The Sublime - the Langdale Pikes in winter
I'll be doing a talk to a local natural history society next year (they book their speakers up more than a year in advance) and I've chosen as my subject the tradition of the Romantic, Picturesque and Sublime. The last word, Sublime, isn't one we use much today but in the 18th and 19th century it meant a certain awesome grandeur. This was often typified by spectacular wild mountain landscapes. In Britain artists and writers such as Wordsworth and Ruskin were influenced in particular by Lake District landscapes. My day out on monday was a good example of the majestic grandeur of British mountains.
We've had much snow falling over the last few
weeks but this was the first time I've been out in it for a while. The snow has been accompanied by much foul weather. Monday suggested better conditions and some clear skies. I worked out a round up from the New Dungeon Ghyll hotel to Pavey Ark, up it's east ridge, round to Harrison Stickle, and down by Dungeon Ghyll itself. Conditions to start weren't promising, with big storm clouds and heavy showers, but the forecast promised a clear afternoon. I could see plenty of snow from about 300 metres up so I hoped for some sport.
The start is a slog straight up the stone laid path towards the tarn at the foot of Pavey Ark. This is simply hard work and you spend the time taken just looking at the path in front of you, stopping occasionally to turn around and look at the view behind. Once you arrive at the tarn you can stop for a bite to eat and look at the route ahead. The weather still hadn't cleared, it was windy and heavy hail showers kept sweeping through. It was annoying but not bad enough to put me off.
The interesting part came next. You walk eastwards (anti-clockwise) round the tarn (crossing the outflow stream first) to outflank the mountain top. After about fifteen minutes you can see a weakness where you again ford the stream and start the rough walk up the side of the mountain. The snow was now properly deep, a mix of powder and harder stuff. Sometimes your foot would sink up to your knee, other times you'd struggle to kick a step. It soon steepened and there was an exciting run out beneath my heels. I was sharing the route with a couple of young lads and we were overtaking each other as each stopped for a photograph or sip of water. They were initially above me on the slope and I could see them having some trouble in their very light footwear. I overtook and kicked steps which they told me they were very thankful for.
The view from the top of Pavey Ark was limited. The cloud base was somewhere about 800 metres, so I could see a ring of mountains all around but their summits were all shrouded in thick whiteness. The hail showers continued.
The next objective was Harrison Stickle, about half a mile away over confusing rocky ground. The way isn't clear, even in clear weather, so I wandered slightly finding the best route. The two lads were clearly following me as they also took the same wandering route. We caught up with each other again on top as we admired the view and then they asked me how to get down again. It isn't good to be on a mountain summit in bad weather without the right gear and without knowing the way down. I pointed out the shortest route and off they went.
There was much ice now so crampons on and I carried on to find the top of Dungeon Ghyll. This is easy to find as it starts with a dramatic cleft between two rock faces. As I got near I saw my erstwhile companions again. They told me they hadn't been able to find the other way so they had followed me.
We looked at the start of the descent route. It's a narrow path above the gorge, snaking across the very steep rocky hillside. It's very rough and under the snow it looked difficult. As we looked another couple came up the path towards us so we asked them what it was like. They warned particularly of a dangerous snow chute a short way along that would need to be descended. Fortunately for my two new friends, without crampons, axes or sticks, this couple were going back down by an easier route so I asked if they would take the two lads with them, which they did. I carried on along the adventure route. This was quite exciting and the snow chute proved to be quite difficult, descending steep hard snow facing forwards on front points with an invisible drop straight below.
As the path eased to simple walking I hoped the sky was finally clearing. There were some brief glimpses of light and I got a couple of nice shots but really the clouds were here to stay. As I drove home the hail showers carried on.
The route can be seen on plotaroute.com