Snowy scramble up Jack's Rake

Posted by Sam Harrison on December 17, 2014 at 16:50.

 Mountaineering and climbing

jack's rake lake district langdale scrambling winter winter climbing

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Eventually, winter has arrived in the Lake District! By the start of November last year, we were wading around in powdery snow, but by comparison even Scotland remained virtually snow free until mid-December this year. But finally, last week saw a good amount of snowfall and this gave the Lakes a considerable coating, enough to warrant dusting off the ice axe and crampons and re-commence practice for our winter ML assessment, which we'll hopefully be taking around March to April time.

Climbing conditions weren't looking great; there was a chance the cold spell would hang around and keep things suitably frozen for at least the morning, but we decided not to risk missing out on doing some kind of route and opted for something "do-able" in most conditions, namely Jack's Rake up Pavey Ark. The route, which is a grade 1 summer scramble, also gets a winter grade of I, but this can be augmented depending on the amount of snow and ice about (indeed, it's not too uncommon for parties to pitch certain parts of the route). It follows a natural drainage chanel, meaning a fair amount of ice can form, given the right conditions, and so we took two axes with us "just in case".

The temperature dial on our car read -3C when we arrived at the Stickle Barn car park at 9am, but by the time we were halfway up the path towards Stick Tarn a band of heavy snow and warmer air was pushing its way through. By the time we reached the base of the route, the crag was dripping wet and any ice that was about starting to melt. We had started off under blue skies, but with the snow came a thick bank of cloud that had engulfed Stickle Tarn and Pavey Ark, which along with an absence of wind created an eerie atmosphere and a good opportunity to photograph the tarn like I'd never seen it before.

An eerie Stickle Tarn

Hardly a breath of wind

We donned crampons after the first few steps of the ridge and made quick progress in the ever-deepening snow. The "crux" - an off-balance move up a groove in a position of considerable exposure - wasn't half as bad as I'd imagined. Instead, it was the slabby sections of rock that were deeply buried near the top that proved to be the real crux, and a fair amount of time was spent clearing the snow away to dig out handholds or axe placements. By the time we reached the top, the cloud had cleared the summits and the wind picked up.

The view from Jack's Rake never fails to impress!

Enjoying the pristine snow.

The terrain is complex around Pavey Ark, Thunacarr Knott and the Langdales, and so it made for a good opportunity to practice some navigation work. Unfortanately, the bog hadn't frozen and - being hidden by the snow - was more difficult than normal to spot, resulting in a fair bit of wading and wet feet. We headed down via the Dungeon Ghyll path, which was no less than treachorous, with slippy paving slabs bounded by even slippier frozen turf; I have a bruise to prove it!

The valley had got a coating of snow in the morning's showers, but it was already rapidly melting and I noticed as we set off home that the temperature dial now read 5C. We'd seen some climbers milling around the bottom of the crag, but they were still there when we topped out and so I suspect they didn't get anything done in the end.
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