Saturday, 15 August 2015

Bowfell (via the Climbers Traverse), Crinkle Crags & Cold Pike

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Route: Stickle Ghyll, Middle Fell Farm, Stool End, The Band, White Stones, Earing Crag, Climbers Traverse, Great Slab, Bowfell, Three Tarns, Shelter Crags, Crinkle Crags, Bad Step, Cold Pike, Red Tarn, Browney Gill, Oxendale Beck, Stool End, Stickle Ghyll

Date: 15/08/2015
From: Sticklebarn

Parking: National Trust Car Park at Stickle Ghyll
Start Point: Stickle Ghyll
Region: Southern Fells

Route length: 9.8 miles (15.7 km)
Time taken: 05:45
Average speed: 1.7 mph
Ascent: 1,172m
Descent: 1,177m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Bowfell (902m), Crinkle Crags (859m), Cold Pike (701m)

Other Summits: White Stones -The Band (568m), Shelter Crags (815m), Crinkle Crags -  Gunson Knott (822m), Crinkle Crags South Top (834m)

Other points of interest: Climbers Traverse, Bowfell Buttress, Great Slab, Three Tarns, Bad Step

This is a real Lakeland classic, a word I like to think I use quite lightly but, in this case, it is fully justified. Great Langdale and its surrounding fells is a magnificent place for walking with the Langdale Pikes drawing interesting shapes across the skyline and Rossett Pike bridging the southern and central fells. Topping it all off is the mighty Bowfell, a true Lake District great and one of my personal favourites.

We started as most people who climb Bowfell start by grabbing a car parking space in the large National Trust car park at Stickle Ghyll before wandering the paths along the valley to The Band, a great ridge that splits Great Langdale into the twin valleys at its head; Mickleden and Oxendale. There is some suggestion that The Band is a fairly dull route up Bowfell but it has its merits. It's not particularly steep and it has fine views of Great Langdale and the Langdale Pikes. The path up The Band begins at Stool End Farm.
The Band sandwiched between Crinkle Crags and Bowfell
Looking up Oxendale to Great Knott and Crinkle Crags
A bright but changeable sky this morning
Great Langdale from the foot of The Band
The Band looms ahead
I've climbed The Band a couple of times but never stopped off at the subsidiary summit of White Stones, an outcrop at around the halfway mark. It lies a short distance from the main path and I get the impression it is rarely visited - there is no cairn to mark its existence. The sun was out in force this morning and, having visited White Stones, our sights were set on the Climbers Traverse, a largely neglected route up to the summit of Bowfell.
Pike O'Blisco and our route down later in the day
Lingmoor Fell
Great Langdale from The Band
The unmistakable Pikes of Langdale
Great Langdale once again from slightly higher up
Crinkle Crags catching the light
The final section of The Band and Bowfell
The view over Red Tarn towards Great Carrs and Swirl How
Heading up the bifurcation towards the Climbers Traverse
A small path breaks away from the main highway and climbs higher towards the craggy slopes on Bowfell's southern flanks. Abruptly, though marked by a cairn, the path is thrust out across the steep mountainside, a small brown ribbon draped across the steep slopes. Its name, while entirely correct, is a tad misleading - there is no need to be a climber to use the route, it is simply a means for climbers to reach the imposing Bowfell Buttress, a means that we exploited to reach Cambridge Crag and the foot of the Great Slab. It's an exciting route high above Mickleden and one that I would recommend to anyone.
The Climbers Traverse
Looking down upon Rossett Pike and Mickleden
The Climbers Traverse
The Climbers Traverse
A panorama of Mickleden
One slightly awkward section on the Climbers Traverse - bum shuffling often required
Flat Crags
The Monumental Bowfell Buttress
The Great Slab
At the end of the traverse is a spring emanating from Cambridge Crags, the perfect spot to refill any dwindling water supplies. Up ahead is Bowfell Buttress and a huge run of scree falling from the heights of Bowfell itself. Above is the base of the Great Slab, a geological marvel that really needs to be seen to be believed. This is real mountain territory, like being in the midst of Hind Cove on Pillar or the West Wall Traverse on Scafell. Our route, one of two that can get to the summit of Bowfell, follows the edge of the Great Slab by scrambling up a run of large boulders and scree.
Looking down the Great Slab
Yours truly perched on the Great Slab - admittedly as far as I dared venture out, it's steeper than it appears
It doesn't take too long to reach the final upland plateau of Bowfell, its pyramidal summit stands just a few metres to the north. The route up from the Climbers Traverse is much easier than the steep slog up from Three Tarns. We reached the summit at the same time as a number of other groups and it was a slightly crowded as we all milled around the small cairn at the top.
The final short climb towards the summit
The Scafells seen from Bowfell
Esk Pike
Bowfell's summit
Panorama from the summit
The north western fells
Scafell and Scafell Pike
Bowfell has been very kind to me and it was another clear, though noticeably deteriorating day with dark clouds swirling over the nearby Scafell range. Time to get a move on. After a quick bite to eat we descended the steep path to Three Tarns and began the rollercoaster trip over Crinkle Crags. Not long after we started up the first Crinkle the cloud and rain arrived and accompanied us for much of the afternoon. It was only once we reached Crinkle Crags' summit that it began to ease and by the time we'd reached Bad Step it had finally blown over.
Looking across Bowfell to Pike O'Blisco
Three Tarns and Crinkle Crags
The weather starts to take a turn
The Scafells and Bowfell prior to the rain arriving
Peering into Eskdale
Wading through the mist

