This is a tough walk, so should only be undertaken in its entirety if you’re a reasonably fit and experienced hill walker. The route is nearly 13 miles long and includes up to 1,500m of ascent, which is more than I would do in a normal day. If this is a bit much for you, cutting the walk short at Esk Hause is the most obvious way of shortening it, and is still a magnificent walk in its own right. Indeed that was my original intention, and I only extended the walk on the spur of the moment because I was feeling up for it. The ascent of the Great Slab can also be avoided by continuing on the path up to Three Tarns.
In reasonable weather, every part of this walk is an utter joy.
What this walk means to me
Two months before this walk in June 2007, because of a really early start I’d had a good long walk over Pike o’Blisco, Cold Pike and Crinkle Crags, but flagged in the afternoon and couldn’t manage Bowfell and Esk Pike as well. So I returned to my tent in Langdale. Camping with the family in August 2007, I had another go, and this time deliberately kept my plan modest so that I could flex it as I wanted. Rather than simply return to Three Tarns, form where I’d descended two months before, I decided to take a look at the Great Slab route. It was hard going but the adrenalin buzz took me to the summit for an early lunch. Feeling energised and as the mist cleared, I continued the walk as planned along to Esk Pike and saw Great End ahead with a lovely patch of blue sky above. Having made good time and not wanting the day to end, I decided to carry on rather than descend, and duly picked off Great End, Ill Crag and Broad Crag on my way to Scafell Pike. Having not had time to linger on Scafell Pike the previous time I’d been (I was on a timed challenge walk), I took in the panorama at my leisure. But it was late in the day, and I still had a long walk ahead of me, back down to Esk Hause and Langdale. So late in the day, that the wild campers were already setting up beside Angle Tarn. I arrived back at the tent to be told off for being late, but I’d completed the hardest and most fulfilling walk I’d ever had in the Lake District up to that point.
[Outward route shown in blue, return in green].
Starting from Old Dungeon Ghyll (a), take the footpath to Stool End farm (b). Here the path begins the gradual climb up The Band, a ridge extending down from Bowfell. A relatively easy (I once ran down it), and popular path, most people will be stay on the path all the way to Three Tarns (d), nestling in the dip between Crinkle Crags and Bowfell. This is a good, easier alternative if you don’t fancy the next bit, in which case turn right when you get to the tarns to complete the climb to Bowfell’s summit (e).
This route, however, turns off to the right on a fainter path (c) that passes below the crags. This is the Climber’s Traverse, named not because of what it entails, but simply because it’s a path used by climbers to get to the start of their climbs further round Bowfell. However, the path undulates a lot and is narrow in places, but brings you to the base of The Great Slab, close to which a stream appears to emerge out of the rock.
Climb up, occasionally using hands to propel yourself up the scree, or if feeling daring walk on the Slab itself. DON’T DO THIS IF IT’S WET, unless you want to end up falling into Langdale.
At the top of the slab, join the main path up from Three Tarns which will take you to the summit (e).
From the summit, follow the path north passing close to the north, subsidiary, summit of Bowfell (f) on the way down to Ore Gap. Continue up from Ore Gap to Esk Pike (g).
Make sure that on the way you take a look back down into Langdale, where you get a great view of the Langdale Pikes to the left and the valley stretching away into the distance. This is one of my favourite views in the whole of the Lake District.
Continuing on from Esk Pike, descend to Esk Hause (h) and swing left to climb up Calf Cove to the saddle (i). From here you can take the optional out and back detour up onto Great End (j).
Back at the saddle, the path now becomes rockier, eventually turning into a boulder-hopping exercise as you pass Ill Crag (k) on the left, and Broad Crag (l) on the right. You can see the summit of Scafell Pike in the distance.
But there’s a sting in the tail of this walk, as after Broad Crag, the path descends to a dip (m) before the final climb up onto Scafell Pike’s summit plateau. At the summit (n), as you would expect, and if the weather allows, you have 360° views. But you’re unlikely to have the summit to yourself, as everyone takes turns to be the highest person in England.
The descent back to Langdale now retraces the last part of the route, back down to the dip (m), over Broad Crag (l) and Ill Crag (k) to the top of Calf Cove (i) and back down to Esk Hause (h). At Esk Hause, walk down to the shelter where several paths meet (o). This is one of the great crossroads points in the Lake District. Here paths go left towards Sprinking Tarn, Styhead, Great End or the Grains Gill route down to Seathwaite; straight on over Allen Crags and Glaramara; and right towards Langdale.
Taking the right turn to head east, pass below Esk Pike on your right and stay with the main path down to Angle Tarn (p).
If you’re feeling energetic and have some extra time, then consider the short detour up onto Rossett Pike to your left (q).
I was already running late so missed this out, and so had to return on another day to pick this one off, making it my 107th Wainwright, and marking the half way point in completing them. Continue down as the path zig zags alongside Rossett gill (r). This path has been improved a lot since I first did this walk – it used to be one of the worst paths in the Lakes. The path will bring you out in Mickelden where you join the Cumbria Way for a long but largely level trudge back to the start (t). On the way take some time to look at the moraines, glacial deposits, on the right (s).