Sunday, 14 October 2012

Piers Gill & An Orange Shovel

Wastwater (from a previous visit)
I have seen the dark craggy ravine of Piers Gill several times whilst on other walks or out with the Fix the Fells volunteers in the Lakes.  From the summit of the Styhead Pass you can see it in the distance and it looks forbidding but fascinating.  I still spend as much time as I can out on the fells as part of my Fix the Fells role so a drain run up that route from Wasdale seemed a perfect opportunity to have a closer look.  A drain run is a maintenance task to clear the path drains of any stones and debris to ensure the water is channelled away and also clear any loose stones from areas of stone-pitching.  I have done these a few times before (see “GirlFrom the South Heads North Episode 2”).  

I was with the Western Lakes National Trust team and we met at the Wasdale Campsite at 8am on a beautiful sunny day where I was promptly handed my shovel with an orange handle and my working gloves, also orange.  How very co-ordinated (although I have not yet succeeded in my mission to find a pink shovel!)  As I put on my ski jacket (it was a cold day) and backpack, I got the impression I was possibly the only person in the history of Fix the Fells that had turned up to clear drains and paths in a bright white jacket (although they were lucky I did not add my bright pink salapets to the outfit – it wasn’t quite that cold).  But, everyone is used to me now so apart from requesting sunglasses to hide the dazzle, we picked up our shovels (which had not got any lighter since the last time I carried one) and set off.
Great Gable & Kirk Fell

Regular readers of my blog will not need me to say that this drain run was a little slower with me in tow and “Tanya stops” were frequent.  But on such a glorious day, it was a perfect opportunity to admire the views.  It was quite a long walk to the first drain and we split into two groups to cover two paths.  I set off with Steve and here started my battle with the question “What is the best way to carry a shovel up a mountain?”  Now I will be honest and say that until recently, this is not a question I ever thought I would need an answer to or indeed one that I would ask.  However, I spent the first mile of the walk with the shovel in one hand being held near the metal bit then in another by the handle.  Next I tried holding it out in front and then over each shoulder but it was always in the way and heavy (and the latter option just made me want to break into a chorus of “Hi Ho!”)

Piers Gill
My mind was soon distracted by the sight of Piers Gill however.  Where it ends and the gill starts to wash over the boulders and rocks it looks like many other rocky gills.  However, as you start to look up it, you can see dark cliffs and narrow crevices that look menacing.  The further up the path you get the deeper, darker but more mesmerising the gill becomes.  Your eyes are drawn to it all the time.  It is like something out of a Stephen King novel.

One of the drains - note the co-ordinated shovel & gloves
I was soon brought back to reality though and got my shovel to work clearing a very gravelly drain.  When the water starts running through it and away from the path, you get a real sense of achievement.  Steve did about three drains to my one but I am still learning the art.  We stopped for a coffee and admired the views to Great Gable and Kirk Fell.  Although the sun was shining, Great Gable seemed always to hold cloud on its summit like a cloud factory was at work churning out big white fluffy clouds that were then taken on beyond the valley.  The red screes of Hell Gill on its slopes looked uninviting but striking.

Cloud factory on Great Gable
Waterfall at the top of Piers Gill
Onwards we went and after a short steep scramble (here I confess I did not have my shovel) reached the deepest and most vertical-sided part of Piers Gill.  I was brave enough to lean over (whilst kneeling) to take a photo but you really cannot get the real feel for how magnificent if daunting it is from the photos.  People have on occasions had serious accidents and even died in the ravine thinking it is a path.  It is no place for walkers – there is no path and it is dangerous.

On reaching the top of Piers Gill (and being given my shovel back to clear more drains) we headed down to meet Iain and Barry and help finish that section of path.  Lunch was below the summit of Lingmell with Scafell Pike behind and Great Gable in front.  Having kept my jacket clean all day whilst clearing muddy drains, I promptly spilt coffee on it.  A handy tarn cleaned it up quite well though.  

Pulpit Rock & Scafell Crags
We headed to Lingmell Col and Mickleden so I could see the work planned for that area, which is understandably one of the busiest as people try and reach the summit of the highest mountain in England.  The Three Peak Challenge (where people climb Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon) has increased this traffic.  

On the route we headed to the foot of the Pulpit Rock and Scafell Crags, which are both vertical rugged cliff faces with areas of shattered scree.  To the right was the start of the Lord’s Rake ascent to Scafell.  This is a route I really want to try, although it looks pretty challenging!  After clearing another drain or two, we headed back down (shovel on the left, on the right, swinging – honestly how should I carry it?).  On the lower slopes, the path crosses a large gill (and given the recent rain it was pretty wide and fast-flowing) where only boulders stand between you and being carried down the river.  Steve and Iain hopped across nimbly and then pretended to be inspecting a piece of path so as not to put me off my crossing.  Not so the group of five guys on the bank behind who I knew would be watching my crossing attempt.  The reason I knew is because I would have been watching too if I was sitting there!
Lingmell Gill

I cautiously made my way to the middle of the gill but then there was a really long step to the next rock.  I looked around in earnest for an alternative but did not find one.  It had to be this rock. It looked slippery.  I felt the eyes of the people behind still on me and looked down the river to where I would end up if I did indeed fall in.  It could be anywhere – depends what rock I got wedged behind.  Then I found a use for my shovel that meant I cared no longer how heavy it was.  I stuck it firmly between smaller rocks under the water and leaned on it to get across the big step.  Hurrah!  Success!

Looking down to Wastwater
It was a great day.  Hard work but a great team and I will always love going out on the fells to help fix them.  I just need someone to invent a lightweight shovel (with a pink handle please!)
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  1. So funny Tanya, i know what u mean about crossing on slippery looking rocks!
    and being watched :D

    1. The thought of someone seeing me fall in is much worse than actually falling in!
      Thanks :-)

  2. Tanya, did you go up or down the Piers Gill path itself, That is from The Moses Trod path? I was on the corridor on Friday gone. Pleased to see you're working hard & keepiong dry & clean.

    1. Up the Piers Gill path from Moses Trod. Very striking - only ever seen it in the distance before...

  3. Great blog. Love the photos and the idea of a cloud factory! White ski jacket? Loving your style!

    1. Thanks Janet. Matched with the pink salapets I am certainly noticeable! :-)

  4. Great read Tanya, nice pics, lovely clear day too. I will look out for a girl dressed as a snowman carrying an orange shovel:-) Slippy rock is my downfall nowadays so understand totally any trepidation.

    1. Or possibly in the future a pink shovel.... :-)
      Thanks Mart for commenting.

  5. I wonder how many walkers don't realise what maintenance is carried out? Well done to you all. I now have a vision of you as an orange co-ordinated dwarf in a Snow White jacket! :-D

    1. I confess I did not know really until I started this role the scale of work that needed to be done. I just took the fells for granted in many ways.
      I need to work pink into the outfit somewhere! Hi ho!

  6. An entertaining and funny story but also revealing about the fantastic work that the Fix the Fells programme is doing.

    If I ever see a shovel with a pink handle I will buy it for you Tanya. I bet you could find one in the USA.

    I was interested to see the name Pulpit Rock as I think there is a Pulpit Rock at Portland in Dorset?

    1. Thanks Chloe! They really do fantastic work. I don't know how they manage it everyday!
      If all else fails I will start my own pink shovel production line...
      I only knew it was called Pulpit Rock after that day - always fascinating to see why and how particular names come about...

  7. Excellent blog and photos as always. I love your honesty and humour.