Series 2 – 10: Lingmell


I’ve written before about our ascents of Middle Fell and Haystacks, but not of the climb that came between, of Lingmell, a subsidiary of Scafell Pike. It was the second, and the highest, of the three fells my Dad got to climb before his cancer developed, and I think of it as his fell. On Haystacks, a destination we chose because of Wainwright’s championing of that aggressive terrier, I recall him saying he would far rather have his ashes spread on Lingmell.
Fifteen months later, he was gone.
I don’t remember us setting out with any intention of climbing a fell. There was just the four of us again, in Wasdale in the May of 1969 (The Beatles were at number 1 with Get Back, but I was unaware of that then). Originally, we set out towards Sty Head, but kept to the beck, half-thinking of taking the Valley Route, the forgotten but still discernible zig-zags at the head of the side valley along Great Gable’s foot.
But the way led us beneath the great western flank of the Scafell massif, and insofar as that lay along Lingmell’s base, it led us below the great, gaping, impassable ravine of Piers Ghyll. The Ghyll was a dramatic, dark slash into the fellside, a dogleg ravine of tumbled rock, towering cliffs, waterfalls and -slides. It’s a fearsome place, whether seen at close hand or from a distance. You are warned not to try this route, and, unless you are a complete idiot, you stay away.
But there’s a safe route, pathless on grass, up the flank of the massif, keeping a safe distance from the Ghyll, except where the rocks above and left hem in the way, near the elbow of the Ghyll, and scrambling in tight quarters is necessary to proceed.
Dad started to lead us that way, encouraging us to go higher, to get a better view, to see more, to commit ourselves slowly to reaching a height from where it was better to go on than to turn back. I can’t speak for Mam, herself long gone, whilst my sister was still not seven and happy to go wherever our parents led, but I’d read Wainwright and I knew about the dangers, and I worried.
And at one point, in the very heart of the dangerous zone, I was terrified. Dad wanted a photo of us, sat against the encroaching rock. There wasn’t enough room for him to get a good composition, no matter how close to the edge of the ravine he shuffled. So he climbed over the edge, stood on a ledge that enabled him to hold the camera almost at ground level, whilst my silent grin froze into place and I desperately prayed that nothing would give beneath his feet and he vanish forever.
Above the dangerous zone there were no more worries, just a convex grass slope with a permanently open skyline above, until we found ourselves onto level ground, at the end of the Corridor Route, with Lingmell Col above.
We would obviously not be going back that way, so it was over the Col and down to Brown Tongue and the descent to the head of the Lake, but before we left, we diverted up to Lingmell’s clear, open top. The scene was dominated by the Pike behind, but Gable fell sheer, and we looked into Mosedale as if into a diorama. This was far enough back in time that the well-made pillar cairn had been thrown down once, but rebuilt in almost the same proportions: a little thicker at the waist, perhaps.
This one time I got to see Dad in his element, reaching for the high fells, willing to go in among the places where more than just placid walking was needed, where achievement is a thrill and vice versa. The one time he didn’t accept the rest of us as a weight that had to be carried, that limited him to something far below his own activities.
It was his pinnacle: so close to the highest land of all, the ultimate peak that could have been had for no more than another 45 minute’s walking. But then he imagined there would be other days, other chances, and all the while his children growing more capable of following his bootsteps. There were, but far fewer than we all knew, and I was left to do all the things he dreamed of, go all the places he would have wanted to see. It’s the only thing in my life that I know he would have been proud of, and it’s fitting that I am writing this on Father’s Day, 42 years after the last time he was here to accept celebrations.
The picture is of Piers Ghyll from the summit of Great Gable, a long, deep, cauterised scar sunk into the fellside. Our route now bears a path underfoot, giving much needed mental security for a nervous 13 year old boy following his Dad with all the blind faith a Dad can command.

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