If you’re looking to add a touch of adventure and adrenaline to your Langdale Pikes hike, look no further than Jack’s Rake. James Forrest shares a classic grade one scramble up Pavey Ark.
It is a quirk of Lakeland that Pavey Ark – a fearsome cliff rising vertically out of Stickle Tarn into the Langdale Pikes skyline – can be climbed by the average hillwalker. How can this be possible? The answer is Jack’s Rake, a nerve-jangling (yet achievable) scramble up a rocky groove dissecting the precipitous crag. Guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright described it as “just about the limit that the ordinary fell walker may be expected to attempt”, with some “difficult and awkward” sections – but he also waxed lyrical about the rewards for those hikers brave enough to venture up the rake. “The humble walker is…afforded a rare opportunity to enter the realm of the climber, and the rock scenery is magnificent throughout.”
Jack’s Rack is a grade one scramble – a route that requires a degree of rock climbing, employing both hands and feet, without being technical. It is essentially an exposed walking route. But do not underestimate it. The scramble is an accident hotspot that has tragically claimed many lives. The rock is often greasy and wet, and in some places, the terrain is very exposed. Take it on, however, and you will be blessed with an adrenaline-inducing, memorable experience. You will scramble up a rocky groove, which mercifully shelters you from sheer precipices; haul yourself over rocky steps and up narrow chimneys; tiptoe along grassy terraces with dizzying views; and, ultimately, stand atop Pavey Ark feeling like a real adventurer. It might just be the only way to improve a near-perfect day of hill-walking in the Langdale Pikes
Words and images: James Forrest
If you’re new to scrambling, before you head out, check out our beginners’ guide to scrambling.
Jack’s Rake, Pavey Ark: route guide
Start/Finish: National Trust’s Stickle Ghyll car park, Great Langdale (GR: NY294063) | Distance: 7.3km/4.5miles | Ascent: 824m/2,703ft | Duration: 4-5hours | Maps: OS Explorer OL6 (1:25k), OS Landranger 89 & 90 (1:50k), Harvey British Mountain Map Lake District (1:40k)
1. NY294063: From the Stickle Ghyll car park take the brief path past the toilets, following a mossy dry stone wall, and turn right through a swinging gate. Turn left aiming for the main path heading north-west alongside Stickle Ghyll. Ignore a turn-off to your left and continue straight ahead on the excellent, stone-pitched path with the stream on your right. Cross the wooden footbridge and continue uphill on the other side of the stream. Cross a stile and continue north-west. The long ascent includes a number of steep, rocky sections, passing a series of waterfalls. As the path veers right slightly around crags, negotiate a rocky step, cross the ghyll again at a line of large stepping-stone boulders and then emerge at the tarn.
2. NY287075: Use the stepping stones to cross Stickle Ghyll and follow the clear path on the eastern shores to walk anti-clockwise around the tarn. Keep an eye on the obvious start of Jack’s Rake, which cuts diagonally through the imposing cliffs of Pavey Ark across the tarn, as it can become tricky to find the closer you get. Hop on boulders over a boggy section to the eastern tip of the tarn, cross a stream and pick up a faint trod that curves
north-west and west around the tarn. At the northernmost tip of the tarn, veer right over boulders and scree to the start of Jack’s Rake.
3. NY285079: Scramble up the rocky trough, which is often wet and slippery but has good handholds, and aim for the prominent rowan tree on the skyline. The initial climb to the tree is steep and tricky in places but the rocky groove shelters scramblers from the worst of the exposure. Continue over a gentler platform, taking care to avoid the precipitous gullies and cliffs to the left. Negotiate an awkward steep, rocky chimney before taking an easier terrace and climbing a steep, rocky groove again. Turn right up Great Gully briefly and then veer left. Choose your line of ascent over grassy ledges and rocky steps, aiming for a depression to the right of a cone-shaped pinnacle, and emerge safely to the ridge. Turn right and climb easily to the summit of Pavey Ark.
4. NY284079: Re-trace your steps over the rocky terrain to the point where you emerged from Jack’s Rake onto the ridge. Pick up the path heading west and pass two small tarns on your right. Continue on the good path, which veers sharply south following a line of small cairns. Descend momentarily before looping back west and north to the 736m summit of Harrison Stickle, the highest point of the Langdale Pikes.
5. NY281073: Descend west towards the dramatic dome of Pike O’Stickle. It is a steep, rocky descent but there are no technical difficulties. Veer left at a large cairn towards Dungeon Ghyll and pick up the path heading south-east for Thorn Crag. Negotiate a few rocky steps to reach a large cairn and then continue on the stone-pitched path. Descend over grassy slopes to the prominent top of Pike Howe, which is too tempting to miss, and then retrace your steps briefly before descending steeply south and east to reach a drystone wall. Follow the wall south and cross a high stile next to the ghyll. Pass a wooden bench and turn left onto the Cumbria Way at a wall junction. Go through a kissing gate and descend east back towards Stickle Ghyll. Rejoin the main path, turn right, go through the gate and arrive back at the car park.
Transport: 516 bus from Ambleside (stagecoachbus.com)
Tourist information: Ambleside TIC, 015394 68135