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Date: 02 Mar 2005
Start / Finish: Rosthwaite car park.
Maps: Outdoor Leisure 4 and 6: English Lakes North West and South West.
|Day 1||Langstrath, Rossett Pike & Allen Crags||8 miles / 2920 feet (12.9km / 890m)|
|Day 2||Brandreth & Grey Knotts||8 miles / 1470 feet (12.9km / 448m)|
A Borrowdale circuit approaching via the long valley of Langstrath and returning on the Brandreth ridge. This circuit was a curtailed version of the original plan due to the amount of snow on the high Borrowdale mountains, which exceeded expectations and was more than knee-deep in places, making the climbing very slow and arduous at times with backpack weight. We dutifully carried our crampons in case, but as expected we didn't need them. We didn't lumber ourselves with the further weight of ice axes - quite superfluous.
We had not seen this much snow in England for a long time and the mountain scenery was magnificent, both in the clear sunny periods and the moody swirling mists.
Crossing the bridge to the E side and turning R, a surfaced track follows Stonethwaite Beck SE and the impressive Eagle Crag comes into view. Crossing a footbridge, we joined the path up the Langstrath valley with the beckoning snowy peaks far ahead drawing us on. Passing the striking Blea Rock and arriving at the footbridge by Tray Dub, the path begins the real climb, and zigzags upwards on the R of the cascades of Stake Beck, adorned with frozen ice falls today. The path levels out and meanders along to the Stake Pass, where Pike of Stickle appears and we reached the snowline.
Turning R by the frozen tarn, we took the path around the head of Langdale Combe, with the mist capped Bow Fell ahead. The main path becomes indistinct as it heads directly for Angle Tarn but we abandoned it to climb L to the edge, which involves a little more ascent and descent over minor tops but has better views. The first objective Rossett Pike was almost invisible against the backdrop of Bow Fell, both covered in snowy rock. It was here that the conditions began to take a toll, slowly picking our way through rocks draped in snow and ice and avoiding the hidden crevices. Arriving at the summit, the sun was shining and there were fine views of the Langdale Pikes and Pike o'Blisco, with the icy cliffs of Bow Fell and Esk Pike ahead.
Descending NW, Angle Tarn was part frozen and did not look completely dark grey for a change, unlike the ominous apparition we saw approaching from the E - very dark with visible curtains of snowfall. After collecting water at a snowy streamlet, the wind increased sharply and it hit us, combining falling snow with whipped up spindrift that stuck to our shells and packs. At the windshelter, we had intended to climb L towards the Scafells, but due to the conditions we decided to climb R to Allen Crags where we knew from recent visits that we were more likely to find a good sheltered pitch. From the summit we walked a windy circle in the deep snow and found a sheltered flat spot, clearing away the excess 8 inches of snow and making a very comfortable pitch. The storm cleared and the evening clouds were lit in shades of orange as the sun sank behind Great End and Ill Crag - for once the good view was visible through the tent door.
At dusk we watched in disbelief as some people appeared on the skyline of Great End, one group of 2 and another of 3. One group was heading down towards the precipitous cliffs and the other on a more southerly line. A little later we spotted them again much further down and a member of one group moved across to join the other. Judging by their incredible descent rate in those conditions, perhaps they were mountain leaders or rescue members.
In the morning a dense mantle of mist clipped the high peaks and the scene was arctic and almost monochromatic, but superb nonetheless. We took the path down below the icy NE cliffs of Great End to Sprinkling Tarn, which somehow looked a lot smaller when frozen, and then to Sty Head where the NW cliffs towered splendidly below the mist. Lingmell and the fearsome frozen chasm of Piers Gill were well seen as we arrived at the stretcher box and turned R on the path to Styhead Tarn.
Just before the footbridge we took to the slopes, slanting upwards aiming just above the Green Gable / Base Brown col. At Mitchell Gill, which was overhung by snow drifts, we climbed directly up to just below the source, a steep and slow heart-pounding ascent in deep snow to the left of a buttress. Eventually we gained the path joining Base Brown and Green Gable, and climbed L to a point just below the summit where the ridge path to Brandreth branches N. The upper rocks of Great Gable were densely covered in snow and an ascent looked a formidable proposition, not that we were planning one!.
The ridge path descends to the now frozen tarns and climbs easily N to Brandreth, where the mist had completely cleared leaving a stunning clear vista of snowy mountains to enjoy during our snack stop. A pair of canny ravens joined us a few yards away, the male snapping up some bits of cake and feeding them to the female, perhaps a courtship behaviour. Following the ridge fence through deep snow, the final mountain of Grey Knotts is topped by a rocky knoll overlooking a frozen tarn. Then came the very steep descent to the Honister Pass, an awkward affair that followed the fence through more deep snow but was alleviated by the grand views across to Dale Head.
We followed the verge of the pass road down to Seatoller, though the old flanking road could be used as an alternative. From Seatoller the Cumbria Way provides a pleasant riverside return to Rosthwaite.