Hellgill,Climbers Traverse,Wavering on the Crinkly Bad Step

20 03 2011

(pics taken on other days) July 2010 – midge season in Scotland!

At last Richard and I could have a relaxing break in the Lakes after all the monthly Munroing we’d been doing – some of which I’d found a bit tense!

We started the week at Broughton-in-Furness before moving on to Wasdale. Most of the walking was so relaxing there was nothing particular to write about (I’m definitely not complaining about that!) so I’m going to just write about the one day of any significance, which was the day we headed for Bowfell from Langdale.

Bowfell (moody)

We parked up at the National Trust carpark at Old Dungeon Gill – probably the most shocking part of the day – £6 for the day!! I hope they make good use of it and fix some paths or something…

We’d decided on a strange route as, not having been to the Lakes for ages now, there was a lot of things we wanted to do and see. We wanted to see Hell Gill as the last time we went up that way it was thick mist and we saw nothing at all… we also wanted to revisit the Climbers Traverse – has to be the best way to the summit of Bowfell. We also had a yen to re-do the Crinkles… So, the obvious decision was to combine all the lot in one route.
Hell Gill is the very narrow, curved gill centre-pic

Bowfell gills

We therefore set off towards Stool End Farm and bypassed the foot of The Band to go under it to Whorneyside Force. By now it was pretty hot and sunny as we never set off before about 1030… The path up beside Whorneyside Force had bags of stones dumped by the side of it in preparation for some stone-pitching, however, I’m not sure that even stone-pitching will help the current route as it is in severe danger of falling into the gill.

Whorneyside Force

I noted that fact a year ago and now quite a few landslides have occurred so the path is indeed going to end up down there soon – possibly with someone on it! We cautiously picked our way across the landslips and the bits of path which were threatening to collapse until we soon came to the top of the fall. There is another pretty fall above which falls into a lovely little pool but I was feeling too hot to take photos so just clambered down to admire it and then rejoined Richard on the path.

From there the gill goes round a corner and immediately the tree-lined declivity of Hell Gill appears. Although this is undoubtedly a very spectacular gill there are few places to get photos to illustrate the fact.

Hell Gill

The path crosses the beck and sets off up a very steep hillside by the side of the gill. The path is partly stone-pitched and partly naturally rocky and is very steep. In the hot weather we were having I found it very strenuous indeed and by the top was feeling completely knackered – unusual for me as I normally go up steep routes very well. Unfortunately, the fact that I was feeling knackered at such an early stage in the walk meant that I struggled for the rest of the day really…

Across Hell Gill

Hell Gill & Pike o’Blisco

We walked along the path which goes along the edge of the precipitous gill, sometimes peering down into its depths – I didn’t like to lean too far over for a photo though! After a quick rest and attempt to cool down on some boulders where the path flattens out, we followed the route a little further and then headed off across the grassy hillside to join The Band path. Well, actually I should say cross The Band path as we were actually heading for the edge of The Band to where the direct path goes either straight up Bowfell or to the Climbers Traverse… We had another break not far below the start of the Traverse as I find if I’m too tired, I get more wobbly than usual… and the traverse is an extremely narrow trod!

Bowfell Climbers’ Traverse

Climbers’ Traverse-the Notch

Not feeling much better, we reached the start of the traverse where, unusually for us, Richard went first. I was indeed feeling a bit wobbly, especially on the narrow corners where you have to clamber round rocks and suchlike and kept telling Richard to get a move on as I wobble less if I’m going quicker! We soon reached the section where the path widens and this is where the famous cold spring (as mentioned in Wainwright’s guides) comes into view. There are several jets of water coming forcefully out of the base of Cambridge Crags – I was a bit worried they wouldn’t be running after the dry few months we’ve had but there they were, still gushing away. I filled up my flask cup and had a good drink to try to cool down a bit and urged Richard to top up the water bottle from it. He pulled a bit of a face and looked hesitant – he’s not one for drinking out of streams. I asked him what was bothering him and he mentioned germs – I told him there couldn’t possibly be any germ-contamination as it was coming directly out of the rock and so was well-filtered. He reluctantly filled the bottle but we didn’t bother drinking any more water after that as we switched to our flasks for the rest of the walk.

From the spring, after having a quick admire of Bowfell Buttress which stands proudly just the other side of a scree gully (which you can ascend if you like that kind of thing), we turned hard left into the rock face and set off up the boulder chute between Cambridge Crag and Flat Crags (commonly known as The Great Slab).

