The Scafells via Piers Gill & Lords Rake

15th June 2014

Ever since my walking career began Piers Gill has always been high on my agenda. I’ve been lucky enough to view Piers Gill which is a deep chasm that cuts through the eastern crags of Lingmell from almost every angle possible, yet until today I had never set foot on the infamous path that navigates the deep ravine. I can’t really come to any conclusion as to why I have left it so late into my career to tackle one of Lakelands finest ravines other than it was on my list & I just knew that one day I would get to it. It was well over a month ago that I decided that now was the time to conquer Piers Gill along with a direct ascent on Broad Crag Col after a brief encounter with the Corridor Route I would then head on to top out on Scafell Pike.

It wasn’t to end there as my dramatic walk would continue down to Mickledore then to go and & tackle Lord’s Rake where I would then make my last ascent of the day on Scafell via the West Wall Traverse, a bit of a tall order which required a boost of energy every now & again given the almost one hundred per cent humidity that made the walk feel that bit more brutal.

One more reason why I would find myself on Scafell Pike today was the remote chance of meeting up with Tim Oxburgh my walking partner who was partaking in the Scafell Trail Marathon which was an organised Fell Run which saw the runners start & finish back in Keswick, Tim noted that he would like to be on Scafell Pike by 11:00am although nothing had been set as the chances of both our paths crossing were as remote as finding a needle in a haystack.

It all started at Wasdale Head while under a blanket of thick fog.

 

Wainwright Guidebook Four

The Southern Fells

-The West Wall Traverse

The massif crags off Scafell are split asunder by the tremendous chasm of Deep Gill, which has two vertical pitches in its lower part that put the through route out of bounds for walkers, The upper half, however, although extensively stony, can be used by all and sundry without difficulty, and is linked with Lord’s Rake by a simple path across a grassy shelf.

This is the West Wall Traverse.

 

 

Overview
Ascent: 3,805 Feet – 1,160 Meters
Wainwrights: 2 Scafell Pike – Scafell
Weather: Dry. Hill Fog Throughout, Very High Humidity. Highs Of 19°C Lows Of 16°Cx
Parking: Village Green, Wasdale Head
Area: Southern
Miles: 6.8
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL6
Time Taken: 5 Hours 45 Minutes
Route: Wasdale Head – Burnthwaite – Moses Trod – Lingmell Beck – Piers Gill – Corridor Route – Broad Crag Col – Scafell Pike – Mickledore – Rakes Progress – Lord’s Rake – West Wall Traverse – Deep Gill – Symonds Knott – Scafell – Green How – Rakehead Crag – Bracken Close – Wasdale Head
 

Map and Photo Gallery

 
 

St Olaf’s Church, Wasdale Head 08:27am 16°C

I arrived in Wasdale under duress which was causing me to answer some questionable issues mainly because the previous nights forecast had suddenly changed & reported that a blanket of fog would greet me which was just what I got, my reason why I had to question myself was because I knew this & should have planned accordingly, but try & tell that to the butterflies doing loop the loop in my stomach right now, there was no point in me questioning my reason for being here, after all I had the chance to not make my exit at Junction 35 & I choose not too…there decision made.

Besides the weather the forecasters also said that the fog would lift come early morning leaving long spells of sunshine, and they’re never wrong are they…

Although it was painfully foggy as I drove along the Lake road towards Wasdale Head so much so I couldn’t see Wast Water not twenty feet away, it was here my enthusiasm & eagerness to carry out my intended plans spurred me on, lets face it, it was pointless in trying to battle it.

The car park was almost full – most of which was taken up by Three Peakers & their give away mini buses, by the looks of things they had ascended Scafell Pike through the early hours & by the time I arrived they were eating breakfast. I pulled my car on the opposite side of the Village Green & parked up close to Lingmell House. Despite bursting to get boot onto fell I was in no rush to kit up, time wasting neat little piles of gear onto the roof of the car before packing them into my pack, this I called ‘giving the fog time to lift time’

It didn’t help & no sooner was I underway first heading for the little church of St Olaf to waste a bit more time to study its grounds & take a wee wander around inside.


St Olaf’s Church, Wasdale Head.
The smallest church set against the deepest lake & the highest mountain in England. St Olaf’s Church was dedicated to St Olaf only as recently as 1977, before that it had no name. The Right Reverend Richard Garrard made a unilateral declaration on the Sunday nearest the Feast of St Olaf on 30th July 2000 that the church building was at least 1,000 years old, dating before 1000 AD

Vikings in Wasdale.

It is said that the timber roof beams in St Olaf’s came from Viking Ships.

I closed the large wooden door to St Olaf’s before spending a few moments to read the grave stones most of which bared the form of Great Gables Napes Needle, a testament to the pioneers & soldiers who lost there lives during the turn of the century on fells & in the Great War.


