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Coniston & Langdale 3 days / 31 miles (50km)

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Date: 07 Apr 2011
Start / Finish: Coniston.
Maps: Explorer OL6 & OL7: English Lakes SW & SE.

Day 1Coniston Old Man, Cold Pike & Little Stand8.9miles / 4550 feet (14.3km / 1386m)
Day 2Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell, Esk Pike & Blea Rigg11.7miles / 3254 feet (18.8km / 991m)
Day 3Loughrigg Fell & Cumbria Way10.5miles / 1987 feet (16.9km / 605m)
Angle Tarn outflow

A 3-day circuit of fells in the Coniston and Langdale ranges. The first two days are a fine mountain backpack, starting with the Old Man to Swirl How ridge and crossing to the Cold Pike group via Wetside Edge and Red Tarn, and continuing over Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell and Esk Pike to cross to the Langdale side via Martcrag Moor. An easy third day ascends Loughrigg Fell and returns to Coniston via the Cumbria Way.

The Coniston fells are separated from the bulkier south-western range by a high 393m col at the summit of the Wrynose Pass, and a backpack route linking them is a mouthwatering prospect that I started to plan a couple of years ago. There were several possibilities for the ascent from Coniston and the continuation after Bow Fell, but for this circular route I chose the direct ascent to the Old Man and a mainly low-level return on the Cumbria Way.

This fine weather slot was the perfect opportunity for a Lakeland backpack before the Easter invasion with a contrast of conditions: the first day was the tail end of a cold very windy spell and the remainder was calm and very warm indeed for early April, but with good clarity and fine views.

Day 1 - Coniston Old Man, Cold Pike & Little Stand

This time I chose the most direct route to Coniston Old Man via the mine track, a popular highway that departs from a fingerpost to the left of the Sun Inn and ascends on the SW side of Church Beck with its falls. Higher up there are good views over the Coppermines Valley towards Wetherlam and up to the ridge, although the mine and quarry workings are a detraction at first, more extensive than I remember from our last visit years ago but that was in mist and drizzle - maybe we couldn't see most of it!.

The brief detractions are quickly forgotten on reaching Low Water, a lovely spot to take a short break if the nearby evidence of the old workings are ignored. The chilly wind was enough to persuade me to put on my windshell despite the effort of the ascent.

View to Wetherlam from ascent of Coniston Old Man
View to Wetherlam from ascent of Coniston Old Man (07 Apr 2011__09:52:39)
Low Water
Low Water (07 Apr 2011__10:05:06)
Low Water from mine track
Low Water from mine track (07 Apr 2011__10:29:13)

Toiling up the steep track I was barely generating enough heat to compensate for the strengthening wind but the summit views were clear, quite a change for a mountain that has usually sulked in gloom on past visits. I noticed quite a few cars in the Walna Scar Road car park far below, a very popular starting point for walks in these fells. Marching along the ridge over the rise of Brim Fell to Swirl How and Great Carrs, there was also a chance to get a clear view of Seathwaite Tarn for once with Harter Fell and the Birker Fells in the background, while Grey Friar was well seen above the upper valley of Tarn Beck.

After a while I gave up my mental battle with the wind. I was wearing my VisorBuff for good protection from the sun but it offers little from wind: I put on my full shell jacket and flipped up the hood.

Seathwaite Tarn & Harter Fell
Seathwaite Tarn & Harter Fell (07 Apr 2011__11:24:40)
View over Tarn Head Beck to Grey Friar
View over Tarn Head Beck to Grey Friar (07 Apr 2011__11:28:56)
Swirl How & Wetherlam from Great Carrs
Swirl How & Wetherlam from Great Carrs (07 Apr 2011__12:01:09)

From Great Carrs I started the descent of Wetside Edge with a grand view of the mountains ahead on the far side of the pass. In typical Lakeland fashion there are superfluous cairns, but one marks a divergence: one path - the natural line - continuing down into Greenburn, and the other path turning left to another cairn on the edge. The latter path doubles back a short way and turns again to descend to the Wrynose Pass.

A good path ascends NW towards Red Tarn with an enticing view towards Cold Pike and the crags of Pike of Blisco on the right, where a group of rock climbers were roped up and enjoying the day. Approaching the tarn, Crinkle Crags and Bow Fell come into view, a scene we knew from previous walks but its grandeur seems much more imposing when suddenly revealed across the water, a superb prospect indeed.

Pike of Blisco from Wetside Edge
Pike of Blisco from Wetside Edge (07 Apr 2011__12:57:03)
View to Cold Pike from the Red Tarn path
View to Cold Pike from the Red Tarn path (07 Apr 2011__13:10:10)
Cold Pike
Cold Pike (07 Apr 2011__13:23:20)
View over Red Tarn to the Crinkles and Bow Fell
View over Red Tarn to the Crinkles and Bow Fell (07 Apr 2011__14:04:54)
The Crinkles and Bow Fell
The Crinkles and Bow Fell (07 Apr 2011__14:11:13)

I followed the Crinkle Crags path for a few minutes and struck out left to Cold Pike, an easy ascent to the windswept summit cairn with its tiny rockbound pool and scudding wavelets. I saw only a handful of people scattered about on Pike of Blisco and the Crinkles path, but the Cold Pike group always feels well isolated from the mainstream and is seldom trodden.

