Thursday, 30 September 2010

Pavey Ark via Jack's Rake (November 2009)

I started this walk around 10am from the pay and display car park next to the Stickle Barn near the New Dungeon Gill Hotel.  It was a cold but sunny November morning in the picturesque valley of Great Langdale.  There was a great view of the lower fells on either side of Stickle Gill which hardly get mentioned on the OS Explorer Map.  They looked like interesting fells in their own right, but are dramatically over shadowed by the Langdale Pikes.  From the car park the Pikes are largely obscured by the steep sides of the valley.

I set off up the footpath which went through a wooded area beside Stickle Gill, and followed the path by the steam crossing to the eastern bank a little further up.  The slopes leading up to Stickle Tarn looked a glorious golden brown under a shinning sun in the cold crisp air.  Above me to my left was was Pike How and to my right were the rocks of  Langdale's Tarn Crag. As I continued up the path it began to get rocky and involved some light scrambling.  I decided to cross back over the boulder strewn stream, which was flowing deep and fast today.  It seemed much more difficult on this occassion, compared to my last crossing at the same point two years earlier.

As I completed the last section of the climb, the grand site of Pavey Ark came into view.

As the ground levelled out Stickle Tarn also came into view along with the wall that runs along the southern edge.  I decided to take a rest after the steep ascent, and went to sit on the wall and take in one of the most impressive views in the Lake District.

Straight ahead of me was the massive cliff face of Pavey Ark across Stickle Tarn, and to my left was the eastern shoulder of Harrison Stickle, the highest of the Langdale Pikes.  As I sat there, I surveyed the diagonal line of Jack's Rake, starting at the  lower right hand side of the Pavey Ark's cliff, going upwards to the left, and ending at the small pinacle.  It looked a somewhat formidable sight, and I couldn't help feeling a slight sense of apprehension as I viewed the spectacular rock face.  In less that thirty minutes I would be starting this ascent myself.

I made my way around the south-western corner of the tarn, turning off the main path which went up to Harrison Stickle, and followed the bank of the water.  As I went on, the dark cliffs of Pavey Ark loomed up overhead across on my left.  I veered away from the side of the water and started to climb across the large boulders and scree to the start of Jacks Rake.  It seemed rather dark, damp, and cold as I got up close.  

The start of Jack's Rake.  Notice the small group just setting out centre right.
There is also a lone scrambler part way up.
 I eventually made it to the start of the Rake.  I started the initial section which involved a reasonable easy scramble inside a groove in the rock which was about a meter wide.  The rock wall of Pavey Ark was too my right, whilst to my left there was a low natural parapet with some vegetation growing on it.  It was almost like going up a staircase.  Things soon started to get more difficult though.  When I first started I could see a group higher up the rake just before the "path" turned round a curve in the rock and went out of sight.  They seemed to be hardly moving, and I thought I would soon catch them up.  This did not happen though.  As I approached this steeper section of the Rake, I found it technically challenging, with suitable foot and hand holes difficult to find as I made my way upwards.  Some which I was forced to used seemed to be barely cracks in the rock which I normally would not attempt to use, but this was all there was, and once I had started to climb it was easier to continue up than to retreat back down.  I had certainly let myself in for something much more difficult than what I had imagined. It was slow going. I gradually made my way upwards,with each movement carefully thought out and tested in advance, until I made it to a flat ledge above an Ash tree growing out of the cliff below.

This photo was taken at the top of the first section of the Rake.
It is a bit deceptive in as much as it doesn't give a sense of the steep climb
required to get to this point.  The near vertical section of climb
is hidden below the ledge left of the Ash tree.
On the right there is a vertical drop.

This had been the steepest sustained section of the rake.  Further along there were more level sections, some along narrow exposed ledges above steep grass slopes that lead down to vertical drops down the crag face.  There were still many shorter sections of steep climb which I found rather challenging.  One of these was, for me, particularly scary.  After traversing one of the level sections of ledge, there was a steep climb that seemed to be just above a vertical drop down to the scree above the tarn.  This seemed to be the most exposed section of the rake. I really had to force myself to do this part. I was at this point acutely aware of how high I was on the rock face, and it did feel much more like rock climbing than scrambling. 

After negotiating a number of other difficult (although not quite as traumatic) sections, I came round a bend in the rock, and saw a wide rock gully running down the face of the crag, relatively easy to scramble across.  I knew at this point that this was Great Gully, and this marked the final section of the Rake.  I could see the Pinnacle above, a bit further ahead. 

 I read in Wainwright that I needed to head for the depression just to its right. To get there I needed to pick my way though sections of rock and vegetation.  Finding a way through was more difficult than the photograph above suggests.  Once I had crossed the gully and got up close to the rocks, it wasn't obvious which climbs led to ledges from where I could continue climbing safely.  At one  point I climbed up onto a ledge adjacent to a huge slab of slanting rock.  Normally it could have been crossed, but on this occasion it was  too wet and slippy to grip.  In order to continue it was necessary to climb back down to the lower ledge and use a different route up the rock.  Once I had done this I had reached the side of the pinnacle where there was flat rock.  This was the end of Jacks Rake.  I felt a deep sense of relief to have made it.

From here I made my way over the last sections of rock to the summit of Pavey Ark where I sat down to take in the incredible views.

Looking across from Pavey Ark summit to Harrison Stickle.

