Loft Crag viewed from Harrison Stickle

Loft Crag viewed from Harrison Stickle

Date completed: 13th February 2010.

Weather conditions: Mixed. You can see from the pictures that there was quite a lot of snow on the ground above about 1900 feet. Blue skies for most of the day but also an hour of walking in an unpleasant snow shower with very poor visibility.

Fells climbed: Loft Crag (2270 feet above sea level, no. 30), Harrison Stickle (2403′, no. 31), Thunacar Knott (2351′, no. 32), Pavey Ark (2288′, no. 33), Blea Rigg (1776′, no. 34). Those familiar with the area might wonder why Pike o’ Stickle is not included on the list; for the answer, see the text.

The plateau between Thunacar Knott and Pavey Ark

The plateau between Thunacar Knott and Pavey Ark

Distance: 8.75 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 2800 feet approx.

Start and end points: Started at the Dungeon Ghyll old hotel, reached on the #516 bus from Ambleside. (In the summer this bus runs from Windermere station.) Finished at Grasmere, from which the #555 bus can be caught back to Windermere, Kendal and Lancaster.

Pub at end: Well, I did look around Grasmere village center, but for all the restaurants, cafes, outdoor supplies shops, there does appear only to be the one pub – the Lamb Inn. It’s not a bad place I suppose, and does do real ale (though the summery golden beers they had on were not appropriate for the day – where are the decent dark beers?), but there’s not much character to it.

Route card: Click on the link to download a route card (2Mb, .doc format), showing summary information, a map, the elevation profile and waypoints with grid references. Route card for walk 10: Langdale Pikes

Clouds above Langdale

Clouds above Langdale

Route: This is a very popular walk but that does not mean the route is everywhere clear, and that looks as if it is true even in better conditions than I experienced (that is, without snow on the ground). There are many crags and difficult rocky sections and it’s also very steep in places. Inexperienced fellwalkers, or the less-than-fit, may find it difficult. Having said that this is a highly recommended expedition with some superb scenery.

I started from the Dungeon Ghyll Old Hotel (bus terminus: don’t confuse this with the New Hotel which is further down the valley). The start of the route is clearly signposted to Mickleden and Stake Pass. I walked along the valley until reaching Troughton Beck at grid reference NY 266069. Looking up, the path to the left of the beck is just about visible but the start is indistinct – it is not hard to pick a route, however. Once up on Martcrag Moor, for me, the route to Pike o’ Stickle was found by trial and error; there may well be a clear path in normal conditions, in which I would also, of course, have climbed that peak.  As it was, mist and ice forced me to turn back. I instead skirted the edge of Harrison Combe to the summit of Loft Crag then crossed the combe to ascend the final slopes of Harrison Stickle.

Bowfell (left) and Rossett Pike

Bowfell (left) and Rossett Pike, viewed from the slopes of Pike o’Stickle.

Thunacar Knott will be missed out by most walkers, perhaps unfairly, but it is not much of a detour: if unconvinced, however, just round the lip of crags above Stickle Tarn far below and reach the summit of Pavey Ark before descending North Rake. This starts rather further back from the summit of the Ark than might at first be assumed: look for a prominent cairn and remember that the Rake is never that steep, if you find yourself going down any precipitous rocks you are in the wrong place, so turn back. Once under way the Rake is obvious all the way down.

Pavey Ark

Pavey Ark (Jack’s Rake clearly visible rising diagonally across the crag)

Once at Stickle Tarn, most people will probably descend via Mill Gill back to Langdale, but instead I went on to Blea Rigg; the path to look for leaves the tarn at the otherwise insignificant beck draining into it at NY 280078. This is fairly well cairned and should get you safely enough to the top of Blea Rigg. You must then make sure you are fully round Blea Crag before starting the descent to Easdale Tarn, and again the path junction is indistinct; it heads off to the left, and almost seems to be doubling back, at a grassy saddle below one end of the crags. (Should it be missed you would end up walking back to Grasmere via Silver How, but that’s probably not a bad walk either.) Once at Easdale Tarn the path back to Grasmere is unloseable – though rather longer than I thought it was going to be.

Misanthropic old git commentary stuff: Since I started publicising this project I have received some offers of help and companionship but – to the probable irritation of those who have offered them – I find them difficult to accept. The reasons are all within me.  I actually don’t like walking with other people. I have my own speed, my own preferences. I want to be sure companions are also using public transport and so far I’ve not been convinced by the promises. If all that makes me sound like a miserable and misanthropic bastard – well, that’s a fair description.