I walked westwards past the two minor subsidiary tops and across the head of Gaitscale Gill below the gash where it issues from the upper slopes, and slanted upwards towards an obvious col before the final summit of Little Stand, a favourite of ours with a lovely summit tarn and a surrounding landscape that somehow feels almost primordial. The views were excellent and I toured the area for a pitch out of the direct force of the gusty wind.
Cold Pike summit looking to Wetherlam
Cold Pike summit looking to Wetherlam (07 Apr 2011__14:44:31)
The Cold Pike group from ascent of Little Stand
The Cold Pike group from ascent of Little Stand (07 Apr 2011__15:20:42)
Wild landscape of Little Stand
Wild landscape of Little Stand (07 Apr 2011__15:40:40)
Little Stand tarn
Little Stand tarn (07 Apr 2011__15:46:08)
The Coniston Fells from Little Stand
The Coniston Fells from Little Stand (07 Apr 2011__15:50:26)
Pitch on Little Stand
Pitch on Little Stand (07 Apr 2011__16:39:00)

Day 2 - Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell, Esk Pike & Blea Rigg

At dawn the wind had calmed and the early orange light set the mountains aglow for a refreshing walk over the fell to join the main path - it was to be one of those superlative mountain backpacking days. I quickly reached the south top of Crinkle Crags and presided over a warm clear view southwards across Little Stand to Harter Fell and distant Black Combe, while the Scafells dominated the view westwards.

Approaching the main summit, the rock gulley containing the 'bad step' is clearly seen and I noticed familiar packages of stone lying alongside the circuitous path that bypasses the step round to the left. So they have decided that this path too is in need of their often questionable attention. I don't know what percentage of walkers take this avoiding path but this suggests it's a high one. I'm not surprised actually: standing in that gulley can be a head-scratcher for the timid, especially when the obvious easier-looking pitch is actually a lot harder (to me), but the way is easy when you know how!. Remembering to safeguard the camera in my chest pouch, I heaved myself over the lip of the gulley and was quickly at the summit for a splendid view onwards to Bow Fell and beyond.

View south from Crinkle Crags South Top
View south from Crinkle Crags South Top (08 Apr 2011__07:31:35)
Crinkle Crags South Top
Crinkle Crags South Top (08 Apr 2011__07:38:35)
Approaching Crinkle Crags
Approaching Crinkle Crags (08 Apr 2011__07:42:13)
Bow Fell from Crinkle Crags
Bow Fell from Crinkle Crags (08 Apr 2011__08:07:31)

The fine meandering rocky walk via Shelter Crags to Three Tarns was over all too quickly, and after the obligatory photo of the Scafells across the main tarn I made a warm and unhurried ascent of Bow Fell, passing the striking slabs and reaching the summit rockpile for a higher view of the Scafells and mountain panorama, often said to be the finest overall viewpoint in Lakeland and few would argue.

I took the Ore Gap path for a short way and then left it to explore the little visited rocky north top. The summit has a cairn but it's worth carrying on a little further to the edge of the crags where there is a superb view down into the valleys of Langstrathdale and Mickleden, the latter unfortunately being almost into the sun that morning but the photo came out fairly well after some processing.

The Scafells from Three Tarns
The Scafells from Three Tarns (08 Apr 2011__08:55:11)
The slabs of Bow Fell
The slabs of Bow Fell (08 Apr 2011__09:18:09)
The Scafells from Bow Fell
The Scafells from Bow Fell (08 Apr 2011__09:26:20)
Descending towards Bow Fell North Top
Descending towards Bow Fell North Top (08 Apr 2011__09:35:31)
Langstrathdale from Bow Fell North Top
Langstrathdale from Bow Fell North Top (08 Apr 2011__10:07:34)
Mickleden from Bow Fell North Top
Mickleden from Bow Fell North Top (08 Apr 2011__10:07:57)

Making my way down to rejoin the path, I continued to Ore Gap and up to Esk Pike. This time on the descent I diverted over to the edge to capture an aerial image of Angle Tarn far below the cliffs, a view seldom seen. Returning to the path, there is a good view to Great End and the infant River Esk with the very well worn highway to Scafell Pike striding across Esk Hause.

From a distance I noticed a small group standing at Esk Hause and consulting a map: when I reached them they asked me to confirm the whereabouts of the Pike, which can't be seen from there. I pointed out Great End and Ill Crag with the main path ascending between them, and they were off. My route this time was down the pitched path to Angle Tarn, always an inspiring location beneath the cliffs which still retained the odd patch of snow in the north-facing gullies at the top.

