Part 1: The Scafells via Piers Gill and West Wall Traverse
by houdi » Tue Sep 28, 2010 7:54 pm
Wainwrights included on this walk: Scafell, Scafell Pike
Hewitts included on this walk: Scafell, Scafell Pike
Date walked: 16/09/2010
Time taken: 6Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Let me start by saying that this route is easily the most impressive way to tackle the Scafells. This would be my fifth time on the Pike (my second on Scafell) and I have approached it from Langdale, Borrowdale (twice), and Eskdale previously. The Corridor Route is exceptional, with stunning views of the best scenery Wasdale has to offer, but only on this alternative route do you really get to appreciate the size of Piers Gill. I’ve viewed it from the CR but this is the best way to get a decent impression of its true depth and impregnability by standing on the edge and looking down into it at its deepest point.
The weather at the start of the week was appalling. One of the barmen at the Wasdale Head Inn said Monday was the worst day he’d seen in the valley during his five years there. Of course, it’s not called Ritson’s Bar for nothing and he might well have been exaggerating like his predecessor, but someone else reported the lake was up over the road at one point so it must have been pretty bad. My good mate Stu was in the Lakes all week, starting off in Ambleside before moving over to Wasdale where I arranged to meet him on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, Wednesday began pretty much like Monday with heavy rain and winds gusting up to 70mph. They closed Wrynose very early on. Stu had to turn back and drive all the way round the coast. I came in to Eskdale via Ulpha and missed all the commotion.
Stu was staying at the Wasdale Youth Hostel, a mightily impressive converted nineteenth century manor house. I was tempted myself until I thought of Stu’s rigidly boring lectures on real ale and his days with the Forestry Commission so I stayed at the Strands Hotel in Nether Wasdale instead. One of my all-time better decisions.
Thursday dawned bright and cheerful with all the tops clear apart from a slight wisp or two on Gable and, more importantly, the wind had dropped considerably. A number of Herdwicks blocked the road approaching Wast Water with no obvious intention of moving. I opened the car window and shouted ‘mint sauce’ at them, but they simply gazed back with a blank expression. No sense of humour these Herdwicks.
We were taking the Old Valley Route (Great End 7 in Wainwright’s Southern Fells) beside Lingmell Beck, followed by his Scafell Pike 14 route alongside Piers Gill. We did a rekkie the previous afternoon to make sure it was possible to cross the streams which were all heavily in spate. It was quite tricky but not impossible. Fortunately, there had been no rain overnight and, come Thursday, the water levels had dropped sufficiently to allow easy passage across the various water courses. From Wasdale Head you follow the main Sty Head route and then the valley path veers off to the left after the footbridge and just as the main route starts to rise up towards Gable screes. It follows Lingmell Beck for a while, past Wainwright’s ‘beautiful watersmeet’, and then crosses over Spouthead Gill. A flat boulder with a large arrow marker shows the way here, although it’s not needed as the path on the other side is easy to spot where it climbs up the banking. There is a good clear path all the way and, after crossing another stream coming out of Greta Gill, we were rewarded with our first close-up view of Piers Gill, staring straight into the mouth of it. It’s awesome, akin to a miniature version of Cheddar Gorge. Having seen it many times, I had no appreciation of the depth of the thing. It has to be well over 100 feet deep. At this time of year there was lots of water cascading out of it and heading down to join Lingmell Beck.
Wainwright mentions an easy scramble over rocks half way up this first part of the Gill, but it’s best to add a note of caution here. The path may take a slightly different direction now from his day. It veers away from the Gill to a point much nearer the centre of Criscliffe Knotts than his sketch seems to indicate and the scrambling is quite full-on over some relatively tricky pitches for those who are expecting a straightforward hop over a few rocks. And the rock was still very wet after all the rain. Perhaps the going is easier if you leave the path and approach it from nearer the edge of the Gill. I do know that a couple, who were following us, stopped when they saw us scrambling up. We never saw them again, so it’s possible they turned back or found a different way up onto the Corridor Route.
After the scramble we went across to look down into Piers Gill at a point just above the dogleg. It doesn’t do to get too close as it is a serious drop down into the depths of the gorge. The waterfalls were pretty impressive though.
After this it’s an easy path following process to meet the Corridor Route where it passes over the much shallower head of the Gill. We dismissed the scree of Broad Crag Col and carried on following the cairn markers up to join the motorway Brown Tongue route at Lingmell Col. From there it’s a straightforward ascent over the boulder wasteland to the humungous summit cairn– and a clear summit at that! My fifth time on the Pike and four clear summits. This was Stu’s first time in Wasdale and he was pretty impressed so far.
