Walk Report: Langdales via Jack’s Rake

Date: 19th Apr 2008
Stats: 10.0 miles, 3200 feet
Weather: Fine and clear, clouding over later, cold out of the sun, very windy at times
Trig Points: 0
Wainwrights: 4: Pavey Ark, Harrison Stickle, Pike of Stickle, Rosset Pike
Other Info: Car parking £6 for the day at New Hotel
Summary: New Hotel, Stickle Ghyll, Jack’s Rake, Pavey Ark, Harrison Stickle, Pike of Stickle, Stake Pass, Rosset Pike, Rosset Gill, Mickleden, Cumbria Way to New Hotel

Key to symbols:
= Wainwright Summit

I’ve been promising myself a return visit to the Langdale Pikes for a while, with the sole purpose of tackling Jack’s Rake, the wicked looking scar that runs diagonally up the southern face of Pavey Ark. Wainwright described it as “just about the limit that the ordinary fell walker reasonably may be expected to attempt”. He certainly doesn’t describe it in the loving tones he uses for most of the other ascent routes in his books and I felt it was about time I had a look at the route that obviously disconcerted him.

In our last walk, Tex had asked if he could come up with a route for our next walk and I’d happily agreed. He did say he wanted to walk somewhere in the Langdales and that reminded me about Jack’s Rake. As it was, his workload prevented him coming up with any route for the walk, so I stepped in manfully, at the last minute, with the route you see below. Most of the walk, apart from the first three peaks, is new to me and I made sure to include Jack’s Rake after checking with Tex that he didn’t suffer from vertigo.

We arrived early at the foot of Stickle Ghyll, to find some disconcerting signs about us not being able to leave until after 13:30, due to some sort of road race going on in the valley that day. I had visions of us being stuck behind hundreds of cars winding our way our of Langdale behind a pack of runners. Oh well, nothing we could about it now, we were here, ready to go.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
As we left the car park and headed up the road to find the path beside Stickle Ghyll the weather was looking fantastic. The tops of the Pikes were poking their heads above the surrounding fells and for most of the time they were covered in sunshine. It all looked very promising.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Although heavily used and much repaired, I love the little path that runs up to Stickle Tarn. You have the constant accompaniment of the ghyll, and the feeling of being hemmed in by craggy peaks all around. The first time I walked this path was in December 2006 and I was very unfit, having lapsed significantly after my C2C crossing in the spring, the ascent to Stickle tarn took me 1 hour and 10 minutes and I arrived gasping and fit for nothing else, only managing to reach Blea Rigg before returning to the car. I used the same ascent when I bagged the Langdale Pikes in April 2007, feeling much fitter after much training I managed the ascent to the tarn in 45 minutes and went on to bag 7 Wainwright’s including High Raise. So I also like the path because it gives me an indication of my current state of fitness.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
One of the many wonderful pools and waterfalls that line the path on the ascent beside Stickle Ghyll.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Today we reached the tarn in 40 minutes and that was taking it easy – I wanted plenty left in the tank for the ascent up Jack’s Rake. As usual there were a number of tents pitched at the tarn outlet, today included the largest tent I have ever seen at a wild camp. It must have been a 4 or 5 man tent, like the ones you see on proper camp sites – someone likes to travel in luxury obviously.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Jack’s Rake ascends the face of Pavey Ark from the bottom right to the top left, seen here in the middle of the shot.

We skirted the tarn to the left, following the clear narrow path beside the water’s edge. There are several paths leading up to Harrison Stickle here and we were followed by a couple of people who were using one of these paths. We continued round to find the base of Jack’s Rake. Purists would, I’m sure, insist on starting the climb from the cairn with the JWS tablet on it, but we’d already started to angle up the slope as we approached as so never actually found this cairn.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
We made for the foot of the easily identifiable Easy Gully, this is a large wide scar ascending the face of Pavey Ark, but in the opposite direction to Jack’s Rake, together they form an uneven “V” shape in the face of the mountain. Easy Gully is picked out in red above and the course of Jack’s Rake is shown in blue.

As we arrived at the junction of the two possible paths, Tex looked up the wide slope of Easy Gulley, turned to me and said “That doesn’t look too bad at all”. Turning around I pointed up Jack’s Rake and asked him what he thought of that. His face was a picture; a bizarre mixture of “Your shitting me!” and “Wow, I can’t wait!”

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
From it’s foot, the ascent up Jack’s Rake looks ridiculously perpendicular.

