Thursday, 27 September 2012

All Hail Bowfell!


Bowfell, Crinkle Crags and The Band
Pike O'Stickle
Bowfell is a pyramid-shaped mountain and stands at 2,960 feet/902 metres. The pretty name does not give a clue to the sheer scale of crags and boulders that surround and adorn it. It is often cited as a favourite by fell walkers in the Lake District as it has superb views.  Sadly, until my latest visit I could not vouch for the views as my only ascent of it was on a day where I do not think I saw anything other than my feet owing to the thick cloud.  I have been meaning to go back for a long time and now I live so close I ventured forth early one relatively sunny morning in September with my mission being the Climbers’ Traverse.

Crinkle Crags from The Band
The Climbers’ Traverse features in Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Southern Fells and the drawings he includes of the Great Slab and Bowfell Buttress really inspire the imagination so I was determined to see them for myself.  I started at Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale, taking advantage of the National Trust car-park and headed along the long track to a route called “The Band”, which although long, is a gentle ascent with nothing of any difficulty.  The views were amazing.  The Langdale Pikes could be seen in their full glory with the shattered screes of Pike O’Stickle and its large craggy summit in view most of the way, along with Crinkle Crags and Pike O’Blisco.  The views down the Langdale Valley became increasingly extensive and even a Herdy sheep was stopping to soak up the atmosphere.
Flat Crags

I made great progress to the where the path splits (why is no one around when I manage to keep up a good pace?) and headed off to the Climbers’ Traverse.  Now I have done some scary (I think) routes up fells including Sharp Edge, Jack’s Rake and Striding Edge and Climbers’ Traverse is nothing like those.  However, the path is narrow on the edge of the fell and therefore on the right heads straight down into the Mickleden Valley so you do feel quite exposed.  Each time I took a photo I had to  hold onto a rock otherwise I felt I was falling, particularly when I was trying to capture the rocks above.  I have never had vertigo but I think I may have experienced a very mild form of it along that path.
Crags & blue sky - hurrah!

Before long, the imposing and aptly named Flat Crags come into view and you start to really get the feeling that this is going to be a great route.  Around the corner, Cambridge Crags and Bowfell Buttress also appear – large vertical jagged crags that appear as though they are defending the summit and from the path, it is hard to imagine there is actually a route up.  
Bowfell Buttress

The Great Slab with Pike O'Stickle in the background
My main purpose in doing this route was to see the Great Slab.  This is exactly how it sounds – the most enormous sheet of flat rock stretching across the side of the mountain just below the summit.  I was a little concerned I had missed it as I could not see it above me anywhere so I wandered a bit further down and was just peering over the edge at the foot of Cambridge Crag to see if it was below me (sometimes I should not be let loose) when I turned around and there, right above me was simply one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen in the Lake District fells.  A vast expanse of rock pebbled with mosses and cracks at an angle on the fell.  It was as though a giant had come along and created a dining table that had tilted over time.  Mesmerising.  

The path takes you up next to Cambridge Crag amongst and over large rocks and boulders and I bravely climbed to the other side to take some photos.  The Great Slab with Pike O’Stickle in the background is my favourite.  Reaching the top of the Great Slab, I wandered off the path to stand at the top of it and look down into the valley.  It really is a unique feature and so different from the rest of Bowfell, which is large crags and many boulders.

The top of the Great Slab & rolling mountains ahead
Heady with the sight I had seen, I reached the summit of Bowfell and had the strange but frequent Lake District view of beautiful sunshine and rolling mountains in one direction and grey cloud and rain in the other!  Which way to sit whilst having a coffee was therefore not a difficult decision and I can absolutely see why so many people love Bowfell.  Even whilst the weather was far from perfect, the views were spectacular.

Admiring the sunshine in front of me, it was rather a shock when a few minutes later hailstones started pelting me from above!  The heavens had opened on Bowfell so I hot-footed it (or rather cold-footed it as it was rather chilly even with a woolly hat, gloves and ski jacket) down to Three Tarns and then back along The Band to Old Dungeon Ghyll again.

Strange grassy hillocks towards Martcrag Moor
Climbers’ Traverse rates as one of my favourite routes up a mountain now.  It was everything I hoped it would be.  However, one of the strangest sights of the day was unexpected - looking from the Climbers' Traverse towards Martcrag Moor you can see little bumpy grassy hillocks that are a result of the last Ice Age.  A sight like this along with the rock formations, views, sense of exhilaration and sheer adventure of it make Bowfell everything I love about the mountains of the Lake District.

Follow Heelwalker1 on Twitter

24 comments:

  1. superb Tanya , i must do that one day :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Phil - you would get much better photos of the Great Slab and the crags than me so would love to see them :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. The bumpy grassy hillocks are called drumlins.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks - my GSCE Geography days are coming back to me now!

