Bowfell and Esk Pike

It was a cold morning, the ice on my windscreen needed a good scraping before I set off; the temperature was -6C but the roads were clear of snow and ice. It warmed up to -4 on the motorway but went back down to -6 again when I parked at the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Great Langdale. There was a thin layer of snow in the car park, it was bound to be icy on some of the paths; there was a great view of Crinkle Crags lit up by the morning sun, with a cap of mist, but my camera wasn't working, the batteries don't like it so cold.
I walked through Stool End farm, and then to Oxendale, past the footbridge across the bouldery stream, and up the valley. As I walked up the valley, the rough track eventually disappeared and a smaller path crossed more rugged ground; it's normally wet, and cascades of ice were draped over the rocks. It was an interesting puzzle to find footholds in the iced-up rocks, and the only diversions were impossible-to-cross frozen fellside; there was an awkward, rugged stream crossing that needed special care.

Eventually, I had to cross over Oxendale Beck, an unexpected footbridge crossing a deep gorge; equally unexpected was the path uphill. After walking up a grassy slope, a path then follows the contours above the rugged stream; the path is very eroded in places, there were more iced-up rocks and another very awkward stream crossing, with a good view of frozen waterfalls in the stream below.

The path descends to the stream just below the bottom of Whorneyside Force, a rugged crossing at the best of times, made more interesting by the icy boulders. Having crossed the stream you have to cross straight back over again, as you look up into the steep sided chasm, although without much water falling at the time. There is a steep ascent by the side of what is now called Hell Gill, there is a partially reconstructed path but some scrambling is required and there is more ice to be avoided.

After the steepness and ruggedness of the climb, there is a more straightforward ascent, looking down into the spectacular abyss of Hell Gill. The path from there up to Three Tarns is normally swampy, but this ground is best walked, and good to walk, when frozen; I had to make the occasional diversion to avoid the ice-fields, as I walked up into the mist. The occasionally vague path that I had walked up, finally joined the big path, coming up from The Band up to Three Tarns.

The flat stony ground is usually criss-crossed by streams but there was no water flowing, just areas of icy rocks to be avoided. The steep ascent of Bowfell seemed to be easier than usual, the loose slippery stones had frozen together making a much better walking surface. There was a final scramble up snow-covered boulders to the summit of Bowfell; a cairn has been built again, I wonder how long this one will last.

I descended from the rocky summit pyramid to find a familiar collection of cairns, but I did take a compass bearing, just in case it wasn't as familiar as I thought. I followed the cairns north, a rugged path with a snow-covered rocky descent to the col near Bowfell Buttress. There was a line of obvious cairns to start with, and signs of a path across the broad shoulder of Bowfell, and the bouldery descent to Ore Gap; the red soil was showing through the melted snow.

There is a rough ascent of Esk Pike, once again the frozen stones made it easier to walk than usual; the summit of Esk Pike was bleak and cold. It was brilliantly atmospheric in the snow and mist, and wonderful to be in such a wild setting all by myself; it was pity my camera wouldn't work. I started to descend in a northerly direction, and it started to snow; the faint footprints in the snow were in danger of being covered up; the path should have been obvious enough but I kept checking my compass anyway.

I got down to Esk Hause, it is difficult to recognise if you don't know it, and I wasn't absolutely certain myself, but as I turned right on a large path I could see the familiar cross-shaped shelter. When I got to the shelter, I used what protection from the snow it provided to put on waterproofs; I didn't think it was just a shower.

I walked down the path towards Angle Tarn, it is very visible but the reconstructed sections were filled with very obvious, black ice-flows. The level path looks very benign, but I was rudely wakened from my daydream; I didn't see the ice under the snow and went down heavily as soon as I got both feet onto it. After taking the descent to Angle Tarn a bit more steadily, I didn't trust the snow-covered stepping stones, but fortunately there was not much water in the stream. I climbed up the reconstructed path on the other side of the stream, again having to avoid the ice, to the cairn at the top of Rossett Gill.

I followed the obvious path, the old pony route; I knew it was going to be awkward, I've made the descent before. I usually prefer walking down Rossett Gill itself, but it might have become a bit too awkward with not being able to see what was under the snow. The descent is rugged and awkward at the best of times, the snow covering the path is quite wet making the ice even more slippery; I had to take extra care, especially on the flatter sections that are the most likely to be filled by ice.

It was strenuous and time-consuming, and dark by the time I got to the footbridge across Mickleden Beck; I still had a 45-minute walk back to the car, which was covered in snow. I drove slowly out of Langdale and after I turned left at Skelwith Bridge it was no better; driving at 20mph round a bend I could feel the car slide. In Ambleside, I was approaching a bend at 20mph, and just touched the brakes; I slid across the road towards oncoming traffic, and just about corrected my skid in time.

It was a slow, careful drive out of Cumbria, and I suppose it was fortunate that it was pouring down with rain when I got to the Motorway; at least I wasn't sliding around.

Andy Wallace 19th December 2009

© 2003 - 2017 By Andy Wallace. Reproduction of this work in whole or in part, including images, and reproduction in electronic media, without documented permission from the author is prohibited.

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