A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Esk Pike

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.

Pete Buckley

Essentials >>> Up 840m >>> Down 840m >>> How Far? 13.9km >>> How High? 885m/2903ftEsk_Pike_a..ale_011.jpg

Please see the table of contents below for more walks in the Lake District

Posted by PeteB 11:55 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking holidays Comments (0)


The Foxes Tarn Route from Eskdale

overcast 15 °C

Scafell is the second highest mountain in England and receives a small fraction of the visitors who dutifully troop up its slightly higher neighbour Scafell Pike. The mountain rises above the isolated country between Wasdale and Eskdale and this route via Sampsons Stones and Foxes Tarn is - by Lakeland Fellwalking standards - a fairly tough walk but varied and interesting throughout.

It wasn't actually raining but the amorphous grey cloud hid everything above 2000 feet as I set out up the track from near Wha House Farm in the Eskdale valley. Passing the attractively sited cottage of Birdhow, I reached Taw House Farm where I ignored both the (tied up) dogs and the sign for Brotherikeld to the right to follow a lane straight on past a couple of bemused and damp looking donkeys to gain open fields on the slopes beyond. A short while later I crossed the stile to the open fellside above with views back down the green valley of Eskdale.

Beyond the stone wall the path led a little way to the right before I took a left branch up a slope of bracken. This climbed up steeply, passing some waterfalls amongst the trees on the left soon leaving the valley behind to level out in an area of rough grassland and low crags. Topping a low rise, the way ahead was clear to see across a flattish green expanse and to the right of some higher crags perhaps a mile away. Beyond all was shrouded in mist.

So this was the Lake District on a summer weekend. Where were the crowds of tourists? Presumably wandering down the middle of the road in Bowness and Ambleside making the traffic jams even worse. There was nobody else here, for this was Upper Eskdale, the regions's remotest valley and I had it to myself which is how it should be! Passing below the higher crags, I could now see towards the head of the valley across the damp green expanse known as the Great Moss where the River Esk and its tributaries wound like ribbons on their journey down from the mountains. The cloud had lifted a little now showing some of the rough stony ridges leading up to Bowfell and Esk Pike though the summits remained hidden. Above Scafell appeared impregnable with the rocky bastion of Cam Spout Crag guarding any approach, a wall of forbidding grey rock that rose into mist of a similar shade.

I followed the path down towards the river and past an ancient sheepfold to the gargantuan boulders known as Sampson's Stones. I was surprised to see no-one here either as this is also the route to Scafell Pike from Eskdale. I remembered sheltering from a snowstorm here with Dad in the Easter holidays many years before and spent a few minutes identifying where we'd been.

From Sampson's Stones my route lay across what the stream of Cam Spout though today it was more of a raging torrent - the waterfall of the same name crashing with some force down the mountainside above - and at first I couldn't see an immediate crossing that would allow me to stay dry! There's always a way though - and by wandering downstream from the path to where it was easier I was soon heading up the steep ground on its far side. The scrambling here remains easy if you keep well over to the right and don't approach the waterfall too closely and where the path gave out I was able to follow a nice easy groove in the rock back to the left higher up where with minimal use of the hands I gained the grassy slopes above.

I paused to admire the wild beauty of Upper Eskdale below before setting off again up into the all enveloping mist now just above. The path here is clear up to Mickledore - the ridge separating Scafell from Scafell Pike - albeit very steep and loose in its upper sections. I actually missed my way here as the route to Foxes Tarn couldn't be seen in the mist. If you keep on the main path it's the way to Scafell Pike but when I'd managed to locate it - I turned up into a gully on the left which had a small waterfall emerging from its lower reaches.

The gully was a forbidding place today and its enclosing rock walls rose into the mist on either side dripping with water. Each time there was an obstacle though there vwas always an easy way around it and despite the river I stayed dry - well almost - and gained height quickly. Soon I emerged at Foxes Tarn which is basically a small pool with a big rock in the middle. From here the path climbed steeply but without further obstacles up through the damp greyness towards the top of Scafell somewhere above.

I remember the summit of Scafell having breathtaking views though today there was only grey fog and damp grey rocks the same as below but a bit colder and breezier. There was no need to stay so I set off on the path down the ridge towards the subsidiary peak of Slight Side where the view was exactly the same as from Scafell. In bad visibility it's important not to stray too far to the left here as there are steep crags along the length of the ridge. From Slight Side I actually went too far to the right to avoid the cliffs but it's safer on that side.

