Sunday, 6 March 2011

Bowfell & Esk Pike via Angle Tarn

I had a few days off work last week as I finished at my last place on the Tuesday. I didn't bother to set off on my adventures until Thursday as I knew I'd be hungover on Wednesday morning after leaving drinks with now ex work colleagues on Tuesday night and Wednesday was the fifth anniversary of the day I met my lovely wife. The plan was to get out in the mountains and fit in a decent high altitude wild camp. Leaving my crazy job last week left me in an unexpected mental state similar to Stockholm Syndrome and ever since I left on Tuesday I have actually missed the adrenaline rush I got from my job. I kept thinking about things that I had left unfinished and worrying about things that are no longer my problem. So it was vital I got away and chilled out for a few days to flush those thoughts out of my worrying mind and recharge the batteries ready for my new job which I start on Monday.

Wild Camp with Great End & Great Gable at sunset

So scouring maps and looking at what I have and haven't done yet in the Lake District I eventually came up with a few ideas. I absolutely love planning walks and looking over maps. Options in the Lake District these days are often ruined by extortionate parking prices at proposed walk starting points. It costs enough in petrol at the moment just to get there! I must admit I think I will join the National Trust again so I can use their car parks for free when I am in the Lake District. I like that in recent years the National Trust has decided to promote its outdoors based assets and the hard work it puts in to the conservation of their expanding land assets. For too long they promoted stately homes which were in my own biased opinion nowhere near as important to our generations futures. Recently they have introduced their outdoor membership and have been heading in the right direction, so I have no problem re-joining them again. I did the usual public transport option research as I always do when I have a few days to spare, but as usual after hours of sifting through maps and timetables and checking out costs I realised that if I want to get to proper mountains it is still cheaper by car even with extortionate parking. I like to do something new each time I make the effort to go to the Lake District and so had a look at some of the higher fells I haven't climbed yet. Some walkers, elitists usually, have very negative views of peak bagging. I can't think of a better way of setting yourself a target on planet earth. Forcing yourself to top out on every mountain in a particular area sounds like absolute heaven to me! I have a life plan to make sure I do all of the higher peaks while I still can. I've experienced in my own life with family and friends how sadly your health and ability to walk can be taken from you at any time. So with that in my mind while I can I will head for the experience of the higher peaks and leave enjoyable bimbling around lakes and valleys for when I am less able.

Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and Hikers Bar

So with all that in mind I chose Bowfell. A pointy exposed summit which has always looked inviting with views in to Langdale and across to the high Scafells. I decided I would do a circuit via Mickleden, Rossett Pike, Angle Tarn, maybe Allen Crags, Esk Pike and then Bowfell and a descent of The Band. The only problem being that I would have to pay for two days parking at the Old Dugeon Ghyll National Trust car park which equated to a ridiculous twelve pounds. I read a few forums though and people were saying that the Old Dungeon Ghyll would let people park over night in their smaller adjacent car park at quiet times for a small fee and a donation in the Mountain Rescue collection box. Choosing kit on Thursday morning wasn't too easy as the night time temperatures were predicted to be below freezing for most of the week. The Weatherline website had a fantastic photo the felltop assessors had taken that day of a cloud inversion from the summit of Helvellyn which really got my mind giddy with the optimistic idea of a possible inversion, another reason to head high. Finally packed and ready I set off mid Thursday morning in a great mood. I love multiple days like this with simple and changeable plans as it means I can really take my time. I had been out the day before checking out a micro fleece jacket I'd had my eye on for a while. I was after a micro fleece but with features like a full zip, hand warmer pockets, elasticated ends, hem tightening, high neck etc. I stopped off on the way at Snow & Rock to pick up a Mountain Hardwear Micro Chill Full Zip Jacket which is the first fairly okay priced of this type I'd seen for a while and they had 20% off. It is great, I wore it for the entire trip and hardly took it off until I got home.

