Blisco to Bowfell

Langdale Fell and Raven Crag by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe weather forecast was pretty grim and Chris, who was walking with me, was apprehensive about completing the route I had planned if the weather turned nasty. Would the bad forecast account for a complete absence of cars when we arrived at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel? I was probably being over-optimistic when I set off walking in tee shirt and shorts but it was dry and warm enough, although there was plenty of cloud around and the tops were hidden by mist. We walked out of the car park onto the road, the rocks and ridges of Raven Crag rising up behind were well illuminated by the morning sun; looking towards The Band the fields and trees were freshly green, but the ridge of Crinkle Crags was blanketed in mist. We followed the road steeply uphill in the direction of Blea Tarn until, just after a sharp bend, an obvious path headed off to the right towards Pike o' Blisco.

The path is obvious and easy enough at first, rising gently just above a conifer plantation; there was a good view of Side Pike behind, its wrinkled green outline highlighted by the sun. The brown patches of hillside will soon be green again, the first bracken shoots are thrusting upwards to replace the bluebells. After a few minutes walking you come to a stream with an attractive small waterfall, the stream is easy enough to cross and the start of a reconstructed path is on the other side. It's a long slog up the stone-built pitched path, a strenuous start to the day; eventually you reach the end of the path where a cairn sits at the top of the steep climb.

The summit of Pike o'Blisco by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThere is an eroded path across the plateau-like flatness but the real Pike o' Blisco lies ahead; there are three interesting little scrambles that you could avoid with a wide detour but there is no reason to do that unless the rock is icy. The final climb to reach the double top of Pike o' Blisco is up a small, dry gully to a small col between the two peaks. Most people ignore the subsidiary top on the left but it is well worth the short scramble up good, dry rock to the cairn perched on top of a rocky crown. There is a good view of the real summit beyond the col and also the surrounding hills; it is best to get the view now because the mist invariably rolls in before I get to the other side.

It's an easy clamber over rocks and boulders up to the summit platform of rock where a large cairn survives; it made a change not to have to crawl across the slabs to shelter behind the cairn out of the wind. As usual, the mist rolled in to obscure the view of Crinkle Crags and Bowfell, but it really didn't look like we would see the rain that was forecast. We clambered down the slabs back to the col and turned right to find the eroded path downwards to the northern end of Red Tarn; as the mist cleared a little, I saw the three separate peaks on the top of Cold Pike, I had never noticed that before. There is an alternative right of way shown on the map leading to the southern end of Red Tarn but I have never seen any signs of a path in that direction.

The summit of Cold Pike by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerOnce you reach the bottom of the col you join the main tourist path to Crinkle Crags; it was unusually empty for the time of year. After crossing the outflow from Red Tarn you start to climb upwards on a reconstructed path between Cold Pike and Great Knott; almost at the crest of the rise we turned left to climb the pathless but easy grass slopes in the direction of Cold Pike's summit. The walk over grass is not too hard and you get a good view of Pike o' Blisco; near the summit I found a footpath that avoided all rocks but you can easily scramble up the rock if you want to. The multiple rocky platforms of Cold Pike make it one of the more interesting summits; there is little doubt about the highest point on the most impressive platform of rock.

Climbing Crinkle Crags by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerOnce you get off the summit on the path I found, you can follow it down to the main path again, but I prefer to not lose any height; there is a fence running between the summit of Cold Pike and Little Stand that you can follow. The fence is an electrified one built to train the sheep to keep to their new heafs after being reintroduced after the Foot and Mouth outbreak a few years ago; I don't think the fence is still live but I didn't risk finding out. The grassy ground by the side of the fence is generally good but it does become wet and swampy half-way across; I was close to feeling uncomfortable as I got up to my ankles in the soft ground.

The fence veers off to the left, without you noticing, just before you rejoin the tourist path almost at the start of the ascent of Crinkle Crags. The first Crinkle is pleasantly rugged and undulating, a mini-ridge in its own right, before you descend easily; the Bad Step of the second crinkle loomed large in the mist ahead. The approach to the rock step is unpleasantly eroded and steep; the step up is quite straightforward if you move at the right time and hold on tight. I got to the top first and offered Chris a helping hand, she isn't the first person I have hauled up onto the ledge; it would be shame to come to Crinkle Crags and miss out on one of its special features.

