Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Langdale Pikes

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Route: Langdale NT Campsite, New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, Kirk Howe, New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, Stickle Ghyll, Stickle Tarn, Pavey Ark, Harrison Stickle, Pike O'Stickle, Loft Crag, Mark Gate, New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel

Date: 22/09/2012
From: Langdale NT Campsite

Parking: Langdale NT Campsite
Start Point: Langdale NT Campsite
Region: Central Fells

Route length: 6.1 miles (9.8km)
Time taken: 3:35
Average speed: 1.7mph
Ascent: 693m
Descent: 693m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Pavey Ark (700m), Harrison Stickle (736m), Pike O'Stickle (709m), Loft Crag (680m)

Additional summits: None

Other points of interest: Stickle Tarn, Dungeon Ghyll Force, Thorn Crag

The Langdale Pikes. A phenomenal sight to anyone entering Great Langdale via the road from Chapel Stile. Despite their diminutive size, they seem to tower over the valley and have a distinct alpine feel about them. A firm favourite with many people who visit the Lakes they offer the excitement and spectacle that is associated with many of the higher peaks. A route that Sara and I had to tick off the list, and quick.

Using a free weekend in September, we chose to camp at the National Trust site that is ideally located near the head of the Langdale valley. While expensive, it is very well managed and has all the facilities you could need as a rather hap-hazard camper. Being the end of September, the weather could have been anything from pleasant warm sunshine to driving rain, so we packed accordingly. We had anticipated it to be a rather cold walk thanks to the previous night's chill inside the tent. Fortunately for us, as we started off and made our way along the path to the New Dungeon Ghyll hotel, the weather had presented us with an almost Spring-like day that made our layering up seem a bit daft.
Sara strides on into a fabulous autumn day
The rolling lower flanks of the pikes with Swine Knott, Scout Crag and Whitegill crag peeking over the top
Sara crosses a small footbridge near to Rossett
Finding our way through the wood that leads to Sticklebarn and the New Dungeon Ghyll hotel, we started the climb up the so called 'tourist path' alongside Stickle Ghyll. Being new to the area we thought it wise to stick to the well trodden routes to keep ourselves out of trouble. The path up is fairly steep in place and mainly consists of a wide, well laid set of stone steps. It was however, very busy. To avoid the crowds in the future, I would suggest remaining to the left of the stream for the duration of the climb, away from the main path.
Sara, sans outer layer now, starts the climb up alongside Stickle Ghyll
Sara leads the crowds up the path.....
....before promptly leaving them behind after deploying 'the poles'
Crossing the ghyll and climbing to the top of the path leads you onto the dam at the mouth of Stickle Tarn and a stunning view of Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle that dominate the scene. The dam was built in 1838 to provide water to Langdale, increasing the size of a natural water-filled corrie.
Sara after successfully crossing Stickle Ghyll. No wet feet this time
Harrison Stickle and Pavey Ark standing proud over Stickle Tarn
After a brief rest to catch our breath and admire the scenery, we followed the path to the north east, circling the tarn and crossing some nice boggy ground towards the foot of Pavey Ark. From here we could see a clear view of 'Jack's Rake', a challenging scramble on the face of Pavey Ark. We considered it but decided against it this time. I'd like to do it with someone who has already climbed it and when I'm a bit more experienced. To avoid a long walk around the back of Pavey Ark, we took a left shortly after Jack's Rake to climb a very steep path directly to the summit.
Pavey Ark
Jack's Rake can be clearly seen running diagonally up the face
Our route took us up a steep path onto the summit 
Pavey Ark has the largest cliff face in Langdale at 400ft, but is largely hidden from the valley floor thanks to its location at the back of Stickle Tarn. Views from the summit are excellent, particularly into Langdale and towards Windermere. Standing high above Stickle Tarn gives an incredible 'top of the world' feeling.
Admiring the scenery high above Langdale
The summit of Pavey Ark
Harrison Sticklefrom Pavey Ark
From Pavey Ark, we made the short crossing and 40m climb up to Harrison Stickle which, at 736m, would be the high point of the day. The views from Harrison are on a par with Pavey Ark, again, the sensation of being on top of everything is amplified by the steep crags that fall away beneath your feet. For those of you who didn't know, the word 'stickle' is a name give to a hill with a prominent rocky top.

Panorama from the summit of Harrison Stickle. How many peaks can you spot?
The view down Langdale all the way to Windermere
Sara adds a sense of drama to the occasion
The next target would be Pike O'Stickle, a funny looking rocky dome perched on the edge of the hillside in the distance. Crossing from Harrison Stickle to Pike O'Stickle is fairly straight forward by following the obvious path west that leads directly towards it. There is a brief scramble off Harrison Stickle but nothing to worry about. Pike O'Stickle is ascended by simple scrambling your way to the summit. There are excellent views of Bowfell and Mickleden from Pike O'Stickle thanks to it's exposed location. There is a famous neolithic axe 'factory' situated on the scree slope below Pike O'Stickle, one of the most important sites of it's kind in Europe. A small cave marks it's entrance.
Pike O'Stickle is the obvious mound in the distance
Bowfell and Mickleden
A break on the summit of Pike O'Stickle to admire the scenery of Harrison Combe
The final peak of the day would take us back towards Harrison Stickle across Harrison Combe before bearing right towards Loft Crag, the peak immediately in front of Harrison. Thanks to it's location, slightly pushed into the valley, the views of Langdale are probably the most extensive from Loft Crag.
Loft Crag bathed in the early evening light
Bowfell and Pike O'Stickle from Loft Crag
Sara at the summit
From Loft Crag, all that remains to to start the descent back towards the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. Again, thanks to the popularity of the area, the path is wide and easy to follow as it snakes down fromLoft Crag to Mark Gate and Dungeon Ghyll Force. Described in Wordsworth's 'The Idle Shepherd Boys', Dungeon Ghyll Force is a stunning 40ft waterfall in a deep ravine that cuts into the side of Harrison Stickle. The best parts are viewed by entering the foot of the ravine and following the stream uphill and is something I'd like to do in the future.
Loft Crag, Thorn Crag and Harrison Stickle
Dungeon Ghyll and Dungeon Ghyll Force
From Dungeon Ghyll Force, a further descent and a quick crossing of the stream leads you to Sticklebarn, a National Trust owned pub that is a particular favourite of mine. Being later in the day we thought it would be rude not to stop for a drink and some food. I've always wondered if pub food during a walk always tastes great because it generally is good or your're that tired that anything tastes good. Sounds like a good Phd thesis to me.
Dungeon Ghyll at the foot of the Langdale Pikes with Side Pike and Pike O'Blisco in the distance
The result of a very enjoyable days walking
The Langdale Pikes are very special indeed and are popular for a very good reason. The offer some excellent, exciting walking and climbing and views to match. I think it's probably a walk that's well suited to people who are looking for the charms of the Lake District without reaching the serious heights of the high fells. For the more adventurous, Jack's Rake and Easy Gully on Pavey Ark offer exciting, exposed climbs to the summit.

This is definitely a place to visit again.