Saturday, 6 August 2016

An Eskdale Round

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Route: Cockley Beck Bridge, Gaitscale Close, Ulpha Fell, Little Stand, Stonesty Pike, Crinkle Crags, Three Tarns, Climber's Traverse, Bowfell, Ore Gap, Esk Pike, Esk Hause, Great End, Ill Crag, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike, Mickledore, Foxes Tarn, Scafell, Long Green, Slight Side, Horn Crag, Great Moss, Scar Lathing, Moasdale

Date: 06/08/2016
From: Cockley Beck Bridge

Parking: Cockley Beck Bridge
Start Point: Cockley Beck Bridge
Region: Southern Fells

Route length: 14 miles (22.5 km)
Time taken : 07:44
Average speed: 1.8 mph
Ascent: 1,799m
Descent: 1,794m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Crinkle Crags (859m), Bowfell (902m), Esk Pike (885m), Great End (910m), Scafell Pike (978m), Scafell (964m), Slight Side (748m)

Additional summits: Little Stand (740m), Stonesty Pike (765m), Fourth Crinkle (832m), Gunson Knott (822m), Ill Crag (935m), Broad Crag (934m),

Other points of interest: Bad Step, Climber's Traverse, Mickledore, Upper Eskdale

A couple of years ago, I made a bit of a promise to tackle at least one long mountain outing to make the most of the summer days. That would mean a long day out on my own to tackle a route cobbled together from other people's trip reports and a knowledge of my own abilities and limitations. This has led to some memorable days out including big days out around Fairfield and Ennerdale. Today I would be turning my attention to Eskdale.

Eskdale is one of the wildest and most remote valleys in the Lake District, largely thanks to its relative isolation between the passes of Wrynose and Hard Knott. In addition to this it is ringed by some of the finest mountains in the national park including Bowfell, Scafell and Scafell Pike. If that wasn't enough, completing a circuit of the valley in an anti-clockwise direction would include some more interesting features such as the Bad Step on Crinkle Crags and Bowfell's Climber's Traverse. With a largely fine day in store, this was all set to be a great day out and one that I was really looking forward to.

