First ascended in 1902, and featured in Ken Wilson’s Classic Rock (1978), Bowfell Buttress (VD) is one of the Lake District classic rock climbs. For a route of such history and character, the experience should encompass the mountain as a whole; gaining the summit by means of an impressive route.
An ascent of Bow Fell via Bowfell Buttress is just this, a splendid yet accessible expedition in the heart of the Lake District. At 902m, Bow Fell is one of the highest peaks in the national park and Wainwright places it “among the best half-dozen”.
Tradition dictates a classic starting point of the Old Dungeon Ghyll. The natural route choice of The Band dominates the view directly ahead.
Stool End sits at the toe of The Band, a broad protrusion into Great Langdale separating Mickleden to the north and Oxendale to the south. The Bowfell aspirant is elevated efficiently along this panoramic shelf.
At a flattening in the ridge, as the summit begins to loom above, the main path is left in favour of the climbers’ traverse.
This path skirts the impressive arena of crags to the north east of Bow Fell summit. Passage affords magnificent views to the Langdale Pikes, down to Mickleden and Great Langdale beyond.
Looking back into the mountain reveals massive features such as the iconic Great Slab, bounded on one side by the river of boulders and on the other by air.
Not to be overlooked are the smaller details, such as the Waterspout, a small spring that is passed on the way.
At the northern end of this ring of towering rock, you find yourself faced with the unmistakable bastion that is Bowfell Buttress.
The route works the line of least resistance up this imposing structure. The first pitch provides an amiable scramble towards a smooth chimney, alluding to the very ‘trad’ nature of the route.
Belay stances throughout the climb are generous, and allow relaxed enjoyment of the surroundings.
The moves following the initial chimney require a steady composition, stepping out on more exposed ledges as the route weaves its way upwards.
The crux is a steep but well protected crack. Arguably surpassing the grade of VD, this feature has become highly polished in the long history of the route.
Although wires are helpful in earlier pitches, the buttress gradually offers up more and more large cracks that hexes will happily seat in.
The beauty of this route lies in being able to access some superb big mountain situations whilst always having excellent holds for hands and feet.
Topping out on the route brings you to Low Man and within a short amble of the summit of one of the highest peaks in the Lake District, Bow Fell.
To complete the mountain day, it would seem improper having climbed Bowfell Buttress to return down without visiting its namesake peak. Taking just a few steps beyond the top of Low Man quickly rewards with stunning views to the Scafell massif and over Eskdale.
Even on a sunny summer day, if you pick the right time you can find yourself sharing the hills with only the true locals.
Descending south from the summit of Bow Fell, Three Tarns is a tempting place to bed down for the night in good conditions.
Returning to Langdale and the Old Dungeon Ghyll allows you to look back once more on your route.
Bowfell Buttress is a classic route and as such there is a high probability of having to queue. However, starting particularly early or late in the day can mitigate this possibility. Pretty much any Lake District select guidebook will contain this route.
A simple rack of protection is adequate for this route; a set of wires, some hexes and a few slings of different sizes should more than cover your needs.