Piers Gill Canyon Descent
Updated: Jun 20, 2020
Piers Gill is a striking gorge that breaks the northern face of Lingmell in the shape of boomerang. The gorge is well known amongst hillwalkers, either for its striking presence or its occasional appearance in a Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team rescue report. What is probably the biggest gorge in the Lake District, is a place of danger, allure, adventure and wonderment.
Between the 4 of us who took on Piers Gill in June 2020, we must have pushing a thousand ascents of Scafell Pike under our belts. The amount of times we would have walked across the top of this gorge on the Corridor route, pointed it out from Styhead Pass or regaled the tales to clients of how disoriented walkers end up in or above the Gill must be countless. It was time for us to get in and descend Piers Gill, and what a ruddy good decision that turned out to be.
The Walk In
To save a collective half dozen hours of driving we opted to walk in from Seathwaite, first to Styhead Pass and then up the Corridor Route to where it crosses the top of Piers Gill. The obvious ascent would be from Wasdale via the path that runs alongside Piers Gill to the point where it meets the Corridor Route.
Simply walk down the loose stones into the bed of the gill. Over the years many lost walkers have veered off the Corridor Route here and into Piers Gill. Unfortunately for some this mis-adventure would be their last, but I understand that one person has managed to descend the whole gill without a rope. Having done it I have no idea how they survived and I can only imagine they bought a lottery ticket immediately!
Gibson was keen to abseil in to the gill so actually abseiled in off the obvious large boulder on the left hand bank about 75m off the Corridor Route.
Piers Gill Descent
The first section is easy and straightforward, you're just picking your way down the stream bed. As you reach the obvious right hand bend in the gill you start to get to your first set of short abseils. I'm not going to go into them all in details as that would ruin your journey and experience. What you do need to know is you need to ensure you have a good amount of tat to complete the descent.
Overall you will complete 10-11 smaller 5-10m abseils. Some of which are under-hung so be prepared to get very wet, and a few of which will pop you into waist deep pools. Under the obvious chockstone there is a larger abseil and the sense of adventure here is through the roof. James and Geoff actually descended through a tiny 'window' here, getting totally soaked but loving life.
After the chockstone you complete abseil after abseil so the going is quite slow. The abseil with the tiny chockstone wedged at the bottom is your last, everything after this can be scrambled or avoided carefully.
Once in the Gill there are no obvious places to exit. You're either going down or back up, and based on many of the abseils that would be quite a task for the vast majority of us. (Ascents of Piers Gill have been completed however)
How long did it take?
For us it took 4 hours 45 minutes (a group of 4). We did back up all of the tat apart from one piece which consumed time.
If you wanted to speed up your descent then we'd recommend taking a smaller 30m rope to compliment your 60m rope. One person could be setting up the next abseil whilst the remainder of the group completes one.
Water levels were low when we completed the descent. Medium to High would be fun and a very different experience.
This is without a doubt a serious adventure and should only be considered by experienced parties. The ability to abseil safely when being flooded with water, identify solid anchors, retrieve ropes, route find, survive the elements of the mountains and tie knots are all absolutely vital.
There is no signal in Piers Gill so if it all goes wrong you are very much up (or down) the creek without a paddle. Make sure someone knows you're in there and do not underestimate this descent.
On the person: Waterproof Jacket, Shorts, trainers. A wetsuit may be wise for the colder months but we were OK until the final 30 mins when we just started to feel it.
Hardware: 1x 50m rope. A rack of nuts (none used), Slings, A lot of tat, Carabiners, Maillons, Harness, Belay Plate, Prusiks, Helmets
Additional: First Aid, dry bags, cameras, warm clothes + layers, food.
An epic adventure and if you have the right skill-set then 100% go for it. If you want any more info please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.