Jack's Rake - A Grade One Scramble?

Q. Last summer we decided to take our three daughters, age 10,12 and 14, up The Langdales.

These are Wiltshire lasses, less experienced than many; and we wanted to find something challenging but with little danger of death.

Looking through a certain outdoor magazine's walk guides, we read that Jack's Rake was a perfect scramble for a beginner, and that we should not be put off by it's apparent difficulty because it was, (to paraphrase) after a difficult start, easy peasy.

The Rake began with a scree. OK, they said it would be a difficult start.

We carried on.

What followed was (as promised) a clearly defined route running diagonally up Pavey Ark. However, this 'beginners' route had places where our girls could not get up without help as anyone under 5ft tall could not reach the footholds; places where a slip could send one plunging vertically down a cliff face (we quite literally crossed the path of some rope climbers half way up) and the scramble could not be back-climbed, being popular and far too narrow for passing.

To be fair, choss was practically zero.

What I want to know is, who decides on the gradings, and can I sue the magazine for the emotional distress of putting my three daughters' lives in peril? (only kidding, but their info was definitely misleading!).

Janet Georgiou, Wootton Bassett

A. Ive taken my children (7 and 8 at this moment) up edges, they have crossed off Striding, Swirral, Sharp, Jacks Rake and the current pinnacle Cam Crag (roped). The latter was done with a group only last month. Like most things we started with simple walking, then did the major peaks "normally" with an introduction to "fun stuff" going up mickeldore and fox tarn to ScaFell. That piqued their interest so we did striding and swirral (0.5 grade), since they didn't mind the heights and didn't mind the exposure it was Sharp Edge and Jacks Rake next. Last month we got a chance to join in a climbing club doing Cam Crag (roped) which was excellent. Is Jacks rake a grade 1 scramble? Yes and no. The same as Sharp edge or Striding. For a first scramble striding seems exhilarating, after doing Jacks we revisited helvellyn at easter and found striding/swirral to be easy. Halls fell is also a grade 1 I believe and I found that to be damn right dangerous due to the slightly damp greasy shale (the kids are more lightweight than their portly father and had no such issue). Long story short, it depends on the person, their tolerance of exposure and fear plus the route taken.

Mark Williams, Carlisle

A. The original poster, I do feel sorry that you had a tough day out. I can only assume that you are referring to Trail magazine. This is aimed primarily at experienced mountaineer types suggesting routes that do include some scrambles of various grades. This is the case with this route ie it is a grade one scramble, grades run one to four four being equivalent to a vdiff rock climb in seriousness and difficulty technically. Scrambling in any form is effectively easy grade UN roped rock climbing however on grades 2 and above or even 1 in really poor conditions sometimes ropes are used to safeguard on steep ground. Can I suggest u either a, follow routes from country walking or b, use a guide to gain experience on this type of route to gain the relevant experience it is fun rather than frightening with the correct training

Sam Leake, Barnsley

A. I decided to climb Jack's Rake today. It was my first grade 1 scramble and I was on my own. I must be honest and explain that I had two moments when I froze completely. A cup of tea and some logical thought did the trick but it was quite unsettling. I had researched the route thoroughly and have been 'walking' to the top of mountains for twenty years so felt that I had the skills to get to the top. The problem with fear is that it doesn't pay any regard to logic and I remember having to force myself to think clearly. I am glad that I did so as I reached the top and I have never tasted a finer fig roll nor smoked a cigarette with such relish. Everybody is entitled to that feeling, children adults and the elderly. Experience and attitude are important, not age. I shall definitely attempt it again. I suspect it is possible to learn how to cope with this fear with practise. I only wish that I had had a parent who had provided this calculated risk for me when I was younger. Well done to those parents in this forum. Without conquering our fears we do not improve as human beings. Fig rolls would taste horrid if you had to first eat through a wrapping of cotton wool.

Edward Calvert, Leyburn

A. There's a lot of arrogance in some of these replies.

Should a child be on a Grade 1 scramble? Surely the answer depends on the child, I know kids who are FAR superior climbers to many adults; if anything their adult guide is more of a liability than they are.

I grew up climbing stuff: trees, buildings, lamp posts, etc, then hills and mountains. I'm not immortal and have a healthy sense of fear that tells me when I am about to do something stupid, nor am I arrogant - I know that I am a mere fly on a mountain, something inconsequential. That's part of the allure of the hills.

