I stood on the summit of Allen Crags, the glorious sunshine a startling contrast to both my first time here in 2015, and to the last summit I was on less than an hour ago. Then Allen Crags was a cloud covered stop on route to the top of England, but now I was just gazing up to Great End, wondering how the weather could have changed so quickly!
Had I known what was in store, I would have hung around and waited a little longer on the summit of Great End, my 107th Wainwright – half way!
As it was, I made a rapid retreat back to Esk Hause, after helping a couple of Europeans lost and looking for Scafell Pike.
For my finals day walking of 2016, I had left a big one! One I had been looking forward to all for awhile – Bowfell via the Climbers Traverse and Great End.
I set out on the familiar 516 service from Ambleside to Dungeon Ghyll, along with a bus full of of hikers on a lovely, sunny Saturday morning. Heading down to Stool End, a large group of walkers ahead were discussing their plans. It appeared the bulk of the crowds were heading for the popular Crinkle Crags to Bowfell ridge walk, but my plan would see me head straight up Bowfell’s Band. Crinkle Crags being one that I am deliberately leaving until near the end of my round of Wainwrights, while Bowfell I regard as too good to delay and only do once!
On this occasion I would be approaching Bowfell, Lakeland’s 6th highest Wainwright at 902 m, by the Climbers Traverse – the narrow walkway used by climbers to access the big crags beneath Bow Fell’s summit.
Sure enough, as I passed Stool End Farm and onto the Band, the majority of the following walkers continued on the path towards Oxendale Beck, leaving me with some breathing room ahead and behind.
With nice views over to the Langdale Pikes and Crinkle Crags, the walk up the Band was interesting enough, and my relatively rapid pace allowed me to pass a few more walkers on the way up.
Nearing the top of the Band, I kept my eyes on the right, looking for the faint path leading up to the start of the Climber’s Traverse and eager to get started. Finding the path and heading up soon gave a view back down on the streams of people behind, and now mostly continuing on the main path to Three Tarns. Just two people appeared to be following me up to the traverse.
Once at the start, it was a little disappointing to see the clouds coming in and covering the route ahead in clag. Although it was also likely to take away some of the apprehension by hiding the drops! Like my time descending Helvellyn via Swirrel Edge.
I stopped to bag up my camera, also hanging back to allow the rapidly approaching couple to pass me, so I would be able to follow them along, rather than feel rushed!
That thought, however, was quickly dashed when instead of walking the traverse, they took a hard left and begun scrambling up the side of the first big crag. Never mind!
Cautiously proceeding ahead, the narrow path was never as scary as is implied in some of the YouTube vids. But while the cloud helped cover some of the drops into Great Langdale, there was still a sense of potential danger.
Walking under Flat Crag and Cambridge Crag, with Bowfell Buttress ahead, gave a great sense of privilege at my whereabouts on a path ignored by the masses otherwise heading to one of Britain’s finest mountains in Bowfell.
Passing the bottom of the Great Slab – the massive tilted slab of rock, was my signal to turn left and scramble up the River of Boulders, the traditional exit from the traverse for the non climber heading for the summit of Bowfell. By now another couple of walkers had caught me up, and together the three of us navigated varying routes up the boulders to join up with the main path from Three Tarns, heaving with walkers and nearing the summit.
From the top of the traverse’s exit, Bowfell’s summit was just minutes away. Although the cloud was now thick enough to prevent any kind of view from the top, the small area was still packed solid with more people than can justifiably be expected to fit into such a small space (London Underground excluded!).
Hanging around to have my turn on the highest part of the summit, I soon concentrated on getting some distance between myself and the crowds, which now included a jovial group of young men, sounding like they would be more at home at a rugby match! In what my wife would call an epic display of anti social behaviour, I rushed my descent down towards the Ore Gap, driven by the thought of having the lads as noisy companions for the whole day!
By the time I reached the col between Bowfell and Esk Pike, the racket from the men was dimming, and I relaxed as I made my way up Esk Pike. The weather was improving too, with a lifting of the cloud revealing the Sca Fell Range in all its glory.
Stood on Esk Pike’s 885 m rocky summit and looking back to a now totally clear sky above Bowfell, I considered that I should have hung back and waited, rather than rush ahead! Still, no way of knowing what the weather was going to do or that it would play a similar trick with Great End and then Allen Crags next!
I continued on down to Esk Hause, one of the Lake District’s most popular crossroads, with streams of walkers, predictably making their way up to Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain on a fine autumn weekend.
I shared the path up past Calf Cove, before turning off to the right towards Great End and what would be my 107th Wainwright – Officially half way towards completing the 214! With each approaching step it was clear the weather wasn’t so impressed by this feat, and there was not going to be any nice views to celebrate the achievement! A rapid lowering of the cloud meant Great End would be an addition to the list of ones to return to in better weather.
Returning back to Esk Hause, the cloud was already beginning to lift. After helping another walker lost and trying to figure out the way back down to Borrowdale, I decided that I had time to nip up Allen Crags, as my first visit had been in conditions similar to those just experienced on Bowfell and Great End.
The lovely afternoon sun now meant an extended lunch stop on Allen Crags’ 785 m summit. The highlight among the staggering all round views being a new angle on the Gables – Great and Green.
My return would be a long walk eastwards, back to Great Langdale, after first descending to the faux-Esk Hause at the base of Allen Crags summit. My relaxed walk back took in picturesque Angle Tarn beneath Bowfell’s Hanging Knotts crag, the scene being enjoyed by a wild camper, sat outside his tent next to the tarn.
Ahead stood the final fell I would be climbing this year – Rossett Pike, overlooking Great Langdale. I had the 651 m summit all to myself before continuing on a nice descent by Rossett Gill, then picking up the Cumbria Way footpath and following Mickleden Beck back to the Old Dungeon Ghyll.
Nearing the end of the long path, dozens of sheep were sharing the way with me, before I passed through a gate to lock them behind.
Back at the Old Dungeon Ghyll pub for the second time in the week, I once more enjoyed a relaxing drink before taking the final bus back to Ambleside.
Another years walking was done, adding 47 new fells and reaching the half way point towards completing all 214 of the Wainwrights! Tomorrow I would be heading back home to London, but looking forward to another Easter adventure in 2017!
Time: ~ 9 Hours
Altitude: High: ~910 m/ 2986 ft
Low: ~90 m / 295 ft
Distance: ~ 11.5 Miles / 18.5 Km
Wainwrights: 5 – Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End, Allen Crags, Rosset Pike