Pike of Blisco to Crinkle Crags and Bowfell
8th December 2009.
Map: Landranger 90
Weather: Cold and overcast, walking in the clouds. Rain later as forecast.
A circular walk from Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, up Oxendale to Pike O’Blisco, down and up to the Crinkle Crags, on to Bowfell and back via The Great Slab, Climbers Traverse and The Band: 9.8 miles – as measured by the SatMap
I had arranged this walk via the walking forum, and so was committed to it despite the poor forecast. That’s the only set back to walking with friends as opposed to walking on my own. On my own I can pick and choose the day to suit the best weather forecast. The Met Office now seems to be getting fairly good with their weather predictions a couple of days before the event, and today’s forecast was absolutely spot on. I plotted out the route for this walk the previous day and looked at the elevation data – gulp – about 3900ft (it came out at 4200ft on the GPS). I had put a lot of weight back on over the last six months and was feeling a bit under the weather before we set off, and as I had already done this walk last year I knew what was coming. So I was togged up in my merino wool base layer, which kept me too warm at times, but I definitely needed it up on the higher peaks as it was close to freezing with the wind chill. I met up with Mike at J33 on the M6 and shared the car on the way up to Langdale. Graham was behind us and he had to leave early today to fetch his pooch for the journey home. We were a little delayed on the way, mainly due to flood damaged roads from the recent Lakeland deluges. At the Old Dungeon Ghyll car park (£5.80 for the day) we met up with Ian and Granty and got kitted out for the walk. I felt strangely beat before we set off and knew what was in store for the first few hours – up, up and more up. But I love the Langdales and it is always a delight to be here whatever the weather, and I have always had a view up Mickleden.
a misty Great Langdale
The eye is drawn to the shapely Pike of Stickle dominating the early view as we walked along to Stool End Farm. Pike of Stickle is the site of a Stone Age tool factory – there is a thin outcrop of Greenstone ( a volcanic Tuff), and you can still find rejects and stone flaked shards on the scree slopes – but they are very steep and I wouldn’t want to venture far down off the top. I’ll be walking up there in 2010 when the weather will allow me some time meandering around the area in search of a big chopper – that’s a Stone Age tool, so stop sniggering. The walk over to the farm is very gentle and a nice little warm up for the legs, and the path winds its way through a very neat farmyard. There are lots of tractors here, so there must be a bit of money in sheep farming apparently. We turned to face Oxendale and the valley sides loomed high above us a bit dark and gloomy. The beck wasn’t a torrent but was bubbling along excitedly over lots of boulders – it looked cold though. We crossed over to the other side via a wooden bridge and we had a momentary piece of blue sky up above.
The hard work started here and up we went up the steep slope, but assisted by a well laid path of stepping stones. The first hour of the walk is like a never ending staircase without a banister to hold onto, and I wheezed and puffed my way along. Ian had just got over Swine Flu, but it didn’t stop him making headway. Three of us struggled along at various stages, me more than most, and I was at the back of the field for a lot of the walk – absolutely no energy today. The path eases as we approached Red Tarn, and once on the top we turned left for the route up to the Pike of Blisco. The last few hundred feet weren’t too bad, but we could see up ahead that we wouldn’t have any views of the across the valley to the Langdale Pikes. We glanced back down to our route up occasionally for a rest and to enjoy the views before disappearing into the murk, and up to the summit. However it was another Wainwright bagged, and we were soon at the summit trig point posing for the obligatory picture of the grinning group, relieved to be on the first summit of the day.
It was cold and we had a long climb ahead of us so it was a quick return back down to the col before heading up to Great Knott. It was a slow plod up a steady incline, steep enough for me, but because we were in the mist now, it wasn’t too exciting. By the time we were up above Great Cove I was absolutely bushed and was distinctly lacking in va, va, voom, so it was time to load up with some fuel. The wind was whipping over the tops, so we sat on the lee side of the crags and quickly consumed some lunch – soup and sarnies for me, and quickly got chilled as well. But I felt better for it for a while and we started off on our journey up to the Crinkle Crags and the ‘Bad Step’. Graham and I strode off up front chatting away - after waiting for Ian to catch us up – I think he’d had a call of nature and had taken a few minutes burrowing in his ‘long johns’ – well it was cold. We missed the ‘Bad Step’ as we didn’t spot it in the mist and the regular path leads away around and below it, but Granty caught us up quickly and turned us around. Ian and Mike had already climbed up and over the not so bad step, and were waiting for us. There is a small nobble of polished rock to step on, then a stretch for a good hand hold, and up and away. Ian said well done, just like an old pro....more like an old tart I replied.
