Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Langdale Pikes, Martcrag Moor & Rossett Pike

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Route: Millbeck, Whitegill Ravine, Stickle Tarn, Easy Gully, Pavey Ark, Thunacar Knott, Harrison Stickle, Loft Crag, Pike O'Stickle, Martcrag Moor, Stake Pass, Black Crags, Rossett Pike, Rossett Gill, Cumbria Way

Date: 26/07/2014
From: Great Langdale

Parking: NT Campsite
Start Point: NT Campsite
Region: Central Fells / Southern Fells

Route length: 11.4 miles (18.3km)
Time taken: 05:33
Average speed: 2.1 mph
Ascent: 1,190m
Descent: 1,205m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Pavey Ark (700m), Thunacar Knott (723m), Harrison Stickle (736m), Loft Crag (682m), Pike O'Stickle (709m), Rossett Pike (651m)

Additional summits: Martcrag Moor (547m), Black Crags (587m), Buck Pike (605m)

Other points of interest: Whitegill Ravine, Stickle Tarn, Easy Gully, Langdale Combe

At the time of writing, the number of blog views has just ticked over 20,000. Whether or not this is just spam or actual real people (or even just a handful looking many times), I'm not too sure. But thanks to you all anyway, robots and all. After the excitement of getting married and travelling down America, it was time to revisit some old friends; the familiar Langdale Pikes. It's a part of the world I've been to many times so it was time to have a look at some of the more exciting routes that can be achieved in this tourist hot spot.

The main route up to Stickle Tarn is alongside Stickle Gill, it's a hugely popular path and is often thronged with crowds, even more so during the summer holidays, as we found ourselves this time. The campsite was absolutely packed to the rafters so it was a relief once we final got our stuff together and headed off. It didn't take too long to realise that I had left the all important camera battery at home but, luckily, I had a back up combination of my phone and a new toy my brother bought me, a GoPro. Despite being a camera aimed more at film making, the little fellow hasn't done a bad job and, in hindsight, the photos actually look pretty good, in a different, wide angled sort of way.