Looking back on St Olaf’s.
After my few sombre moments & admittedly more time wasting it was time to return to reality, shortly after taking this photo I catch up with two walkers who had just passed me with his wife ‘its meant lift in a couple of hours’ where you heading he asked, I reply with Piers Gill, he smirks & returns with ‘I’m meant to be on Great Gable!’ lets hope they’ve got it right I laugh, with that they heads on up the track passing through Burnthwaite Farm & on through the mist.

Crossing Gable Beck.
After passing through Burnthwaite Farm myself I soon crossed a very dry looking Gable Beck. I soon realised that here my path takes in a little ascent & with this the fog seemed to be getting thicker as views back into Wasdale Head seemed more patchy.

Morning Dew.
Despite it still being early morning the humidity was high & getting a little more uncomfortable once I left the main path more commonly known as Moses Trod. Here my path is generously wide but at times attention was given as it narrowed quite quickly over rock & boulder.

Silence.
 

Cloud through breaks along the Corridor Route.

I was almost euphoric when I saw that the fog was starting to lift once I got to the point where I crossed Lingmell Beck, here I finally had views across the Corridor Route & briefly onto Great End, The Band & Skew Gill, however my celebrations were short lived as the cloud quickly engulfed my surroundings which was still both brilliant & beautiful while it lasted.

Oh well…


Piers Gill from the start.
After crossing Lingmell Beck I picked up a narrow path (seen bottom left) that navigates the whole route through the Gill, here along with the ever increasing humidity the path also takes on a steep ascent until the crags are reached ahead where a little scrambling is going to be needed, but, all that is in a while yet.

Awe inspiring moments.
 

It’s best to not get too close to the edge.
Although the temptation was understandably irresistible.

Crossing one of many streams & gully’s that line the path.

It seemed as if I had no choice than to get accustomed to the heat & humidity that slowed my efforts a little, I think it’s fair to say that I did my fair bit of sweating while ascending & crossing the streams, it was here I took the decision to rather than use my own hydration which I was a little worried about running out of – was to use the natural water courses & take long sips from or in one situation, stick my head under.

Further up the Gill the temperature cooled going from one extreme to another where at times I could see my own breath & the vapour my sweat made as it left my body, it seemed as if mother nature was now working with me.


The scrambly bit.

Subconsciously I knew I had a scramble up ahead of me & yes I will admit I was a little conscious of it having not been here before, but my mind was laid to rest as I followed a procession of small cairns which lead me to the base of the crags that required the little rock climb.

I sensibly used the arrow as seen in the photo as my starting point then made my way right crossing good foot & hand holes never once feeling that I was out of my depth, once I was close to the top of the crags I realised that even though I let my walking poles ‘dangle’ from my wrist they seemed to be hampering my last efforts to reach the top, here, I paused to un-hook the poles which I then threw to the top of the crags only to witness the right one almost topple all the way back down again, but thankfully coming to rest just before it fell the long way down.

The scramble marks just over the half way mark of Piers Gill & the point where the ravine switches its natural course.


Eerie descents into nothing.
Of course ascending Piers Gill under better conditions than I had here today would make for some brilliant & somewhat scary views down into the ravine from which through the thick hill fog, all I can hear is the sound of the cascading water as it flows its course through the Gill.

 
 

Piers Gill from the Corridor Route.

After a quick check on my GPS I soon realised (although unseen) that I was now flanking Middleboot Knotts which meant that I was almost at the top of Piers Gill, a waterfall flowing into the ravine confirmed this when all of a sudden I found myself on the ever popular Corridor Route.

I clambered up the path to take a look back on my achievements only to see nothing but hill fog, but, it didn’t matter I had negotiated Piers Gill & although I hadn’t had the chance to take in all she has to offer I can now say that I will return sometime over the next few months to repeat my efforts hopefully, under better conditions.

I thought I’d earned myself a rest so I took five if only to see if the fog would clear slightly, from out of nowhere two fell runners run past the top of the Gill giving out a ‘how do’ as they pass.

I turn boot ninety degrees before heading for a direct ascent on Broad Crag Col where thankfully things where starting to get a little cooler.


Heading towards Broad Crag Col.
After my brief stop on the Corridor Route I pick up a grassy stone path & head through the fog towards the top of Broad Crag Col, for now I am thankful of the path which I follow until I reach the base of the Col where the path then rises steeply over loose scree & boulder.

One step up, three steps down.
After leaving the comforts of the grassy path behind I soon reached the base of Broad Crag Col where my path seemed to split into three, I studied all choices but came to the conclusion that if I stuck to the side of the crag I would stand a better chance in my ascent, thankfully my choice paid off even though the one steep up, three steps down still took on effect, at least this way my boots weren’t filling with loose scree.