There are many kids I would take into the mountains and happily guide them up a Grade 1 with hardly a second thought. There are less adults I know that I would feel the same about.

Can I just address this "idiot" thing as it really bothers me. The couple I met 800M up Ben Nevis dressed in trainers, her in leggings, him in jeans... in December. Were they idiots? Only to someone puffed up with their own sense of self importance. These 2 were fit young people and they turned back the moment they hit the snowline: i.e. they had enough sense to know their limits. I spoke at length to them, this was their first big hill. I asked what they would have done had cloud descended and they replied that this was what they feared the most. They kept a keen eye open for any cloud and would have immediately back off down the (very clear) tourist path at the first sign of it.

Yes, they were in a bit of danger, at 800M cloud can descend fast, and if you dwell on that point and that point alone, then you could consider them a bit daft. But they'd driven up from London and, statistically had a massively higher risk of dying on the drive there / home than anything that mountain threw at them that day.

But nobody dwells on this.

How many people died that day driving to work? How many died on the mountains ("idiots" included)?

Even MRT can fall foul of this kind of arrogance; I've been called an "idiot" a few times by bigots (a few times perhaps justifiably, I grant). MRT do not own the hills, they don't know all of the people in the hills and cannot judge from a distance. I took the challenge of doing Striding Edge during a gale, this was entirely at my own risk, but I was confident that I could do it (and with over 20 years of ridge walking / scrambling and climbing behind me, I have a sense of my own limitations / risk). Whilst on there I became aware of an MRT group down near the tarn, they were screaming at me and between the gusts I could make out the odd word (I think). I very nearly abseiled down the ridge just so that I could ask each one of them about their experience and skills so that we could compare and get an actual measure from which to gauge their skills against my own.

I always solo, I spend (on average) 2 days per week, every week, in the hills, in all conditions, all seasons. My bet is that I have likely been through worse conditions than most from big winds on big climbs to total whiteouts on ridges and I can only think of two occasions where I felt anything close to being out of my depth. Could each one of the MRT team screaming at me say the same?

I've sat in pubs listening to "experts" talking total codsh*t, each tale inflating their ego more than the last. Then you meet a freeclimber the likes of Alex Honnold or Leo Houlding and they speak with humility and humanity.

Would MRT scream obscenities at these guys if they were up on Striding Edge? I'm not 1,000th as good as either of them, but how did these MRT guys know this?

MRT, you do a good job, I am grateful that you are there for people. I have never been close to calling you and hope that I never am. I generally have a massive amount of respect for you and your work, I know that many of you come from a solid background and have experience of the various mountain ranges around the world that make the British hills look puny. I know and respect a few of you personally. But please can we get a sense of perspective of risk, can we also remember that the hills are for all and that hillwalking / scrambling, climbing, mountaineering, etc are actually relatively safe activities with relatively few fatalities when compared to many other sports and activities?

More people will die driving to the hills than will die in the hills.

The Fly, Top Of The World

A. I think the problem is peoples understanding of 'Scrambling'. I've had a quick look at my Scrambling books and every one has a definition of scrambling, explanation of the grading, notes on requirements for equipment/ability and warning of the dangers. It is a bit like trying an 'Easy' climb; if you are a climber it my be easy but for a none climber it will be a terrifying, death defying experience. People need to understand what scrambling is, the grading is on the technical difficulties, a grade one scramble can still have huge exposure and a fall will be fatal e.g. Crib Goch

Neiles, Hull

A. Jacks Rake is a great scramble with exposed parts just like most scrambles. As for who should be on it, this should be decided depending on experience and ability. I have taken my 8 and 10 year old up this in fairly dodgy weather conditions, but both of them are experienced and excellent climbers who have spent many hours on rock and in the mountains. They managed every part of the scramble without help and had a great day, however I would be unwilling to take children or adults without their ability and experience.

A. I have done it many times on my own and leading groups. It is more interesting than Striding Edge and certainly more committing. When properly supervised it is fine. The exposed bits are easier (note the 'ier' not 'y'). However a slip could still cause problems. As for taking children up - it depends on the children. I was taken up far more exposed and demanding routes by I was 8 but then I was quite used to it and my dad knew what he was doing. I have never had a problem with a child (14+) on the Rake. The adults tend to be more scared. Of course that respect for the dangers is healthy and you have to be careful children don't get too cocky...

