May 28 2011

Walk 30: The Langdale Pikes

Approaching the Langdale Pikes

route: Thorn Crag (not intended), Loft Crag (almost), Pike o’ Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Thunacar Knott and Pavey Ark from New Dungeon Ghyll
Date: 28th May 2011
distance: 5.3 miles
ascent: 2,608 feet
time: 5 hrs 58 mins
walkers: Dave, David, Graham, Leanne, Sandra & Simon

Two weeks earlier we had started our Lake District adventure with a wonderful visit to walk the Fairfield Horseshoe, but today’s walk seemed even more impressive each time I researched it on the internet during the build up. The day had now finally arrived and as we approached the area the reason for our visit was clear to see (main pic above). The Langdale Pikes are an awesome site and the closer you get to them the more imposing they look. The shape of them makes you feel as though they will be really hard and dangerous to climb but there was only one way to find that out and that was to climb them. After meeting up and paying the £6 fee for the car park we asked someone to take our picture before we set off to tick off eight of Wainwright’s Central Fells.

I had printed off an A3 map of the route we planned to take and gave that to Graham to navigate with. We still had an OS map and my GPS with us should they be needed but sometimes it is nice to let others find their way and follow. Less than five minutes after setting off we were in a little courtyard behind a pub and had no exit route. Hopefully this wasn’t a sign of things to come! Not that this was a major issue, we simply walked round the front of the pub and found the footpath. Once we found our route the climb began almost immediately and for the next mile or so it would be fairly steep going.

We soon reached Dungeon Ghyll and could see that our path continued on the far bank. It wasn’t the largest crossing to make but the amount of water coming off the fells coupled with the speed it was flowing certainly meant the more cautious of our group took their time finding a spot to cross.

With Beaky across the rest of us picked our route and made our way at our own speed. L’Autobus chose a route slightly higher up stream and helped each other across.

Lower down G and Vidal used the spot Beaky had crossed earlier and that just left me. Normally I would be across in no time but for some reason I threw my bag to the far bank just in case. My GPS was caught by G and my camera by Beaky. I was taking no chances today. I don’t know if that was because we had a new walker with us and didn’t want to look like a fool. It can’t be that as I have known Vidal for 20 years and work together every day so he has seen me in much worse states than knee deep in water. Maybe I just sensed something and wanted to be safe rather than sorry. It would be a bit of an anti climax if I did go in because I wouldn’t really want to carry on with my boots being drenched. I made my way onto the first stone then the second…

After successfully making the other side we continued along the path as it climbed gradually up the hillside with decent underfoot conditions, but a little while later things became a little steeper and we had a couple of small scrambles to negotiate. None of this was particularly taxing and we were making progress, albeit slow process.

At this point we were only about three quarters of a mile in and it seemed like we had been going ages. That’s probably because we had, or at least we had spent a long time covering such a short distance. The time taken to cross Dungeon Ghyll contributed to this, as did the steep climb which was making things slower. We paused to regroup as G took a look at the map. To the west of us sat a big thick cloud but it never seemed to get an closer so we were quite happy with that.

The gang were all smiles even if L’Autobus weren’t sure if these steep climbs were to their liking but the views created by such sharp ascents more than make up for it in my eyes. Shortly after setting off following our short rest we had split up into a few groups. Beaky had blasted off as he does into the distance. G was just in front of me and Vidal and behind us were L’Autobus chattering away as they do. I turned to take a picture of them and was pleasantly surprised to see Blea Tarn which had now presented itself to us. If this was the sign of what the Lakes had to offer then I was going to like it.

By now we were nearing the end of the initial climb and the majority of all of the days climbing would be over. There would of course be climbs up to each of the eight peaks we would be doing but nothing anywhere near as big as we had done. Ahead of us we could see the path as it headed up to a gap between two raised mounds.

As we reached the flat ground we had our first real close up view of Harrison Stickle

To our left was Loft Crag (although we didn’t know it) and beyond that was Pike o’ Stickle.

We made our way to what we thought was Loft Crag and snapped away as we do taking plenty of pictures for the archives. At the time we were chuffed to bits to have the first of our eight targets done. This was in fact Thorn Crag but as we took some pictures (below), Loft Crag was in between us and Pike o’ Stickle.

The path we would take to that peak would lead us right past the base of Loft Crag. For some reason common sense must not have been anywhere near any of us that day as not for a second did we consider that the hump we were walking past was more worthy of Wainwright’s acknowledgement.