Mickleden

No traffic jams and clear weekday mid morning roads meant I was in the Lakes sooner than I had planned and the place looked absolutely stunning in blue skies and sunshine. Driving through the Langdale Valley I couldn't possibly imagine that on a day like this I'd rather be many places on earth. I parked up at the Old Dungeon GhyllMickleden. As I left the Old Dungeon Ghyll behind I looked up to the right to see two Buzzards circling on the thermals above Raven Crag. I could tell that photos were not going to be quite as good as I'd hoped as it was extremely hazy with strong sunshine and the previous nights cold ground frost creating a slight mist. As I rounded in to Mickleden in glorious sunshine and blue skies, I admired my planned decent route to the left, The Band ridge of Bowfell. The track through Mickleden is really flat and easy going until it reaches the head of Mickleden.

Plane circle Pike of Stickle

The track eventually reached the wooden footbridge over Stakes Gill. Here the path splits in two, the Cumbria Way path goes up to the right over Stakes Pass and the path I took goes left to Esk Hause via Rossett Gill and Angle Tarn. I set off up the ascent of the Esk Hause path then heard a strange noise, as I turned round I watched in amazement as a small plane that looked similar to a Spitfire did acrobatic circular displays around the Langdale Pikes. It was surprisingly warm in the afternoon and I was sweating like a pig as I usually do. Luckily the path went in to the huge dark shadow of Bowfell as it climbed towards Rossett Gill so I got a respite from the sun but it was still warm considering the time of year. I sweat even more when wearing my GoLite Jam rucksack as its lightweight design means no proper ventilating back system. I love the GoLite Jam but may have to look for another rucksack as the sweaty back problem is just too bad and if its bad on an early spring day its only going to be worse again come summer. I recently changed my day sack for this reason and I am pleased with the results so may have to do the same for my multi-day sack. I also need to consider dumping Merino Wool as it just doesn't work for me, its anti-pong qualities are the only benefit I get from it. It develops holes from nothing, costs way too much and when it gets wet it stays wet forever which isn't pleasant when wild camping that night.

Angle Tarn

I reached the top of the newly and well laid Rossett Gill path and got my first glimpse of Angle Tarn. Before heading down to the tarn though I dumped my rucksack behind a boulder and headed up to the summit of Rossett Pike. The views were excellent. Pike of Blisco looked pointy, warm and inviting whereas Bowfell and Esk Pike looked craggy, cold and uninviting. I said goodbye to the warm Mickleden view and descended back to collect my rucksack. Originally I had planned to camp at Angle Tarn, however when I went down in to the bowl of the tarn there was a major drop in temperature as the cold air was trapped there. Angle Tarn is an awesome place, the tarn is similar in shape to Blea Water below High Street. It has that tear shape and sort of half empty look about it as if someone pulled its plug out for a little while. The backdrop, the huge towering crags of Bowfell and Esk Pike create an over powering atmosphere and are a great contrast to the view in the other direction from its outflow which heads out towards the unspoilt, wild and peaceful Langstrath Valley. I decided to continue on beyond Angle Tarn and head for Allen Crags instead which was still basking in sunshine. It was an easy decision really, although Angle Tarn is an awesome place, it was freezing cold compared to everywhere else and you don't really get any wide views which I was hoping for. I carried on up to Esk Hause and then took the easy ascent to the summit of Allen Crags. The summit giving wide panoramic views and a great aspect on the next days route across Esk Pike and Bowfell. The view across Sprinkling Tarn to Great Gable was extra special as was the immediate view to the huge crag of Great End. I found a spot on the more sheltered northern side of the summit and set up my tent.

Myself giddy at seeing some snow

I was horrified to find I had forgotten the small ziplock containing my teabags, sugar and dried milk so couldn't have any brews! The meal I had was a freeze dried Reiter's Spaghetti Bolognese. I am not a fan of Reiter's freeze dried foods, I find them too salty and the packaging is rubbish as unlike their competitors they don't reseal after use. You would think by now they would have caught on to this idea! I also couldn't find my long handled titanium spoon so had to make do with a standard length spork so I ended up with spag bol all over my gloves. Luckily I had some of the Old Dungeon Ghyll current slice for afters to make up for the poor taste. As the sun dropped the massive bulk of the Scafell range and Great End impeded any spectacular scenes there may have been in the views to the west. A lovely orange band went across the sky to the south west though over Esk Hause and there were some lovely warm orange and pink light on clouds above Great Gable. As the sun dropped so did the temperature so I was soon chased back in to my tent by the cold. I settled down for the night and set my alarm. Luckily there was increasing cloud cover through the night keeping temperatures just above freezing. It was a very quiet wild camp as it often is on the summits. Just the tent fly sheet flapping in the wind and every so often a plane. I woke at around half five in the morning and it was just starting to get light. I unzipped the tent door and had a look outside hoping to see a cloud inversion but instead saw an atmospheric mess of clouds shrouding Great End. I popped out of the tent to have a look around and it was cloudy everywhere with a slight gap in the clouds giving a brief glimpse of Sprinkling Tarn below.

