Hell Gully! Dow Crag

6 03 2011
Another archival report from my ex-forum…
Being a follower of Wainwright and his fantastic guides, I used to think that pretty much if he said something was fine, it was fine for me too… Now I’m much more careful and selective!

I was just watching some poor guy being helped up this route in total terror yesterday so I thought it might be a good one to write up, although I don’t have many photos and certainly none on the route! We were looking down the gully and another guy joined us and said it wouldn’t be for him either!

Wainwright had this route as ‘Dow Crag, South Rake’ and reckons it’s just a simple walk, so, one visit to the Lake District with my friend Richard, I made up my mind to do it. I have to admit to having a few worries about it, despite whatever Wainwright said as, after all, it is basically a gully up a climber’s crag so could therefore be pretty steep. I told Richard I planned to take a look at the route and he enthusiastically agreed.

We set off from Little Arrow (near Torver) along the pretty route to Torver Common and the Walna Scar Track. We then followed the track left until we met the right-turning track for Goats Water and followed this to the tarn.

When we reached the tarn I had a look for the ‘rake’ and pointed it out to Richard who looked even more enthusiastic. I wasn’t so sure though… I said we would go to the foot of it and take a look and see what I thought…

We crossed the tarn outflow and went up boulders and scree to the foot of the crags where there is an encouraging mountain rescue stretcher box! It was slightly scrambly crossing the bottom of the various buttresses to the foot of the gully where I peered upwards… Hmmmm – it didn’t look too bad… or did it? I still wasn’t sure but said to Richard;

“It looks to get easier and less steep about two-thirds of the way up doesn’t it?”

He just said; “If you say so” but looked very keen (he likes that kind of thing). I said we’d have a go…

We set off onto the scree up the gully – or at least Richard did. I set off up the climbers’ buttress at the side. Richard told me to get off the buttress and into the gully but, it being horribly loose and already steep, I didn’t feel I could just yet. I ascended further up the buttress being repeatedly badgered to get into the gully. In the end, Richard helped me off the buttress onto the loose scree – ugh! I continued up ahead (I always go ahead on the way up so I have someone behind me – not that it would help if I slipped but it makes you feel better :) ).

As I’d seen from below, about halfway up the gully steepens considerably and becomes much more rocky. As I always do, I checked the rock handholds for firmness. First one, then another, then another piece of rock lifted out and was placed to the side. I was losing confidence at a rapid rate! I chose that moment to look down and felt sick as I saw the tarn looking small far below us down the vertical-looking gully and the steep scree. I said “Oh my God!” and Richard snapped at me not to look down and to get on with it! I had no choice really as I certainly didn’t want to go back down. I fervently wished for a climber so I could shout for a rope to be lowered but there were none around on the nearest buttresses…

I scrambled slowly and cautiously up the gully on the loose rock looking desperately for a way out – hands were needed all the way due to the steepness. I’d now reached the two-thirds point where I’d thought things would get less steep – they didn’t – they actually got steeper!

Then it came – my chance for escape. I saw a little path go round onto the buttress on my left. Now I wouldn’t normally traverse onto a buttress at a height of probably around 100 feet or more up it but it looked firmer than where I was so I shot off round the path. There was then a loose and scrappy path zig-zagging up towards the sky and I clawed my way desperately up it at a very great speed – I call it ‘chainsawing’! :)

Suddenly it was all over and I reached flat grass. I threw myself flat onto it and lay there swearing for quite a while until Richard appeared grinning and asked if I’d enjoyed it? My answer wouldn’t be printable on a family website!!

After a while I recovered sufficiently to look down the gully and realised, to my surprise and horror, that I’d actually looked down that gully many times before and thought it was totally horrific and quite impossible for a non-climber!

Never again for me… Richard’s done it a few times since though and loves it – he has tried exiting the very loose top of the gully and also my escape route. He did admit yesterday that he wouldn’t dream of descending it though!

Hell Gully route, Dow Crag

Hell Gully Picked Out On Left By Snow

Dow Crag-Hell Gully


How Dow Crag SHOULD be done – my parents and brother on the route to Dow Crag…
Family on Buck Pike, Dow Crag Behind




4 responses

8 10 2013

Its certainly loose and the ‘bedrock’ is very friable although I don’t think I found it as exposed as yourself. I struggled with the dog who was trying to send as much rock back down the gully as he could – I stopped most of it!

Its not a route I would rush back to do, and I certainly wouldn’t enter the gully if there where people already in it.

Cheers Simon


10 10 2013

I saw a guy and his dog literally bounding down it once in huge leaps – maybe the dog had made a break for it and he was trying to catch it?! 😮


14 03 2011

Missed this on your ex-forum. As usual an enjoyable report – don’t forget AW wasn’t scared of heights 😉


10 10 2013

No he wasn’t – wish I could get some of that ‘not scared of heights’ stuff sorted!


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