick is finding a small knuckle of polished rock to give you the first leg up before the rest becomes more straight forward. While imposing at first, the climb is not too difficult. Should you wish to avoid the Bad Step, a large path runs west around the fell side or it can be bypassed a short distance around the east.
Bad Step
Crinkle Crags South Top from the top of Bad Step
Shortly after the Bad Step is the summit of Crinkle Crags, the imaginatively titled Long Top. Views down the neighbouring Great Cove and Mickle Door are immense and a scramble up Crinkle Gill looks more and more appealing each time I see it. There are five crinkles in total, Bill Birkett lists them all as separate fells given their relative prominence.
Crinkle Crags summit with the Scafell range beyond
The Scafells and Bowfell from Crinkle Crags
Looking over the remaining Crinkles to Bowfell
Mickle Door
After the drama of Crinkle Crags, the path descends back down to Three Tarns, the link between Crinkle Crags and Bowfell. We had intended to walk the Climbers Traverse but decided against it after seeing how much additional distance it added just to get around to it. Instead, we forged on up the steep path towards Bowfell. I have a distinct memory that this path wasn't too bad but that was when it was covered in snow and ice. It's not a particularly nice path; steep, loose and well eroded making for a slow and energy-sapping climb, especially now the sun was starting to make an occasional appearance.
Bowfell
One of the Three Tarns
The steep final climb up Bowfell
Three Tarns
Sara emerges from the climb
Bowfell Buttress
The Great Slab
The serrated summit rocks
We eventually reached the summit of Bowfell, arguably one of the finest in the Lake District and certainly the favourite among many hill walkers. It is perfectly isolated and has a near 360-degree view including Eskdale, Great Langdale and perhaps the best view of the Scafell range. In addition to this, as it was getting towards the early afternoon, we had the summit all to ourselves which is a rarity.
Scafell and Scafell Pike
Esk Pike
Great Langdale and beyond
Eskdale
Sara has the summit to herself - and, yes, it was cold for June!
As we were on the summit we caught a glimpse of the new SAR helicopter, the S92, the replacement for the venerable Sea King. It's certainly an impressive beast but it lacks the charm that the small yellow helicopters had. It zoomed off over Three Tarns en route to Scafell Pike, where it circled a few times before hoisting someone aboard. We saw it once more as we were descending from Ore Gap, this time heading back over Rossett Pass and into Great Langdale.
The powerful S92
Ore Gap
The S92 once again
Hanging Knotts
By the time we reached Angle Tarn the sun was out in full force and the fells were nearly deserted, it was getting on for 4pm and we were just passing the two-thirds mark, a long (and ultimately dull) trudge along the path behind Rossett Pike. It did catch me out somewhat and was much further than it first appears. That's thanks to its route around Langdale Combe, a drumlin-filled hanging valley above Mickleden, an uninviting place even on a fine afternoon.
Angle Tarn and Rossett Pike
Hanging Knotts
Sergeant's Crag
Langdale Combe
Stake Pass
We made it to Stake Pass where Sara decided she'd had enough climbing for the day and decided to make her way back down and along the Cumbria Way to Sticklebarn, our chosen meeting point. I forged on, beginning the climb up Martcrag Moor towards the shapely dome of Pike O'Stickle.
Looking up Martcrag Moor
Bowfell
In the glorious sunshine, the 200m climb up Martcrag Moor wasn't half as bad as I thought it might be and I was able to keep up a steady pace without having to stop every five minutes.
I reached Pike O'Stickle in high spirits and found the short scramble up to the summit a delight. Despite being a small, rounded peak, I've never climbed it from the west where a rocky chimney, full of crampon scratches from the previous winter, reaches up towards the top.
Looking back down Martcrag Moor
Pike O'Stickle
The summit of Pike O'Stickle with Harrison Stickle and Loft Crag in the background
Pike O'Blisco in all its glory
Pike O'Stickle has a marvellous view of the mighty fells on the opposite side of the valley, especially now the sun was bringing them to life with the warm afternoon light of a summer day. From here you can see the full height of the Great Langdale side of Bowfell, despite it being in the shadow of the increasingly low sun.
Loft Crag
Blea Tarn and the route from the morning
Around the head of a great chute of scree is Loft Crag, another one of the Langdale Pikes and another grandstand view, this time of Pike O'Blisco and the interesting Lingmoor Fell. It also has an extensive view of the Great Langdale valley. I had originally intended to continue over Harrison Stickle and Pavey Ark, thus completing the Langdale Pikes but I decided against it, mainly because it looked a long way and a steep climb and I couldn't really be bothered but partially because it was starting to get late and we had a long drive to get back to Wakefield.
Looking down the scree chute
Loft Crag
Mickleden and Pike O'Stickle
Summit of Loft Crag
Side Pike and Blea Tarn
The route back down to Sticklebarn is one that many use and is easy to follow and is well laid meaning you can make swift progress down it. Only a handful of shorter, steeper sections impede progress and it took me around half an hour to get back down. While descending you pass the dark depths of Dungeon Ghyll and its waterfall; Dungeon Ghyll Force. The contrast between bright sun and dark ravine were a bit too much for the camera to deal with so the photos are a bit drab.
A short distance further was the all-enticing pub, where I met Sara where we called in for a well-earned pint (as most walks inevitably do!) concluding a long but rewarding day out. We also bumped into mountaineering legend Alan Hinkes in the pub, which was a bonus.
The path off the high fells
Lingmoor Fell
Great Langdale
Side Pike
Pike Howe
Dungeon Ghyll
Dungeon Ghyll
Crinkle Crags silhouette
Side Pike
Swine Knott and Whitegill Crag
Great Langdale
It was great to back out around Langdale, certainly one of the most impressive and accessible areas of the Lake District. There's nothing quite like the sight of the towering Langdale Pikes as you enter the valley, awe-inspiring to newcomers and familiar friends to regular visitors. Then there's Bowfell, a favourite among all hill walkers, I know a few people who would admit to it being their favourite. It's a magnificent peak. Throw in a bit of excitement on Crinkle Crags and Pike O'Blisco and you have the ingredients for a near perfect day out - certainly, one that I hope gets people digging deep. This was for charity after all, not just fun :)