Broad Crag Col.

It had started to rain by the time I reached the top of Broad Crag Col where I ummed & arred on whether to put my jacket on which was neatly tucked away in my pack. I hadn’t noticed that I was sitting down really until two fell runners took in the descent from Broad Crag & asked ‘you ok mate’ I quickly replied aye! then questioned myself on who made the decision to sit down because I don’t remember anything about it.

I think that’s old age creeping up!

From Broad Crag Col I felt redeemed, my legs felt fresh as I took in the last ascent onto Scafell Pike all in my stride, once the summit shoulder was crested I was met by a few more fell runners some of whom where running in just their shorts such the heat & humidity, I was almost compelled to give these men & woman a patronising pat on the back but I knew that just wouldn’t bode, instead they got the all-right, morning or how do, inside I could only look on with a bit of admiralty I guess.


Scafell Pike Trig Point seen with the check in Marshalls.
I arrived at the summit much the same time as two other walkers, one of whom seemed to think he was in a race with me, he left his mate behind who by the time he arrived was clutching both hips with both hands gasping for breath. I quietly found a place to sit where I de-shouldered pack & took a ham salad sandwich from my butty box and I watched the runners come in one by one, check in, then before I had chance to take another bite from my sandwich they were off again.

Scafell Pike summit & Shelter as the weather started to clear.

I soon picked up conversation with a Geordie couple (guy in blue jacket) briefly, we commented on how the weather seemed to be turning & our routes & so on. With each runner that now checked in more were behind arriving in groups of two or singular, for a few moments I realised the enormity of actually seeing Tim such the presence of all the runners now arriving at the summit.

It’s going to be one in a million I tell myself. With this I grab my camera & leave my pack behind as by the looks of things, there’s a brief break in the clouds forming.


Views quickly opened up over Broad Crag with glimpse of Ill Crag through the cloud.
 

Broad Crag & Broad Crag Col.

It was such a positive moment to witness the cloud break up so quickly and to see my ascent onto Broad Crag Col, the brief break up during my time at the summit gave a real uplift in my momentum & was just another highlight of the day.

I suppose I better return to the summit to collect my pack.


All good things come to an end.

In the time it took me to return to the summit the cloud had started to roll in again & things had started to return to the natural grey & white that I had been walking in for much of the duration. By the time I arrived back at the summit I collected my things & threw my pack onto my back, the cold sweat pressed through my mid-layer sending a slight shiver down my spine but as always, was quickly forgotten about.

I leave the summit behind & spy the large cairn where I would make a left turn before heading towards Mickledore, I had a strange sensation overcome me that I had been walking all morning knowingly that I wouldn’t see anyone only to burst into somebody else’s party…

As I arrive at the large cairn I hear a voice shout PAUL!! I know that voice so well, it’s Tim!

We are a few yards apart unwittingly I remove the camera from my chest in preparation for the man hug I am about to receive. Tim holds his hand aloft & we high five & carry out man hug number two, I can only ask as we chat the briefest of questions the main one being how did he feel running in this heat to which Tim replies, my aim was to arrive at 11:00 & I’m only twenty minutes late…that’s only three hours to run from Keswick to Scafell Pike in 21° heat in almost one hundred per cent humidity. There was no one more prouder of Tim than me that day.

Tim’ I’ll walk back to the summit with you, if only to capture your check in as Tim takes on a slight trot as I have to take in a slightly faster one.


I arrive to capture Tim checking in.
 

As the Marshall checks Tim’s first aid kit is in order, then sends him on his way.
 

And off he goes back to Keswick.
Well done that man.

En-route to Mickledore.
After saying my farewell to Tim I retrace my steps & head for the large cairns towards Mickledore, where I am greeted by yet another fine display.

Broad Stand from Mickledore.
I pick my way over the large boulders before reaching Mickledore, briefly a break in the clouds reveals Mickledore then Broad Stand, memories of which wont be forgotten very easily.

Mickledore.
 

Broad Stand from the Mickledore Stretcher Box.
 

Little Narrow Cove from Mickledore.
 

Pulpit Rock taken from my Mickledore descent.
I cross the Mickledore ridge to its highest point on the other side where I will start my descent onto the Rake’s Progress, there are three routes to choose from but it is said that the one on the far left of the ridge is best negotiated, but, don’t let this fool you as all three descents are incredibly loose & steep, using ones backside to descend here must not be ashamed of!

Rakes Progress.

Once down I give myself a good dusting down where I re-tie in my boots. Down below I spot groups of walkers who seem much closer than they actually are as their voices are carried along the walls of the steep sided crags. It is here I remember to look for the Memorial Cross that was left at the foot of Scafell Pinnacle after four climbers lost there lives here back in 1903

After four previous attempts to find the Memorial Cross, today I finally found it.


