As part of my on-going attempt to conquer all of the English top ten mountains, my attention once again focussed on the Lake District and more specifically the western fells as at number seven on the list lies the mighty monolith of Great Gable.
Karl and I had already discussed this and I decided to also throw it open as a meet up on the walking forum. There were a few lilly livered responders who ‘couldn’t make it on the day’ but as the day would prove six of us would set out from the car park at the back of the Honister Slate Mine. The route which I had suggested was one gleaned from the internet which would feature an assault on the northern face via Moses Trod, we would then drop down Windy Gap, taking in Green Gable, a drop down to Brandreth and then a gentle stroll over to Grey Knotts before an almighty descent to the slate mine’s car park. In actuality we reversed the route – upon reflection, I am very relieved that we did as to walk all the way gently down Moses Trod only to then ascend Great Gable, quite literally fall onto Windy Gap and slog up Green Gable would have probably made for a sole-destroying walk.
We left the car park at around 10:30 and our first target was pretty much straight in front of us, the steep slog up Grey Knotts from this direction is fortunately short but a real leg-stretcher none-the-less. Within an hour I was astonished not only by the breath-taking scenery but at the fact that we had ascended a Lake District fell so quickly…even if at one point I did lose a leg to the occasionally soggy environment and bent my walking pole as part of the process. It’s my opinion that unfortunately for Grey Knotts, I don’t imagine that many people (the late A.W. excluded) would ascend Grey Knotts as a single objective. Don’t get me wrong, the summits (for there are at least two that could be so named) are lovely in their own right…but given their local and with their neighbours…a parallel with the friend of a beauty Queen does spring to mind.
We clambered over both obvious tops and then made our way almost downhill to one of the neighbouring fells…the seventeen metres higher summit of Brandreth. As could be expected; the summit of this fell offered very similar views as did those of predecsesor Grey Knotts but offering a bit more of a close up of our next destination Green Gable. We had thus far had a relatively easy time of it as the walk up to Green Gable was a little bit more strenuous but with the most distinctive path that we would see all day – this really was a case of walking up the side of the fell.
Green Gable is often overshadowed by its’ more illustrious neighbour. In essence this is easy to see why but on closer examination Green Gable is quite the fell. It would be stupid to suggest that the views from it’s summit are anything over than fantastic but this fell has some lovely rugged crags and a pass for which it is infamous…the notorious Windy Gap. On our day, windy Gap was a misnomer of the heighest order – by comparrison Darwen Hill just outside Bolton/Darwen knocks spots off this pass twice its’ height for wind speeds, we were met by hardly a breeze. That being said it was perhaps fortunate that the wind was in absentia as Windy Gap held another treat in store for us…the first “Gable Slide”. Descending or ascending depending upon one’s point of view and general inclination, the South West face of Green Gable is a short but interesting scree slope whereby one can begin to practice the noble art of kicking stones at people! Other notorious scree slopes in the Lake District feature bigger drops, admittedly if one accounts for the sheer drop off Gable Crag then the treacherousness (treachery?) can be multiplied exponentially, but if care is taken it is possible to keep one’s footing and even if said footing is lost then one would have to be exceedingly clumsy/unlocky to fall off Windy Gap and down either side…Later in the walk we would encounter another natural obstacle that would dwarf even this hazardous pass.
We crossed Windy Gap and began the increasingly tougher climb up to the summit of Great Gable. I have ascended four higher summits than Great Gable in the last fifteen months…I thought Sca Fell was going to kill me with exhaustion, Helvellyn tired to batter me to death with fierce winds and exposure, Skiddaw gave me a glimpse of what the afterlife might be like and Scafell Pike left me with aches and pains which didn’t subside for five or more days. The ascent of Great Gable from Windy Gap put everything into context…it was the worst in terms of hammering home the harsh reality that what you are attempting to walk upon is not a path…it’s a rock and technically what you are now engaged in is indeed rock climbing. It was not until I was about one hundred yards away from the summit cairns before I started to stand upright once more. I have scrambled before…Pen-y-ghent features a lovely section of limestone outcrops…by comparrison to Gable, Pen-y-ghent is “pre-scrambling”! We arrived at the summit of Great Gable at something like 14:15…three and three quarter hours after setting off from Honister. I dare say people have done this faster but I was very pleased with our progress. We stopped for a slightly later than usual lunch at Westmorland Cairn with views to remember forever!
