Lingmell from Wasdale Head via Piers Gill

(Wednesday 3rd June 2009)

The elegant ten foot spire of the most photogenic cairn in lakeland with Great Gable providing an equally impressive backdrop. This was my goal.

The circuit from Wasdale Head, climbing via Piers Gill to Lingmell Col and descending the west ridge, is pure magic from start to finish. Views to die for include:

  • the dizzy depths of Piers Gill,
  • the most exciting and stunning views of Great Gable, and
  • the most handsome aspect of the rugged Scafell Massif, with tantalising glimpses into the dark mystery of the Lords Rake route to the top of Scafell.

The Trail can be inspected and downloaded to GPS from alternatively go to the EveryTrail site at the bottom of this post. NOTE: clear weather is advisable for this ascent and essential if the route is done in reverse (The Mountain Rescue website has several stories of callouts to groups having problems in or near Piers Gill, e.g.

A chockstone over Piers Gill

Today unlike yesterday is a great day for a walk in the Lakes. Considerably cooler, but still very pleasant with about 30% cloud cover. However from the campsite it looks probable that Gable is going to be under cloud cover for much of the day. A pity because today the plan is to climb Lingmell for the views of Gable, and leave the other tourists to slug it out on Scafell Pike. Uggh I can well do without those ankle jarring fields of unstable boulders! What is the attraction of Scafell Pike? I know you have to do it at least once to say you've been to the top of England - but twice is enough for me (the second time for the panorama seen on the ascent - see "Simple Desultory...." banner).

The walk starts at Wasdale Head Green/Car Park. From there head down the lane leading directly to Burnthwaite Farm. Signs send you left of the farm buildings to a gate. Go through and bear right, and keep right on to the old Sty Head path.

I really cant understand why, but the path is rarely used nowadays, (except for those ascending Lingmell/Scafell via Piers Gill). Its one of those secrets of Lakeland that allow you to get away from the crowds.

The path is unclear as you get nearer to Piers Gill. This is no problem for Andrew, who doesn't seem to use paths anyway. He just takes a compass bearing (he doesn't like to rely on GPS) and takes the most direct route, across all obstacles, until he achieves his goal. I prefer to take it slowly, use my eyes (and GPS) to find the traces of path and follow it - I get there in the end, but I wouldn't be much use in a Mountain Rescue Team.

The vague path wasn't really a problem, although had we missed the attractive crossing just above where the lower stream bed of Piers Gill meets Spouthead Gill we might have got into difficulties.

From the crossing point keep on the zig zag path until a cairn is reached then keep right. We missed the cairn and continued for perhaps another 200 metres before we realised our mistake and Andrew took a compass bearing and got us back on track. (You can see where we went wrong quite clearly if you download the GPS track from EveryTrail or WikiLoc and view in Google Earth - surprisingly the track is a lot clearer in the satellite image).

Piers Gill

Soon after getting back on track we were able to peer down into the 70 metre vertical drop of the Gill - no place for vertigo sufferers like me. Every time I peered down the lens of my camera, into the Gill, I had a moment of dizziness that kept me clear of the edge. But just the same I was still able to get a few decent shots of the ravine. More of a problem than the vertigo though, was the way the lens distorted the scale of the drop - it really was a lot deeper than it looks in the picture above.

The next obstacle (having found the track) was to negotiate our way up a 10 metre rock step. Andrew didn't bother trying to find an easy route he took the first hold he could see and virtually jumped to the top in 30 sec. Only then did he suggest to me that I might try an alternative way up. No matter I was only about a foot off the ground anyway.

If you look at the GPS track (esp. in Google Earth) you will see that I initially chose a route a few feet from the Gill edge (it looked quite easy from the bottom). Again a few feet up and Andrew's head appears above me suggesting that I might not have chosen the safest route up as from above he couldn't see a route up, and I was close to climbing up the face of the Gill!!!! Finally after spending several minutes extricating myself I tried a much easier route up (it virtually had steps cut into the rock face) well away from the edge.

From then on the track was clear, the views into the Gill were great and the walking was easy all the way up to the meeting of the track with the corridor route, that Andrew claimed to have walked with Laura the previous weekend - but he didn't recognise the area, (I wonder why? he probably took a more direct, i.e. steeper and more rugged, route - I sympathise Laura).