Myself on Bowfell summit cairn

After enjoying my own recipe Spicy Fruit and Nut Porridge I quickly packed up and made sure there was no trace of where I had spent the night. I descended the path back to the cross shelter on Esk Hause and then headed for the obvious ascent path to Esk Pike. As soon as the path became a bit hands on there was dangerous ice and snow patches everywhere. I probably should have used my Microspikes but chose not too. The path rounds the back of Esk Pike over some slippery flat ledges and then surprisingly quickly reaches the summit cairn which was quite difficult to reach over a short slippery boulder field. I didn't stick around on the summit as there were no views just thick damp, oddly warm clag. I had a quick look at the map and took a compass bearing as I've not been up here before and could not see any more than thirty metres or so in front of me. After descending Esk Pike I crossed Ore Gap and headed up the northern end of Bowfell until I reached the obvious cairned path that follows a surprisingly easy gradient up the western flanks of its northern ridge. The snow fields increased in number and size as I got higher. I reached the col between Bowfell Buttress and the summit and found a large and rather unstable looking cornice. Still no views and just mild damp clag. I headed up over more ice covered slippery boulders on the summit pike to reach the summit of Bowfell. I had always hoped my first summit of Bowfell would be in sunshine so I could experience its famous views. There is usually a unique panorama of the rougher side of the Scafells. Bowfell sits at the end of several surrounding valleys including Langdale, Langstrath and Lingcove. I was also disappointed not to really be able to explore its summit. Alfred Wainwright was a big fan of exploring summit plateaus and crags and was a big fan of Bowfell. It has many unique features and visually fascinating geology. He even confessed that Bowfell would be in his top half dozen.

The Great Slab

I hung around on the summit as it was deadly silent and a great place to chill out and have a few thoughts with myself. I was also hopeful that the clouds may sink slightly as every so often blue sky would tease me just above the summit. I waited a good half hour but it sadly never cleared. I traced the path back to the bottom of the summit pike and followed the cairned path down to the aptly named Great Slab, a huge flat slab of rock at an angle of around thirty degrees. Like much of the rock around here it has stunning strata and is apparently an ancient lake bed. The path got steep after the Great Slab as it made its way down to the Three Tarns col. Here I turned left and followed the descent path to The Band. I have to admit I was quite disappointed by The Band. I've seen many photos of it from Langdale and imagined the path would follow the crest of the ridge all the way to Bowfell. So I was disappointed to find this wasn't the case and the path was actually taking a less exciting lower route along the southern side of The Band with no views in to Mickleden. The views over to Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and Browney Gill are not bad though of course and once you reach the bottom end of the ridge the path does take the preferred route and gives incredible views in to both Langdale and Mickleden. I heard a loud noise as I was descending the path and looked up to see a huge army plane heading toward me with four great dirty trails coming from its four large turbo prop engines. The plane flew dangerously low over Lingmell Fell, over the head of Langdale and down Mickleden before disappearing in to the cloud. It was actually quite scary and I was convinced I was about to hear it smash in to Rossett Pike at the head of Mickleden but it just disappeared! Was it a ghost plane or just a very good pilot? I eventually reached Stool End farm at the bottom of the ridge and followed its tracks back to the Old Dungeon Ghyll where I bored the poor barman I had met the day before with my experiences. I was too early for food unfortunately but still had the end of my current slice and bought myself a pot of tea. It was another great moment as I sat with the cheeky birds in the beer garden and looked through the photos I had taken over the last twenty four hours with a smile on my face refreshed ready for the next week. A great trip and much needed!

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...