Esk Pike and Allen Crags from Borrowdale
The latter part of the ascent had been in an almost eerie stillness through the dense damp mist that clung to this side of the Lakeland Fells. As Dad led the way up the last slope, we became aware of a sound - something akin to the far off approach of a high speed train - that increased steadily in volume with each step towards the ridge.
The final rocks were outlined, black on rushing grey, and the sound was now all around - a terrible roar that seemed to shake the air as a wind of unimagined strength scoured the rocks just above. Dad had taken one look over the top and decided not to bother with the last few feet of Esk pike.
My own efforts saw me scramble up the sheltered lee side of a rocky pillar which we thought was probably the highest point while all the winds of the Earth seemed to tear at the rock on either side. Raising my head over the top it wasn't possible to breathe with the pressure of the wind so attempting to stand up was out of the question. As I prepared my retreat though, the gusts must have changed direction because my legs were suddenly swept from beneath me and for a few moments I hung onto the rocks literally flying like a flag! My position struck me with terror as I had visions of being swept from the mountain and once on its sheltered side, dropping like a stone 2000 feet into the unseen valley below. Eleven year old boys don't fly too well and the valley was short on trees to break such a fall, instead being littered with rough and jagged boulders.
The screaming in my ears dipped and I felt my feet fall against the rock once more - in a near panic I scrambled quickly back down to where Dad waited in the shelter of the ridge just below.
Thirty years later, I was setting out from Seathwaite in Borrowdale, the plan being to ascend Esk Pike and possibly Great End - weather permitting. So far it wasn't actually raining and most of the summits were visible. Oh and it wasn't windy - that was a good thing!
The wide track led out of the farmyard and on up the valley below the waterfall of Taylorgill Force high on the right to cross the stone structure of Stockley Bridge. Here I turned immrdiately left and followed the path behind the wall above Grains Gill. The way straight up the hill leads to Sty Head and would be my return route.
I followed the path steadily up this wild and rugged looking valley and presently the dark crags of Great End appeared ahead, its gullies streaked with snow. The mountain was clear one minute and obscured by drifting cloud the next. My first objective - Esk Pike was still not visible from here.
The path now steepened and followed the course of Grains Gill, now in ravines down to the right, and suddenly as the top of the slope was reached the landscape opened out into the open windswept high country between Sty Head and Esk Hause. Turning left on the main path, I once again headed uphill though the slope here was gentler. Behind was Sprinkling Tarn and beyond across Sty Head one usually can see Great Gable but today only damp grey mist filled the view.
As the path forked I took the left hand one - the other being the newer route to Scafell Pike - which led in due course to the shelter on the col between Allen Crags and Esk Pike. Just as you couldn't see the Gables behind, you couldn't see the Langdale Pikes ahead from here either. In fact nothing much at all was visible now!
After a short rest I walked the short distance south to the cairn marking the top of Esk Hause, Lakeland's highest true pass - though it's rarely used as a pass today. The paths here are generally clear but many people believe they are at Esk Hause when they reach the shelter. I remember one chap in particular who was ready to lead not just himself, but a whole party off into the wilds of Upper Eskdale believing he was going towards Langdale, in conditions just like these. Being able to see more than 25 yards is a luxury here! The path pssing the shelter goes from Langdale to Sty Head and runs roughly east to west while the true Esk Hause - Borrowdale to Eskdale - runs north to south.
From the cairn I turned left - roughly east - along a much fainter path - the obvious route to Scafell Pike disappearing from view in the other direction. After a damp grassy section, the way began to climb over stony ground and a sleety rain started up, intermittently at first. Ominously, the wind had started to rise but I was destracted from the weather by route finding. The path faded in and out and easy scrambles were encountered as I followed the crest of the ridge until out of the gloom appeared a small stone shelter between two rocky pillars - the summit.
Wainwright says that the rock above the shelter is the highest - they look about the same in the mist - but I ascended both without being blown off! I'm not certain whether we'd reached the top last time but we can't have been far off.
The shelter was a good lunch spot and on making the discovery that my Snickers bar was an unusual colour, with examination of the wrapper revealing it to be almost a year out of date, I opted for a scotch egg, some dates and a Mars bar which had 7 months to spare.
Back down then. The weather hadn't improved while I'd loitered here - it was now back to normal for the Lakeland Fells - horizontal rain! I'd decided that if I could see Great End on my return to Esk Hause , I'd go up. If not I wouldn't. The view from the cairn was of the same 10 yard circle of damp grass and stones so I continued back to the shelter.
Feeling the need to do something other than just walk back down, I followed the path across from the shelter up to Allen Crags, a fell I'd not been up before. It too has 2 summit cairns of roughly equal height though closer together than those on Esk Pike. The view was the same though, funnily enough!
The rain was battering it down as I rejoined the trail for sty Head though I dropped below the mist just before reaching Sprinkling Tarn. The tarn is in a spot of exceptional wild beauty which epitomises this part of the Lake District though it's also officially the wettest place in England.
Sty Head was bleak indeed with a south westerly channelling through the pass driving the rain towards Borrowdale while cloud layers clung to the surrounding crags. It's a great spot this - the weather only adds drama! A right at the stretcher box and back to Borrowdale in the rain. The conditions mellowed as I dropped lower. The wind dropped, the chill left the air and by Stockley Bridge it was barely raining at all. The conditions above were but a memory.
Please see the table of contents below for more walks in the Lake District