      Delete
  4. Your tales always make me want to climb mountains. It's never going to happen so that is quite an achievement! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a real compliment. Thanks Tracey :-)

      Delete
  5. Hi Tanya - great article thanks.

    Just to throw my two pence worth in, the grassy hillocks in the picture are also known as "Hummocky moraine" - basically mounds of glacial debris :-)

    cheers, Rod

    twitter @OutTherePeople

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rod - thanks. They looked really amazing from that far away. I have seen the ones at Hayeswater but there are fewer and the path is closer so it doesn't have the same affect.
      Tanya :-)

      Delete
  6. Ray GreenhowSeptember 28, 2012

    A very good route Tanya. It's years since I was on the climbers traverse & this reminds me it's time to go back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ray. I am definitely going back. Loved it :-)

      Delete
  7. Brilliant blog. I hadn't even heard of this route being a new fell walker so I will definitely add it to the list. Love the descriptions.
    Jan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jan. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did :-)

      Delete
  8. Stunning. ;D PLEASE be careful while you're taking pictures! On a side not, I finally learned how to put pictures I've taken on a blog. (lol I'm so far behind. ) Took some cool photos while I was in Williamsburg. I'll put them up soon. Hope you have a wonderful weekend. If you see Tilly, give her a hug from me. Bless you. ;) ~ Aithne

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Aithne! I am not very brave so always careful on the fells. Can't wait to see your Williamsburg photos - I went there once about 6 years ago. Tweet me with the blog when you post it.
      I saw Tilly last weekend. When I next see her I will give her an Aithne hug from across the ocean... :o)

      Delete
  9. Great blog Tanya. Climbers Traverse sounds a bit of a challenge for a novice like me, but I'm sure I could find another way up :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Derek - thanks! You would be fine I am sure. None of it is really difficult - a bit of a scramble up the boulders by Cambridge Crag in places but whilst the high level path drops away on the right, it is not very narrow... But the route straight up to Three Tarns is very straightforward if you don't fancy the Traverse.
      Thanks for commenting :-)

      Delete
  10. What a climb - fantastic. I felt exhilarated just reading it!

    And I loved this description Tanya:

    "It was as though a giant had come along and created a dining table that had tilted over time. Mesmerising."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Chloe! It really did look like that...so weird something so flat being amongst such a rugged landscape. Wish my photography skills were better but alas! No patience! ;-)

      Delete
  11. Certainly one to put on my list Tanya. Just want to know how you keep your boots so clean (pitcure to the right)?

    Great pictures too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Alvina - I am going back as soon as I can (without hail hopefully because I liked it so much so enjoy it when you do it.
      The boots were before I wore them - but funny you should mention it as I wore them on the Fell Care Day last week and even though I got stuck in they remained really clean! It was quite a talking point! I suspect it won't last long though...one boggy path is all it will take...
      :)

      Delete
    2. Bowfell Climbers Traverse is a very pleasant route, sure enough - it has a real 'mountain track' feel to it and it keeps you away from the hordes toiling noisily up from Three Tarns.

      Your text and photos portray the walk well IMO. Best of all, your enthusiasm and delight really come across. I love it when people walk purely to enjoy themselves rather than just to grimly tick off yet another Wainwright or Birkett or Nuttal or whatever.

      If you intend to revisit the walk, here are a couple of suggestions.

      When the Great Slab is dry (if you are confident and sure-footed) you can pad up it which saves scrabbling about on the chossy gully beside the slab.

      If you follow the traverse past the waterspout under Cambridge Crag (a good place to fill your water bottle BTW) you come to a scree slope beside Bowfell Buttress - it's a good spot from which to watch the climbers. From there you can scrabble and curse your way up the scree beside the buttress to emerge midway between Bowfell summit and Bowfell North Top.

      Should you find yourself near Angle Tarn, there's an entertaining direct way onto Bowfell North Top that avoids the plod round to Ore gap. walk round the tarn on its southeast side (left as you look) then zig-zag up the grassy terraces by Hanging knots. There's then a short scrambly weave through the crags onto the ridge.

      I love the purple shoes BTW - a sucker for killer heels, me :)

      Delete
    3. Thanks - really nice comments :)
      I Great Slab did look as though it may be possible to walk up it when dry...I would have to see how brave I was feeling. I am sure-footed.
      I will try the route up by Hanging Knotts - I descended Bowfell via Ore Gap and Angle Tarn last year and it was a trek so a more interesting direct climb sounds good.
      I did the 214 Wainwright's - found some great mountains that way but would never have a mountain list again as I love just going where the mood takes me and trying out different routes on familiar fells.

      (I have some fab heels!) :)

      Delete
    4. Heading southeast round Angle Tarn is a slightly better route for ascent (at least the first time) than for descent: you can see the easiest route better from below than from on top. In fact, if you are already on the ridge looking down it is not that easy to spot the safest gap in the crags from above. It's not one to try out for the first time in poor visibility either.

      Hope you get a chance to try it - enjoy if you do.

      Delete