We bypassed the main route up to Stickle Tarn and continued to Millbeck Farm where a path leads through a small coppice to the base of Whitegill Ravine. The ravine leads directly up to the undulating plateau between Blea Rigg and Pavey Ark and is a favourite among climbers thanks to the routes on Whitegill Crag and Scout Crag.
Heading along the path beneath Pike How
White Crag and Raven Crag
Pike O'Blisco and Crinkle Crags guard Great Langdale
The path behind Millbeck Farm
It's an entertaining scramble up the mostly dry ravine, a large tree marks the approximate half way point. What is interesting about the ravine is just how quiet it is, even during the hight of the summer holidays. There wasn't a soul about and we had it all to ourselves, I'm sure the same cannot be said about the Stickle Gill path. Whitegill Ravine is a far more rewarding and engaging climb.
The foot of Whitegill Ravine
The tree at the half way point
The view to Lingmoor Fell from beneath the tree
Out of practice - a war wound
Approaching the top of the ravine
Sara tackling the Whitegill Ravine
A spur splits the top of the ravine, you can exit out of either side. We headed to the left this time and made the final short clamber out onto the exposed fell side. It was a nice day, sunny and warm but not too hot with the occasional clouds providing some well received shade. Soon enough, after some off-path wandering, the mighty Pavey Ark edges into view, followed by Harrison Stickle and the popular Stickle tarn.
The spur separates the top of the ravine
The left hand channel narrows considerably
Sara on some steeper ground
The top of Whitegill Ravine
Harrison Stickle and Pavey Ark dominate the horizon
I had decided long before this walk that we'd head up Easy Gully rather than Jack's Rake, mainly still down to an apprehension of climbing the latter. Easy Gully forks off in the opposite direction to Jack's Rake and, by all accounts, if fairly straight forward aside from a tricky boulder choke at the top. We made the short climb to the base of the east Buttress where the gullies meet and had a pause for some refreshments before continuing on.
Stickle Tarn
The path leading to Jack's Rake and Easy Gully - the rake can be clearly seen
The scree leading to Pavey Ark
Looking up Easy Gully
In truth (or in my opinion) Easy Gully is as it sounds, pretty easy. It's certainly no more difficult that many ravine scrambles, or even scree scrambles. I'd go as far as saying that it's perhaps on a par with Whitegill Ravine in terms of effort, or Lord's Rake without the slippery scree. That is, until you reach the boulders. From afar they seem like an effortless barrier but, in truth, they are a bit challenging. I'm sure everyone who's been over has their recommended ways but I (after leaving my bag with Sara) shimmied up a v-shaped notch right in the middle, using my knee to push myself up by wedging it in. Sara followed closely behind, using the luxury of having an additional pair of holds in the shape of my hands.
Easy Gully looking towards Stickle Tarn
The gully narrows towards the top
The boulders blocking the way
The route up that I took - right up the V of the two rocks
Sara follows behind
Looking down Easy Gully
The final scramble out
I'd conclude that the boulder choke is awkward but not impassable, even for a solo traveller. I think the key is to make the climb without an cumbersome pack, whether that means it's left with a colleague or pushed up beforehand. It would also help if you are taller than I. Once negotiated, a short grassy slope leads out to the mid-point of the North Rake which achieves the summit of Pavey Ark.
Sara emerges at the top
Pavey Ark, Langdale's largest cliff face, towers above Stickle Tarn and offers a superb view back down to the valley below. The uncairned summit was pretty busy when we arrived, as was to be expected so we manoeuvred to a small ledge overlooking the tarn for a lunch stop.
The final section of the North Rake
The summit of Pavey Ark
Our lunchtime perch above Stickle Tarn
Thunacar Knott sits a very short distance away from Pavey Ark, an embarrassingly easy climb by anyone's ability. Why ever it was included by Wainwright's books is a anyone's guess but people still feel compelled to climb it thanks to his writings. It's not particularly impressive and the view is not particularly great. The reason we return to the summit was a result of it being tantalisingly close and that the weather was fine and dry, unlike the last time I visited.
Looking across to High Raise and Sergeant Man
The rising slope of Thunacar Knott
A large cairn marks the summit
So, back to the pikes and Harrison Stickle. The path heading south from Thunacar Knott leads straight to Harrison Stickle by way of a small depression above the eastern face. Once again, views when you get closer to the edge are pretty dramatic as the fellside falls away sharply to the tarn below. Pavey Ark still looks impressive, whatever angle it's viewed from (except perhaps from the west!).
The knobbled rear of Harrison Stickle
Pavey Ark and Stickle Tarn
Harrison Stickle is the highest of the Langdale Pikes and perhaps one of the most dramatic. It's dark crags are some of the first encountered from the entrance of Great Langdale and it seem to dominate all around, despite only being 736m high. It's a mountain in miniature and has views to match. Perched at the head of a bend in the valley, the view straight down to Windermere is a real treat.
The cairn atop Harrison Stickle
Quite a few people up here today
Great Langdale
The head of Oxendale
A surprisingly long descent (surprising as I didn't remember it from last time) drops down to the jaws of Dungeon Gill, an impressive ravine that slices between Harrison Stickle and the peak of Loft Crag, our next port of call. Thanks to the popularity of the pikes, any one of the several paths will lead generally in the right direction; in all but the worst weather, Loft Crag is easy to achieve from this point.
Loft Crag and Pike O'Stickle
Harrison Stickle
The summit outcrop of Loft Crag
An untidy cairn marks the top
Once again, the views are very good, similar to though found at Harrison Stickle but with the addition of Mickleden, Bow Fell and the delightful and tautologically named Pike O'Stickle, the final peak of the Langdale Pikes. Pike O'Stickle stands a short distance from Loft Crag, the path between the two crossing above a perilous, scree filled gully (the Stickle Stone Shoot) that reaches towards the valley floor. The gully is home to an Stone Age 'axe factory, one of the most significant in Europe. The greenstone found here is a very hard, volcanic rock, an ideal material for early Stone Age tools.
The satisfying dome of Pike O'Stickle
The Stickle Stone Shoot
Sara crosses the top of the scree slope
A short scramble is required to reach the summit
The dome of Pike O'Stickle is reached by a short yet entertaining scramble and, unsurprisingly, it too has good views. This time Bow Fell and Mickleden are well seen as is the rocky face of Loft Crag. Skiddaw can be seen poking its head up in the distance.
Harrison Stickle and Loft Crag
Pike O'Stickle's summit
It was mid afternoon by now and most the crowds had all but disappeared; we shared the summit with just two other people before they departed leaving us alone on the fell top. Still having a number of daylight hours ahead of us and wanting to make the most of it, we decided to press on, aiming for the distant Rossett Pike. Before us lay the vast expanse of Martcrag Moor and Langdale Coombe.
Martcrag Moor
Martcrag Moor does have a summit, so to speak. A high point among the rolling moorland found amongst some small tarns. The passes by this high point before delving down to the summit of the Stake Pass, the link between Great Langdale and the quiet Langstrath. The path also does its best to bypass the moraines in Langdale Combe, an extremely boggy area above Mickleden.
Heading down to the Stake Pass
Langdale Combe
The path starts to climb again, up the ridge towards Rossett Pike, crossing some subsidiary summits on the way. I've plodded up this way previously but with an accompanying cloud and strong wind hampering the enjoyment. Today was different though, despite the sun having hidden behind some clouds. The air was still and the late afternoon was still warm as we passed into the Southern Fells and made our way up the final, steepish climb to Rossett Pike.
The path leading over Black Crags
Our first glimpse of Mickleden
Rossett Pike beneath the mighty Bowfell
An array of jumbled, shattered rocks cover the summit of Rossett Pike, with a small cairn perched on top of one of the boulders. Despite this, the rock just a few metres beyond is unmistakably higher. Rossett Pike, though a modest mountain, does have a superb view of Mickleden and the Langdale Pikes (Pike O'Stickle in particular). It also provides a platform for inspecting the eastern face of Bowfell with the Great Slab and Bowfell Buttress clearly visible.
The cairn on Rossett Pike - the rocks behind are definitely higher
A long though well paved path descends for the Rossett Pass back into Mickleden. We passed a number of people who were obviously heading up for a wild camp; one family in particular looked loaded up to spend a whole month up there! I must really give it a go one day.
A look across the summit of Rossett Pike
The path alongside Rossett Gill
Rossett Pike
The path meets the Cumbria Way as it joins from Langdale Combe and provides our route back to the campsite. It was during this two mile stroll that something, somehow, managed to crawl up my shirt and give my vulnerable belly a decent nibbling. It left some obvious rashy remains as it was deftly swiped off. Sore. In fact, some weeks later the faint marks of its afternoon buffet still remain.
The Cumbria Way beneath Pike O'Stickle
The Cumbria Way
We made it back to camp in good time to get a shower and hit the local watering holes before the heavens decided to unexpectedly open. I always love being cosy in a tent listening to the rain, so long as the tent holds up its side of the bargain.