Unknowingly our Wainwright count for the day stood at none, although I am trying somehow to justify to myself that we were so close we should or could count it as done. As we reached the base of Pike o’ Stickle we were confronted by some steps convenient built in to help gain access to the scramble that then followed before we could stand on the top.

The views from up here were stunning and it was well worth the little scramble to the summit. Vidal opted not to take on that challenge and remained at the base as the rest of us spent ten minutes soaking up all the sights we could. To anyone reading this who wonders why Vidal didn’t go to the top, put simply he was a bit scared, but that is all good in the world of the Rambling Badgers. No leg pulling or mickey taking would go on during the rest of the walk. It is meant to be enjoyable for everyone and if certain elements of a walk aren’t for an individual then nobody will force them to do it. Beaky who also isn’t good with heights managed the climb and tried to tell Vidal he would be ok, but he was having none of it. From the top we had a great view to Loft Crag (the peak that never was, although really we did, almost, honest!) and below that Gimmer Crag.

We could also see across to Harrison Stickle which is the largest of the Langdale Pikes and would be our next port of call.

Below us stood a lonely rambler waiting for his friends to return, so we finished off our pictures and scrambled back down to join him before we made our way to Harrison Stickle.

The walk across was a simple one finished off by a small climb up to the flat summit plateau. No sooner had we reached the flat top that we felt the full force of the wind that had been blowing earlier in the day. It was seriously strong at times and if you weren’t careful it could have easily blown you over. We made our way over and between the rocky surface before deciding what our next plan of action would be.

The suggestion was made that it would be a good time for lunch although maybe it wasn’t the best location. That soon changed when I found a little ledge at the northern edge of the plateau and jumped down to shelter. A couple of the others thought it looked too precarious but upon closer inspection they realised it was the finest lunch spot around and we settled down to our fill. From here we also had a great view across to Pavey Ark and Stickle Tarn sat below it. I was trying to pick out Jack’s Rake to no avail, so carried on eating my lunch.

With lunch consumed we pulled ourselves back up to the top from the little lip we had been sheltering on and soon got the full force of the wind as we made our way to a cairn for the team pictures at the summit.

After taking any pictures required we set off with the intention of going to Pavey Ark next, then Thunacar Knott before carrying on to High Raise, Sergeant Man then back to Blea Rigg. As we dropped off the top of Harrison Stickle the wind picked up even more and thing got darker. It wasn’t anything that we haven’t seen before and we continued on but as we did, we realised that Thunacar Knott was actually almost upon us, so we decided to visit there first. The ground was really wet and boggy and in trying to avoid the worst parts we had veered away from Pavey Ark but we would just visit that next instead. As we approached the final fifty yards to the cairn the heavens opened and we went from dry to soaked in about four seconds. By the time we had reached the cairn at Thunacar Knott we were being pelted by hailstones that were carrying a bit of force as they pounded my head. My response, much to the amusement of the others was to remove the sun hat from my bag and put that on. Granted, it wasn’t the ideal type of weather but it certainly took the sting out of those hailstones. I stood at the cairn with Beaky and Vidal as we waited for the others. G had stopped to try and get some water proof gear on, but it was in all honesty a bit late. The girls however were making their way to us whilst trying to avoid direct hits from the balls of ice, so they were walking crab style with their backs to the wind and their hands over their ears. After completing the Fairfield Horseshoe we sat in the pub and discussed what plan of action to take should we encounter any really bad weather. We had all agreed that it was meant to be fun so should we ever come across bad conditions we would look to cut the walk short and return another day. This wasn’t because we are fair weather walkers (some of the conditions we faced in Yorkshire was quite hostile), it was because it had to be enjoyable for everyone otherwise people would stop coming. The general agreement was if the route was a circular one or if we would end up leaving one or two peaks to come back for we would push on. If the ones we were leaving could be done another day from another place or added to another walk we would take the sensible option and leave them for another day. With 214 Wainwright’s to do, it isn’t like we only planned five visits to the Lake District, we knew we would have to travel a lot and as such why risk anything. With all this running though my brain I said to Beaky and Vidal that from Thunacar knott we should go across to Pavey Ark, then find a path down to Stickle Tarn below before heading back to the car. Beaky was of the same opinion as me, happy to go on but understanding that we have to think of the bigger picture. I think Vidal was still in shock that his pleasant Saturday stroll had turned into an ice bombardment, and we were almost in June! I told G as he arrived and the girls as they followed. They were very surprised but pleasantly so and we took our pictures and I asked the troops how they were doing.