Having struggled our way up Great Gable the next pressing concern was how to get back down it! The route of ascension had been so steep as to throw into doubt whether this would be a safe route for descension and allayed to this was the fact that as we would be coming down the hill we could potentially collide with those clambering up it, on Pen-y-ghent this is inconvenient but here it could be downright lethal! Glynne proposed a route that in his words would be not so much a scree run but more boulder-strewn.
And so began our drop down into the area between Beck Head and Tongue, relatively straight forward at first, after one hundred yards or so the rocks started to get a bit shaky. Once the grass had receeded things got a whole lot more unstable. This was the second “Gable Slide” of our expedition and it was frighteningly exciting. Although physics tell us that on a slope we are unlikely to roll very far if we have fallen…that offers no comfort to someone that has just scraped their face on very hard rocks. For three of us this seemed to bring our speed down. For Karl and Glynne it just seemed to be no obstacle at all and I could see them leaning on an huge boulder for quite some time as I very tentatively slid, fell, caused tiny rockfalls and generally made sure that Great Gable would never be the same after my visit (as I would not be also). I can’t lie, it was all a bit hair-raising, none of us seemed to have hurt ourselves but we all vowed that there was probably not a good reason to ever repeat the experience…although we all probably will!
The name of a few footpaths in Lakeland are held in esteem, Piers Gill, Lord’s Rake, Jack’s Rake and Moses Trod. Of these Moses Trod is undoubtedly the most gentle, serene and genuinely pleasurable upon which one can walk and this was our next destination after I’d had a spell of calm to get over the adrenalin shakes that had been with me all the way down the big drop off Great Gable. Here was a lovely path that subtly made one a part of the landscape. There were simply too many fells of which I could not know the names in so few visits to here. Moses Trod led us first up the side of the already conquered Brandreth then down the breast of Grey Knotts over toward Fleetwith – the area not the Pike. The drop in over the old tram route back to the Honister Slate Mine car park seemed to take forever, at first this wasn’t an issue as we were surrounded by gorgeous countryside, however, after some moments of walking towards a building that just didn’t appear to be getting any nearer or larger I did feel a little despondent. Eventually I made it to the flatness of the car park to rendevous with Sue and Karl and Colin – John and Glynne having already bid their farewells.
In summing this was much more than what I could have longed to get from the walk and the day. I felt a genuine sense of pride in climbing Green Gable let alone Great Gable, Grey Knotts and Brandreth. These were without doubt the best views over time that I have thus far been fortunate enough to experience here in the Lake District. Not only had I seen mountains aplenty but also Wast Water, Crummock Water, Ennerdale Water, Windermere…the list goes on and on. The most striking object by a little distance was the sheer unadulturated spectacle of Pillar – on my ‘to-do’ list, it’s a beautiful and not readily accessible mountain. Great Gable itself is no shrinking violet, its’ profile is the emblem of the Lake District National Park and deservedly so. I for one will not easily forget the stunning views of the Sca Fell range from Westmorland Cairn where we had our lunch and the slides down Great and Green Gables may be the stuff of future dreams. All in all a cracking 5.5 miles walk with over two thousand feet of ascent and descent!
So now I am at just four of the ten left:
- Scafell Pike
- Sca Fell
- Great End
- Bow Fell
- Great Gable
- Cross Fell
- Nethermost Pike
My next scheduled Lake District Walk is with Karl and Sue again and is set to be the giant Great End, Karl has suggested that we take in the Birkett fell of Broad Crag as well so this is set to be another epic walk of at least nine miles and a couple of thousand feet.