The view from Lingmell Crag
(Looking down from Lingmell Crag you can clearly see Piers Gill and the route taken. In the distance Styhead tarn and the corridor route. Both routes merge here).

Finally on the Col we could clearly see the path to Lingmell. There were a few walkers about; an older couple finishing off a picnic lunch having come down from Scafell Pike and a young woman sat carefully studying the map for the best route to Scafell Pike. At this point Andrew shot off for Scafell. So quick was he that I had to shout to remind him that we were not following everyone else - we'd done Scafell Pike and I had no wish to go through that pain again - we were heading "that way, for Lingmell". I was a little embarrassed for breaking the silence (like a Dad calling his young son back from the busy road), but clearly the older couple were amused and the young woman flashed me a sympathetic smile (made my day).

Shortly after starting our ascent of Lingmell we met two middle aged couples heading to Scafell Pike. They were from Sheffield and Leicestershire and regretting they hadn't decided to holiday in flat Norfolk. They were most impressed that Andrew was a member of Edale Mountain Rescue and were keen to express their thanks for the rescue of their sister from Kinder last year. They then quickly asked for guidance on the best route to Scafell Pike - they didn't have a map, just a newspaper cutting, (I'm sure Wasdale Mountain Rescue would have been most impressed - NOT)!

Great Gable from Lingmell Crag

From the col its only a short hike to the views from Lingmell Crag and the summit. My advice is to linger a while; have a picnic and enjoy some of the best views in Lakeland.

There's another reason for dallying - the descent down to Wasdale Head is very steep (just take a look at the contours on your map). However, I was with Andrew and after only 15 minutes he was scampering about like a Jack Russell - eager and ready to move on.

The descent (via the West Ridge) is initially a pleasant stroll over an ocean of grass on a gentle gradient. This is the last chance to take photographs before the real sweat and toil begins. Thank God for: walking poles, strong knees and ankles and a well cushioned backside. By the time we got back to the Wasdale Head Inn we were again gagging for a couple of reviving pints - each.

Picture of the Day:

My goal for the day

Location: cairn on the lower tier of the North Ridge of Lingmell Crag (not the summit). Although the summit has equally brilliant views, the summit cairn doesn't have the same slender, fragile quality of the one pictured above. A cairn designed if not built by an Artist.

Inspiration: this fragile cairn (it looks likely to be toppled by the next real blast of winter) beckons walkers to come down off the summit to experience the views from an alternative viewpoint. From the summit you almost have a birds eye view of Gable - there is no foreground to interrupt the view. Here you can experience the same thrill as on the summit but you can also admire the juxtaposition of nature versus man. The enormous strength of the mighty Great Gable versus the fragile beauty of this elegant, graceful spire.

Imagine what it must be like when covered in windswept icicles in the depths of winter.

Camera Work: RAW(12bit), ISO 100, focal length 18mm, exposure: F/14, 1/13 sec.

Technique: I walked all around this spire taking shots from all angles, with backdrops of both Gable and Kirk Fell. All the time the summit of Gable was appearing and disappearing from behind wispy cloud. The foreground fell away quite steeply from the cairn so it was fairly easy to alter the perspective from one where the cairn towered over Gable, to the opposite. However in most cases the foreground was unsightly rubble that detracted from the main subjects. In the end I opted for a cairn that towered over a cloud free Gable summit. I would have preferred to show Gable towering over the cairn (as in the alternative below), but the cloud beat me.

Post Capture: in Capture NX2

  • set White Balance to the gray point in the triangle of cloud to the right of the cairn

  • set Picture Control to Landscape and increased sharpening and contrast

  • adjusted exposure by -0.3 ev (I forgot to reset my in camera exposure compensation)

  • applied 12% shadow protection to lift shadows after adjusting exposure

  • applied a minor crop to enable printing to A3+ paper size

Style: organised landscape. However an alternative composition might be considered better, i.e.

Here I like the way the 'stepping stones' lead you in, from the bottom of the frame, to the cairn and up to the summit of Great Gable. Although this might have the better composition, I don't like the fact that the summit is covered by a wisp of cloud.

Lingmell from Wasdale Head via Piers Gill at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail: Share GPS Tracks

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