We soon left for Pavey Ark and encountered more wet, boggy terrain. Some places were completely flooded but it didn’t really matter as we were all soaked by this point. That said we did still try to avoid the water for the most part and sometimes had to improvise by shuffling across various rocks in an attempt to stay out of the water. The distance wasn’t great in between the two peaks and we soon reached Pavey Ark where we had the fabulous view of Stickle Tarn below us.

As with Thunacar Knott a short while earlier we didn’t really hang around due to the conditions and we soon on our way. We tried to find a path marked on the map, but without success. My GPS came out and we worked out we need to circle around a raised area and hopefully the path would be there. (See pic below with Sergeant Man in the background)

The ground was so wet it was almost impossible to tell if a path existed. Sometimes they are clearly worn strips and other times there is a subtle difference in the colour but you can tell it is the path. Today there were just streams of running water everywhere and in the end we just made our own way down towards Bright Beck and we would follow that to the tarn.

From the edge of Stickle Tarn we could look back up to Pavey Ark where we had stood a short (ish) while earlier and we could also see some crazy people who were climbing Jack’s Rake. In my opinion this would be enough of a challenge for most in good weather but in this it must have been really dangerous. People make their own choices though, so while the six of them decided to climb that I was happy to be heading for the pub.

We reached the far end of the tarn and the little dam that is built there. The path we needed was on the far side, as always seems to be the case, so we made our way, cautiously over the big boulders. The crossing and sometimes crossing in general aren’t too bad when dry but the rocks do become slippery when they are wet so a little extra precaution was needed until we safely made the far side. From here we headed down the path towards the cars.

One thing I have noticed in our first two walks in Lakeland is that the terrain is very much different, or at least it has been on these two walks. As we reached the top of the path we were hoping for a reasonably quick descent back to the car park but in truth it was a nightmare. The large stones underfoot mean every single step needed to be taken with the utmost care and often hands were needed too. It certainly wasn’t a case of putting one foot in front of the other and I found that frustrating. Still, everyone was laughing and joking as we continued to drop next to Stickle Ghyll.

The amount of water around amazed me. It was thundering down beside us and it does that all day every day. Where does all the water come from? It made for a very nice sight though as we encountered various waterfalls along our way. We even saw a group ghyll scrambling! Why oh why would anyone want to climb up the middle of a raging torrent? With the car park now firmly in sight we climbed a ladder stile just behind a couple and their two dogs. Beaky, Ramblo and Vidal were a little way in front and they let G and Wu Tang through without realising I was there. I followed them for a while and then as I put my foot on a loose stone they heard it move and let me by. I reached a small but slippery section of flat angled stone and slowly shuffled down it. The next thing I heard was a thud and the woman sliding on her stomach down the stone. I tried to grab her but could quite get there but fortunately her momentum stopped and she came to a halt. She was clearly shaken by the incident but hopefully didn’t have too much other than a few bumps and bruises. It reminded me, if I needed reminding how dangerous it can be sometimes when out walking. Fifteen minutes after this we were back at the car and another great walk had been completed. The rain was still coming down as we tried to get dried and change into something to go to the pub in.

Literally five minutes later we had managed to get changed and dried to some degree and as we made our way to the pub the sun came out.

We enjoyed our drinks whilst looking out at glorious sunshine. To anyone who ever goes walking and doesn’t believe that the weather can change so quickly, believe it! We knew from past experiences but it still astounds me every time. It was like a totally different day and had it happened an hour or two earlier we would have completed our walk as planned. To be honest that didn’t matter to me. We had to come back to visit again, is that a hassle or a pleasure? To me it most certainly is the latter as the surrounding views were amazing and I will certainly enjoy them again on another day. We set off to do eight more Wainwright’s, what we actually achieved was four done, one mistaken identity and three left for another day. It was the mistaken one that bugged me though. We were literally there, twenty yards or so to our left and we would have done it. Is that close enough to tick off or would that be cheating? I feel like I should be able to count it as it was so close and it wasn’t through choice we didn’t get to it. I suppose it wasn’t a major issue. As I said a sentence or two earlier we can always comes back and do it again. It wouldn’t be for a while though. The personal diary was full for a month or two so our walks would consist of some of the Yorkshire Dales trig points and let’s face it, with a lump of concrete to find, we can’t get those wrong!

Sir Edmund


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