Summit view from Harrison Stickle

Summit view from Harrison Stickle

Unlike some other trips this one was not arranged semi-spontaneously around a good weather forecast but kind of booked in advance, because Clare & Joe are up in Morecambe for a few days for half-term and starting from there gives me the chance to reach parts of the Lakes at a reasonable start time instead of about noon.  Normally I don’t get to walk on Saturdays, logical though that is, because of having to look after Joe. But the forecast is good, so I am lucky.  Where I really wanted to go was Patterdale, an essential centre for many walks that are otherwise impossible to reach. But because of terrible train/bus connections (have the bus and train companies ever heard the words ‘integrated transport strategy’?…) Patterdale can’t be reached until about noon from Hebden Bridge but could have been done by about 9.30 from Morecambe. Except there are engineering works on the line from Oxenholme to Penrith…  That’s fine however. I need to get some bigger fells under my belt. Of the 214 Wainwrights 127 of them are over 2,000 feet and I haven’t been that high since Wetherlam five months ago. Langdale is surrounded by high peaks and there is thus a lot of choice.

Harrison Stickle viewed from Thunacar Knott

Harrison Stickle viewed from Thunacar Knott

All the way up Mickleden (a wonderfully solitary experience today) and the stiff climb up Troughton Beck, heading for Pike o’ Stickle, the plan is working fine. It’s on top of Martcrag Moor that the flaw in it suddenly becomes apparent. The steep front faces of the Pikes are indeed clear: but that’s because they face south. The north slopes, less blessed with winter sun, are still covered in snow – and you have to get to the Pikes round that side because the south-facing ones are too precipitous. Plus, at about 10.30 and just as I reach those north-facing slopes, there is sudden proof of the old warning that ‘conditions can change rapidly up in the mountains’. They sure can. From being bathed in late winter sun and sweating profusely as I haul myself up Troughton Beck I am suddenly enveloped, not in a blizzard exactly, but snow flurries and white cloud, plus the walking surface has suddenly become compacted snow and I can’t see any paths.

Footprint trail on Thunacar Knott

Looking back to Thunacar Knott’s summit. (Yes, those are my footprints, and yes, I know my feet stick out.)

I feel I know the layout of the ground – I have been here before, though not for 20 years, but it’s not that confusing. But Pike o’ Stickle, one of the most distinctive outlines in Lakeland, is invisible though I know I must be near it and from the optimism of that pleasant walk along Mickleden I am starting to wonder if I will bag any fells today at all or whether it would be safer just to simply go back: not that the descent of Troughton Beck looks inviting either.

I press on, and eventually, the big dome of the Pike looms up out of the cloud. But here we have problem #2. Even in good conditions, to get up to the top of the Pike involves scrambling up the north slope of the dome; but this is now covered in slippery snow and in poor visibility I’m not even sure I’m starting from the right point. I spend about 10-15 minutes trying to make a decision, tentatively going up the start of the slope and more and more convinced that even if I do get up, who’s to say I will get down again? In the end I turn back. It’s too risky. The snow shower is continuing and though it’s not all that cold I remain unsure whether or not I should still be up here.

Pike o' Stickle from Thunacar Knott

Pike o’ Stickle from Thunacar Knott (presumably the two walkers just visible on the top either had crampons, or just less regard for personal safety than me)

The main advantage of the Langdale Pikes. however – for the peak-bagger at least – is that there are five fells packed into a very small area. Just to the left of Pike o’Stickle is Loft Crag and by the method mentioned above – keep close to the slope on the right without falling over it – I get up to what must be its summit about 10 minutes later, so have at least done one fell on the day. And then, an hour after the problems started, the heavens suddenly clear, almost as fast as they did on Dodd last month (though without, quite, the same dramatic views – though I do get plenty of good pictures again today). Harrison Stickle – looking higher than expected – can now be seen to the north and for only the second time today I see other people, climbing up the final pull from Harrison Combe.

Glacial erratics on Blea Rigg

Slopes of Blea Rigg: glacial erratics (a posh geological name for ‘big rocks sat in a field’)

After that my problems are mostly over. The ascent of Harrison Stickle is still tough work but the sun begins to shine again and it is exciting to be up on the tops in a beautiful winter landscape. I get much more confident at walking in the snow, kicking my boots in where I need to and following the footsteps of others. The walk from Harrison Stickle to Thunacar Knott (what is a Thunacar, or who was he/she, anyway? I can find no reference to the word anywhere on Google except to refer to this unassuming hill) and back to Pavey Ark is particularly beautiful and I get some pictures that make it look as if I have been on the Greenland Ice Cap all day.

Pavey Ark summit, with Harrison Stickle behind

Pavey Ark summit, with Harrison Stickle behind

The descent from Pavey Ark is a bit of a bugger, with North Rake full of snow, and it would have been impossible except that I spend 20 minutes going down in the boot-hole steps formed by others, having to check literally every step, but once down to Stickle Tarn I am now below the snow line again and the remainder of the day becomes an easy – though much longer than expected – walk back over Blea Rigg to Grasmere. That fell becomes the fifth of the day but compared to the others it’s completely unassuming, and once I get down to Easdale Tarn it’s mild and springlike again. There are too many people around, but for that comment, see the end of the first paragraph above.

Right, the next job is to find someone or something to raise money for. I’m picking up the pace from here on in; I’m still only 1/7th of the way through but would like to know who I can do this for.  I’ll let you know…

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