Alasdair Shaw, Wellington

A. I have done Jacks Rake 3 times, each time in similar dry and good conditions. The more technical parts of the route are in the perhaps less exposed feeling section but a fall from any point on this rake has potentially serious consequences. Towards the top the obvious exposure to the drop is greater. This is a very committing scramble and reversal is not an easy option. What people need to remember in Mountaineering and Hill Walking is that there is a risk of severe injury or death. That risk is present for the experienced and non experienced and can only be managed / reduced but never removed. A grade is only a guide and prior research is important as is flexibility in your plans and being prepared to give it a miss if it doesn't feel right on the day (even if you have driven several hundred miles to get to the route).

John Steven, Preston

A. I am regular walker in the lake district and have nearly completed all the Wainrights [Wainwrights]. My advice is to never under estimate most of the rakes in the lakes, especially when taking children. There have been quite a few deaths recently on Jacks Rake of inexperienced walkers. I find that sometimes magazine articles are written by extremely macho blokes who underestimate the difficulty for ordinary or younger walkers. Using maps I have been able to challenge my own daughter and find magical places without the worry of putting her life in peril.

Angela Nagorski, Morecambe

A. I have never done Jack's Rake, but i have climbed in the Lakes on occasion. It seems foolish to suggest outright that it's fine taking children up. If you are a parent taking children then you had better make sure you have the correct experience; also make sure you have a rope and the ability to bring your kids along safely should they feel they need it. Kids who can skip around 5a roped on the climbing wall may react differently when they are faced with serious exposure for the first time unroped - it's a completely different ball game mentally, and it is pure selfishness not to be properly prepared for them.

Peter Woodey, London

A. I climbed it for the third time last week. Waited for a couple of dry days, did Helvellyn by the Edges and Sharp Edge as a warm-up and then set off. Sent my nine year old boy up a couple of moves ahead of me and he breezed it. The hardest bit for him was having to be patient and wait for his old man. He's not a particularly seasoned walker, he just loves a bit of rock. I gave him a couple of "aim left" and "step on that and straighten your leg" type nuggets of advice, otherwise he pretty much led me up. It's up to the individual to determine what's do-able and what isn't, based on their experience, ability, nerve and - very importantly - the conditions at the time. Would I have gone up if water was running down to meet me? Nope. I think it's pretty obvious when you stand at the bottom of it that the Rake is emphatically *not* a "hard walk". It's an "easy rock climb" in an exposed place. It crosses a massive cliff, for heaven's sake! Anyone who gets half way up and is "surprised" by the nature of it is - at least temporarily - a halfwit.

David Galbraith, Towcester

A. It depends on the children, and on the adults. It is certainly no place for inexperienced adults to take children, or perhaps even to go without them. Jacks Rake may be "only" a Grade 1 scramble (and I believe the grading is correct) but it is not a good choice for your first scramble, being difficult to escape from and where a fall could be fatal. However if you are experienced, and have the knowledge and equipment to safeguard them, and if the children are adventurous and active then it would make a wonderful expedition. It is essential to bear in mind that scrambling is not hard hill walking, it's easy rock climbing, and more dangerous because it's usually done unroped.

Howard Jones, Macclesfield

A. These two photos sent in by Christine Shepherd feature Jack's Rake - see Jack's Rake and Pavey Ark from Harrison Stickle and one featuring Christine herself half-way up Jack's Rake with Stickle Tarn below.

Hope this helps . . .

Mike (editor)

A. I have done Jacks Rake many times and think its probably a bit harder than a grade 1 scramble. Difficulty is really subjective as what one person finds hard another will find quite straightforward. As for saying it's not for children - that's stupid. As one guy says his children ascended safely on a rope and I saw two very young girls once obviously with a sensible and experience father taking them up calmly on a rope. I am 5' tall and find the holds big and easy and the rocks don't seem too slippy in rain. The top part is very exposed where a slip would probably be fatal.

Heidi, Windermere

A. Jacks Rake was my first ever scramble, picked because it was listed as grade one.

We made it to the top but I bricked myself! Was very nervous because, yes there are some bits where if you slip, you are in for a very long fall indeed! Since doing it I have done other grade one scrambles and they really do vary in difficulty. Saying that - Jacks Rake is a firm favorite of mine, I have been back since (bricked it again!) and will return again.

If you are a beginner I would recommend something like Halls Fell Ridge on Blencathra as a good starting point (see walk c170 Blencathra from Threlkeld) - it is easier to evacuate from if you come to a point and realise you do not want to progress further (where as Jacks Rake is a bit more one way!) and Halls Fell Ridge is a bit less severe in my opinion.