Bowfell Buttress

The Slab is a stunning piece of rock architecture – for those who haven’t seen it, an enormous white sloping slab which can be seen from miles around. It’s set at an angle of probably a bit steeper than 45 degrees but is quite mossy and slimy and I would think it was quite dangerous to ascend. I asked Richard whether he’d ascend it and he said he would – don’t think I would as there’s a huge drop below it if you slide off! I hate watching lambs gambolling about all over it in case they slide to their doom.

Bowfell Great Slab

Again, I made heavy weather of the clamber up the boulder chute – I normally enjoy that bit and zoom up it so was definitely having a bad day. At the top I decided to postpone the summit and head for the top of the scree gully by Bowfell Buttress to see how bad it was. It didn’t look too bad but the exit was very steep and the whole thing very loose. I noticed Richard had not come down with me and had actually disappeared. At this point I had to change a film so was quite a while joining him on the summit. I had a quick grump at him for not bothering to come with me and said I’d only gone to look at what the gully was like. He asked interestedly what it was like so I told him I wasn’t going to tell him as he couldn’t be bothered to see for himself!

Boulder Chute Route

Bowfell Buttress from Gully Top

The summit as usual was quite crowded so we didn’t stay, planning to take a break at 3 Tarns col. However, when we got to the 3 tarns, we were so interested as to whether they would have any water in (only one was looking a bit sick) we forgot to stop and continued for Crinkle Crags.

Scafells fm 3 Tarns

Bow Fell

Shelter Crags Tarn

There are actually only 5 official ‘Crinkles’ but it isn’t easy to tell from that end which they are so we basically ascended everything after Shelter Crags (which we just waved at and passed by). We noted though that a lot of people coming the other way were missing out the 3rd Crinkle ‘Gunson Knott’ – a shame as it’s a shapely peak with a great view. We had a little break on the col between that and the second Crinkle – Long Top – looking down the eroded scree chute of Adam-a-Cove which used to be an escape route but is probably horrible now.

Crinkle Crags-Adam a Cove

We had a discussion on whether to take the route off Long top which tackles ‘The Bad Step’… as I wasn’t having a great day I didn’t know whether I should try it. The first and only time I’d done it before, after years of taking the other path off the fell, was the last time we’d been out on the Crinkles. At that time I’d been surprised to have no problems with it at all once Richard had pointed out the footholds for my descent and actually was so happy with it I immediately went back up just to try it in both directions! Can’t have liked it that much though as I then went round and descended the easy path… perhaps I just didn’t want to push my luck?

We reached the summit of Long Top and decided we’d at least go and have a look at the step. It’s a little bit scrambly on the way down to it and I wasn’t faring all that well really, being clumsy and lacking in confidence… We reached the step, Richard in the lead… even he was confused about where to descend. He first of all tried descending down a step of about 4 feet to a triangular ledge about 2 foot across – I was fairly sure that was the route we’d descended before. He had a bit of a try to get down but ended up coming back up as he couldn’t find any footholds lower than the top one which is only about 8 inches below the ledge… the whole step from the ledge is probably around a 10 foot drop. He struggled back onto the triangular ledge and then struggled even more getting up to my stance. That section is quite awkward – you can go either side of a tall boulder, which is what I was hiding behind and hugging while I watched.

The Bad Step

He came back up and took off his rucksack and then went to investigate another section which was nearer the chockstone in the back of the gully and a few feet more of descent. He found a few narrow steps going down but still wasn’t happy so ended up coming back up again. Of course, all this time, my confidence was slowly seeping away… I told him I was sure we’d done the ‘triangular ledge’ route before so he went back down to retry it… He’d actually looked across from the other bit and had seen some lower footholds and so successfully descended it this time. He’d had to face in and it had been quite a long stretch for him to reach the second foothold though. Now it was my turn…

I wavered about for ages as I was reluctant to stop hugging my friendly boulder and didn’t like the look of the step down to the triangular ledge… I could see that I could easily sit down on the edge of the descent to my left and lower myself onto the ledge with no problem, but was worried that, if I couldn’t continue down the big step, I wouldn’t be able to get back up again and go around. While I wavered, a couple of young lads came to the foot of the step and looked at me. I told them to go ahead and ascend which they did with little trouble and passed me to continue on their way. They’d gone to the left of my boulder on the final step up so I wasn’t in their way. However, just after this, 2 more young lads came along… I again told them to come up as I was still undecided and didn’t want to hold them up. I did mention to them though that it would have been nice to have them stood at the bottom when I attempted it as that would be more people to stop me sliding round the corner on the scree over the big drop when I fell off it!