Passing some very old looking aircraft wreckage the mist suddenly parted and there was the Irish Sea seen over grassy hills dappled with small shining tarns beneath the grey ceiling. Recognising the unfamiliar side of the Wastwater Screes ahead I went back to the left where the going was now easy and found a path that appeared in the grass leading me towards the pointed top of Harter Fell on the far side of Eskdale.

I took a path that led off the main one down to the left to take me back to where I was parked and this led unerringly in the right direction until instead of crossin a stone wall it followed it on the right through some fairly thick bush of bracken and fern. The path never faded though despite being hidden in places by the undergrowth and where the wall turned back uphill there was a stile and I was able to follow the route back down to the road.

Essentials >>> Up 960m >>> Down 960m >>> How Far? 15.1km >>> How High? 964m/3162ft

Posted by PeteB 14:47 Archived in England Tagged me landscapes mountains lake_district walking hiking adventure foot Comments (0)

Blencathra by Narrow Edge

An exciting but easy route from Threlkeld

overcast 7 °C

You know when you're approaching a bridge over a particularly treacherous looking river and just as you go onto the structure you spot the sign - Weak Bridge - Well, I've a theory that these signs were put up by people living on the far side of the river who didn't want to encourage visitors. Perhaps they also lived on Blencathra judging by some of the names given to the routes up that fell. Narrow Edge and Sharp Edge invoke images of crumbling staircases suspended over a dizzying void though the reality is somewhat different.

While Sharp Edge is indeed an exciting if short scramble that one wouldn't fancy much in high winds or icy conditions, Narrow Edge, also known by the less inspired name of Hallsfell Ridge, has no difficulties you can't avoid but despite its relative ease it does lead directly to Blencathra's summit with fine views throughout. If you stay on the crest of the ridge, the scrambles last longer than on Sharp Edge but are easy and in at least moderately inclement weather, it isn't all that dangerous.

So it was that I set off with Pete, my father in law, from Threlkeld village to ascend the mountain by Narrow Edge. From Threlkeld the path led alongside a stream through trees before crossing the water and branching right beside a stone wall with Blencathra's steep slopes rising to the left. Topping a small rise we were greeted by the view of a waterfall descending from a narrow precipitous looking valley. Our path could be seen climbing the steep slopes of Halls Fell to its right.

There seemed an unusual number of people milling around, many sporting pairs of binoculars and their purpose was revealed by a chap wearing a "Blencathra Foxhounds" hat. The hounds, he revealed were kennelled just below here and were being exercised on the Fell today by following a scent trail. Cameras out in expectation of that shot of a pack of baying hounds charging down the hillside, we set off up the trail. The path climbed steeply through the heather, the views expanding as we climbed steadily higher. Presently we arrived at the top of Halls Fell, a wide hilltop with views of Keswick and Derwentwater behind then south over St Johns in the Vale towards Helvellyn while ahead over the far side were the sweeping slopes of Blencathra's ridges, Doddick and Scales Fell. A couple of lost looking hounds wandered up as if to enquire of their whereabouts but the only others we saw were a group of about half a dozen below the next ridge of Doddick Fell. It seemed that the foxhounds were in disagreement as to where the scent trail was.

The path now led steeply up again to where Narrow Edge rose from the softer heathery slopes like a rugged island. Here the ridge climbed ahead in a series of rocky outcrops and the way up its crest became exhilharating without being at all difficult or insecure. It was a pleasure to be walking on the bare rock and to have to use one's hands on the steeper parts but had the rocks been slippy or the wind stonger it would be easy to walk just below the top of the ridge.

Almost too soon, just as we were really getting into the surroundings, the ridge steepened again and came out on the peak itself. There aren't many routes in the Lakes where a ridge as good as this one leads to the summit of the fell! Usually the view from Blencathra is spectacular, situated as it is on the northern rim of Lakeland facing most of the region across open lands over 2000 feet below.Today though the weather had different ideas and while it hadn't been bad on the way up meaning that we had remained dry, a cold grey mist now rolled in and hid the views from sight. Whilst eating lunch by the cairn I absently read the blurb on my packet of salted peanuts and was particularly impressed to read the words "contains nuts" on the back. I was glad to hear this as it would be somewhat aggrieving to discover that it didn't - a bag of salt has much less appeal.

We followed the ridge roughly south west from the cairn towards the end summit of Knowe Crag with occasional glimpses of Skiddaw and the remote northern fells glimpsed through the drifting clouds to the right and ahead. Just after Knowe Crag we branched off down to the left on a new looking path which descended steeply in wide zigzags. Dropping back below the clouds which clung to the summit, we were treated to a spectacular sunset over the fells beyond Derwentwater which itself was now in twilight. The path was leading too far to the west so we again branched left over easy grassland before finding another path descending steeply towards Threlkeld. A steep,
loose descent which saw much contact between bottom and ground brought us quickly back down to the woodland above Threlkeld where we'd set out, just before night closed in over the northern Lakes.

