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HellGill,Climbers Traverse,Wavering on the Crinkly Bad Step!
Wainwrights included on this walk: Bowfell, Crinkle Crags
Hewitts included on this walk: Bowfell, Crinkle Crags (Long Top)
Date walked: 12/07/20102 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
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.
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.
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. 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. 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…
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!
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). 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.
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!
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. 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.
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.
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 (but of course you’ll have to wait for those and put up with this old and unscaled shot of the step for now).
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!
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!
- mountain coward
by fedupofuserids » Thu Jul 22, 2010 1:31 am
Just out of interest/nosiness, have you always had a fear of exposure ?
I only ask, because I the same as you was 'encouraged' to do quite a lot of walking when I was a youngster and now 17 years later have started walking again. Coincidently I seem to also have developed an irrational fear of falling from a great height, 7 months on its nowhere as bad as it was so its going in the right direction !
When I was teenager I used to climb to E1/E2, used to go caving - launching myself into quite long overhanging abseil pitches. Compleated most of the Cullin ridge and can't remember much of the exposure other than the fantastic views !
I'm sure my fears come from now walking alone and just regaining confidence - my daughter on the other hand was born with a fear of heights. I would be interested to know if other people who have started walking again after a long break also get vertigo or a fear of exposure.
It's great to read a report where somebody actually says what they think of a route, if they find it tricky or dangerous then they should warn others.
- Posts: 835
- Joined: Mar 24, 2010
by gaffr » Thu Jul 22, 2010 8:17 am
by susanmyatt » Thu Jul 22, 2010 5:24 pm
by Slogger » Thu Jul 22, 2010 5:58 pm
The big trouble with people not too familiar with the Bowfell/Crinkle area and when in low cloud, is that due to the magnetic rock compasses cannot be relied upon as we found out many years ago.
Richard was just sat in the tarn to cool off I think - not that he'd get wet of course - but I suppose it was cooler.
I think it would be interesting to see a race of fell-runners coming down the bad step. And I wouldn't want to be on the Crinkles in bad viz - it's just too complicated - you'd have to be some navigator to get round those in a clag!
Fedupofuserids: no, I haven't always been afraid of heights - as a kid I wasn't either. However, after I'd fallen down and off quite a few things (not mountains) and had some very badly broken bones, I think I developed my 'respect' of heights! 'Cos after all, that's all it is really! Maybe you should put out your question on the 'general discussion' page though - it'd be quite interesting to see how many people have always/never been afraid of heights and how many have developed one when they've found out what accidents feel like!
- mountain coward
by colgregg » Tue Aug 31, 2010 12:06 am
I can't really say I've been scared of heights. Scared of falling now thats a different matter, makes one a much more careful walker!! Whenever I get to an exposed section of path I usually say to myself "if this was a town centre path would i fall off it? NO. so I cant fall off it here then" and hey presto it's worked so far.
I might put that pic out sometime - it is pretty funny - perhaps we should start a post about 'stupidest-looking person on a mountain top'
- mountain coward
by houdi » Tue Sep 07, 2010 3:09 pm
Fedupofuserids: I started scrambling when I was about eleven or twelve, up and down the easier parts of Stannage Edge. I also climbed up the cliffs at Watergate Bay in Newquay at this age, although my parents would have had a fit if they'd known. Then I did nothing like this for thirty years or more. I got into hillwalking and scrambling pretty late compared with most people and my very first route was Helvellyn via Striding Edge. I must admit I was nervous about it as I wasn't sure whether I could cope with heights any longer, but I found it very easy. My next route was Crib Goch. I worried about that one and was actually shocked to discover it didn't bother me up there at all. Maybe, I'm an exception to the rule, I don't know, but I haven't developed a fear of heights with age. Quite the opposite in fact.
MC: You won't be surprised to hear that I find the Bad Step very easy. You are right about Crinkle Crags in the mist though. Got lost up there last Christmas. Map and compass are useless as the path zig-zags about in every direction. Ended up going back the way I came. One of my more embarrassing moments.
I wish my fear of heights would b*gger off! I'd really like to do Crib Goch but I think I'm getting worse with high and narrow ridges
- mountain coward
by houdi » Mon Sep 13, 2010 3:52 pm
- mountain coward
by houdi » Tue Sep 14, 2010 3:53 pm
Looking back towards the summit gives a slightly better perspective of the slope as opposed to the vertical side.
I've just realised this thread started off in the Lake District which is where I'm going tonight for a few days - Wasdale in fact. Might actually get some views from Scafell Pike/Great Gable/Pillar. But then again, maybe not.
- mountain coward
by canisp » Sat Sep 18, 2010 4:00 pm
Thanks for the pm, can’t reply with a pm as i haven’t figured out how it works
A fab hill you did, i hope you got the views despite the weather.
I’m still living in Barrow and occasionally look into walkhighlands.
After 25 years i think my Scottish hill walking may be over, its not so much the hill walking but the drive, i just can’t seem to face the 600/800 mile round trip any more. I’ve given up hill walking before and then returned to it so i’ll just have to see how things go.
Best regards Steve……