Sunday, 4 September 2016

Piers Ghyll and the rescue of Edward Cornelius Crump

There is no more magnificent feature in the landscape of lakeland than Piers Ghyll (or Gill) with it's deep ravine which walkers traverse the very head of when walking The Corridor Route from Styhead Tarn to the summit of England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike. The other route to the pike is the direct route from Wasdale Head, which itself provides two fast options of Lingmell Coll or Mickledore. Most never venture for another option to the summit which is via Piers Ghyll. The path is marked on the OS 1:25,000 and it is a great path to the summit, much less walked than all the others on the northern face, yet needs treated with some caution and respect. Initially walk it in company on a dry day until you get used to it and it's closeness to the edge of the ravine; there is one crag face to negotiate which is a short scramble.

Piers Ghyll from Styhead

Looking from the mouth of the Ghyll towards Great Gable and The Needle.
Looking into the ravine

Climbing the crag below Middleboot |Knotts
Looking back down the lower section of the ghyll

Piers Ghyll from The Corridor Route
Edward Cornelius Crump was a 50 year old Stockbrokers Clerk who was holidaying in the Lake District and had based himself at Tilberthwaite. He was the brother of a Mrs Swithernbath who was the wife of the Superintendent Wesleyan Minister at Ulverston.  On 21 June 1921 he set off from Tilberthwaite to walk to Crummock Water; his route was to be via Bowfell, Scafell and Wasdale; he never arrived at Crummock Water.
The police were contacted and a search commenced for him. Although he was missing hopes must have been initially high at a successful outcome to the search, he was described as 50 yrs of age, 5ft 5ins tall, of stout build and was wearing boots, a tweed suit, a Mackintosh, a knapsack over his shoulders and was carrying a sleeping suit and a guide to the Lake District; most likely this was Henry Irwin Jenkinson's definitive guide book. There were also sightings, one in Buttermere on 25th; but as these were checked they were found not to be Mr Crump. This was reported in the newspapers on 6 July, he had now been missing for 17 days with no success in locating any trace of him. Although it was summer, such a period to be missing for does not bode well for a successful ending. Where would search parties begin to look? In modern measurements this is a 40km, 3,000m total ascent walk and bearing in mind his build and age, all that was known was he would be staying at The Wasdale Hotel, yet he had not made it to there. Such a search would be a challenge to modern mountain rescue units today without more detail. One missed turn and no matter how well checked his route was by searchers, they could be miles off his location; he could and most probably was, already dead by this time; if not, why had he not managed to get to a valley floor in three weeks? The searchers, mountaineers of the lakes, did not give up and persisted in all weathers, combing the fells and crags. These were the forerunners of the modern rescue teams and with equal determination of these MRT's of today, they were determined to secure a result, whether he was dead or alive, they would conclude the matter.
On Saturday 9th July two notable Keswick climbers, A.R. Thompson of Portinscale and Mr William Alexander Wilson of Braithwaite, were setting out to search in the region of Piers Ghyll which cuts from the Corridor route to the base of Great Gable and the Wasdale Valley. This region, albeit lower on the ghyll, had been searched the previous Sunday, by Mr Crump's family with a negative result, but these climbers were rechecking the terrain. They came upon Mr Crump, he was alive. He was on a ledge part way down the ravine and after lowering him by rope to the base of the ghyll, they carried him to The Wasdale Hotel where he was medically treated. They got a telegram sent immediately to his distressed sister at Tilberthwaite and it was later said that a second telegram had arrived from Wallasey, Cheshire saying that a dead body had been found at that location and that it also was Mr Crump!

A possible contender for his break of fall?
Following an interview with him when he began to recover he had been caught in rain and mist on the summit of Scafell Pike and when making his way down had sprained his ankle which caused him to fall down the Ghyll, landing on the ledge which divided two water courses, the area is known as Bridge Fall. He could neither go up nor down and was stuck on the ledge. The deep ravine had managed to keep the sun from bearing down on him during his period of tribulation. He had been in such a delirious state that he had no recollection of his rescuers and being lowered by ropes when he gave a broken account to his sister on her arrival at Wasdale. It was fortunate that he was wearing his mackintosh coat when he fell as this helped protect him from the elements. He survived for 19 days on water and one final piece of cake which he decided to eek out over a six day period.
The rescue is the longest I have researched in the lakes which concludes in a successful outcome and owes a lot to the determined mountaineers of the area who searched the fells to rescue like minded walkers or climbers through the bond of love of the fells.

Although the Mr Crump was fortuitously found, the same good fortune did not always shine on Mr Wilson. On 23rd June 1923 he set off alone to climb Eagle Crag at Stonethwaite, but did not return. Search parties were sent out and Dr Arthur Wakefield, a member of the first  Everest party expedition of 1922, found his body near a gully, having fallen a distance of sixty feet. He had been a retired Land Agent and had lived his life to the full. At the inquest it was noted that he had been one of the men who had rescued Edward Cornelius Crump, a worthy feat he was always be remembered for.


  1. Another finely researched article, but with an unusual twist at the end!
    Tony H

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