If you found this route busy - it will be in summer - here's the quiet way up from Mungrisdale

Posted by PeteB 19:19 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking foot Comments (0)

Great Gable from Honister

The easiest route to Great Gable's summit


The bird floated on the air seemingly without effort as it surveyed the rough empty fellside beneath. Dad was sure it was a buzzard and we both watched it for some time until, with the late afternoon sun catching its brownish feathers it drifted slowly off over Styhead Tarn's still waters in the direction of Borrowdale.

It was on one of those seemingly endless summer days that we'd stood just above Sty head after a long day in the hills. Having been up Scafell Pike and Lingmell, we'd descended the Corridor Route to be faced with the choice of either returning to Langdale or following the path up to Great Gable. This being a summit that had so far eluded us, we ignored the vast distance to the car and wordlessly set off.

The shadows were lengthening in the valleys and the Sun was approaching the glittering Irish sea as we reached the summit, to be treated to a panorama of lakes and fells bathed in a quality of light not often seen...

The route described here is far shorter and easier than that from Langdale via the Pike and doesn't involve a dusk descent of Rossett Gill either - this being an experience that I cannot highly recommend.

Following the clear path from Honister slate Mine signposted to Great Gable and Haystacks, I headed firstly up steep steps and then more gradually up a long straight section, leaving the deep defile of Honister below and crossing more open fellsides. Soon I came to a section of path that was raised up like causeway for a short distance over some boggy looking ground. Here, the left hand path should be taken, unless of course Haystacks is the objective, in which case, carry straight on.

This track led across very easy, grassy slopes below Grey Knotts and offered spectacular views down the Buttermere valley towards the sea and over the knobbly tops of Haystacks to the rugged slopes of Pillar which rose massively ahead. Along this stretch, I got chatting to a couple who'd stopped to take a photo at the same spot. They turned out to be Roger and Jane from Lincoln who shared my enthusiasm for the Lake District and we decided to team up for the walk up Great Gable.

For most of this section a distant post is visible on the skyline away ahead as if to guide the way and it is upon reaching this that you first see the day's objective. Great Gable appears suddenly ahead as a great stone sentinel guarding the western approaches of Lakeland. This is Gable Grag and its appearance is one of impregnability from this angle. Roger scarcely believes me that our route involves no rock climbing!

From this point we crossed a stile and headed towards where the distant path could be seen ascending the ridge of Green Gable. My companions had been up nearby High Crag a couple of days before in mist and rain and could hardly believe the change in the weather. There was a cold wind blowing but it was very clear. This part here would need some care in mist though - there were marker cairns and the odd iron post but the path faded away for large parts of the walk to Gillercombe Head which separates Green Gable from Brandreth.

Passing a couple of small tarns on our right we began the ascent of Green Gable. The path was once again clear and expansive views had appeared on the far side of the ridge. Below was the head of Borrowdale while Glaramara and the Langdale Pikes appeared across the valley. Further round was the dark and rugged Scafell Range.

As we followed the ridge steadily up, we were joined by the path from Borrowdale bringing quite a few more people - the route so far from Honister had been relatively quiet.

The small summit of Green Gable at 2603 feet, is marked by a stone shelter, a cairn on the highest point and some breathtaking views. The panorama from here is, I think, as good as that from its higher neighbour with the exception of course that Wastwater cannot be seen from here. Instead the imposing crags of Great Gable fill the view in that direction.

The vista from Pillar and across the head of Ennerdale to the Buttermere Fells is especially beautiful and in the other direction can be seen the mirror like Sty Head and Sprinkling Tarns beneath Great End's northern crags.

Now we set off down a small descent to the very well named Windy Gap - it was a bit blowy to say the least - and we all put away our walking poles for the final steep climb. I find using poles a help on long uphill stretches but they can get in the way if scrambling is on the cards. The path here led around to the left a little way before going straight up the stony slope above. It was as I remembered it - steep, loose and very stony. The way here is easier if you stick to the straightforward scrambles on the bigger rocks rather than trying to claw one's way up all the loose stuff.

And so to the summit which we reached surprisingly quickly from Windy Gap. Great Gable is one of the most sought after summits in the Lake District and it is worth the effort. This was especially so today in near perfect weather. The Irish Sea and the Isle of Man made up the western view with the Galloway Hills in Scotland clearly seen beyond the ridges of High Stile and Grasmoor. So often the view from Lakeland summits is the same regardless of which fell you're on - a 10 metre circle of wet grass or stones surrounded by a damp empty nothingness of grey mist - but not today!

