Thursday, 9 May 2013

Bowfell Baby!!

(Or Bow Fell if you work for Ordnance Survey...)

Crinkle Crags, The Band and Bowfell

Sorry for the exuberance but I’ve still got that warming contented post walk glow. You know the feeling; great conditions, brilliant views, pushing yourself to do stuff you would normally shy away from… Anyway, that was the comment I made when I’d got back to the pub and sat down with my orange and lemonade (Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle eh?) and I decided it was as fitting a trip report title as any.

This sounded like a good idea when, in an ever so slightly sleep deprived state, I saw what had to be one of the most promising MWIS forecasts I’ve ever seen for the Lake District. Warm, dry, sunny. Chance of cloud free summits: Virtually Certain!! I am so there… Just need to decide where to go. Well, having been thinking about Bowfell and the Crinkles for the last 2 years there was only one answer to that one

So, having arranged to meet up with Ricardo and Frankie at the Sticklebarn car park I had an early night and, just to prove I was excited, woke up before the alarm. 3am… This was to be the start of an epic day.

Anyway, a quick wash and brush up and I’m trying to put everything in the car as quietly and quickly as possible. Car packed, house locked and I’m pushing the car down the road so as not to wake the neighbours while hoping nobody happens to see this and report a car theft in progress. 40 yards later and I figured that was far enough away, time to light the tyres and head for the Lakes… … … or at least head to the garage for some petrol. Knew I’d forgotten to do something the day before.

Petrol paid for and it was off to the Lakes. There are two things to be said for doing this so early: 1) the roads are quiet, 2) you can enjoy the sunrise as the anticipation of the day starts to build. So excited...and then….and then...I passed Lancaster, came over the crest and … … .. haze! Haze! Why is it hazy? This is the point where you get your first real peak at the Lakeland mountains and, if you are as unfit as me, think “Cripes Chief, you really planning to climb those?”

I needn’t have worried though, as coming down the road towards Windermere the view had cleared and the mountains looked truly majestic in the morning glow. It was enough to make the photographer in me want to stop the car and get the wide angle lens, tripod and filters out. Then I remembered I was on a dual carriage way and I had none of those things with me...Best carry on then.

08.30 and I’m in the Sticklebarn car park (free for National Trust members) and as the Sticklebarn looked very locked up wander into the New Dungeon Ghyll for a Full English and a big pot of tea. Sat outside looking at the sun bathed fells I wished I could have this view for breakfast everyday…

Breakfast over I had a quick nap in the car while waiting for Ricardo. Did you know that a Paramo gillet packed into it’s own pocket makes a great travel pillow? No. You do now. And to think some people say blogs don’t produce useful consumer advice…

Snooze over I was soaking myself in Factor 30 when Ricardo and Frankie appeared. God Frankie looks gorgeous, just like the photos.*

After a little discussion the original plan was amended so that instead of going over the Crinkles and then to Bowfell, we would go up The Band and then along the Climbers Traverse before the final ascent of Bowfell. I pointed out my complete abject pathetic-ness when it comes to heights / exposure but Ricardo assured me there was no exposure and you couldn’t come to any harm if you fell. Just a gentle slope…

So, out of the car park we set off towards The Band. The sun is shining and the fells look utterly lovely. Just a few wisps of white adding texture to the sky. The road is leading us straight to towards the Fells we intend to climb. No hiding behind other peaks, here they stand, proud at the head of the valley, inviting us to take them on...

Crinkle Crags, The Band and Bowfell

Crinkle Crags, The Band and Bowfell - a bit closer this time
Side Pike

That said, as you start climbing Bowfell’s summit becomes hidden by the convex slope of The Band itself. Naughty minx, teasing you with a glimpse to encourage you on...

What you can see, however, are Herdwicks aplenty, not to mention some great views back down and across the valley. The seat you can just see here is mentioned by Wainwright. He says “No excuse for resting, so early on the climb” (Bowfell 5). I think this was our my second rest stop already. Living in the flat lands my legs are not used to this climbing malarky. It was also the first indication of just how slow this climb might be…

Path up The Band

Langdale Pikes beyond the bench

Great Langdale

Never mind though, It simply means more time to enjoy the views…

It was around this time that Ricardo got a call from Lady Dibble to say that she and the lovely Lexi** were going to try and get to Bowfell in time to meet us. The dear Lady was pegging it all the way from Wasdale, via Sty Head, Esk Hause and Esk Pike to meet us on the summit of Bowfell. Bonus! And for those of you who have no idea what that walk involves, check out a map - that is one impressive effort. Ricardo quickly reassured her that she didn’t need to hurry and we continued our slow procession up The Band.

Langdale Pikes

Great Langdale meets Mickleden

Eventually the ascent lessens as a grassy plateau is reached and the Summit comes back into view again. Beautiful… The main path up to Three Tarns is easy to follow but on the right is a much less well defined path to the Climbers Traverse. I was starting to feel a little bit of trepidation here. I mean, me, Climbers Traverse, I get vertigo 2 foot off the ground on a step ladder!! Ricardo’s words of reassurance came back to me and I said I’d at least have a look at it. After all, there is an easy escape route from the start of the Traverse, apparently…

Bowfell summit

So, bring on the Traverse. There is some exposure to your right, but I’m standing on solid ground and there is a decent path. If you fell I think you’d do yourself some proper mischief but, you know what, I felt ok. At the limit of where I’d feel comfortable, but, I’m walking along the Traverse. Not crawling, not clinging onto the rock with 103 points of contact at all times, not a gibbering wreck made of blancmange but walking and enjoying the view. Just aware of a slight upping of the heat rate to heighten the senses and make you enjoy it even more.

