Scrambling in the Lake District
By Matt Cook
If you’ve been hill walking in the Lake District, or even just a passing guest driving through, you’ll appreciate the natural beauty of the area. Rolling hills, stunning rock formations and traditional Yorkshire towns, brimming with atmosphere.
ITV’s ‘Britain’s Favourite Walks – Top 100’, a list chosen by the public, features the Lakes heavily with five of the final ten walks.
The Old man of Coniston, Scafell Pike, Buttermere, Cat Bells & Helvellyn are all well-know routes, popular with walkers and climbers from around the world.
You need to be prepared (both gear-wise and psychologically) for rain and bad weather in the Lakes, however if you time your visit well, there are few UK locations which are more beautiful.
With the weather this summer being particularly good, my new wife Amy and myself paid the Lakes a visit in late August.
Introduction & Kit
We were doing a scrambling course through Adventure Peaks, an outdoor adventure tour operator and equipment retailer, based in Ambleside.
Arriving at the shop in the heart of town, we were introduced to Clive our instructor. As well as working on expeditions in Nepal, Clive liked nothing more than getting out into the Lakes and exploring his local area.
Once we’d signed all the relevant paperwork and gathered our helmets, harnesses and a load of different ropes; we headed 10 minutes out of town to our starting point in the Mickleden Valley.
Before we get too far, it’s worth noting some bits of kit which are important to make sure you have sorted in advance.
You’ll need some essentials to make the most of the day:
Trainers just won’t cut it. You need proper boots and they need to have been worn in. There really is nothing more important to your comfort and enjoyment on the day.
Walking boots have a defined edge to the tread, as opposed to trainers which are often curved. Boots therefore help when climbing, as well as by providing the proper support to your foot as you climb and descent.
- A comfortable hiking rucksack
You’ll need some food and enough water for the day. As well as a place to keep spare layers as you heat up and cool down through the day, your rucksack may also be called upon to carry some ropes!
Having a breathable back to your rucksack will be important to your comfort.
You need to have a means of storing water to keep you hydrated. Remember to leave the Lakes as you found it and take any rubbish home with you.
- Waterproof jacket
- Hiking trousers
You’ll need some comfortable walking trousers. Jeans will keep you cold if they get wet, so aren’t great for a long day in the mountains.
- Enough layers
Depending on how long you’re walking for, you’ll need enough gear to keep you warm, but not too much that it’s unnecessarily weighing you down.
- Your phone
Obvious really, but these days it’s both your camera and the most effective way to summon help in an emergency.
And there’s a few nice-to-have’s:
It depends on how long you’ll be away for but to back-up your phone, a portable charger is a good option.
Useful if you get caught out in the evening, allowing you to keep your hands free for climbing and stabilising.
- A medical kit
This would be listed under essential if you’re travelling without an experienced guide.
Day 1 – Jack’s Rake
Once kitted up, we headed up from the car park. As we progressed, Clive pointed out a range of routes up the hills which were suitable for exploring safely.
He explained that scrambling is a mix of advanced hiking and easy climbing. Your day is tailored to suit both your ambition and ability.
With just Amy and I in the group, Clive was going to test our ability on a few early trails, to get a better feel for our level of competence.
As we headed ‘off-piste’ to walk alongside the stream, we saw a group coming the other direction, canyoning their way down.
We all know that the lakes is great for outdoor activities, but it’s great to see the fun and fear shown on the faces of those jumping off into a deep natural plunge-pool.
Our initial climbs were over manageable hills and warmed us up nicely. The sun was out and the ground was dry. A perfect day in the Lakes.
As we progressed higher and approached more challenging sections, Clive explained some simple techniques for navigating more rocky areas.
This developed into sections which required a rope, moving more into the sphere of climbing. Clive competently setting the ropes and showing how graceful climbing can be, when you’ve been doing it a long time.
This soon into the day, this ascent felt like a real challenge, but Clive clearly felt we were capable, which was encouraging.
Scrambling routes are graded from 1 to 3. Grade 3 scrambles often appear in climbing guides as ‘Moderately’ graded routes (the easiest climbing grade).