It was still only eleven o’clock and there were a few people up there but it wasn’t crowded. It was very windy though and we only hung around long enough for Stu to admire the views, take a few photos on his ancient Box Brownie, and then we were off towards our second objective of Scafell.
The most ridiculous incident of the day occurred as we crossed the boulder-strewn plateau towards Mickledore. We passed some people heading in the opposite direction. One of them was a young bloke in his late twenties, wearing shorts (nothing wrong with that as I frequently remove the lower legs of my Craghoppers when walking) and – get this – open-toed sandals and woolly socks! I looked around at the jumbled mass of fifty trillion boulders on top of the Pike and shook my head in amazement. This person should never have been allowed out of the house, never mind let loose on Scafell Pike. Stu discovered later that he was bunked down in the Wasdale Hostel and was, in fact, Dutch. Well, I’m sorry all you good people from the Netherlands, but this person was not a particularly suitable ambassador for your country. I can well imagine how the conversation might have went if I’d have been staying in the hostel. ‘So it’s five broken toes and both sandals completely trashed, eh Johan? Far be it from me to offer advice, but the next time you go fell-walking you might want to try wearing a pair of clogs’.
There are a limited number of reasonable options for reaching Scafell summit from the Pike. The Fox’s Puddle (come on, it’s hardly a real tarn, is it?) route does not appeal to me whatsoever. I’ve descended this way and the thought of all that scree does not endear it to me as an ascent option. And, for the life of me, I could never understand why Lord’s Rake ever became popular in the first place. Okay, it has some novelty value, but to struggle up and down several steep pitches of scree for virtually no height gain seems a ridiculous waste of time and effort. The problem with Lord’s Rake is that it goes across the face of Scafell rather than upwards, meaning that when you finally exit the rake you still have a considerable way to go up the latter reaches of the Green How path in order to gain the summit. This, however, does not apply to the third and best option…… the West Wall Traverse.
Wainwright dedicates a special page to the ‘West Wall Traverse’ and with good reason. This route, which combines the first pitch of Lord’s Rake with a journey inside the mountain’s pinnacles and buttresses, is quite simply the best walker’s route (albeit with a limited amount of scrambling) to Scafell summit bar none.
I had a good look at Broad Stand on the way across Mickledore and, although it didn’t look very difficult other than the infamous ‘crux’ first pitch from Fatman’s Agony, I couldn’t figure out what possessed that drugged-crazed Hippy poet, Coleridge to descend here at night in a thunderstorm. If that’s what Opium does for you then I definitely won’t be buying the wife that particular perfume for Christmas.
Once you hit Mickledore it’s an easy descent off to the right providing you stay as close to the rock wall as possible to avoid the scree chute descent. There is a narrow switchback path so stick to it and you will end up right at the entrance to Lord’s Rake and thus avoiding the horrendous climb up the huge pile of scree which tumbles out of the mouth of the rake into Hollow Stones.
I guess any ascent of Lord’s Rake’s first pitch is a matter of individual conscience. Thankfully, I don’t have one. It was declared out of bounds for a while when the large boulder at the top first detached itself and sat there at an ominous angle, threatening to topple down on anyone reckless enough to venture up that way. There was a report on the Wasdale Web (possibly by the local MRT) that it appeared to have settled and was, for the time being, stable but that was several years ago and I have no idea what the present view is. I have now been up there twice and it looks pretty innocuous to me. Of course, there will be a time when it will certainly come crashing down, but the general consensus seems to be that it will not topple over of its own accord and that weathering will cause it to split and it may well come down in two or more pieces. Whatever the current state of play, I have to say I have never seen anyone else use Lord’s Rake during my two visits to Scafell, although I can’t be the only moron on the planet. And I know it to be true because Stu blindly followed me up there this time.
We did chat about the boulder on the way up the rake and he invited me to shove my head underneath it just to prove it was safe. ‘Well, obviously I’d love to humour you, Stu, but we’re not actually going quite that far’. On that note, here is my up to date guide to an easy ascent of the first pitch. Lots of boulders have fallen down the rake in recent years and these can be used to avoid the scree for the first part of the ascent. Stick basically to the middle to begin with and only stand on the largest, safest boulders. When these peter out cross over to the right hand side. There are lots of good handholds on the rake wall. Further up there is a piece detached from the rake wall with a narrow channel behind it. This channel can be used to pass the obstacle as it is difficult to get a decent hold on the rock to go in front of it. After that it’s plain sailing.