Without the knowledge that many people do this “walk” every week, without ropes and helmets, without belays and “those things you hammer into a wall to lock yourself onto” I would never even contemplate trying to get up it.

Photos don’t do it justice. I took a couple of pictures from the bottom and I knew they’d never capture the challenge. Tex has some climbing experience and he was happy to go first, this also gave the next photo (above) some context. This is a real scramble. From the base to the top there is rarely a place where you don’t have hands on rock… and knees and elbows and even my stomach at one point.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
In most places there are obvious foot and hand holds. The route is mostly enclosed in a “chimney” of rock so you don’t feel too exposed.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Here I am, just starting out on the ascent. We have stowed our walking poles on Tex’s rucksack (mine doesn’t appear to have anywhere to secure one, which could be something of a handicap in future). I’d also stashed my GPS PDA in the top pocket of my pack, I didn’t want it dangling and catching on things as I went up.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
The view of Stickle Tarn from the third Ash tree. The steepest part of the climb has been tackled at this point. There are one or two parts that feel very exposed and I found myself clinging to the rocks at these parts and scuttling past to get to easier ground.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
One of the few points in the ascent where you don’t need to have three points of contact with the rock. This is the middle section of the Rake where you can sit and take a rest if you want to.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Tex pushes on to the final part of the Rake.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Bits of the Rake are flat and easy, but those are in the minority and most have steep drop-offs

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Tex has wedged himself into a space in the rocks and waits patiently for me to join him.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Looking back down the path from the point just before it turns right up Great Gully.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Almost there. Tex tackles Great Gully.

By the time I reached the top my heart was pounding, my chest was tight and I was feeling decidedly light-headed. I’m not sure if this was due to the exertion of the last section of climb, or whether from the adrenalin that a slip towards the top had injected into my system, but I needed to sit down and put my head between my knees for a moment.

Without my last few weeks in the gym there are one or two sections I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have been able to manage. Twice I had to pull myself bodily over a section of rock with one hand – now perhaps I took the wrong choice of route at that point – but even so I needed to the upper body strength I have developed over the past few weeks.

The choice of footwear was also important. I don’t think I would have been able to make the climb in my 3-season Scarpa boots. We both used approach shoes today and were glad of the flexibility and grip they offered at several stages of the ascent. This also means that the weather is important. I know Wainwright mentions it, but I will reiterate; this is not a route that should be attempted in icy conditions. Even wet and rainy weather would make this hazardous.

I’ve done Jack’s Rake, I thoroughly enjoyed it, it’s another one of those “Yes, I’ve done that” stories for the pub. Having said all that, I’m not sure I ever want to do it again!

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Looking across to Loft Crag (left foreground), Pike of Stickle (right foreground), Bow Fell (centre) and Crinkle Crags (left rear-ground).

We met an old guy at the top of Harrison Stickle who approached us and asked “Did you sit down on your way up Jack’s Rake?”. I thought this a rather odd question and made a jokey “No, I was too nervous to stop” response. “So you didn’t sit down and have a rest then?” he asked again. “Why?” I asked “Should we have done?”. “No” came his reply, “It’s just that I found a sit mat, so it’s obviously not yours”. He scooted up Harrison Stickle then bombed off across the fell towards Pike of Stickle.

“What a typically obtuse Cumbrian he was” Tex offered. I actually had him down as Yorkshireman using the following logic; he’d found a sit mat and didn’t want to risk us claiming it if he just came right out and said “did you lose a sit mat on your way up Jack’s Rake”, he judged our likelihood of ownership by whether we’d had a rest or not. Someone once told me that a Yorkshireman is just like a Scotsman but with all the generosity removed 🙂

Although old, this guy was not slow; immediately labelled Mr Whippet, he was to be seen far ahead of us all the way to Rosset Pike, where we finally lost sight of him as he headed down to Angle Tarn.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
The wind on top of Harrison Stickle was ferocious and bitterly cold, but we gained some shelter as we dropped down into the little valley and headed for Pike of Stickle.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Tex heads for Pike of Stickle.

In our early days of walking, and even as recently as last summer, any Wainwright’s I wanted to bag, I had to bag myself. Tex saw these as unnecessary hills and would either skirt around their flanks, or wait for me at the bottom of the summit path. He now bounds up them like a man possessed, often getting to the top long before I do, as I stop to take pictures along the way.