For the best views of Wasdale one needs to go a short way roughly south west of the main cairn to the Westmorland Cairn where the patchworked fields of Wasdale Head appear a vertical half mile below. The lake of Wastwater - England's deepest - sparkles between The Screes and Yewbarrow, leading the eye to the ever present sea beyond the West Cumbrian Plain.

It was cold up here exposed to the North Wind that had brought these clear conditions, so after a snack we returned the way we'd come up. This is a route I would recommend for ease of ascent. The steep and rough section is interesting without beinglong as in the other routes and it was pleasantly quiet considering it was still late September.

There is ample parking at Honister Slate Mine but it's only free all day if you're doing the via ferrata or mine tour, which do look good but if you're going walking it is expensive - £5 for the day. When it was free I would always go in and buy something but there you go. There are places lower down the pass to pull in.

Essentials >>> Up 600m >>> Down 600m >>> How Far? 9.7km >>> How High? 899m/2949ft

Posted by PeteB 15:49 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking holidays foot Comments (0)

Coniston Old Man

A little used way to the Old Man

semi-overcast 25 °C

Beyond the harsh grey stone of the old quarries rose the jagged skyline of the Coniston Fells; Swirl How, Wetherlam and closer at hand, its summit hidden by the intervening craggy slopes, Coniston Old Man our destination for today. So it was that a party of 3 set out on a warm day in early June - myself, Jacqui's Dad Pete and his elder brother Mike who hadn't been on the fells in a year and seriously doubted whether he'd reach even Coniston Old Man's modest summit.

We'd driven up to the last car park on the Walna Scar Road in an effort to gain precious height and it was this track we now followed towards the Walna Scar pass, the hot weather dictating a slow pace from us all.

Having studiously avoided the popular ascent route to Coniston Old Man through the Coppermines Valley and the infamous zig zags above Low Water - a route that has all the charm of Rossett Gill or the pony track up Ben Nevis - we reached Boo Tarn. Boo Tarn is described in the Wainwright guide "The Southern Fells" as a small reedy pool which is exactly what it is. Perhaps Boo Pond would be a more appropriate name though in "The Southern Fells", Wainwright also describes this route as one of the best ways up Coniston Old Man - also true.

Passing the wide track - which actually leads to a quarry - we followed the narrow path just beyond it with the stream in a small ravine to our right. This led us steeply up the fellsides the views opening out behind as we gained height. As we ascended we wondered about the mine workers. They would have faced a long climb before even starting what would have been a physically hard job, in all weather too - the Coniston Fells are not often as benign as today - then a long walk down at the end of the day.

Lunch and a long rest was had on some rocks that could have been made for that purpose with wonderful views over Coniston Water and most of South Cumbria. The sun had gone in now and a few spots of rain fell from a high overcast though it was still warm. After some considerable time - my own lunch stops are rarely more than 15 minutes - we set off once again and followed the path across the mountainside and up towards where Brown Pike appeared over the intervening slopes.

Presently, as we rounded the side of Coniston Old Man, the hidden valley leading up to Goats Hause appeared below with the mountain tarn of Goats Water shining blue green below the grey precipices of Dow Crag opposite. Here above an old mine building, the path began a steep climb of the slopes above until after a while the angle eased and we arrived - rather hot as the rain had stopped and it was still warm - on the broad easy slopes of the south ridge. The path here became sketchy in places but the large cairn could clearly be seen on the summit maybe a quarter of a mile ahead.

A short time later we were enjoying still and warm conditions on the summit, taking in the wonderfully expansive views that Coniston Old Man has to offer. The distant detail was somewhat obscured by a haze but to the north was one of my favorite Lakeland scenes - that of the cirque of mountains surrounding the head of Eskdale from Scafell around to Crinkle Crags - a wild aspect indeed. Closer at hand the ground fell steeply away to where Levers Water and Low Water sparkled among the rocks far below at the base of the craggy slopes. It was though with some relief that we looked down the zig zag track to Coppermines Valley, glad we'd not come up that way. It would have been hot work today!

The Low Water route was an option for descent but as Mike was now over the moon at finding the going much easier than expected, we opted for the longer but more interesting route to Goats Hause and down past Goats Water below Dow Crag. From there we'd follow the Walna Scar track back to the car and Coniston where 3 pints of Bluebird awaited.

Posted by PeteB 07:39 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking vacation holidays Comments (0)

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