Remember if you feel panicky or stuck, just take a break and a second to look at the rock and decide where the best foot and hand holds are - also look for worn or polished parts of the rock, this acts as a good indicator of where many others have walked before you and can help to find the best foot and hand placement. Have fun!

Scrambler Fran, Newcastle

A. Hi Everyone,

I've been up Jack's Rake twice now, the first time with two others who I was leading up there, and I felt pretty safe the whole time and loved it. The second was a year later and by myself and was terrified. I can only look back and think I took quite a few alternative routes up it on the second attempt - there are some accounts in the first 10-15 google hits of Jack's Rake of experiences of slip and die moments (in dry conditions), and a reference in one of the biggest youtube hits, guy in jeans, - but most people who's been up before scoff at this idea. However when I chose to go up the second time, there genuinely were terrifying slip and die moments, no two ways about it, and no option to go back down at these points. I'm never doing it again after this experience.

So in terms of children going up, I'd say it depends which route you take - I'm annoyed with myself that maybe I missed the correct route and for whatever reason felt I needed to go out to faces that hung above sheer drops because they were the only way, and from reading other accounts I'm not the first to do this.

So as advice, I'd say if at first you think the route ahead is not passable, and this forces you to the left to a more exposed route, look more carefully and see if you can make it work. Also, for those of you who say, oh it's a classic grade 1 straight forward scramble, just think back to your first time on it and whether you were led up there or picked your own route, because that changes things a lot.

Iain Smith, Cambridge

A. I have just come back from a weekend away in the Lakes with some pals. We did Go Ape in the morning and then we climbed Pavey Ark [Langdale Pikes] in the afternoon. Out of seven of us on the trip three of us decided to walk up Pavey Ark via Jack's Rake (me being one) and the other four walked the [relatively] safer way to the top [Walk route map c281 The Langdale Pikes via North Rake from The New Dungeon Ghyll, Great Langdale].

I knew that the climb was going to be challenging but I had no idea quite how challenging it was.

We were about half way up when the most experienced climber had difficulty in negotiating around a rock. I was at the bottom of the of the three and was convinced that he was going to fall and and knock me off the ledge. Fortunately he didn't and we completed the climb but I would never have done Jack's Rake had I known the risks.

Quite simply one slip of the foot and you would have fallen to your death. I have never feared for my life so much before and, with three young children and wife, I realise how foolish and selfish I was to put myself in that situation.

Yes, the actual climbing wasn't the most challenging it was the fact that you were constantly facing the fear of falling and it's virtually impossible to climb down unless you have the right equipment. For taking children up, i would say that its absolute madness.

As parents you protect your children from harm. Taking them up Jack's Rake is putting them in harms way.

Gareth Davies, Leeds

A. There really needs to be some kind of warning with magazine articles, which all too often assume a certain level of experience. Thing is a scramble like Jack's Rake is mountaineering and there IS danger of serious injury/death. It isn't a climbing frame in a play ground and is no place for an inexperienced adult to be leading inexperienced children. This should have been known by the parent before hand. If one of the children had fallen, the parent would be to blame..not the scramble or magazine or Jack. Indeed many have fallen from such scrambles. Recently a five yr old from Crib Goch for eg. A five yr old! These places are dangerous and should only be attempted by those with previous knowledge and a certain skill level. Do not take children up these places unless sufficient experience and knowledge has been attained. Treat with respect...then enjoy.

John H, Leeds

A. This is technically not a hard scramble, but i would consider it to be throwing someone inexperienced in this area at the deep (or high) end.

B Brady, Cumbria.

A. So if you can't take children on a grade 1 scramble, where does that leave them with climbing? My 12 year old son is capable of doing most severes (except the ones that need a long reach!) and is starting to lead Diffs. He's even done a couple of V.diffs with pre-placed runners. So, what I'm hearing is that "children" mustn't go on scrambles but, presumably, as soon as they are 18 and legally an adult, it will be OK!!!??? This is nothing whatsoever to do with age per-se and all about experience and ability. I remember seeing two guys starting off along Crib-Goch at about 15:30, in the winter. They had one pair of crampons and one ice axe between them. They shouldn't have been there and I'm guessing the helicopter I saw a bit later on was to air lift either them or their bodies off!!! Now THAT is stupid and irresponsible but taking a 12 year old on a scramble or climb that is reasonably within their ability is not IMHO stupid or mad!

