Jack’s Rake is a popular Grade 1 scramble in the Lake District – but it’s by no means an easy proposition. We look at the skills you’ll need to tackle this classic route.
Slicing across the face of Pavey Ark in the Langdale Pikes, Jack’s Rake is one of the Lake District’s most tempting little scrambles. It’s so fabulously accessible – just a short trot up Stickle Ghyll from the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel – and so enticingly visible from the main path. Then there’s that grade one designation, which lures unwary hill walkers into believing that they can shin up it easily with nary a care in the world. No wonder, says Joe Harrop of Lakes-based guiding company Highpoint Mountain Guides, that the Rake is an accident black spot.
“It catches a lot of people out, and it’s taken a few lives over the years,” he explains. “People assume it’s going to be easy because it’s a grade one, but it’s steep, it can be wet, and some of the holds can be polished which makes it very slippery.”
Should its fearsome reputation stop you from taking the Rake on? Of course not! But read our guide first to make sure you go prepared.
Know the risks
Unlike some other Grade 1 scrambles, the rock on Jack’s Rake is notoriously unreliable. This natural crumbliness combined with the route’s popularity is a recipe for misadventure.
“Jack’s Rake is often busy,” says Joe. “People tend to bunch up at the bottom and follow each other up nose-to-tail, so if the person in front is having a mare then you’re pushed onto loose, wet rock waiting for them to move.”
He recommends donning a helmet and giving the group in front of you a ten to fifteen-minute start. Once on the route, test constantly for loose rock and watch out for slippery sections. “It’s wet most of the year, even in the height of summer,” Joe adds. “The poor quality of the rock also means that it’s essential to check all holds before you weight them. Give the hold a good bang – if it sounds hollow then don’t use it.”
WATCH Britain's Mountain Challenges: Jack's Rake, on BMC TV
Watch and learn
The first hurdle facing would-be scramblers is finding the start of the Rake. It looks blindingly obvious from the other side Stickle Tarn, but you’ll need to keep a weather eye on the entrance as you make your way around the lake to avoid losing it.
“Once you get round to the back of the lake the route obviously disappears, and this catches a few people out,” says Joe. “Spot the entrance as you arrive at Stickle Tarn and keep it in your sights as you walk round. There’s a scree-cum-rock scramble up to the start, which begins at the bottom corner of Pavey Ark next to a large gully called Easy Gully. The first 75 yards, ending at a prominent rowan tree, is one of the trickiest sections you’ll encounter, and is quite often both wet and slippery so watch your step.”
Climb when ready
Newbie scramblers beware: despite its lowly grading, Jack’s Rake does require some basic climbing skills. The most technical section – a short but steep and narrow chimney – will ambush you soon after the rowan tree.
“This chimney requires an awkward bridging move,” explains Joe. “It’s very polished and can be wet, but it gives the climber a feeling of safety because you’re in a groove away from the worst of the exposure.”
Whatever you do, he says, don’t be tempted to drift out to the left here.
“People try to avoid the bridging move by climbing out of the gully to the left-hand rib and skirting across the side of it. Then they find themselves on an 18-inch-wide section of damp grass, which could easily collapse beneath their feet. This is where many fatal accidents on Jack’s Rake occur.”
Keep to the main gully, avoiding the narrow grassy ledges to the left, and tackle the trickier climbing moves head-on.
After the chimney, the views down over Great Langdale become increasingly spectacular as the exposure ramps up. The climbing is easier, but it progresses up a series of intermittent block and grooves which are linked by vertiginous ledges.
“Less experienced scramblers might come out of the chimney and find the exposure a bit nerve-wracking,” Joe says. “There are several grassy ledges where you really have to keep your weight against the rock, and it can be intimidating for those who don’t have a natural head for heights.”
Reduce the risk of a heart-in-mouth moment here, he advises, by choosing a decent day for your excursion. “I would avoid go up the Rake if the weather isn’t good. Because it’s high the clouds can drop quite quickly, and it can be quite a forbidding place when you’re swirling around in wet cloud. People have been known to get nervous and scared, and that’s when mistakes happen.”
Similarly, the Rake can be a treacherous beast in winter. “It can be an absolute mare in winter conditions,” adds Joe. “The wet turns to ice, which makes it out of bounds to all but very experienced scramblers.”
Still, don’t let yourself be deterred by the difficulties. It might require a head for heights and a sensible approach to the scrambling, but catch Jack’s Rake on a good day and it’s one of the most thrilling scrambles in the Lakes
Correction 06/07/15: The original version of this article referred to the narrow chimney representing the most technically demanding section of this scramble as Gwynne’s Chimney. The description given was correct, but Gwynne's Chimney is actually a Diff graded climb on Pavey Ark, separate from Jack's Rake.
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