After the morning’s fun, Clive was confident enough in our ability to suggest that we try a grade 3 route in the afternoon. Amy had only landed in from a flight the day before (she is Cabin Crew for Virgin), so the decision was hers. And off we went.
The route in question is known as Jack’s Rake up a hill called Pavey Ark.
Jack’s Rake is a route which is graded 1-2 for climbing, and follows a diagonal slit on Pavey Ark’s craggy south-eastern face. The natural drain is renowned for being wet, but thankfully it was the perfect day for the ascent.
The name ‘rake’ refers to a path across major rocks, originally used by climbers for access to climbs, but which can also be used by walkers. An apt description.
A helmet is required to protect you from dislodged stones. We started climbing, and just looked forward.
As we climbed, Amy and I were roped together. As I progress to a suitable point identified by Clive, the rope was levered around a secure rock or tree, allowing me to take the slack as Amy climbed.
It’s a simple technique, but it provides security as you climb.
At one point, we traversed a sheer rocky slope. We were roped in using techniques many of you will recognise from days out at Go Ape. Always ensuring that you have at least one carabiner connected at any one time.
This section felt very exposed and provided a very different sensation to what we’d experienced so far on the day.
The climb was rewarding and we both enjoyed the challenge immensely. Knowing that you can tackle days out in the mountains is a great skill to have, and the learning is a lot of fun.
We felt it was a great climb, and a perfect introduction to scrambling.
The descent itself works your knees hard, and we still had a full day of climbing to come. We slept well that night in a local B&B.
Alfred Wainwright wrote of Jack’s Rake:
Day 2 – Pinnacle Ridge
We stayed locally in town overnight, and met Clive at the office the next morning.
We headed to the Helvellyn range for the start of our 2nd day’s adventure, with the target being Pinnace Ridge, a challenging ascent of the St Sunday Crag.
The best-known of Lakeland wild scrambles, the ridge offers the feel of an Alpine crest and is popular with climbers for it’s photogenic appearance.
Unfortunately, the weather had changed for the worst somewhat, so we were in for a colder and wetter day. To be honest, it was still warm enough in the lower areas, but needed additional layers in more exposed areas.
We kitted up in our climbing equipment and started on the walk up to the ridge.
We stopped en-route at a small rock face to practise our abseiling techniques. Presumably to check we were both able to manage such a descent should we need to later in the day.
After the walk up the grassy banks, and traversing some small boulders, we reached the base of Pinnacle Ridge.
The route itself involves climbing over the ridge of rock. A unique experience.
You need a good head for heights, although the climb itself is manageable. That being said, it’s as much of a mental challenge as it is physical.
The climb again required Amy and I to be roped together to provide the support for one-another, with a secure rock used to provide leverage.
However, on more than one occasion when Amy was out of sight and I had the rope tort, it would transpire that I only had the rope tight to the rock itself, without providing Amy with any support.
You learn as you progress, the need to regularly check that the rope is feeding through, and that your partner is secure.
At one point we reach the climb shown below. To be honest, with the rock being damp from the low-hanging cloud, this proved to be quite a challenge.
It was without doubt the hardest part of the climb, and highlighted the need for us to get more comfortable climbing in natural environments.
I am used to climbing indoors, however the difference when climbing outdoors on a wet day is marked. I, myself, felt a lack of confidence or trust in my boots not slipping on the rock, when solely relying on the outside edge of my boot to support my weight.
Confidence in similar situations would come with more time spent in outdoor environments confronting similar challenges.
Pinnacle Ridge involves a mix of climbs and descents, so it is a great location to challenge your ability.
All told, the area is spectacular with the large rock formation of the ridge itself proving especially photogenic.
Once we had completed the climb, we started the long descent back to the car.
It had been a great weekend.
We headed to a local pub to enjoy a celebratory beer with Clive before our long drive home.
The plan from here was to drop Amy at the ferry post to go across to see her folks in the Isle of Man. Unfortunately, the port wasn’t due to re-open until 10pm, so we had quite a wait before I could even start my drive home to the South Coast.
It was a tiring weekend, but well worth the effort. Adventures usually are, and the Lakes didn’t disappoint!
We’d definitely recommend Adventure Peaks, and Clive. We both had an unforgettable time.