Angle Tarn from Esk Pike cliffs
Angle Tarn from Esk Pike cliffs (08 Apr 2011__10:53:51)
Great End & the upper Esk
Great End & the upper Esk (08 Apr 2011__10:58:31)
Angle Tarn
Angle Tarn (08 Apr 2011__12:01:25)

I continued on the main path to its apex and left it on a thin path to visit Rossett Pike, a craggy top on the edge of the Mickleden valley with a view ahead to Martcrag Moor, the expanse of high ground joining the Scafell massif with the Central Fells which often features in backpack routes in this area. I followed the edge north-eastwards and swung left to join the main path that crosses the moor via the Stake Pass.

Nearing the end of the ridge I heard a low roaring drone getting louder and it didn't sound like a helicopter: suddenly just a short way ahead a large dark green 4-propeller aircraft loomed up above the valley edge, a startling experience. It happened far too fast to get the camera out and I don't know one plane from another, but it would be interesting to know what it was - it looked old. It headed down Langstrathdale I think.

The path is rather scruffy in the main and requires some bog-hopping at one point. After the 547m spot-height a section of firm path has been laid with a gritty grey aggregate, but it was never as boggy as the aforementioned spot. Anyway I left it higher up and crossed the nascent Stake Beck to ascend on a tractor track to Thunacar Knott and its summit tarn, very well known to us and scene of memorable tent pitches.

Rossett Pike
Rossett Pike (08 Apr 2011__12:18:09)
View NE from Rossett Pike
View NE from Rossett Pike (08 Apr 2011__12:18:45)
Thunacar Knott tarn
Thunacar Knott tarn (08 Apr 2011__14:17:29)

I followed my familiar route across the flanks of High Raise and around Sergeant Man, the tiny peak that rises just a few metres from the path yet always seems to have more walkers jostling on its top than many major mountains, and descended the main path towards the Blea Rigg ridge. There is a good view of Codale Tarn below across the valley.

The Blea Rigg ridge is an attractive walk but always seems much longer than it is: there are many little rocky peaks and hillocks and many ups and downs with a few impostor paths to add some confusion to the landscape, but eventually I arrived at the reedy Youdell Tarn. Past another tarn I continued south-eastwards across Brigstone Moss and sought a pitch.

Codale Tarn from the Blea Rigg ridge
Codale Tarn from the Blea Rigg ridge (08 Apr 2011__15:29:56)
Approaching the reedy Youdell Tarn
Approaching the reedy Youdell Tarn (08 Apr 2011__16:42:42)

Day 3 - Loughrigg Fell & Cumbria Way

Another sunny dawn and I set off initially southwards on the east side of the infant Megs Gill, a good path high above the very steep sided ravine where the gill plunges down into Langdale. The path arrives at a cairned junction where careful navigation is needed: the whole area is a veritable maze of paths and tracks through the many knolls and hillocks, far more than shown on the map, and most of them try to seduce the unwary down to Elterwater. I was heading SE to High Close and used a crossing track as a course correction to keep the line, which I confirmed when I reached the small tarn at NY335055.

From High Close I walked along the lane to the signed track to Loughrigg Terrace, a manicured track with a beautiful view over Grasmere that has delighted so many tourists. From the terrace a pitched path ascends quite steeply directly towards the summit, leaving an easier walk to the trig point where a young couple had ascended from another direction but quickly left: two people, not bad but I was early.

Small tarn above Huntingstile Crag
Small tarn above Huntingstile Crag (09 Apr 2011__07:58:18)
Grasmere from Loughrigg Fell
Grasmere from Loughrigg Fell (09 Apr 2011__08:31:13)
Great Rigg & Seat Sandal from Loughrigg Fell
Great Rigg & Seat Sandal from Loughrigg Fell (09 Apr 2011__08:47:56)
Loughrigg Fell
Loughrigg Fell (09 Apr 2011__08:57:47)

I took the steep path south-westwards alongside a small stream to join the footpath around Loughrigg tarn to the road into Skelwith Bridge. Here I picked up the Cumbria Way (CW) for my return, which is generally not waymarked as such and I needed to keep a close eye on the map (between here and Coniston I noticed only one signpost that mentioned the CW by name).

I saw many walkers on this return leg, including one group of lads being set loose by their leader with instructions to 'watch their bearings', and I psyched myself up for the close encounters at Tarn Hows, one of the most popular tourist magnets in south Lakeland on a warm sunny Saturday. It was about what I expected: many strollers, family picnics and hungry ducks and geese.

The car park at the summit of the Tarn Hows road was filling up as I walked down towards Tarn Hows Wood with a good view of the Coniston Fells across the valley. The Yewdale Fells look impressively steep from this side and I made a mental note to investigate some new territory there for a future walk.

Loughrigg Tarn
Loughrigg Tarn (09 Apr 2011__09:36:45)
Tarn Hows
Tarn Hows (09 Apr 2011__11:49:53)
Coniston Fells from the Tarn Hows road
Coniston Fells from the Tarn Hows road (09 Apr 2011__11:58:03)