We were soon up on the top, and up and down along the Crinkles, but the trouble was we didn’t (me) pay attention to the route and it was very easy just to follow the path along, which took us West along Long Top, instead of North. Luckily Mike asked ‘did we want to walk to the Scafells?’, so we retraced our steps across the slopes and up to the last Crinkle – well spotted that man. We dropped down off the Crinkles and up to Shelter Crags where we were rewarded with a brief view of the Langdale valley far below, and back to Pike of Blisco and Red Tarn. We never did see the summit of Bowfell, just the scree path up the lower slopes. There are superb views from here on a clear day, but now it was just clag above us and misty below. We could see down to the Three Tarns at Bowfell Links, and across to our return route down the Band. The route down to the Three tarns is on a clearly defined path, but if you go up on all of the crags the route down takes you over a boulder field. At this stage of the walk I felt absolutely whacked and new that it was going to be a grind up to the summit – I offered to race Mike if he gave me an hour’s start, but even then he might have beat me to it.
Down below us I could see a couple about to start the ascent up the scree path, and I thought they were elderly. Imagine my horror as they caught me up and soon passed me on their way to the summit – thank goodness they were a lot younger than I thought, so I didn’t feel so bad. The others set off at a rate of knots, while me and another plodded up, and at least I had some company – I had a can of Red Bull but it didn’t give me wings. But at least I had some interesting looking geology to look at – the same convoluted bedding as can be seen over on Pen below Scafell Pike. Besides the Great Slab there are a fair few other slabs tilting down towards Mickelden far below. But I never ventured across for a look as it’s a long way down to the valley floor over the buttresses, although looking back up from below I think there would be a way up or down a few of these. Eventually I staggered up near the top where a posse of fellow walkers pointed me to the summit.
So I wandered up to the top where I couldn’t see anything and came back again. We hopped down some boulders back down towards the Great Slab, again with limited or no views which is always a shame having made the effort to get up there. At the top of the Great Slab it didn’t look so bad as we couldn’t see the drops far below to Mickelden. Initially we tried to walk on the slab but it was very slippery after the prolonged wet period we have had, and hence very mossy. We stayed over to the left side of the slab where there was a little remnant of snow, which proved just as treacherous to walk on. So our last option was to walk down the boulders, which were generally ok, but I had a near ankle snapping moment when my foot disappeared down a hole. The best way down off the slab is to veer around to the left at the base, otherwise it’s a drop off about 10ft down a steep mossy bank down to the climbers traverse below - the path is a good one, and we couldn’t mistake it for anything else. There was a wonderful flow of cool clear water out of the moss in a mini cascade. I filled my water (filtered) bottle and it tasted wonderful. Ian and Granty imbibed freely directly from the moss and neither of them suffered any after effects. The climbers traverse path obviously leads climbers up to the big buttresses of Bowfell, but for us it led back to The Band, gently undulating as we went along.
I will definitely return this way to walk up to Bowfell once more for the stunning views across to the Scafells. The traverse meets up with the route down to The Band and as we made our way down the path is clear. It is stepped to death here and it interrupts the stride pattern – it’s either too short or too long a stretch which isn’t good for aching muscles and joints. A reminder to self and anyone else who is reading this is to check your laces before dropping down off a steep slope – my toes really suffered today due to lose laces and that rarely happens to me normally. It’s a long relentless decent, but at least we were now down below the clouds. The weather forecast rain at 3pm and so it did – but at least the prevailing wind was at our backs. Every time I stopped to take a picture I got further behind, but the others kindly waited at the bottom of the hill for me. Once back to the valley we returned the way we had come, through the farm and back to the car park at the ODG. All that was left was to change out of a sweaty top or two and nip into the Old Dungheon Ghyll Hotel for a very satisfying pint of Black Sheep – well earned and well worth it – another brilliant day.