During the last months of 2017, I made plans to get up to the Lakes for a solo walk. I’m pretty cautious regarding the weather when I go on my own, and it seemed that every time I made plans to go, near gale force winds were forecast and I would end up cancelling at the last minute. After the third time of postponing it occurred to me that I didn’t actually know what it felt like to walk in 30 – 40 miles per hour winds. After a chat with Rick, I decided I would head up anyway. If it was too windy for me to feel safe, I would turn back and take myself for a nice low level wander somewhere.
I planned my route avoiding ridges, trying to make sure that I was always walking on quite broad paths. Bowfell, a top I have visited previously, was to be my goal. I was going to head up via the Band, the maybe onto Esk Pike if the weather wasn’t too bad, returning to the Old Dungeon Ghyll pub via Rosset Gill. I left a copy of my route with Rick, along with my alternatives of not going to Esk Pike, and just returning down the Band.
I parked at the National Trust car park at Old Dungeon Ghyll and after the usual faffing I began walking to Stool End Farm (this name will always make me laugh). The weather forecast was right about one thing – it was cold. I was glad to have layered up with spare clothes in my bag.
After passing through the farm my path forked. Heading to the left would take me to the valley of Oxendale and Hell Gill Force, Great Knott or the brilliantly named Pike of Blisco. Today, I would take the path on the right that instantly began to climb. Well, I would once the gang of Herdwick passed, their lovely smiley faces looking for the best grass. As I waited, I admired the views around me.
After a short climb, I reached a kissing gate. Pike of Stickle jutting proudly into the blue skies, dominated my view and as I passed through the gate, I wondered about the stone axe factory found above the screes. Thousands of years ago, Neolithic man would work in exposed and dangerous conditions to produce fine axes from the hard, green rock. Examples of these axes have been found as far afield as Northern Ireland and it is thought they may have been traded at Castlerigg Stone Circle.
I was finding the going to be slow. My legs felt heavy, possibly due to the extra weight in my rucksack from all the extra clothes. I had already decided that Esk Pike could wait for another time. It was a beautiful day though, and the sunshine and effort were making me warm. As I stood, looking down Great Langdale valley, debating whether or not to take my coat off, I noticed an old man making steady progress towards me.
When he reached me, we had a chat about our routes and the forecast weather. We certainly were not feeling any of the high winds on this side of the Band. It was positively still. However, the path would soon begin to level out, requiring less effort. It was also going to crest the ridge soon, so would be out of the shelter and more exposed. I decided to keep my coat on. I said good bye to the old man. There was no way I would catch him as he made steady progress, ever upwards. I decided, as I donned my rucksack and trudged past a tree seemingly growing straight of the rock, that I want to be as active as him when I reach his age.
In the past, I have volunteered with Fix the Fells. They do some brilliant work maintaining and repairing the uplands paths, which you can read about here. As the path levelled, I realised that I had helped to build a drain in this area, so I spent the next few minutes trying to work out which one. I decided on the one below, but in reality, it could have been any. I remembered I had rolled a rock for the side of the drain such a long way down the fell that the lovely guys I was working with were going to make sure that it went in somewhere. The people I met during my time with Fix the Fells were some of the loveliest, hardworking and passionate people. I had such a good time volunteering with them, I would highly recommend it to anyone.
As I reached the crest of the Band, Bowfell appeared. I could see the col between Crinkle Crags and Bowfell that was home to Three Tarns which was to be my next target.
The wind was now much stronger. Being on the leeward side, I had benefitted from shelter, but now there was none. Occasionally the gusts caught my foot as I walked, but I still felt happy to continue. It was invigorating, and despite heavy legs, I felt amazing.
Presently the path steepened again. The pitched path ahead seemingly spent most of the day in the shade, and as such, was covered in icy patches so I gingerly made my way up.
Once at Three Tarns, I was rewarded with an amazing view. Ahead were the Scafells and to my right was Bowfell Links. On my left was the path rising to Crinkle Crags and beyond that I could see the neat summit of Pike of Blisco and further, the Coniston range.
I decided to press on. It was another steep rocky climb to the plateau before the summit of Bowfell. As I climbed, I met the old man from earlier as he made his way down. He told me it was a quite icy in places on the rocks on the way to the summit and to brace myself as I reached the top, as the wind was really strong. I thanked him and we continued on our ways.
He was right. As I reached the top, the wind was so much stronger. I wish I’d known how strong but these were the days before my awesome anemometer Christmas present. I met two ladies who had done the route I had been planning in revere. They told me that the wind was stronger and more persistent on other side of Bowfell. At this point I decided that I would return to Old Dungeon Ghyll the way I had come.
Soon enough, I was within about ten metres of the summit. It was rocky, and as the old man had said, icy. The wind was buffeting me, and the rocks looked treacherous. I watched as couple cautiously made their way to the top. It took them a while to cover the short distance, and as I watched, I thought about whether I wanted to go any further. I was very conscience I was on my own and a slip on the rocks could lead to a twisted ankle. It was super windy, and definitely below freezing. But I was so close.
The couple reached the top, lingered for about 30 seconds, and then made their way back down. I decided I had gone far enough for today and would turn round. I didn’t want to touch the top and come down and that be me adding Bowfell to my list of completed Wainwrights. I wanted to sit at the top, take in the views and have my cup of flask coffee, because everyone knows that flask coffee out on the wilds is the best coffee there is. Coupled with the very real risk of slipping and hurting myself, I happily decided to leave Bowfell for another day.
As I returned, I noticed the Great Slab. This could be a potential route for the future, when there it is less windy and it is not wearing a precarious blanket of ice.
Retracing my steps, I found a perch above Three Tarns to eat my dinner and have my cup of coffee. It was really cold with my gloves off, and I decided that the forecast was probably right when it said that wind chill would make it feel like -11 at the summits. I noticed I had some signal on my phone, so I gave Rick a quick call to let him know I was on the way down.
The way back provided glorious views throughout my descent. A slip on my bum on a patch of ice made me decide to look out for some walking crampons when I got home (this is a difficult one when your feet are only size three). Looking back to the summit, I promised I would be back.
I made it back to the pub as the last light was catching Pike of Stickle, feeling revitalised and happy with the decisions I had made through the day. I’d had a brilliant day out and felt wonderful. Time for my pint of coke before I drove home, adding anemometer and crampons to the list of things to buy.