Walking the Eskdale skyline in an anti-clockwise direction does pose some logistical problems, particularly where to start and end. I chose Cockley Beck Bridge at the foot of Ulpha Fell which would get a large proportion of the days climbing out of the way in one go. Alternative starting points could include the summit of the Hard Knott pass or, if completing the circuit clockwise, from Jubilee Bridge.
Ulpha Fell from Cockley Beck Bridge
The Hard Knott pass beckons
The first task of the day was to make the climb up Ulpha Fell to Little Stand, a terminal point along the Crinkle Crags ridge. As I had anticipated, the route (or lack thereof) across Gaitscale Close was very wet and boggy and I was glad that I had decided to wear boots instead of trainers. The initial climb was made all the more difficult by the thigh high bracken, fortunately, I was tackling it at the start of the day.
Pathless and covered in bracken - the climb up Ulpha Fell
Fresh faced in the early morning
After crossing over a cleverly disguised stile in the wall, the going got really tough as the chosen route climbed steeply up the fellside. Despite this it was still shady on the slopes of Ulpha Fell which was a small comfort. The day was threatening to be lovely and sunny however, as I eventually reached the top of the climb, a bank of high cloud rolled in eradicating the morning's brightness.
Harter Fell and Hard Knott
The Duddon Valley
Harter Fell and the Hard Knott Pass
Grey Friar
The crags of Red How
Looking across towards the Coniston Fells
Tarns on Little Stand
Ulpha Fell is a rarely visited area of the Lake District, despite its proximity to Crinkle Crags and the popular Great Langdale. There was no one around when I arrived at the summit of Little Stands and everything seemed eerily quiet - largely due to the fact it was still early in the day. An expanse of flat, open fell lies between Little Stand the southern-most Crinkle and is a very pleasant area to stroll across.
Little Stand
The only time the Scafells were clear of cloud
Looking across to Crinkle Crags
Stonesty Pike
Aware that there was plenty of ascent still to come I bypassed the southern Crinkle in favour of heading straight for the Bad Step and the summit of Crinkle Crags proper. The Bad Step is a famous spot in Crinkle Crags, a steep-sided trough capped with a couple of very large wedged rocks. Climbing up is more straight forward than clambering down. The summit stands a short climb away.
Eskdale appears
The summit rocks of Crinkle Crags
Bad Step is the dark square just right of centre
Crinkle Crags' famous Bad Step
The southern Crinkle from the top of the Bad Step
The summit of Crinkle Crags
The bank of cloud had started to descend, covering the tops of Scafell and Scafell Pike but, luckily, Bowfell remained clear as I made my way over and around the rest of the Crinkles. The view of Bowfell over Three Tarns is pretty impressive. After reaching Three Tarns, I avoided the steep climb up Bowfell, instead favouring a slight detour around the crags to meet the Climbers Traverse.
Great Langdale
Great Langdale and Pike O'Blisco
Bowfell
Bowfell and Bowfell Links
Crinkle Crags from Three Tarns
The Band
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 Crags and the foot of the Great Slab. It's an exciting route high above Mickleden and one that I would recommend to anyone.
Rossett Pike
The Climbers Traverse
Mickleden from the Climbers Traverse
Great Langdale
Bowfell Buttress
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 can get to the summit of Bowfell, follows the edge of the Great Slab by scrambling up a run of large boulders and scree.
Cambridge Crags 
The spring on Cambridge Crags
The 'river of boulders'
The Great Slab
The top of the Great Slab
Looking to the summit of Bowfell
For the first time during my visits, Bowfell let me down - its sublime view hidden in the cloud. The bank that had swept in during the morning had now dropped on to the summits of the highest peaks, the peaks I would be visiting during the afternoon. It's a shame as Bowfell is one of my personal favourites and it's view is quite remarkable.
Bowfell's summit rocks
Being careful to choose the right direction in the mist, I left the summit and made the easy descent down to Ore Gap which separates Bowfell from Esk Pike, the often overlooked fell at the head of Eskdale. A short climb is required to reach the summit which, like Bowfell's, was covered in cloud. A cool wind had also picked up while on the summit, so much so that I wished I had brought some light gloves along.
Esk Pike
Esk Pike over Ore Gap
Climbing Esk Pike
Esk Pike's summit
Not wishing to hang around I pressed on, this time descending to Esk Hause, one of the highest passes in the Lake District. The blanket of cloud was beginning the break up as I made my way down the path and bursts of bright sun began to illuminate Great End and Ill Crag. I noticed a large number of people gathered at the cross shelter below Esk Hause, initially thinking it may be a Mountain Rescue call out. Thankfully, it became apparent that it was a marshalling point for a very well appointed fell race with a line of runners making the climb up from Seathwaite in their hundreds.
Esk Hause
The Scafells
Ill Crag
Allen Crags and Glaramara
Great End
Glaramara and Allen Crags
Esk Pike
I crossed paths with them as I began climbing Great End, picking my way up through the boulders and scree on a direct route to the summit from Esk Hause. The clouds partly for long enough to capture the extensive view down Borrowdale. Great End was deserted while I wandered around the summit, eyeing up my next port of call - the 3,000ft peak of Ill Crag. Joining the line of fell runners (though not joining in!), I made the easy climb up to onto the stony plateau towards the summit.
Esk Hause
Borrowdale from the climb up Great End
Approaching Great End's summit
Summit cairn on Great End
Ill Crag, Broad Crag and Scafell Pike
Central Gully
Allen Crags
Glaramara
Ill Crag and Broad Crag are two lesser-visited peaks, both overshadowed by their illustrious neighbour despite both being over the magical 3,000ft mark. If you weren't aware, peaks over 3,000ft are a rarity in the Lake District so one would expect these peaks to be more popular. Fortunately for me and anyone else seeking a small piece of solitude, they are not.
Lingmell and Wasdale
Scafell Pike hides in the cloud
Ill Crag
Looking back towards Great End
Partitions in the clouds intermittently revealed the goal of many walkers and hikers - the summit of Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. They also revealed the gruelling climb out of Broad Crag col, a final challenge to anyone heading for the summit. For me it would be the penultimate climb of the day and my legs were starting to feel the strain having already traversed Crinkle Crags, Bowfell, Esk Pike and Great End.
Broad Crag
Scafell Pike and Broad Crag col
Scafell Pike
Looking down onto the Corridor Route
The rocky landscape on Broad End
A busy Broad Crag col
Scafell Pike makes a fleeting appearance
After slowly making the climb up from the col, I reached the summit which was teeming with people - the busiest I've seen it recently, no surprise given that it was the midst of the school summer holidays and for that reason I didn't hang around for long. Going against the crowds, I followed the cairn-marked path south west to the impressive divide of Mickledore.
A busy summit
A busy trig pillar
Clouds were crashing against it like waves against a sea wall, covering most of the summit of Scafell. There are two ways to reach Scafell from here, either the exciting clamber up Lord's Rake or a gully scramble up to Foxes Tarn. As Lord's Rake had experienced a significant rockfall in the week preceding my visit, I decided that I would tackle the Foxes Tarn route on this occasion.
Mickledore
Mickledore