The Bad Step on Crinkle Crags by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe rugged scramble up to the summit of Crinkle Crags from the top of the Bad Step is much more interesting and easier than the alternative stony path that bypasses the rock step; there is also less chance of losing your way to the summit. It is fairly easy to navigate in good conditions and the mist had cleared by the time we reached the summit; Bowfell is a pretty obvious landmark to aim for. The more immediate target is the next Crinkle, once you clamber off the summit slabs you should find an obvious path going downwards; if you don't find the path, check your map and compass, you are probably going in the wrong direction.

As you descend on the path you become aware of the steep drop on your right hand side; it is Mickle Door, a large scree gully that is immediately recognisable even in the poorest visibility. There follows a succession of rugged tops, with bouldery ascents and descents; you have to deliberately aim for each of the summit cairns because the path bypasses most of them. I have never really worked out which Crinkle I am on by the fourth or fifth one but eventually you reach a small tarn where the path by the side of it is very muddy. There is another summit cairn on a small peak above the tarn, I think I have convinced myself that it is Shelter Crags.

View of Bowfell from Shelter Crags by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe reasonably obvious path continues onwards, starting to descend while taking you between more cairned tops; I have visited them all I think on previous visits. At a point where you start to make an obvious descent, you'll come across a couple of cairns; bear right a little and you should find a cairn in your line of sight to Bowfell. If you don't see the cairn, keep half-right and you should pick up one of the paths taking you towards Three Tarns; in good visibility Bowfell is still the obvious landmark to aim for. Once you reach the area of Three Tarns the path to Bowfell is unmistakeable; steep and eroded it is obvious in any visibility.

Once you reach the big cairn at the top of the steep climb, the gradient eases and more cairns lead you towards the skyline; before you reach the crest of the path you need to bear left to reach the summit of Bowfell. In good visibility there is no mistake and it doesn't really matter what exact route you take, you will have to clamber over boulders to reach the cairn-less but impressive rocky summit. The summit of Bowfell was almost empty and the conditions were clear enough to have an excellent view of Mickledore, in between Scafell and Scafell Pike.

Close-up view of Mickledore from Bowfell summit by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerWe descended down the boulders from the summit, I have never managed to get down the same way as I got up. We followed the path back to the Great Slab; just before you reach it, there is a small cairn a few feet away from the path, it is at the edge of a boulder field marking the start of a faint path downwards. The path becomes more obvious in some places but in others you just have to hop across the boulders and aim for the continuation of the path that you can always see. You will see the bright green vegetation around the spring at the base of Cambridge Crag below you; just before you reach it you have to turn sharp right on a reasonably obvious path. You climb a little at first to the base of Flat Crags; then you will get onto the more obvious Climber's Traverse path, an interesting high level route on steep ground. We could see showers or worse on their way towards us in the distance, so there was a need to get off the exposed path before the rain started.

The Great Slab of Bowfell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThere is a steep, eroded path that you can take across the ridge to the main path between Three Tarns and Bowfell but we stayed on the path in the direction of The Band. The path is a good reconstructed one at first then it deteriorates into an eroded and rough mess before it reaches the grassy slopes below Three Tarns. We made a beeline across the grass, aiming for the path on the other side of Buscoe Sike; it gets too deep to cross lower down the gully in which the stream flows. The heavy rain came in just as we crossed the stream; the path disappears as you descend when the grassy ground becomes wet and swampy in places. As we got past the wet ground we had a good view into Hell Gill, it is spectacularly deep and steep; a reconstructed pitched path takes you down a steep descent, the wet stones are not to be trusted in wet weather.

Rock Gateway on Bowfell Climbers Traverse by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerNear the bottom of the path is an awkward, sloping slab made more difficult because it was wet; the choice to finish the descent to the bottom of the gorge is steep eroded ground or a slippery stone-built path. At the bottom of the descent you cross a stream at the entrance to the gorge containing Whorneyside Force; on a less wet occasion it would be interesting to get a closer look at the impressive waterfall. Almost immediately you have to cross back to the other side of the stream, the large amount of water made it more of a wading than a fording. The rugged path has several rock steps to get down, made awkward with being wet and slippery, made interesting by being above a steep drop into the stream.

The rough path continues on steep and awkward ground with more waterfalls in the stream below that would be interesting to visit on a dry day. Finally you reach an easy grass slope that takes you down to a footbridge over yet another waterfall; on the other side of the torrent take the higher, more obvious path leading to a good track back to Stile End farm. It had stopped raining by then and it was quickly warm enough to finish the walk back to the car in tee shirt and shorts.

Andy Wallace 13th May 2007

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