I’m often quick to make fun of him in these walking journals, but I must admit to being immensely impressed with what Tex has achieved over the past 12 months. He’s lost a load of weight (about 3 stone) and replaced it with muscle. He seems to have boundless amounts of stamina and climbs that would have left him panting and gasping last year are now taken easily in his stride.

So it was that he summitted all today’s peaks before I did and looked much fresher at the top of Pavey Ark than I did, even after I spent 10 minutes recovering.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Our route home. Rosset Gill runs from the foot of Rosset Pike to meet Mickleden Beck which runs down the centre of the picture to the valley floor. Bow Fell dominates the skyline.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Pike of Stickle seen from ridge above Rosset Crag

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Heading down to Angle Tarn from Rosset Pike. There are hundreds of walkers on the path from Mickleden, heading past the Tarn towards Great End and the Scafells. We’ve lost Mr Whippet, he’s probably off for a quick dash up Scafell.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Lots of path maintenance being done in Mickleden. The bags are
awkwardly placed on the path though making the descent more tricky than it needs to be.

This is a long tedious climb if you’re coming in the other direction. It’s also chock-a-block with walkers, both serious fell walkers and those annoying grockles that seem to block all the popular paths to the touristy tops (Coniston Old Man, Helvellyn, Scafell etc. etc.).

We like to do a bit of people watching when we’re out walking. As we start early, we tend to be returning to the car as most people are setting out, so we pass a lot of people on the path. Today we passed “serious hiker with couch-potato girlfriend”. Serious hiker has all the right gear for today and he’s obviously walking well within his limits, which is more than can be said for couch-potato girlfriend. Here is a girl who’s enthusiasm far outweighs her ability. She has no pack to carry and her waterproofs look brand new, she is struggling, red-faced and out of breath 30 yards behind her boyfriend. She’s out here because she wants to know what he does at the weekend, and if possible she wants to be there to share it with him. It was already 13:00 and they were a long way from the top. I think they’d have been lucky to reach Angle Tarn the way she was looking, but even then the time would have forced them to return before any proper hill could have been climbed. I gave them 6 months… tops!

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Mickleden Beck

On the valley floor we met another couple of day-trippers. They’d been sheltering from the wind in a large sheep fold at the point where the Cumbria Way heads off up Stake Pass. Tex isn’t much of a one for small talk and he strode off quickly as soon as he heard them ask “Where have you been today?”. I slowed and made conversation for a couple of minutes. They were staying locally and had borrowed a guide book, but not really fancied walking too far from their base. I left them to themselves and caught up with Tex.

Soon after, we saw an old woman approaching, in all the right gear, with a large rucksack on her back and another reasonable sized duffle bag in her hands. I commented on the amount of luggage she was carrying and she stopped dead in her tracks. “Am I going the right way?” she asked us. “Where are you going to?” I said. “Borrowdale” was her reply, “Some people back there said this was the way”. We spend about five minutes with the woman, pointing out the Cumbria Way path up Stake Pass – she seemed bemused. “All the way up there?” she asked, “Are you kidding me? I thought I was nearly there”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her how far she really was from Borrowdale. By my reckoning she was still 6 or 7 miles from Borrowdale proper and probably 3 or 4 hours with the climb in the middle.

She had no map with her, and no clue where she should be going, so I made absolutely sure she knew which path it was she should be taking, I didn’t want her heading off up to Angle Tarn. We said our goodbyes and we continued along the way back to the car.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
The scree slopes beneath Pike of Stickle.

In our approach shoes, or trail shoes, or whatever you want to call them – just don’t call them trainers please 🙂 – the Cumbria Way felt bloody awful. As it’s so heavily used, it’s a maintained track, covered in large and small stones that make for uncomfortable walking. I’m sure in big 3-season boots its nothing like as bad, but in approach shoes, with their flexible, lightweight soles the terrain is hard work.

I decided that the Cumbria Way is not one I will be doing in a hurry.

Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake
Car parks now brimming over with cars.

By the time we returned to the New Hotel, the fields either side of the car park were full of cars, all here for the road race presumably – of which we saw nothing in the end.

We did indeed have to crawl out of the valley behind a huge queue of cars, but they were all following some old guy in a Volvo, not a group of road runners.

All in all a great day out – the highlight of which was Jack’s Rake – a truly aweseome ascent that should be undertaken only in the right weather and only then with the right foot wear. Good Luck!

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3 thoughts on “Walk Report: Langdales via Jack’s Rake”

    1. Take care – don’t do it in the wet or high winds – we didn’t take the right route at the very top, which made our task that little but harder.

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