Loft Crag

Loft Crag seen from Pike o’Stickle

Date completed: 21st June 2016.

Weather conditions: Dry, which after a week of rainy days was a relief (and why I went on the walk). Could have been sunnier, and a stiff breeze on the tops, so not exactly ‘Midsummer’s Day’ however.

Summits bagged: Pavey Ark (2288 feet above sea level, number 45 of my second round), Thunacar Knott (2351’, no. 46), Harrison Stickle (2415’, no. 47), Pike o’Stickle (2323’, no. 48), Loft Crag (2270’, no. 49).

Harrison Stickle summit

Harrison Stickle summit cairn, with Windermere behind

Most were previously visited on walk 10. The exception is Pike o’Stickle which I didn’t attain on that walk due to mist and ice;  it was visited for the first time on walk 38.

Start and end points: Started and ended at the New Hotel, Dungeon Ghyll.

This can be reached by a #516 bus from Ambleside. The good news is that this runs all year. The less good news is that while the timing is good on the way into Langdale (I caught the 09:30 service from Ambleside and was walking by 10am), on the way back there is no bus leaving Dungeon Ghyll on weekdays between the 14:05 — which I caught — and 17:15. Sounds OK except that the latter service does not then allow one to leave Windermere rail station until gone 7pm. The timing was fine for this short walk, but one couldn’t get up and down (say) Bowfell in four hours from Dungeon Ghyll, not without rushing unnecessarily, anyway. But on weekends and in school holidays there is a more useful 16:05 service back out of Langdale.

Distance walked: 5.1 miles approximately.  Thus, at just over a mile per summit, alongside relative ease of access, this is probably the most efficient Wainwright-bagging walk of all, certainly among the main 214. It is even more mileage-efficient than walk 10 because that tacked Blea Rigg on to the end.

Harrison Stickle from Langdale

View from Langdale up to Harrison Stickle (on the right)

Total ascent: 2600 feet approximately.

Pub at end: After having slaked several thirsts at the Old Dungeon Ghyll a little further up the valley, this was the first time I concluded a walk at the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel.  It is a large place, with two separate bars open to non-residents: the Walker’s Bar in the main building (which I did not visit) and the Sticklebarn pub, which I did. And it was a decent place to end a walk, I have to say — serving a brilliant pint. However, I bet it gets absolutely rammed with people on summer weekends.

Route:  As noted above, this is a short walk, but an excellent one, ranking with my recent trip up Blencathra (walk 110) in the ‘Half-Day Classics’ list I feel I should now compile. (Add Helm Crag too.)  However, if you follow my route exactly you have to deal with two bouts of scrambling, one of which (the climb to Pike o’Stickle’s summit) shouldn’t cause any fit walker any problems, but the other one — Easy Gully on Pavey Ark — may well cause significant difficulty.

Routefinding should also cause no problems in clear weather. In fact, I did the whole walk without once consulting a map, whether the OS or Wainwright’s versions. (Still take a map, of course — just in case.)

Thunacar Knott

Thunacar Knott, from Pike o’Stickle — with High Raise behind (in shadow)

From the New Hotel there are two ways onto the fell behind, one nearer the hotel itself, the other a gate round the side of the Sticklebarn. Either way, the stream of Stickle Ghyll will be on your right — and the best way to proceed is to keep it that way. In other words, there is no need to cross this stream at any point, despite a couple of temptations to do so; and also advice given in The Central Fells whenever an ascent route heads up this way.  But though Jesty’s second edition warns that the path on the west bank is unclear in parts, I found it fine to follow all the way up to Stickle Tarn. (Having said that, if you do want to use North Rake to climb Pavey Ark, after reading the advice below — you do need to cross Stickle Ghyll at some point, so best to do this via the footbridge part way up.)

Easy Gully

Easy Gully, viewed from the Stickle Tarn dam. See the rocks at the top? I mean those.

The question of how you will be climbing Pavey Ark needs addressing. Of course, I can give no better or more detailed advice here than you will get by reading pages 4 – 7 of Wainwright’s chapter, so pre-read that information. If, like me, you decide on Easy Gully, that is plainly visible ahead (see the picture), as is Jack’s Rake, which starts at the same point at the base of the crag. Reach this point from the dam by walking to the left, around the shore of the tarn, and then slant up the slope to reach the base of the gully. (If you want to attempt Jack’s Rake at this point, I wish you luck but you are on your own….  See the commentary below. )

Easy Gully was named by rock climbers, not walkers. Nevertheless it is easy enough for most of the way up: a scramble for sure, but easier than, say, South Rake on Dow Crag. But as noted in the book, near the top the gully is choked by immense boulders that are quite clearly there on a permanent basis.  AW writes: “…for 50 feet the route lies over them, with one awkward obstacle”.

Stickle Tarn dam

Clouds over the Stickle Tarn dam

I would like to delete that word ‘awkward’ and replace it with the words ‘bowel weakening’. Basically, the way you have to go is up the rocks in the centre of the gully (not to the right, which looks tempting, but leads to a dead-end). To proceed, however, requires you to haul yourself up onto a boulder that has a relatively horizontal top, but also protrudes out from its colleagues, with the couple of hundred feet of the lower gully yawning below.  And the climb onto it is partly obstructed by another boulder, forcing you to lean out towards this drop in order to attain the platform.

I nearly didn’t get up this. I realised what I had to do. I stared at it. Minutes passed. I looked again at the right-hand passage. I also started wondering whether the miniature ‘cave’ that lay between the rocks was a) something with an exit to the gully above (in my opinion — it isn’t) and b) whether I could fit into it (again, I believe not).