The path down to Foxes Tarn gully
To reach Foxes first requires a considerable descent down the loose scree path to the south of Mickledore. A cairn marks the base of a damp gully that you can use to climb up to Foxes Tarn. The scramble is easy enough though a bit wet at times. The gully emerges at Foxes Tarn, an ambitious name for what is no larger than a large puddle. Its situation though is superb, nestled in the depths of the Scafell. Reaching the summit requires a tough and unpleasantly steep path up another fan of scree that emerges on the grassy depression below Scafell's summit rocks.
The almost impassable Broad Stand
Upper Eskdale
Foxes Tarn Gully
Looking down the gully
Looking up the gully
Pike de Bield and Crinkle Crags
Foxes Tarn
The scree climb from Foxes Tarn
Looking back down to Foxes Tarn
Unlike Scafell Pike, Scafell was deserted which you will find is more often the case. I much prefer Scafell for this reason and the fact that the routes to the summit are much more interesting than its more famous neighbour. Joining the two of them is a classic day out. The summit was still in the cloud unfortunately so I pressed on after a short break, aware that there was still a long way to go to reach the car though most of it would be downhill.
Approaching Scafell's summit
The summit cairn
As I emerged from beneath the cloud, it was clear that most of the Lake District had been enjoying a fine, sunny day - the kind of day I was expecting for this round. None the less, the views across Eskdale from the Long Green ridge are stunning, some of the best in the Lake District. The ridge ends at Slight Side, the final peak on this round of Eskdale. The difficulty now would be negotiating a way back to the car.
Burnmoor Tarn and Wastwater make an appearance
Ill Crag, Pen and Esk Pike
Looking along Long Green to Slight Side
Cloud sat on Scafell
Approaching Slight Side
Blue skies above Esk Pike and Bowfell
Slight Side
I had always intended to make this bit up as I went along but had a vague idea of where to go. Not fancying another energy sapping climb over Hard Knott pass or Hard Knott itself, I had the quiet valley of Moasdale in my sights. Problem was how to get there.
Upper Eskdale
First task was to get around the base of Horn Crag and across prime, pathless Cumbrian fellside which was easy enough if not a bit boulder in places. This led me to a easy sloping area of grass that led all the way to the River Esk and had exquisite views of the head of Eskdale and Great Moss.
The great expanse of Quarigg Moss
Upper Eskdale
Some interested Herdwicks
Ill Crag, Pen, Dow Crag and Central Pillar
Great Moss and the head of Upper Eskdale
The River Esk
The second task was to get across the River Esk which is easier said than done. I eventually found a spot where the river passes through a narrow chasm close to Scar Lathing and made an uncharacteristically daring leap across, aware that the consequences of falling in could be somewhat nasty. Task complete, it was time to explore the depths of Eskdale.
The River Esk
Boulders trapped in the narrow gorge
The upper reaches of Eskdale are among the wildest areas of the Lake District and is not a place you would expect to find hoards of visitors or much else for that matter. It's a weird and wonderful place shaped by the power of glaciers and the River Esk and, had I not been at the end of a long, tiring walk, I would have taken more time to explore though, by now, I had my heart set on a long sit down.
A very wet and sometime intermittent path follows the base of Scar Lathing, crossing the marshy ground below Throstlehow Crag. Remember when I said I was glad I had worn waterproof boots today? Now I definitely appreciated them.
Scar Lathing
Green Crag and Harter Fell
Adam-a-Crag and Adam-a-Cove
Scar Lathing
Some climbing was required to reach Lingcove Beck at the northern end of Hard Knott before the final walk out to the car. Moasdale is a very wet, deserted valley, home of Moasdale Beck that flows into the Duddon Valley rather than into Eskdale. It's a lonely valley and a long one but the odd glint of a passing car in the distance meant I had nearly reached the end of this epic walk.
Hard Knott
Falls on Lingcove Beck
Lingcove Beck and Crinkle Crags
Moasdale
Little Stand
It was extremely satisfying having a long solitary day taking on the Eskdale skyline, crossing some of the best that the Lake District has to offer. Eskdale is a bit of a hidden gem - an incredible piece of wilderness among the hustle and bustle of the Lake District and I hope it stays that way. I certainly look forward to another visit here, maybe not such an epic next time.