Sunday, 19 October 2014

Langdale Trip. Pike of Blisco to Bow Fell Traverse. Lake District.

It was a weekend trip to the Lake District that was keenly awaited by certain members of our club. The Lake District is a funny one in that it seems to polarise the views of Scottish hill walkers and mountaineers. Some people dislike the ever present crowds, the chocolate box scenery, the fact that it's in England, the extortionate parking fees for some of the more popular car parks, and the perceived  "tamed" nature of the landscape much beloved by painters, poets, artists and ramblers groups. I'm firmly in the camp that love the place but maybe the reasons listed above were partly responsible for the low turn out for a hut near Langdale that sleeps more than a dozen. That and a poor weather forecast for our first winter meet of the season. Alex taking in the view on the balcony of our hut for the weekend. This building sits in a side dale/valley high above Langdale itself.
Six of us made the trip down from Scotland through torrential downpours on the motorway and the local animals, as usual, seemed very pleased to see us. The grass down here must have something extra in it judging by the above photograph! Poor donkey!
Myself, Alex, Graeme, Grant, John and Alan spent a pleasant Friday night in the hut then went to sleep with the sound of lashing rain and blustery conditions. Normally in Scotland a poor weekend weather forecast as bad as this one would be greeted with gloom by most of the folk going away on a trip north with thoughts of miserable knee deep bogs, soaking clothes, boots and socks wringing after a short time, wading bridgeless rivers, and dismal views of bits of hills through the murk. The Lake District is civilised however and you are never far from a well made network of low level paths, interesting landscape, small attractive towns and villages and even underground wet weather alternatives. These days I mainly leave Scotland and the Munros for the English hill going folk who seem to relish wild and challenging conditions  in a grim empty bracken infested landscape. Scotland for the English- Lake District for the Scots I say now I'm older and wiser :o)
Next morning, Saturday, the heavy overnight rain had abated and the forecast said it would improve into better conditions as the day went on. Normally in Scotland there is so much boggy ground and range after range of soggy mountains that it can actually influence the forecast and stubbornly hang on to the murk and gloom despite an improving picture but we believed it here so we donned waterproofs and set off from the hut heading for Pike of Blisco, 706 metres in gentle drizzle.
 Alex had a big day planned with a bagging round of the Pike then Great Knott, Long Top, Crinkle Crags, Shelter Crags and ending on Bow Fell, 902 metres. Graeme and Grant didn't fancy this with the present wet weather conditions and had a longer lie in before completing the same traverse slightly later, once the weather improved.
This is a view of our first hill of the day, Pike of Blisco, but taken on the way back when we were heading back down into Langdale.
Needless to say we had only walked a short distance up the hill when the light rain stopped and the sun came out. One thing about the Lake District I've always admired is how rugged and complex the mountain groups are down here and how much bare rock is usually on show. Lakeland has an incredible amount of savage but extremely beautiful mountains, each boasting great individuality of character packed into a relatively small area and if there are any dull mountains in the Lakes I've still to find them. Even the tiny peaks here have great character and singular beauty. Superbly constructed paths and picture postcard views in every direction make Cumbria a photographers dream and the hills seem easier to ascend as well. It's a win- win situation as far as I'm concerned. Halfway up the first hill we reached this easy scramble and from then on it was clusters of bare rock and heavily weathered andesite  and rhyolite slabs that felt like sandpaper rough Gabbro in places all the way to Bow Fell, the 6th highest mountain in the Lakes at 2,959 feet.

 The infamous "granny stopper" of the "Bad Step" a tricky, heavily polished, obstacle on the traverse along the ridgeline.
 Scafell Pike, 978 metres and Great End, 910 metres area still clinging onto a bank of dark clouds while we walked in sunshine just below on the ridge traverse.