Looking from Pavey Ark summit across the ridge leading to Pike o' Blisco to the Coniston Fells.  The rocky slope on the right is the east shoulder of Harrison Stickle.

I have to admit the ascent of Jacks Rake had been a difficult and traumatic climb for me.  It had tested my scrambling abilities even though I have had previous experience of rock climbing. It was, however, a fantastic experience, and one which I would very much like to do again.  It wasn't until the next day when I truely realised this.  But as I sat there on the summit of Pavey Ark, I did at that moment feel emotionally exhausted, despite the fantastic views, which I still managed to appreciate.  

I finished the walk by making my way along the path to Harrison Stickle where I spent some time on the summit taking in the views across the Great Langdale Valley.  On the descent I took the path above the steep ravine of Dungeon Ghyll, another spectacular sight, before following the path down the steep slope to Pike Howe, and back to the car park at the Stickle Barn.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Blencathra via Sharp Edge

This was a walk that I did back on a rainy day in October 2009. I had originally planned on doing the tourist route to the summit of Skiddaw, but somehow could not find the enthusiasm to try this particular walk on this occasion; I wanted something a bit more exciting. As I was lying in bed the evening before I had the idea to try Blencathra's Sharp Edge. Now I felt completely gripped by the idea!

I could tell the conditions were not going to be ideal for this as I drove past the Howgills on the M6. The sky was a mixture of gray and white cloud, the windscreen wipers were more on than off; but more than anything else it was extremely windy. I arrived shortly after 10am and parked in a layby on the A66 at Scales. The rain came down as I walked up the narrow tree lined lane that led to the beginning of the path.

I followed the path beside Mousthwaite Beck, which started to climb steeply as it rose up into the comb. At the top there was a wet grassy shelf between Scales Fell and Souther Fell. It was at this point that the Saddle of Blencathra came into view, just visible below the white cloud blowing across the plateau. However the thing that really grabbed my attention at that point was the dramatic drop at the east end of the plateau, where Foul Crag joined with with the knife edge ridge of Sharp Edge.  From this vantage point the route looked almost impossible for a walker to accomplish.

As I made my way towards the end of the shelf to join the path to Sharp Edge, the clouds cleared for a time, and I got a clear view of the dramatic scenery.

Turning right at the end of the shelf the path skirted the lower slopes of Scales Fell above the river Glenderamackin. Soon the path began the steep climb beside Scales Beck where it flowed down from the Tarn above. Sharp Edge was getting closer with every step. As the path levelled out at the top of the climb,  Scales Tarn stretched out before me below the towering face of Sharp Edge and the rock wall below Blenchathra's Saddle.

I could really feel the wind as I stood beside the tarn looking up at the ridge.  I was wondering at this point whether I should attempt Sharp Edge under these conditions.  In the end I decided to continue along the path leading up to the start of the ridge and see what it was like up there.  As I climbed the slope the wind nearly blew me off my feet on a couple of occasions, and made walking quite difficult.  In the end I reached the rocks that marked the start of the Sharp Edge traverse, and to my surprise the wind didn't seem quite as bad there.

I remember taking off my my waterproof so it wouldn't flap around before climbing  up onto the first section of the ridge.  The rocks were wet which made them somewhat slippy and required great care negotiating them.  Once I had got a little further along the ridge, my feelings of apprehension were replaced by that of exhilaration.  Whilst still taking the utmost care, I was really enjoying being there up on the ridge.  The view down to the tarn was spectacular.

I stopped to take some photographs, and as it started to rain sideways across the ridge, the top of Blencathra's saddle was no longer visible.   Further along Sharp Edge, the ridge became more exposed as I got closer to the climb up Foul Crag at the end.  The rain seemed to be getting worse, although Blencathra's plateau seemed to offer protection from the wind.

Soon I had reached the end of the ridge but there was still the steep slippy climb up Foul Crag to reach the saddle.

It was a hard climb up the crag involving a great deal of scrambling.  The section of the climb in the photo above turned out to be too slippy for my boots to grip, so I had to retreat and go up another way just to the right of this shot.  When I eventually finished the climb, I was up in the clouds and rain.  The ridge below was no longer visible, and unfortunately there was no views to be seen as I walked across the saddle to the summit of Blencathra.  I met two small groups of people at the summit who I talked with for a short time before heading down the zig zag path towards Scales Fell.  

As I decended, I suddenly came out of the cloud and I could see down to valley level once again.  I took the path down to Doddick Fell where the ridge of joined Scales Fell.  It was a steep slippy descent before leveling out.  There was a fantastic view down into Doddick Gill on the right hand side of the ridge.  There was also a spectacular view back up to Blencathra above the Gill, although the top of the summit was still in cloud.

After the the ridge flattened out, it widened into a broad dome as it sloped down to the valley floor.  The path then skirted the bottom of the slope above the fields of Doddick Farm.  It had been an enjoyable and exhilarating walk, in spite of, and partly because, of the weather conditions.  I was feeling quite tired by this point and looking forward to getting back to my car at Scales.  However, there was, to my suprise, one last section of rock to negotiate.  Just before the path crossed the stream of Scaley Beck, it droped down over some steep rocks which were saturated with the rain.  I droped down and crossed the Beck before climbing the smaller rock on the other side. This required some difficult scrambling, quite unexpected at this stage of the walk!  Having passed this section, I followed the path back to the small hamlet of Scales nestled under the slopes of Scales Fell. I arrived back at the car around 2.30 in the afternoon.  It had been a great walk.