Classics: Bowfell Buttress

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”.

The Approach

Tradition dictates a classic starting point of the Old Dungeon Ghyll. The natural route choice of The Band dominates the view directly ahead.

On the approach: The Band (centre), Bowfell (right) and Crinkle Crags (left)
On the approach: The Band (centre), Bowfell (right) and Crinkle Crags (left)
Showing the way
Showing the way

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.

The path up The Band overlooking Oxendale
The path up The Band overlooking Oxendale

At a flattening in the ridge, as the summit begins to loom above, the main path is left in favour of the climbers’ traverse.

Heading towards the climbers' traverse
Heading towards 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.

Panorama from the climbers' traverse
Panorama from the climbers’ traverse

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.

The Great Slab above the climbers' traverse
The Great Slab above the climbers’ traverse

Not to be overlooked are the smaller details, such as the Waterspout, a small spring that is passed on the way.

The Waterspout, Bowfell Buttress in the background
The Waterspout, Bowfell Buttress in the background

At the northern end of this ring of towering rock, you find yourself faced with the unmistakable bastion that is Bowfell Buttress.

Bowfell Buttress
Bowfell Buttress

The Climb

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.

Climber on the first chimney
Climber on the first chimney

Belay stances throughout the climb are generous, and allow relaxed enjoyment of the surroundings.

A fine position overlooking the Great Slab
A fine position overlooking the Great Slab

The moves following the initial chimney require a steady composition, stepping out on more exposed ledges as the route weaves its way upwards.

Stepping out to airier ground with Bow Fell summit in view
Stepping out to airier ground with Bow Fell summit in view

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.

Climbing slabs having overcome the slippery crack
Climbing slabs having overcome the slippery crack

Although wires are helpful in earlier pitches, the buttress gradually offers up more and more large cracks that hexes will happily seat in.

Big trad gear for a big trad climb
Big trad gear for a big trad climb

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.

Exposed positions but always positive holds
Exposed positions but always positive holds

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.

Bow Fell casting its shadow over Mickleden
Bow Fell casting its shadow over Mickleden

The Descent

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.

Sunset over the Scafells
Sunset over the Scafells

Even on a sunny summer day, if you pick the right time you can find yourself sharing the hills with only the true locals.

The locals. Herdwick sheep overlooking Eskdale
The locals. Herdwick sheep overlooking Eskdale

Descending south from the summit of Bow Fell, Three Tarns is a tempting place to bed down for the night in good conditions.

Three Tarns col. Pike of Blisco is to the left. To the right, Crinkle Crags. Beyond, the Coniston fells
Three Tarns col. Pike of Blisco is to the left. To the right, Crinkle Crags. Beyond, the Coniston fells

Returning to Langdale and the Old Dungeon Ghyll allows you to look back once more on your route.

Sunset skyline looking towards Bow Fell
Sunset skyline looking towards Bow Fell

Notes

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.

Map and guidebook for Bowfell Buttress
Map and guidebook for Bowfell Buttress

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.