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Bowfell & Allen Crags

Date: 18 March 1995 

Company: JD, Ian

Length: 10 miles


Park at Old Dungeon Ghyll and climb Bowfell up the Band: over Ore Gap and on to Esk Pike. Cross Esk Hause and go along the Glaramara ridge via Allen Crags. Retrace steps to Esk Hause and descend via the Rossett Gill path.


A very different sort of day. It was my first experience of bad winter weather on the real heights. I'd previously been on the Brecon Beacons in bad rain\mist and pulled out of my first attempt at Scafell Pike on reaching Broad Crag because I did not think I was properly equipped for the amount of snow on the ground (I don't own crampons or an ice axe). Neither compared with the seriousness of the conditions on this walk. 

Our plan was to go up the Climbers Traverse on Bowfell. We set off up Mickleden and on to the Band. There were ominous signs insofar as there was lots of casual water in the valley bottoms and the clouds were down below 2000'. Still we went for it, not realising how much worse was to follow. There were increasing amounts of snow on the ground as we climbed, so much so that we couldn't actually find where the Climbers Traverse left the main path. John was leading as he had done the walk before and in retrospect we realised that we been searching for the path well below its actual starting point. This might also have been a bit of good luck as the conditions on there were likely to have been extreme. 

We couldn't see a thing at Three Tarns; even the well-worn path up to Bowfell was difficult to find under the snow and cloud. We ended up following someone else and this certainly made life much easier. This was my second trip up Bowfell and beforehand I would have been sceptical if someone had said I would see less than the first time. Then there had at least been some gaps in the cloud and we got glimpses of Eskdale. This time it was unremitting gloom. 

However, as we set off towards Esk Pike, we found a new hazard that persisted all the way; the strong winds had smoothed the snow into large sheets of ice and it was difficult to stand still on the ice. The wind blew us about on it. This was the only time in my walking career that I have wished I'd had on crampons.

Bowfell from Esk Pike if we could have seen it (Photo: J Dawson)

The views from Esk Pike were as unenlightening as they had been on Bowfell and I have little recollection of the top. It was a case of head down and get on with it as best you could. John was a true gem throughout this period. Looking confidently at his map and compass he was an inspiration. I am not confident that I would have had the mountain skills to get us through that.

We were on the last stages of the descent to Esk Hause when there was the first chink in the cloud and we stopped for dinner. As we sat there the cloud lifted gradually and at last we were getting some sort of view. I had harboured hopes at the route-planning stage that we might have time to get on to Scafell Pike but we had gone far too slowly to achieve this. Still it was too early to turn back especially as the conditions were improving. Great End was a possibility but it still had cloud on top. The decision was to try to get to Glaramara where none of us had been before. There was however a time problem and we set a latest time for back tracking along the ridge.

The cloud was well up by now. It clung to the tops of gable and Great End but we had lovely views of the lower tops. These were all the better for being so unexpected given the grim conditions earlier in the day. Keswick was bathed in sunshine: why does that always seem to be the case when the cloud clears from the surrounding hills?

We all felt on a real high as we went over Allen crags and the switchback to Glaramara and lots of photos were taken. Despite the general feeling of bonhomie, progress was slower than we expected and we were still 15-20 minutes short of the top of Glaramara at the critical time. We thought about carrying on but felt that the end of the walk would have been too dark if delayed by the time necessary to get to the top and back. This proved to be another good decision because the snow started. We had suffered from hail on Bowfell and Esk Pike but that didn't worry me unduly because it never lasts long. The snow was worse because it was soft and wet and might have been setting in for several hours. 

There was a degree of confidence from retracing our steps as I knew the navigation was straightforward. However I did get a nasty shock when I led the way round one corner and the others did not reappear behind me. I had a reasonable view of the way ahead, even though the cloud had dropped somewhat, so I could not believe that they had gone past me. So I waited for them with increasing alarm. Considerable relief when they finally emerged; they'd paused to see whether there was a break in the snow. There was also much relief on my part when we got to Esk Hause because of the reassurance of a familiar sight.

By now the snow had stopped and there was a clear view of Bowfell over Angle Tarn. The descent of the top section of Rossett Gill was great fun playing in the snow. We were amazed to come across two guys going up at that time of day (6-ish in March) but that happens quite a lot when you are finishing a walk. Where do these people go?? 

Back to Dungeon Gill in appreciable darkness; we didn't want to be out much later. Being in the middle of a diet I had coffee rather than ale and actually enjoyed it. Ian was in the mire when he rang Maxine: she had planned a romantic meal out for two and was not impressed when she learned he was still in Langdale. (The lights were out and the curtains drawn when I dropped him off at home: not a good sign)


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