Crinkle Crags

Published 28 March 2021

The summit of the highest of Crinkle Crags

It’s September 2020 and after a year full of lockdowns, cancelled holidays and just general chaos, I unexpectedly found myself in the Lake District for a week. Day one was spent near Borrowdale, the second in the wonderful Newlands. The third was a splendid day around Grasmoor, and day four was a soggy visit to Tarn Crags. Now though, I was in Langdale, ready to explore some fells I’d long meant to visit. After starting with Pike O’Blisco, then visiting Cold Pike, I set off to Crinkle Crags.

I have a confession to make. I was feeling a bit nervous about Crinkle Crags. Somehow I’d got it into my head that it was an extremely dangerous place. One full of steep drops and sharp edges. Definitely not a place to be at during bad weather.

But what defines bad weather? Driving rain, strong gales, and hail definitely. What about a blanket of cloud? Did that count? I wasn’t sure. But then Crinkle Crags though is a place where it’s easy to lose the path at the best of times. If I lost my way and found myself next to a very steep drop, that may not be the best of situations. Visions of Mountain Rescue and helicopters filled my mind.

There may just be a bit of cloud up ahead.

I ummed. I erred. I wondered what to do. It was like I was afraid of the place. Part of me thought if I couldn’t persuade myself to go to Crinkle Crags now, when I was barely 2km from it, I may never do it. Such was the “Here be highly dangerous dragons” status it had somehow gained in my mind.

Yet I couldn’t help but notice that the path that went there there, was a good, clear, solid looking one. And despite the fact that the clouds meant the Crinkles – as their friends know them as – were not visible, there were quite a few people heading that way. Crinkle Crags couldn’t be that bad, surely?

I decided to put reason above fear, and decided to get on with it. If nothing else, I could re-asses when I reached the old Crinkles.

Approaching Crinkle Crags

A mile and a half later I found myself looking at the first one, lurking in the cloud. A large clump of rock. Crinkle number one. A pile of rocks to pick your way through, guided – I was happy to see – by a good clear string of cairns.

It didn’t take long for me to realise my worst fears would go completely unfounded. Navigation was reasonable as long as you could make our the next cairn. And the paths, whilst rocky and requiring the odd climb here and there, were wide and pretty easy to follow. Indeed the big problem I had to face was not physical but in definition. Just what defined a crinkle anyway?

Crinkle Crags Ahoy!

Was each crinkle distinct? Did each have a clear beginning and end? Or did the five individual crinkles that make up Crinkle Crags, blend into one another. I had no idea.

If the visibility had better, perhaps I would have been able to tell. Then it’s possible I wouldn’t have been able to. What was for sure that now it was rainy as well as cloudy, and with the hood of my waterproof jacket up, it was even harder to see ahead of me.

It didn’t help that the first crinkle I came to was also the longest. So by the time I got the end of it, I was still confused. Had that been one crinkle? Or two, or three? All i could do was shrug and carry on as an even taller bobble of rock loomed out of the cloud.

As it turned out, this foreboding sight was Crinkle 2, the highest of them all. The immediate impression it gave was that it was completely inaccessible. On closer inspection there was a narrow path that went along the western flank. One that raised up higher and higher. And as it did so, to the side a cairn came into view. Here it was. The highest point of the highest crinkle. And I meant to pay homage to this. The cloud meant I didn’t see much, but hey, did that matter?

Five crinkles, one very crinkley fell.

From the summit I carried on. How much further on I walked, I could only tell my checking the GPS logs of my camera when I got back home. What I do know is that with the rain, wind and cloud, I lost the path.

All I’d needed to do after visiting the summit was find the cairns and follow them along once more. But in the cloud I’d lost them. A bad thing to do, but conditions meant it couldn’t be helped.

Things didn’t seem too bad though. It didn’t take me long to spot a cairn in the distance and I rejoiced and made a beeline for it. Then I noted the path was going down. Had I reached the end of the Crinkles? Was that it, all done, wasn’t that easy, what had I been worrying about?

I looked around. The huge bulk of nearby Bowfell should be not far ahead of me. Excellent!

The highest of the Crinkle Crags

Then the cloud lifted. I could now see around me. And Bowfell wasn’t there. Not unless someone had stolen it overnight. For ahead of me was a valley. A valley I didn’t recognise at all. It certainly wasn’t Langdale, of that I was sure.

I’d gone wrong. When I’d arrived at the cairn, I stupidly hadn’t checked the compass direction. So instead of heading west as I should have done, I’d gone north. Silly me. Won’t make that mistake again, I thought.

“Excuse me, is that Scafell Pike?” asked a voice in a Germanic accent.
I turned round and found a couple near by, and coming down from the path I’d mistakenly taken.

Scafell Pike? I had no idea. Nothing was familiar, my geography of the Lakes was feeling woefully inadequate. And now someone was asking me if they were near England’s highest mountain.

“No idea!” I replied, before asking where the couple were heading to.

“The caravan park,” the main replied. Adding “At Chapel Stile” before I could point out that there was more than one caravan park in the Lake District.

I suggested they went up hill like me and join the Crinkle Crags path. That would be the most sensible thing. More than asking a confused Englishman standing on the hillside wondering where Langdale had gone. But instead they continued going down the hill. Goodness knows where they finally ended up. Probably in deepest Eskdale, with a very long journey back to their caravan.

I went back to the Crinkles, spotted a cairn, saw some people on a path, and sighed a big sigh of relief. And then started walking on the path proper, feeling a little happier about my own state of affairs at least.

With a spring in my step I walked on, and on, through the cloud, along the path. And before long I found myself at the end of the Crinkles. The last one, I thought! I’d done it! Yay!

The end of the Crinkles! Although, which end…

The path started its descent to the ridge between the Crinkles and Bow Fell. And as the cloud began to thin out, I started looking for the neighbouring mighty fell.

I looked. And I looked. But one thing was obvious. Bow Fell was absent. It had gone. Was nowhere to be seen.

Either someone had managed to move a 902m tall mountain. Or I’d gone wrong again. And I was beginning to suspect it wasn’t the former.

As I stared in confusion, something occurred to me. I’d seen this place before. This was where I’d come from earlier. The path from Cold Pike. When I’d re-found the path after getting lost earlier, I’d started going south along it, instead of north. So convinced was I that I was going in the right way, I’d foolishly not even checked my compass on finding the path again.

So definitely not Bow Fell

I sat down, sighed, and shook my head in disbelief at my own stupidity.

There were now two options. One, I could go back along the Crinkles again, do some of them for a third time, and then go on to Bow Fell like my original plan. Alternatively, I could simply go back downhill and call it quits.

In front of me, Pike o’Blisco and Cold Pike were out of the cloud. It was warm, and sunny. Behind me, Crinkle Crags was invisible once more. Wet, cold, windy, and so very cloudy.

There was no contest really. Whilst I hadn’t completed its famous traverse, I knew I’d made it to the highest point of Crinkle Crags. That was good enough for me. I’d had it in the can. After all, getting to the highest point was all you had to do to say you’d completed it.

But I knew I’d missed out on something by not managing to do the whole thing. That I’d have to come back and visit every single crinkle. Walk them all properly.

Preferably though, on a nice sunny day when I could enjoy it all. And if that wasn’t an excuse to return to Langdale in the future, I didn’t really know what was.

Next time: Rossett Pike

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