Neil Fuller, West Horsley

A. Hi. in my opinion Jacks rake is a route that needs to be taken very seriously, having completed the route several times in different weather conditions. Through summer & even in wet conditions it can seem quite a mild scramble. However I recently attempted to climb this route in winter conditions, the whole route was covered in snow & ice. On this occasion we turned back just over half way up. In these conditions the route was a completely different animal to the one tackled on previous occasions. We where well equipped & experienced but every day is different on the fells & this is one route where weather conditions can make a huge difference. Have Fun!

M Tickle, Barrow_in Furness

A. Without any shadow of a doubt, Jacks Rake IS a scramble but to say children shouldn't be "allowed" on a scramble such as this is molly coddling! Both my children climbed Jack Rake when they were 8 and 10. They have also been over Crib Goch (The elder, now 12 has also done the full Snowdon Horseshoes in winter conditions!). However, this is because they have been walking in the mountains since an early age. They are both well kitted out and I feel both are more than capable of doing relativley easy scrambles such as Jakes Rake [Jack's Rake]. So please don't make statements akin to banning children from adventurous activities. Rather, teach your children mountain craft, introduce them slowly, teach them to recognise and deal with danger. We, as adults are in danger of bringing up a generation of children who, once they break away from the apron strings, won't recognise a dangerous situation until it's too late. Rant over - Anyone want a used soapbox!?

Neil Fuller, West Horsley, Surrey

A. I think the hint is in the word "scramble" NOT a "walk" or "hike" A simple wiki search will give you the definition. Year after year the Cumbrian emergency services are burdened with the task of rescuing poorly equipped and inexperienced walkers attempting routes which are clearly beyond their ability. Taking a 10 year old up Jacks Rake is bloody wreckless. Routes like this are for experienced individuals with knowledge of the fells, not tourists with ideas above their stations.

Disgruntled Cumbrian

A. It is a grade one scramble when dry. The harder bits in the gully can all be bypassed by scrambling along the edge. The only part that requires any climbing skills at all is at the very end. I took my 11 and 8 year old sons up the rake last week (roped, I hasten to add) and neither had any trouble when alternating between the gully and the edge. Both thoroughly enjoyed it although my wife (watching from stickle tarn) wasn't so keen.

Jon Maskill, Barnsley

A. I would definitely say Jack's Rake is not a place for children or inexperienced scramblers and not for anybody without a head for heights. I have only been up once. This was in 1973 on a showery day. The majority of the scramble was OK for my average ability, but the worst point was just past the open section. This is where a large left-footed step is necessary - I am 5 foot 9 inches and found it hard (also I am extremely right-footed and my natural move is to my right side), so a child or small person with short steps would have problems. My rucksack swung round and was threatening to pull me back down the mountain, but the next person behind me was able to push it back into place, for which I was very grateful. I won't be doing the Rake again, the alternate route to the left of Pavey Ark is very pleasant anyway.

David Dawber, Lytham St Annes

A. I just did Jack's Rake a couple of days ago. I have to say that it is a typical Grade 1 scramble. The guidebooks [that I have seen] are correct! It is exposed in places, but not dangerously so! We passed climbers who were down climbing... so it is wide enough! As for taking children on any grade 1 scramble... you must be mad! The guidebook I had specifically advises against it! I would only feel comfortable on a route like this with people of similar abilities to my own. There are plenty of footpaths that I walked quite happily with my parents when I was about 10!

Jim Mclean

A. It is of course impossible to have a universal grading system that suits all - and we are continually perplexed by publications that grade walks as 'easy' 'medium' or 'hard' since this is subjective.

go4awalk.com uses a 9 point grading system based on the length of the walk and the amount of ascent (and descent) encountered. See Grades for more details.

All our walks follow established footpaths unless otherwise stated within the route text.

Where a tricky section is encountered - such as Jack's Rake, Striding Edge or Sharp Edge - reference is made to this on the walk guide itself so you can decide for yourself whether this is for you or not.

For example, our walk that includes Jack's Rake ( c225 The Langdale Pikes via Jack's Rake from The New Dungeon Ghyll, Great Langdale ) includes the following statement:

"Note: Jack's Rake is more a scramble than a walk and should not be underestimated. Even in dry weather it can be damp and slippery. The 1st 70m are the hardest though there are plenty of handholds. Whilst the climbing further up is easier it does feel more exposed. In thick weather Jack's Rake is extremely hazardous and should not be attempted."

Hope this helps

Mike (Editor)

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