Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Great Gable - Easter 2006

This is a walk I did Easter Saturday 2006. After a drive up the M6 motorday, I came off at Penrith and headed along the main road to Keswick. There was a great view of Blencathra to my right, and ahead I could see the snow capped peaks of the Scafell Pike range of fells. This was the first fell walk I had done in the Lake District for a couple of years, and was the first time I had ventured to do a solo walk on one of the big fells. And what a great fell to choose - Great Gable (899 meters).

I passed through Keswick and joined the road adjacent to Derwent Water into the Borrowdale Valley. Turning left at Seatoller I headed down the country lane to Seathwaite at the head of the Borrowdale valley. There were many cars parked on the grass verge on either side of the road. This supprised me slightly as I was expecting the car park that was indicated on the map. It seemed that the grass verge was the car park! It was about 11am when I arrived, so the parked cars stretched far down the lane.

Once I had put on my boots, I headed up the lane to the small hamlet of Seathwaite. I remember there being a small row of houses in a farm yard, one of which was a tea shop that I visited on my return later in the day. Originally I had intended to cross over the river at by the campsite at Seathwaite but had difficulty spotting the path between the two barns leading to the bridge. I decided to head further up the path and cross the river at Stockley Bridge.

The weather was overcast and it rained slighly as I crossed Grains Gill. On the other side the path climbed steeply alongside Styhead Gill and Taylor Force waterfall. I climbed at a quick pace and found myself out of breath in a short period of time. Once the land levelled out, I continued up the valley between Seathwaite Fell and Base Brown. As I walked along the path it moved closer to the course of Styhead Gill and the ground became very rocky. The Scafell Pike range of fells then came into view. This was the first time I had ever seen them in person this close up, and the view was awe inspiring. I felt slightly disappointed they were not on my itinerary for the day.

The summit of Great Gable itself was out of sight, obscured from view by the lower slopes. This was a shame because I had not seen the view Great Gable from this side of the fell (I had seen Great Gable and the Scafell range before in the distance from High Stile above Buttermere - this was an awe inspiring sight as well, one that I can remember to this day). The path then crossed the gill and after a while Sty Head Tarn came into view. By this time I had become enthralled by this magnificent mountainous valley.

Eventually I arrived at Sty Head where a number of paths met in a col between Great End and Great Gable. This is the summit of the pass going from Borrowdale Valley in the north to Wasdale Valley in the south. After a brief rest, I turned right heading north west straight up the steep slope of Great Gable

This was a very steep and rocky path. Like I mentioned before, it had been a couple of years since I tackled any Lakeland summit, and Great Gable is a very formidable mountain. I found the going very strenuous and physically tough. I had to rest regularly as I ascended. What supprised me most apart from the steep gradient, was how long this actually went on for. I can't remember exactly how long the ascent lasted - perhaps half an hour or longer. This was a long time to walk feeling so exhausted. As I got higher, though, the view back towards the Scafell Range became even more impressive.

Suddenly the gradient became less steep and started to level. The ground was covered with loose rocks and boulders and there were patches of snow nesting in the crevices. Eventually I reached the flat summit plateau across the boulder strewn fell top. The rain from earlier on in the morning had just been a brief shower, and towards the top of my climb the sun had broken through the grey sky. It was now a bright clear day, and visibility was fabulous.

The summit was rather busy, and a number of people were sat close around the summit rocks. I stopped there for some time looking at the views all around. The first area that drew my attention was the Buttermere valley. I was looking down on Haystacks which seemed tiny from the summit of Great Gable. The lakes of Butermere and Crummock Water could also been seen clearly. Ennerdale was visible along with High Stile on one side of the valley and Pillar on the other. I also remember seeing Wastwater in the Wasdale valley. I was absolutely intrigued by the view to the Scafell Pike range of mountains to the north. When I planned the walk I did not appreciate how close Great Gable was to these fells. Great End was closest to Great Gable, and seemed particularly impressive. The giant scar of Skew Gill looked very formidable. From where I was standing there didn't seem any obvious routes to the summit.

These were my first impressions of this area. I have since ascended Scafell Pike and others in the range and understand the area much more intimately, but it was this initial experience that really caught my interest.

I must have spent twenty minutes on the summit taking in the views. I could have stayed longer, but needed to press on as my time was slightly limited due to the drive home to Manchester. The descent from the summit was to the north east to Windy Gap. This was also steep and rocky, requiring the use of hands for brief sections of scrambling. Once at Windy Gap, there was the ascent to Green Gable. This looks nothing on the map in terms of gradient or distance, but feeling tired from the ascent of Great Gable, the additional short climb seemed very tiring. Once there however, the view back to Great Gable was spectacular. From here there is a fabulous view of Gable Crag on Great Gables north face. This was truly awe-inspiring.

I descended from Green Gable to the north east. I arrived on the ridge that connects Green Gable with the neighbouring fell of Base Brown, where I took the left branch in the path. This led down to Gillercomb where Sour Milk Gill flows down to Seathwaite. The sun shining down made this small hanging valley seem extremely picturesque. At the mouth of the valley above Seathwaite, the land fell away sharply at Seathwaite slabs and the path descended steeply alongside a waterfall. Some minor scrambling was involved in the descent before I reached the Valley floor on the far side of the river from Seathwaite. From here I crossed a bridge and joined a track (the one I could not find at the beginning of the walk) that took me into the hamlet of Seathwaite. Before leaving the Hamlet to return to my car, I called in at the tea shop for a sandwich and drink.