Start of the Climbers Traverse

Another view of the Langdale Pikes

Looking back along the Traverse

That said I was surprised to see some snow on this path still. We’ve had a few hot days but it is still lingering up high in the shade. Thankfully it was just the odd small patch and easy enough to traverse with care. Even if I did go into one patch up to my knee...

Me on the Climbers Traverse
Photo courtesy of Ricardo

The Traverse came to an end however as we reached the Waterspout at the bottom of Cambridge Crag. Rock filtered, crystal clear and ice cold AW said that “nothing better ever came out of a barrel or a bottle” (Bowfell 6), he wasn’t wrong. Lovely and refreshing… We paused here for Ricardo to refill his water bottles and for a quick lunch. We might have lingered longer but it was rather chillier in the shade and we knew Dibble was waiting at the top. Therefore, we set off up the scramble that is the “River of Boulders” as AW called it. I don’t know if it is on official scramble or if it is graded at all but it involved putting hands on rock for a little bit which makes it a scramble in my book. Again I’m going up and feeling ok. Blimey, at this rate people might mistake me for someone who climbs mountains...wouldn’t that be a hoot! Going up this way also allows you a good glimpse of the Great Slab. A geologist could probably explain why it’s there (or, if you don’t have a geologist, whichever internet search engine is currently popular). Personally, I’m just enjoying looking at this huge slope of rock.

The Waterspout

Start of the "River of Boulders"

Looking down on the Langdale Pikes

Great Slab

Me coming up the "River of Boulders"
Photo courtesy of Ricardo

Soon we hear Dibble’s voice as we quickly reach the top of this steep but short climb and both Dibble and the summit come into view. Introductions made we all set off to the summit together. A shattered, rocky pinnacle it is a most fitting mountain top. Somewhere, and I can’t find the quote right now, AW comments that a mountain is rocky whereas a hill is grassy. Couldn’t agree more old chap, none of this 2000ft business, far too arbitrary. Anyway you choose to look at it though, Bowfell, 2960ft, Bowfell is a mountain!

Bowfell Summit

From the summit of Bowfell you have some absolutely fantastic panoramic views (as you would expect given that you are standing on the sixth highest piece of land in the Lake District). The only minor shame is that the haze has made the summit photos a bit...well...hazy… Still, a minor niggle in an otherwise awesome moment. I stood there and soaked in the views. Langdale Pikes, Langdale Valley, Pike O’Blisco, Crinkle Crags, Eskdale all there before us. King of them all though is the view to Mickledore. The iconic gap between Scafell and Scafell Pike. Seen it in many photos but this is the first time I’ve seen it with my own eyes and it is glorious. Haze, what haze, I’m just enjoying the view…

Crinkle Crags

Crinkle Crags

Crinkle Crags and Pike O'Blisco

Esk Pike



Mickledore. Scafell to the left, Scafell Pike to the right

Zoomed in on Mickledore

Pike O'Blisco
Me at the Summit
Photo taken by Ricardo
Final look to Mickledore

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and we soon needed to descend. There had been some debate as to what route to take (with thoughts of going over the Crinkles long abandoned due to an acute lack of working Time Machine and spare legs). Ricardo, under no illusions as to my pace had realised that his chances of making the last bus from Langdale were essentially zero. Therefore, our little party split up as Ricardo descended towards Wasdale with Dibble and I took the the path to Three Tarns and the direct route back down the band. A continual slog up it might be but it is a nice easy descent with little in the way of booby traps for tired legs.

Wonderful views of Three Tarns, the the Crinkle Crags beyond, not to mention some great views of Kettle Crag as it caught the light and a final view down the Great Langdale Valley.  A couple of hundred feet above the end of The Band I stopped for a contemplative moment (Translation: half collapsed, no legs, couldn’t walk any further) and over a drink and a cereal bar mulled over what I’d just achieved. A serious amount of up, met up with some wonderful people who are willing to share their love for the Lakes and a sense of personal achievement with the Climbers Traverse. OK, it is not K2 or a cure for cancer, but, that warm, contented glow was kicking in and with a final look over the shoulder I set off again to the car park.

Three Tarns

Looking over Three Tarns to the Crinkle Crags

Looking over Three Tarns to the Crinkle Crags

Looking over Three Tarns to the Crinkle Crags
Light on Kettle Crag

Kettle Crag

Great Langdale

Boots off, fresh socks (such a simple pleasure!) I had my drink and set off on the drive for home.

The day in stats (for anyone not bored yet):
21 hour day.
10 hours in the car.
530 miles driven.
8.3 miles walked.
3,694 ft of climb.
7.17 hours walking.
1.1 mph average speed.
Every second worth it!

At the beginning of this post I said it seemed like a good wasn’t. It was a fantastic idea. Many thanks to Ricardo for showing me the Climbers Traverse and to Dibble for going out of her way to meet me. Greatly appreciated, both of you. Until next time my friends…

* For those of you thinking my love life has just improved, Frankie is a Border Collie. Made you look though!
** Another gorgeous Border Collie.


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    1. 'm lost for words Al... in the most positive way.
      What a fantastic write up, and those pics are simply amazing! It was a pleasure to walk with you and I can't wait for your next visit.

    2. Cheers mate. Good to meet you too and thanks again for showing me the Climbers Traverse... Really appreciated!

    3. Awesome write up and pics. Well done!

  2. I still love this write up, and awesome pics Al. Really Class.

    1. Thanks Ditzzy. Was reading a Lake District book today that mentioned the Climbers Traverse as an alternative route for people wth a good head for heights!

      Felt far too proud while thinking "I've done that!"...


  3. An excellent and entertaining report Alastair. I'm happy that such a long journey proved more than rewarding, looks like you had a perfect day!

    1. Cheers Glyno!

      Long day but extremely enjoyable.

  4. I've just stumbled across your blog and love it! Writing from Montana, USA. Thanks for blogging!