A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The Langdale Pikes

Monday 6 August dawned cloudy but clear. The Pikes beckoned. How nice to leave the car at the campsite and just walk. In this case down the road to Stickle Barn where at 10am I had a cup of coffee. Half an hour later I joined the walkers' procession along the beautifully engineered footpath by Stickle Ghyll, which begins just behind the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and climbs up to Stickle Tarn under Tarn Crag. A lovely ascent - rocks, waterfalls and short scrambly sections. Paradise. Here I met up with Scott, another solo walker, who became my on-and-off companion for the day. After what seemed no time at all we reached the top. No false summits here to lure you on - just over the lip and Stickle Tarn magically reveals itself, dominated by the astonishing rockface of Pavey Ark (see photo) in front and upthrusting Harrison Stickle to the left. Time for a rest and a snack. It's a memorable spot - but popular, so we quickly moved on. After boulder-hopping across the ghyll, we saved for another day the more strenuous delights of Jack's Rake and Easy Gully, and followed Bright Beck, the tarn's main feeder stream. Soon we crossed the beck and slanted round the north-eastern foot of Pavey Ark. A clear path led to North Rake, the easiest route up. This was a delightful and entertaining corridor - but all too short. Abruptly we gained the top, and it was only a matter of minutes before we'd breached a stone wall and were standing in the rocky enclosure of Pavey Ark's summit (700m). The weather was breezy but fine; the sun even came out out now and again. What a splendid view from here, overlooking Stickle Tarn. Next stop was Thunacar Knott (723m) reached on a westerly compass bearing - an undistinguished top with no sharp edges. From here a path led to Harrison Stickle (736m), the linchpin and highest point of the group. Here we met someone who'd lost her husband. He'd climbed up Jack's Rake and hadn't been seen since. Down to grassy and slightly boggy Harrison Combe (stepping stones over the worst bit) and up again to the shapely, conical, unmistakable Pike of Stickle (709m). The hard, volcanic rock hereabouts was fashioned into axe heads in Neolithic times. We overshot the usual path and came to a dead-end at the brink of a precipitous, climbers-only gully channelling down to the Mickleden valley. However an interesting but easy scramble soon deposited us on the summit where we met the "lost" husband. Had we seen his wife? Yes, but she'd headed off Harrison Stickle in a completely different direction... Hope they were eventually reunited! Then a short, bumpy ridge took us to Loft Crag (670m) which is actually the summit of Gimmer Crag, the rock climber's playground. We descended to the col between Loft Crag and Thorn Crag where a large cairn indicated the way down. At first this was hard going on slippery rock and scree - particularly since a heavy rain shower had set in. However the path became easier, and before long we'd crossed Dungeon Ghyll (its waterfalls were audible but invisible somewhere above the path) and had completed the circle. A pint and a chat at Stickle Barn were very welcome after 6 hours on the fells. What a day to remember.

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