The West Wall traverse exits from Lord’s Rake on the left hand side about 10 feet before the leaning boulder. You can’t miss it as it’s the only exit from the rake (on either side) other than the standard route past the boulder. You have to climb out into a narrow, wet mud channel which quickly becomes a nice grass and stony path. This path is reasonably wide and hugs the rock on your right. There is quite a serious drop on the left though. Soon the path becomes a V-channel (like the one on Jack’s Rake) and heads upwards with huge walled buttresses all around. It looks to be going towards some serious climbing grades, but that’s not the case. Just when things start to get exciting the path meets the rake inside Deep Gill Buttress coming up from the left hand side. You are actually inside the mountain at this point and completely surrounded by huge walls of impossible rock. A real eerie feeling.
It might seem obvious, but you exit the path to the right and climb up the steep scree rake. On no account turn left as, in a few short feet, the rake ends and drops off into oblivion. Deep Gill rake is probably steeper than the first pitch Lord’s Rake, but it is also much narrower. And slightly longer. It narrows considerably towards the top and the climb is easy because there are many obliging boulders to clamber over and you can hold onto the rock walls on either side. Just before the top the rake ends in two slim mud channels, one going straight up, and the other diagonally left. The left channel is the easier one and, in a few short steps you are out into daylight and straight onto the grassy summit plateau at the top of Scafell. No further climbing required. A small cairn marks the entrance to the channels for anyone who fancies tackling the gill in reverse. All that’s left to do is walk across to the true summit rocks which are located some way off at the start of the ridge walk to Slight Side.
We took time to examine all the huge rock buttresses and pinnacles of Scafell as they are pretty impressive, and it’s just a pity the actual summit is distanced from these rock formations (Bowfell’s summit suffers the exact same drawback). I decided to climb up onto one of the twin pinnacles over towards the top of Broad Stand in order to look down on our Deep Gill Route from above. Stu walked back to the cairn at the exit of Deep Gill Buttress to take my photo on top of the narrow pinnacles. He’s not used to modern cameras, bless him, and proceeded to snap one off on wide angle, showing me as a mere pinprick in the distance. I should have known really. I foolishly mentioned that the pinnacles were like a more full-on version of Adam & Eve on top of Tryfan, and Stu, with his quaint Devon humour, invited me to jump across them to gain the freedom of Scafell. ‘No Stu, I am definitely not going to commit suicide just so you can claim first shout of my new Panasonic Lumix. I don’t even like you that much. Anyway, you don’t know how to use it and I’ve deposited the instruction booklet in a Swiss vault’. At this point I’m tempted to mention Stu’s sheep-worrying incident in Snowdonia, but I’ll save that one for my next Walk Report. Always assuming I’m allowed to do another one, of course!
We used the Green How descent route back to Wasdale. Lower down you get a good view of the of the exit from Lord’s Rake and you can then appreciate how far it is to the summit from there. Quite a way, in fact. Towards the bottom of Green How there are a couple of scree descents which have become popular as shortcuts. Don’t be tempted by them as they are steep and nasty, and no fun in wet weather. Instead, follow Wainwright’s route (Scafell 10) down the gentle slopes and descend on grass just before Groove Gill. There is a path to the bridge over the river near the campsite from here.
Having assured Stu there was a good variety of real ales on offer in the Wasdale Head Inn on account of it having its own micro brewery (and most of them named after the surrounding fells) we were soon to discover the previous landlord had left the pub, closed down the micro brewery, and was now brewing those same ales over in Egremont near Whitehaven. I was about to question the authenticity of that seeing as he was no longer using Wasdale mountain water, but quickly though better of it. After six and a half hours on the fells I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to listen to one of Stu’s celebrated real ale anecdotes. Still, there was a decent selection of local ales on offer (including the not so local Black Sheep which seemed very popular with the clientele), so Stu was happy enough. In fact, running his eyes eagerly along the bar from one tap to the next as he tried to make up his mind was real ale spotting at its best….. ‘there’s one….. and a nuvver one….. nuvver one….. nuvver one….. nuvver one….. nuvver one!’
I was on the bell as usual. Stu muttered something about leaving his wallet in the hostel. A likely story. Having been denied a chance to sample Yewbarrow or Great Gable, he ordered a pint of Melbreak instead.
And then it was my turn. ‘What would you like, sir?’, the barman asked politely.
‘I’ll have a pint of your very best real ale made into a shandy just to annoy all these real ale fanatics.’
It was to annoy Stu really, but I didn’t see the point in being unsociable. Anyway, it did the trick as I then had to suffer a five minute ear-bashing about ruining a perfectly good pint, sacrilege, the usual sort of guff. It obviously got to him as he couldn’t leave it alone.
‘Why do you have lemonade in real ale, for God’s sake?’