The summit of Crinkle Crags
Bad Step awaits
We bypassed Bad Step down the grassy rake to the left, a route that isn't easy to pick out if you aren't aware of its existence. It's easier than making the awkward climb down Bad Step but takes a shade longer. The fells were quiet by now, one of the benefits of a later start though the golden afternoon light we were hoping for was hidden behind a shroud of greyness.
Looking down Bad Step
Clouds form in the wake of Crinkle Crags South Top
Having a play on the Bad Step
Sunlight starts to break through over Eskdale
Looking back to the Bad Step
Bad Step in situ
There is a long path that descends from the southern eminence of Crinkle Crags to Red Tarn, recently reconstructed by the volunteers at Fix the Fells to narrow it and improve its drainage. It's a welcome relief to walk along a flat path compared to hopping over the shattered rocks that litter both Bowfell and the neighbouring Crinkles Crags.
Cold Pike and Stonesty Pike
Sun lights up Eskdale
Pondering the next move above Great Cove
Eskdale panorama
There was plenty of time left in the day to make the short detour over the boggy ground to Cold Pike, a decision I thought was rather rash by the time I was wading through the wet ground - a number of times I nearly ended up with water coming over my boot top, never a joyful experience. I made it to the indistinct path unscathed and climbed to the highest point of the triple-peaked fell.
Cold Pike
Great Carrs and Grey Friar
Cold Pike has three tops, all listed as Nuttalls meaning there is a sufficient difference in height between them to count as separate summits, and nice summits they are at that, with views across to the Coniston range of fells and the Wrynose valley.
Cold Pike summit
Wetherlam and Swirl How
Cairn on the northern top
Duddon Valley and Harter Fell
Great Knott
Leaving Cold Pike behind I made my way down the pathless eastern slopes to rejoin the others making the descent down the path alongside Browney Gill. After a pleasant enough start, the path becomes more and more uncomfortable to walk on, suffering from a series of sections where the pitched stones are small and angled such as to cause an alarming number of slips.
Looking down Browney Gill
Great Knott
Great Langdale
We eventually made it to the bottom, largely unscathed and were faced with the final walk back past Stool End Farm and along the roads of Great Langdale to Sticklebarn - an ideal place to finish as they tend to serve very good food and equally good cider, the perfect place to rest some fell-weary legs.