The 1903 Memorial Cross found at the foot of Scafell Pinnacle.
It is not known exactly what happened to the four experienced climbers, they were found roped together in a scree run far below Lord’s Rake three of whom were all ready deceased, the fourth member of the group died during the descent back to Wasdale Hotel.

 
 

Lord’s Rake.

After leaving the Memorial Cross behind I soon reached the base of Lord’s Rake which by now had a covering of mist which was slowly making its way down.

I wasted no time in making my ascent firstly by sticking to the left wall then moving to the right shortly after passing the large boulder in the photograph.

Progress was good despite at times my boots sinking into the tiny stone like pebbles that gave no grip whatsoever. Ascent by the right of the Rake has always proved to be much firmer offering good hand holes & places to stop if not only to get ones breath back.

I seemed to make my ascent much quicker than previous occasions where I seemed to wallow in the fact that the loose scree at times was holding me back. I felt that today’s account on Lord’s Rake was my quickest by far which made for great morale given what I had already behind me.

I soon reached the Chock Stone, only appearing as a faint outline through the mist, the Chock Stone looked menacing in these conditions & the less time spent under it the better.


Looking back down Lord’s Rake with the bottom now obscured by mist.
 

The Chock Stone, Lord’s Rake.
It was now time to make my exit from Lord’s Rake on to the West Wall Traverse, the Traverse can be found just beneath the Chock Stone to the left opening up after a short climb onto a grassy terrace.

The top of Lord’s Rake from the start of the West Wall Traverse.
In any normal conditions the Chock Stone would normally be seen from here.

The West Wall Traverse.
The West Wall Traverse starts of as a narrow track which in conditions as I had today is best kept too, the track lends itself to the steep sided crags never allowing any real feel of exposure. The Traverse soon reaches its end at Deep Gill.

Deep Gill.
The West Wall Traverse naturally forms its way into Deep Gill where vast crags occupy its flanks, this is Deep Gill & my time to turn right to make my exit.

Deep Gill ascent.

My exit via Deep Gill will be remembered for just how overpowering and intimidating the place leaves you feeling, but one of excitement too knowing that now you are within the mountain itself.

The ascent is wet & very loose, each hand hole had to be tested twice, the percentage of rock that I took a hold of only for it to dislodge without much effort was pretty high – so much care & attention was needed here.

All the while my heart was thumping to the tune of adrenalin!


From the top of Deep Gill looking back down.
 

The head of Deep Gill, sadly lacking in any views.

After topping out at the head of Deep Gill it was time for a much needed rest, I looked down at my boots which looked a little battle torn, as did the insides of my legs.

The mist was stagnant & had no movement to it at all, the air however had an ever so slight chill to it which cooled me down just nicely as I took in the stride towards Scafell with my walking poles both held in my right hand.


 
 

Scafell summit cairn.

I soon reached the summit of Scafell where for one moment I had the summit all to myself, behind me, a man & his wife together with their dog are approaching. I start to undo the laces on my right boot as It feels like I’ve still got half of the West Wall Traverse in there, I empty my boots accordingly making sure every last stone drops out.

You ok the guy asked? aye fine thank you, how about yourself? He explains that he & his wife are from Eskdale & are just out for a quiet walk, where’ve you come from? I explain as I get a blimey in return.

His wife ask did I want my picture taken at the summit as I replied nah it’s ok but thanks all the same, would you mind if you take our photo to which I reply of course not.

All the same, that dog just didn’t want to have its picture taken.

They say goodbye & make a straight pathless descent for Burnmoor Tarn (I would later meet back up with them & guide them onto the path) After the couple left I took two long gulps from my Camelbak feeling instantly refreshed with tight boots I start to make my own descent via Green How.

I am still well within the cloud just below the summit when it started to rain, this was just brief & not enough for me to unpack my jacket nor go for the camera case. The path is twisted & loose yet a series of stone cairns line my route for much of my descent until the stone path gave way for a more grassy descent, here I notice that the path splits in two, I am still in low cloud so I take my GPS from a side pocket situated in the waist strap of my pack, it seems the path to the right is a short cut via the top of Rakehead Crag which afterwards re-joins the main path.

I go with the short cut & my new grassy purchase.

Soon Wast Water is revealed through a wall of cloud that still lingered 80ft above its waterline, the light has faded from white to grey & at that point I didn’t see enough reason to reach for the camera. My descent becomes much steeper as I follow Rakehead Crag’s natural course all the way down to the Corpse Road where I kick my toes back into my boots, at the same time looking back up at the steepness of my descent through gritted teeth.

I am at the end of a route that started well over three years ago, my day has been marred by low cloud for much of its duration & my feet hurt like buggery, my nails bare the dust from the rakes I have scrambled & my forehead the sweat from the summits I have visited.


 
 


 

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