‘Because it tastes like p*** and warm p*** at that. Warm beer? What is that all about? Name me one other nation in the world apart from the English who drink warm beer?’
Cue for another lecture. ‘You’re supposed to drink it at room temperature to bring out the full flavour of the hops, blah blah blah.’
‘Okay Stu, you sad real ale anorak, if that’s the case how come when you buy real ale in a bottle it clearly states ‘serve chilled’? Thought as much, you can’t answer that, can you? Barman shove half a dozen ice cubes in my nice pint of shandy.’ Now, that’s more like it.
Watch out for the next exciting instalment – Houdi & Stu go large in Mosedale!!
by skuk007 » Tue Sep 28, 2010 9:03 pm
by colgregg » Tue Sep 28, 2010 9:51 pm
by houdi » Tue Sep 28, 2010 10:50 pm
Skuk007 – I’m sure the fatalities were on Broad Stand. The route I have described is really pretty easy, although I am not condoning the use of Lord’s Rake just in case I get into trouble from the MRT.
by johnnyaztec » Wed Sep 29, 2010 7:13 am
by susanmyatt » Wed Sep 29, 2010 8:21 am
by houdi » Wed Sep 29, 2010 11:13 am
The situation in Lords rake remains much the same as it has over the past few years. The loose tower at the top of the first rise is now less prominant due to the amount of rock collecting at its base, and the entrance to the West Wall Traverse continues to erode depositing more loose rock into the rake. The pillar at the top of the first rise makes passing it a scramble and the entrance to the West Wall traverse is like wise harder than it it used to be and a lot looser.
Advice would be go carefully, and dont expect it to look like it does in the guide books, it has a lot of loose rock in the rake, and a lot of loose unstable rock surrounding it, all of which at some time will fall down the rake.
I continue to go into the area to check the situation and when I do I wear my helmet, and wait to make sure there is no one else above me to dislodge rocks, as once you are in the rake there is nowhere to hide should loose material bounce down.
Oh, and thanks for the encouraging comments susanmyatt. I will certainly try out your upload tip. Many thanks.
by Stretch » Wed Sep 29, 2010 12:36 pm
by malky_c » Wed Sep 29, 2010 1:53 pm
by fedupofuserids » Wed Sep 29, 2010 8:43 pm
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by Slogger » Fri Oct 01, 2010 6:25 pm
Last time but one I was in Lords Rake, having just descended Deep Gill and West Wall traverse, a microwave size rock came down from above and nearly pushed my mates head into his boots, skimming his shoulder, before bouncing on the scree and ending up lower down. Then descending the scree fan down to the big boulder above Hollow Stones, I put my foot on a fridge size boulder to stop myself and it spun on its axis and took off somersaulting down, causing mini avalanches of scree on its way, before settling a good 200 metres further down. A good thing no one was on their way up, the noise was incredible.
by houdi » Fri Oct 01, 2010 9:30 pm
Sorry about the rake thing. I just climb things whether they are rakes, gullies, ridges, aretes, buttresses, or whatever. Don't know one technical aspect from another. Incidentally, what is the difference between a Rake and a Gully as the first pitch of Lord's Rake and the thing inside Deep Gill Buttress look exactly the same to me?
I like the Foxes Tarn route myself - there isn't any scree as such as the bit to the summit of Scafell from the Tarn is stone pitched so solid. We went down that way the first time and, if it had been loose scree, I wouldn't have descended it at that angle. But I think the gully down from the Tarn to the screes below the back of Mickledore was great fun - both in ascent and descent! Still haven't done that continuation ledge going under the crag to higher up the Mickledore screes though - must have a look at that sometime.
My earlier report (probably last year now) on the Piers Gill route has the actual route drawn on one of the photos - and yes, it does go up the awkward scramble (which is continually wet as on the north side).
Oh and the short-cut scree schutes down from the tourist route of Scafell are horribly loose - when I took one of them I ended up gracefully and slowly (but totally unable to stop) descending into the beck at the bottom... I had a largish audience of "Will she? won't she?" people amusedly watching to see whether that's where I did end up after all!
- mountain coward
by Slogger » Sat Oct 02, 2010 4:57 pm
houdi wrote: Incidentally, what is the difference between a Rake and a Gully as the first pitch of Lord's Rake and the thing inside Deep Gill Buttress look exactly the same to me?
A Gully cuts into a rock or crag face, usually more or less vertical exiting at the top between rock spur's, whereas a Rake cuts across the face of a crag, like Jacks Rake on Pavey Arc, and Sheepbone Rake on High Crag (Buttermere).
by houdi » Sat Oct 02, 2010 9:04 pm