Great Langdale

Great Langdale

That I did make it up came down, in the end, to two things: one, a matter of realising that the climb back down, beyond just wasting lots of time, was probably no safer than what I had to do to keep going up; and two, people do get up this, right? I mean, thousands of them, surely, and there aren’t piles of bones at the bottom of the gully to demonstrate their failure. It became just a matter of plucking up the courage to do it. The key, I think, was getting my backpack up and round the upper boulder, because that also gave me some extra support, and reassurance that past that point I was almost sure that I couldn’t slip back. I made sure that any handholds I found were secure before I put my weight on them, hauled (and swore) as much as I could — and didn’t look down.

Anyway, once up, put it behind you. The top of ‘Easy’ Gully is just a few yards further on. There, turn left up North Rake, and at the second big cairn at the top, turn left to find Pavey Ark’s cairn-less summit.

Pike o'Stickle and Bowfell

Pike o’Stickle, with Bowfell behind.

After that, the rest of the walk is pretty easy, and you can knock off all of the summits in 90 minutes; at least, that’s how long it took me. Pavey Ark to Thunacar Knott is a matter of just crossing the tableland between them: there are no obvious paths, but no real need for any.  To the south, Harrison Stickle and (even more distinctively: see the picture) Pike o’Stickle are very obvious. Note that when descending Harrison Stickle, bear more to the right, in order to avoid a couple of awkward (though not bowel-weakening) climbs down rock faces.

The scramble up the final tower of Pike o’Stickle is a much easier proposition than Easy Gully but it still requires climbing up rock, and won’t be suitable for young children. The easiest route is only really apparent in descent; it lies further round than you might think (in terms of how you approach the tower up the main path), then slants back up the rocks. But there are various ways to get up to the summit.

The route to the shapely peak of Loft Crag (see the picture at the head of the page), last fell of the day, is also obvious. To then descend, go straight over the summit, swing down to Harrison Combe and then take the clear path bearing to the right, which becomes the ascent route delineated in the Loft Crag chapter. This will lead you unproblematically back down to the New Hotel; I reached the Sticklebarn pub about 45 minutes later.

Loft Crag summit

The summit cairn of Loft Crag. The slopes behind are those of Thunacar Knott

Solstice commentary:  About the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU — held tomorrow, as I type this — I could say many things, but will restrict myself only to what is most relevant to the topic of this blog.  When it comes to key measures of wealth — property and land — the UK is already the most unequal country in the EU.  The EU is also the source of the majority of environmental protection legislation.  Leave the EU and I find it highly improbable that a raft of replacement legislation will suddenly flow from the newly ‘independent’ Westminster (that term is such a joke, used as a substitute for thinking).

Today I had to look again at that vast quarry near Elterwater, an unbelievable scar on the landscape in the very centre of the District. If there’s shale oil under the ground anywhere, plenty of companies are just itching to frack it and the government want to let them, overriding all other planning concerns (look up the ‘Infrastructure Act’ if you don’t believe me): and this is not to mention the plans on the table to build a nuclear waste dump in Ennerdale, within the boundaries of the National Park. These are the consequences of deliberate decisions made by the very people who Leave claim we should ‘give back control’ to.

Harrison Sticke and Harrison Combe

Harrison Stickle rises above the eponymous Combe

The UK Establishment have a vague interest in Cumbria as somewhere it can root extractive industries (Sellafield, mainly — but intensive farming practices, that harm both the land and the valleys (through flooding) while making money for the rich, are also a form of extraction (see Monbiot)). But protection of the environment as something with intrinsic value? Of the social and economic rights of the people who live in this peripheral area? None at all. Think hard before giving ‘control’ to these people any more than they already have it.

Enough. By the time you read this voting will most likely be over anyway. What of the walk?

Stickle Tarn

Stickle Tan, viewed from its dam

It’s hard to go wrong with the Langdale Pikes, a superb slice of mountain country, and amazingly compact. On the OS map the territory covers barely four grid reference squares, or 4 sq. km. But the rise of the Pikes from Great Langdale below is so steep and immediate that nothing is wasted ground: all is mountain, and interesting, rocky mountain at that. Except Thunacar Knott, and even that is really Wainwright’s fault, because Pavey Ark is geographically and geologically part of it, so Thunacar, whoever he or she was, can feel aggrieved that AW gave the crag a separate chapter.

On the subject of Pavey Ark though I would like to take Mr. W to task for his rather flippant description of the difficulties at the top of Easy Gully.  Only on Rosthwaite Fell and Dow Crag have I had more worrying moments on my 112 walks thus far and both of them were due to my having strayed off the recommended route.  I can imagine quite a few people have been tempted up Easy Gully by the book, and not been able to get up the final bouldery choke. Please don’t underestimate this if you’re planning to follow in my footsteps….  or rather, imprints of knees and elbows and backpack at that point.

Jack's Rake

The opening passage of Jack’s Rake. You’re welcome to it.

And on that subject, Jack’s Rake…. Well, I got to the bottom of it. I looked up it. I took a photo, for posterity. I compared what I saw with what was in the book and realised I was looking only at the section up to the ‘first ashtree’, thus no more than a tenth of the whole distance. And I said…. no thanks. Not on my own, anyway, with no other walkers in sight (unlike when I did South Rake, for instance). I guess now I may never do it — but I think I’m happy with that.

Well, I got my second walk in in June, and five summits in five miles is a fine return for a half-day’s effort. Next walk around 9th July if the weather holds.

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