Pavey Ark makes my favourites list for one main reason, and I imagine most people will guess what it is…
Jack’s Rake. There, I’ve said it.
Pavey Ark rises as a cliff above Stickle Tarn, and from the tarn at first glance appears impregnable. But it’s not. Jack’s Rake runs diagonally up from right to left across the face of the cliff and provides a way up, albeit not an easy one. First you have to head around the tarn and climb the scree on the lower slopes of the cliff to get to the start of the Rake. The Rake itself is then part rocky staircase and exposed ledge and gives just enough challenge in terms of finding your way up to be fun, but not so much as to represent serious danger. It’s a different sort of exposure, from Striding Edge for example. The Edge obviously is exposed on both sides, but there are options to avoid parts and many of the rocks along the crest are a reasonable width anyway. The Rake feels harder. Whilst exposed only on one side, and at times even that is protected by rocks between you and the fall to the tarn, the scramble itself requires more thought to find the right lines. And of course it is fundamentally an ascent whereas Striding Edge isn’t, leaving aside the final scramble on Helvellyn itself.
I climbed Pavey Ark via Jack’s Rake on 1 August 2010, a Sunday so there were plenty of people about. It was a slow walk up Stickle Gill because of the number of people about, but at the tarn most seemed to be either heading straight back down again or continuing onto Harrison Stickle. I looked across the tarn at the sheer face of Pavey Ark rising up from the water, reaffirming that I did really want to do it, and then worked my way around to the back of the tarn. I struggled up the initial scree to the start point.
I paused to take in the view of the tarn below, and must have appeared to be hesitating as the next thing I knew a bright yellow rescue helicopter was alongside. I sent it away, but I must have given them cause for concern as it came back a few minutes later, after I’d started the ascent. Clearly my scrambling technique also leaves a lot to be desired.
Another soloist caught me just as I started and I let him go ahead of me, as I knew I’d hold him up and so that I could benefit from seeing the lines he took, a tactic which had served me well the day I climbed to the very top of Helm Crag, especially with others behind me watching me too. It also meant I could take my time a bit more to really enjoy the ascent without someone breathing down my neck.
I reached the top and had lunch at the summit, taking in the views across Langdale and towards the Helvellyn range. After that I made my way around to Steel Fell via Harrison Stickle, Thunacar Knott and High Raise. I only increased my Wainwright count by 1 that day (Steel Fell), which I would normally consider a hopelessly inefficient use of precious hill time. But combining that bag with revisiting a previous “acquisition” by means of its most interesting and challenging route felt like a good use of the day, and is a tactic I’ve used since when picking off stragglers.
So Pavey Ark has an exciting way up, which is also integral to the best view of the fell from Stickle Tarn, making this yet another example of the mutually profitable relationship between fell and tarn that characterises so many of my favourites. The other sides of the fell aren’t nearly as remarkable, as they are much less pronounced – a feature of the Langdale Pikes in general. And my first encounter with Pavey Ark was from the back, so it was difficult at first to see what all the fuss was about. Like its neighbours, Pavey Ark is best seen from below to truly appreciate it.
If it’s a fell with only one really good side (but what a good side!), it’s also a fell that has come to symbolise a good day of walking for me – not once have I been on the fell or within sight of it and had a bad day. All have been memorable. Even my first encounter which ended with a wrong turn and the wrong tarn became memorable and, albeit in hindsight, a positive experience.
Of course, I’ve now tempted fate and having written this, my next visit will probably be a shocker!