In complete contrast to yesterday’s blasting on The Band we are now smearing sun cream on our arms and legs. I even pack a towel for a serendipitous dip in a tarn – I am that optimistic. Hannah, after feeling dejected about our abandoned attempt on Bowfell, is now ready for the off. We cram stuff into our rucksacks and dash to the car.
Beckoned by Bowfell
Bowfell (Lakeland’s sixth highest Wainwright at 2960 feet) has beckoned us ever since we gazed upon it from the summit of a snow-covered Crinkle Crags back in February. Two months later we watched sunlight drift across Great Slab, while having a sun-drenched lunch on the summit of Pike O’Stickle. Would today be the day?
Walking in yesterday’s footprints, we steadily climb the steep slope of The Band. Bowfell snores underneath a cap of grey, heavy cloud and refuses to wake up. The forecast predicted sunshine after a claggy morning, hence the reason for the sun cream in case you were wondering. But it is only 8.30am, plenty of time yet for the sun to break through. There is always hope.
Nepal children rescued from traffickers
My mind drifts as we wind our way through the rocks. Last week the media had reported that groups of traffickers posing as officials were abducting children displaced after the earthquake in Nepal. These children will eventually be sold and spend the rest of their lives in brothels and sweatshops. My stomach turns at the thought of this depravity. The depths to which people will sink to make money is just sickening. I say a silent prayer as we climb, it spurs me on. This is the reason we are doing these walks: to raise awareness of this evil and to raise money for Tearfund to prevent it happening.
Raindrops falling on my face break me out of my reflections. I am wearing t-shirt and shorts. Optimistic, as usual, I have left my waterproofs at home. Just a shell jacket today, not really waterproof. I feel a little anxious. I should know better. But it’s just a passing shower I say. Somewhere above is blazing sunshine. I look at the clouds, Hannah smiles at me in that I-told-you-so kind of way and we drag waterproofs from our sacks.
Mark is not with us today. He has gone of to the Arctic Circle, climbing some mountain that starts with ‘Rygg . .’ and ends in ‘. . . ajsse’ or something like that, I can’t pronounce it anyway. It will be a lot colder over there than here.
Hannah’s powers her way along the path with her new PacerPoles before it levels off to climb to the Three Tarns. But we are not going that way today, our route will take us along the narrow climbers traverse and up the Great Slab I hope, depending on how dry it is.
A large boulder, left behind after the ice melted, provides a convenient shelter for a snack. Hannah dives behind it, away from the wind, which is nowhere near as ferocious as yesterday. It has taken us only 90 minutes to get here, whereas yesterday it was well over two hours. High fives all round.
The cloud is not playing ball. It is 11am. The sun should be out by now, so I keep my jacket on. Thankfully the drizzle has stopped. The clag still clings to the slopes of Bowfell as we walk along the ridge above Green Tongue. This alternative route to the start of the climbers traverse gives fantastic views into Mickleden with Pike O’Stickle towering impressively above tiny ant-like walkers.
Sunlight and Stone Age axes
The sun highlights the scree slope by the side of Stickle Breast, the site of the 5000BC stone age axe ‘factory’. Apparently, there is a little cave where they used to live while chipping out these implements, although I have never explored it. The valley floor and the hillsides would have been covered by forest in those days, the haunt of wolf and bear.
I shudder to think how we would have fared yesterday crossing the climbers traverse in gale-force winds. On our way up I talked to a group of walkers who were on Skiddaw yesterday; they only got off by sliding down on their backsides and never reached the summit.
Water that satisfies
A continuous spring of water bubbles out below Flat Crag. It never dries up. Even in the severest drought it still gurgles its way out from the crag. I suggest to Hannah that she tries to find it. She finds it alright, but I am not sure how I could get a bottle into the crack and it would take a long time to fill it with a thimble!
The voices of two climbers on Bowfell Buttress echo around the crags just as we reach an out-of-condition Great Slab. The Slab, perched like a fallen door ready to slide into the valley, is covered in running water and black, snotty vegetation. Today is not the day to go up it.
The lost sheep
A sheep bleats forlornly on an outcrop above us. Hannah wants to go and rescue it, but I am not sure that it wants, or needs, rescuing, so we leave it. Anyway, who am I to heft a fully grown Herdwick onto my shoulders and climb up the crag face. You’re joking, leave it for the shepherd.
“You’re lucky,” say two walkers we meet at the top of the Slab. “We’ve been walking around in cloud for the last fifteen minutes and seen nothing.”
They head back down, along with their dog, which I think is a greyhound. I am not too knowledgable about dogs, except that they bark. It may be an Irish Wolfhound, although it seems too small. I saw one of them once, a wolfhound. It looked like a horse!
Hannah races for the cloudless summit. Sulky Scafell refuses to bless us with its presence and hides underneath swirling mist. The mountain is ours. We have lunch sheltered from the wind by a large wall of rock while looking towards Langstrath, turning our backs on moody Scafell.
Esk Pike and red mud
Esk Pike, at 2905 feet, our second Wainwright of the day, towers in front of us as we descend across rocks into the distinctive red mud of Ore Gap. The mud is iron-rich, a mix of hematite, I think. Many years ago this was the established route for travelling from Eskdale to Langdale. The spiky summit of Esk Pike is 300 foot above us, and encouragingly, the cloud begins to lift as we clamber towards it.
Hannah is buzzing. She is not even tired and wants to go up all the mountains. I gaze along the route to Scafell. The cloud lazily drifts into the sky, and tantalisingly reveals a bit more of its slopes, like a dancer swirling around to music. I am tempted to climb it. It’s so close. But it only takes me a few minutes to resist the lure. Judgment prevails. I know it would be too much. It’ll still be here next week.
Hannah races away from the shelter at Esk Hause and is halfway up Allen Crags before I can catch up. There’s no stopping her today. Is it the poles? Maybe. Whatever. She is certainly moving. On the descent into Angle Tarn I get told off for being too slow. Really!
Mind-numbing route march
Rossett Pike, our fourth and last Wainwright today, is easily ticked off from the path before we start the long, three mile walk along Mickleden. This tortuous route, part of the 84 mile Cumbria Way, involves a mind-numbing march along a pebble strewn path.
A previous descent down Rossett Gill has been etched into my memory for over 30 years. I stumbled down it in the dark after a long day’s walk over Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and Scafell. It was excruciating then and the path wasn’t pitched. Although a little easier today, my knees still ache because of the irregular steps.
Hannah is faring far worse, her tendon is playing up again. The descent is never-ending, and the valley still looks miles away. We keep stopping so she can rest her legs. I know she wants me to carry her, but I can’t, she’s not a three-year-old any longer. It would just finish me off.
Exhausted, she lies over a rock on the valley floor and starts laughing with sheer joy because the painful descent has finally ended.
By now the clouds have melted away and the sun beams at us out of a beautiful sapphire-blue sky. Great Langdale is saturated in the early evening sunshine. Golden light washes over climbers as they thread their way up White Crag and Raven Crag in the still, warm air.
Pint and chips
After nine hours walking it is an unexpected joy to stroll along Mickleden in beautiful sunshine and gaze up at Bowfell. The Great Slab sits like an enormous solar panel in the late sunshine.
On the way home we stop at the Wainwright’s Inn in Chapel Stile for the pint that I have been promising myself all day. Hannah, of course, is delighted to sit down and tuck into a basket of chips and put her legs up.