As luck would have it the slightly lower rock pyramid of Bow Fell was clear and sunny and all of us were knocked out by the stunning nature of the surrounding landscape and the sheer expanse of naked rock on show. It reminded my of the Skye Cuillin in places and the Steeple-Pillar Traverse was the same last year. Hardly a blade of grass in sight.
The ridge on the opposite side of the valley was the same with the sugar loaf dome of Pike of Stickle prominent and climbers favourite Gimmer Crag, boasting acres of quality rock face in a high vertical setting above Langdale. Both Alex, John and myself had climbed Gimmer Crag rock routes years ago and been very impressed by the steep committing nature of the rock climbs here with increasing exposure from the first move. In particular on "The Crack" an amazing 80 metre, 3 pitch VS early test piece which I fell off several times as a second due to the 4b hand traverse being saturated with running water after a day of heavy rainfall. Luckily, I had a good leader to drag me over the soaking crux. The Magnificent Kipling Groove HVS sits close by named by the first pair of climbers to tackle it successfully because its...
"Ruddy Ard".
A view of our traverse line to Bow Fell, highlighted in the sunshine.
The superb scenery of Lakeland, the equal of most Scottish Peaks for ruggedness and beauty and better than many hill groups I've slogged over north of the border. ( Don't shoot me I'm only the messenger :o)

The delightfully rugged summit of Bow Fell.
We descended down the easy path of "The Band" back into Langdale, happy in the knowledge we had bagged several Wainwrights and had snatched a fantastic hill day from what was a poor initial weather forecast for the weekend. Blue Sky Scotland saves the day again.
Another great bonus of the Lakes is the fact that you don't need to climb to the summit of mountains with all your gear to go rock climbing as many of the Dales/valleys are festooned with quality rock routes at low levels. This is Middlefell Buttress on Raven's crag which lies just above the pub and boasts an incredible number of stunning rock routes at all grades. Very few areas of Scotland can compete with a top quality crag like this one right above a classic pub. Great list of routes at every grade and small slide show of good climbing photos here. Love the one with the climber facing the sheep looking down the route. Click on the white arrows in the photo gallery.
Alex and I climbed Middlefell Buttress, a so called Diff with a desperate direct start, years ago here and it felt about VS in places due to the polish on the holds. You could see your reflection in the rock looking back at you and the expression was a mixture of worry and laughing disbelief.
Alex and the crew heading for the well known pub below the crag. Still a cracking place for a few pints and bad boys Alex and Alan liked it so much they stayed on here and got drunk while myself and John tackled the walk back up the hillside to the hut in the dark with head torches. A couple of hours later our merry miscreants finally turned up and had a belated dinner. It gets dark early now and by half six it's pitch black outside... a fact they seemed to forget on the walk back to our sleeping accommodation. Tut Tut.
A view of the Langdale Pikes area and the cute black bodied, white faced sheep that dot the landscape.
Two drunk guys make dinner in the hut :o)

Video is another tune by the Smoke Fairies recorded over in Dingle in Ireland. I like the interlinking guitar and vocal folk harmonies of this pair.


The Glebe Blog said...

Now there's a coincidence. On a recce today I put a couple from Langdale right on their walking route to Pibble Hill.Haven't been round Langdale Pikes since the 70's Bob. Even then it was just driving through.
Remember Elterwater and a great pub from my army days though.
Not sure I could attempt that 'Granny Stopper' these days though. Rock climbing was never good for me.

Must get myself to the Dingle Peninsula some time soon.

Carol said...

I've just come back from a weekend in North Lakes at my caravan - hardly any sleep at all due to the horrible high winds all weekend :-( Didn't know you were in Cumbria at the time...

Nice to see more photos of my first outdoor rockclimb there - it certainly is polished isn't it?

blueskyscotland said...

Evening Jim,
I'd like to climb Langdale Pikes and Pavey Ark again given the chance. Cracking looking hills.
Rock climbing is beyond me now as well.
Lovely area but it's easy to forget just how far south the Dingle is as we talked about going there from Donegal then decided it was too far given changeable weather

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Yes, it was pretty windy but at least it stayed dry and blew the clag away quickly off the summits. We could certainly learn a thing or two about path building from Lakeland as most of the inclines are easy on the legs, with perfect steps all the way. I remember coming off the Buachaille and Ben Nevis a few years ago and the giant strides between every step down the path killed my knees by the bottom.

Carol said...

That's the thing we find hardest about Munroing or walking in Scotland generally - there's just so much loose ground and so few good paths we find we don't make very good progress. When we come back to the Lakes, we find it amazing how quickly we can do the hills and how much easier it all is (I know they're generally smaller and closer together as well).