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Date: 17 Feb 2004
Start / Finish: Bleach Green free car park at the west end of Ennerdale Water.
Maps: Explorer OL4: English Lakes North West.
|Day 1||Great Borne & High Stile||10 miles / 4070 feet (16.1km / 1240m)|
|Day 2||Great Gable & Kirk Fell||5 miles / 2360 feet (8.0km / 719m)|
|Day 3||Pillar & Crag Fell||10 miles / 2670 feet (16.1km / 813m)|
Essentially the Ennerdale Horseshoe walk, tackled as a 3-day backpack allowing time to explore the beautiful area of tarns at the head of the valley. The walk visits a total of 18 mountain summits and is a very fine route.
Walking E to the shoreline, the fine vista of the mountains ahead is an inspirational start. The lakeside path leads round to a footpath that branches L to Bowness Knott car park. Following the lane back N to a bend, a stile gives access to the path on the R of Rake Beck, which crosses it and climbs NW into National Trust land. After a short way at a path junction, we forked R climbing to the NW shoulder then R again very steeply up to the plateau. A thin path follows the edge to a viewpoint cairn at 118163. From here a faint path crosses the rough plateau to the stony rise and trig point of Great Borne.
A path follows the rest of the ridge, reaching the highest point at the popular High Stile where the first rocky top is where most people congregate. Overhearing snippets of conversation, some of them believed this to be the top but the actual summit is on a protruding finger of higher ground to the E. Gingerly descending the badly eroded path down High Crag and traversing Seat we arrived at Scarth Gap, with just enough time to climb Hay Stacks and find a good grassy pitch just beyond the summit, with the sun sinking behind Pillar.
The statistics above suggest a short and non-taxing day of only 5 miles, but some miles are a lot more than others - to give a better idea, the descent total should be added to the ascent - about three times over in this case!.
Descending to Innominate Tarn, the air was still and the surface was a delightful mixture of ice patterns and reflections. We spent some time exploring the area around Blackbeck Tarn before deciding on a route around the W flank of Great Round How to pick up a path to Green Gable. The steep rocky climb to Great Gable needed care with backpacks as the rock was slippery but not really a problem, and the views were superb.
Heading NW from the summit towards Beck Head, the first section of the very steep descent was on slabby rock that was thick with slippery frost and still had remnants of snow and ice in the gullies. This took a long time, clambering down one rocky step after another, and at the end of it we were still less than half way down to the col. There followed a long, steep and horrible descent on eroded grit and scree. We did this route several years ago with daypacks but we can't remember it being that bad. Arriving wobbly-kneed at the col, there was little chance to regain composure before the steep ascent of Kirk Fell, but this was a real pleasure by comparison and we reached the plateau surprisingly quickly. A very easy walk following a line of old metal posts leads to the E top of Kirk Fell and the tarns beyond.
We pressed on to the main top with more superb views. Walking NW along another line of metal posts through the stony terrain, we spotted a small flat grassy area and made a good pitch.
Continuing NW along the posts, we arrived at the plateau edge and another very steep descent to the Black Sail Pass, but this was dry and much easier than Gable with great views of the NW fells. On arriving at the hump of Looking Stead, much of Lakeland had been misted out but the western fells remained clear.
The route leads westwards to Pillar and Black Crag, and beyond the rocky rise of Little Gowder Crag, the rock dominated scene gives way to mainly grassy fells. After Caw Fell, the accompanying wall turns N to the last mountain top of Iron Crag and continues NW to a plantation with an access stile. Over the stile, walk L on a rough track to a marshy area and turn R up a forest ride to a T-junction with a small cairn. Turn L for a few yards to a second cairn where a thin path branches R uphill to a stile at the plantation edge, and continues to the summit of Crag Fell with its curious skewed tier structure. Keeping to the edge for an aerial view of the lake, a good path descends to cross Ben Gill, which is the white ribbon of water seen from the valley, and slants down through the wood to the farm track by Bleach Green.