The first guy winced on his way up the big step up – turned out he’d pulled a muscle in his leg – he reached the ledge and wanted to come my way. Not wanting to stop him seeing how he was now injured, I went part way back up the mountain to let him past. That meant I then had to edge back down the loose scree on the narrow top to reach my beloved boulder again. The lads disappeared and no more seemed to be heading our way so I decided it was time I made a move. Richard had told me several times to abandon it and just go round but I was feeling a bit stubborn – if I could get down with no problems last time, why couldn’t I repeat that performance now?

I sat on the top ledge by my boulder and lowered myself onto the triangular ledge – it seemed very small and was wet and polished – ugh. At this point I had to take off my bumbag, which is a bit of a wriggle as I sort of twine it and my camera bag’s strap together in case either of them come undone. I wasn’t too happy having to do a little dance on such a small ledge. I passed my bag to Richard – a move which meant we were both at full stretch… I then had to take off my camera bag as it lives on my front and, with such a large camera, would force me uncomfortably out from the crag when I had to face in for the descent. I was a bit worried as the bag doesn’t fasten well and the lid usually flops open – I was scared my camera would fall out. Of course, what we should have done, as Richard suggested later, was just take the camera out of the bag and lower that down on its neckstrap – the bag would just have flattened then and it would have been a safer method for my precious camera.

Now I was bagless so free to continue but insisted on sitting on the ledge to descend. I was trying to get my left foot onto the first foothold (the one only 8 inches or so lower than me) but the foothold was out to my right so it was impossible from a sitting position. Richard repeatedly told me I couldn’t possibly make the move while sat down and that I had to stand on the edge of the ledge with my back to the drop and then lower down. There was no way on earth I was going to stand on the edge of such a slippery, wet block with my back to the drop! Just then some more people arrived from above wanting to descend. I realised I’d really have to get down now.

I apologised to the guy above and said I was having a little difficulty finding handholds which made me happy enough to lower myself down. He offered to hold my hand so I offered it up to him. He grabbed it and started to try to help me up the step! I told him I was trying to descend not go up… His group (family) numbered five in total so I think the pressure of so many in the queue forced me to make a move. I decided to kneel on top of the ledge and then lower down. I managed to find a couple of fairly slippery handholds and bit the bullet. I stood on the first step down and lowered down but couldn’t find the next step down. Richard grabbed my ankle and put it on the step but said I had my legs the wrong way round. I shuffled both feet onto the step, proving Richard wrong as he’d said I didn’t have room for both feet. He then helped me place my leg on the last foothold and I finally plopped to the ground – phew!

The family then adeptly showed us the 5 different and simple ways to descend the Bad Step – each taking a different route and none of them (including the young lads) having any difficulties – how embarrassing. I thanked the guy anyway and they were on their way… just as a set of 5 lasses arrived to tackle the climb up the step (never seen it so busy!) We pointed out the various routes and I took a few photos of them climbing it.

Bad Step,Crinkles

We were then on our way over the first Crinkle and down to Red Tarn. From there, there is a nice path down the side of Browney Gill. This path is now thankfully stone-pitched – before that it was red scree – a particularly rounded and marble-like scree on which it is impossible to stay on your feet when descending. My Dad once fell on the scree above a very bad part of the gill and only just stopped on the edge of the drop – I can imagine a few people made an impromptu descent into the gill around that spot before they pitched it!

Red Tarn & Great Knott

Crinkles Front

We passed a nice couple also descending and then met a couple sweating their way up the very steep part of the path up Oxendale with full camping packs. They were very red-faced as it was still pretty hot. Rather them than me!

Crinkles and Bowfell




6 responses

9 05 2011

Its nearly 30 years since I was last up Bowfell.I`ll put it on m,y list for my trip to the Lakes in November 🙂


9 05 2011

It’s a great fell – especially via the Climbers’ Traverse route… Hope you have great weather when you visit – superb viewpoint! 🙂


31 03 2011

I’ve had to do plenty of dog-shoving myself when I used to go to Wales with my friend and his dog. It was getting on a bit and we used to have to lift it up and down scrambles to each other – wasn’t a lightweight either!


25 03 2011

I’d have loved to have seen the dog-shoving bit!;-)


30 03 2011

It would of been a bit of swearing,pushing & pulling, mind you saying that the mutts are used to being man handled in the hills, with river crossings fences, & all the other good stuff we come across!! cheers…


22 03 2011

Some excellent snaps MC, i liked the 1 of the bad step, i was there last summer with the dogs, i started at 0430hours from Stool fm area, so by the time i reached the Step it was still very early.I had a right laugh trying to push 2.5 dogs up that step!!! Cheers Terry..


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