Friday, 6 April 2012

Great Gable

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Route: Wasdale Head, Moses' Trod, Bursting Knott, Sty Head, Aaron Slack, Windy Gap, Great Gable, White Napes, Gavel Neese, Wasdale Head

Date: 06/04/2012
From: Wasdale Head

Parking: Large car park at Wasdale Head
Start Point: The Church of St. Olaf
Region: Western Fells

Route length: 5.6 miles (9km)
Time taken: 3:00
Average speed: 1.7mph
Ascent: 865m
Descent: 865m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Great Gable (899m)

Additional summits: None

Other points of interest: Sty Head Tarn, The Great Napes

Ask anyone to draw a mountain and they will invariable, and probably accidentally, draw Great Gable (albeit with a spikier summit and a satisfying covering of snow), such is its almost perfect mountainous shape. A tremendous triangular symmetry greets visitors from Wasdale and its name could not be more fitting, standing proud at the end of Wastwater like a great roof over the south western fells. This was well and truly one of those walks that will live long in the memory. Not necessarily because it was the longest, most exciting or had the best views. No (though it could have done). Like many walks in the British Isles, it was the weather that etched itself into my memory during this walk and is a classic example of why I always carry a full set of waterproofs whenever I'm in the Lake District.

We spent a long bank holiday weekend staying in a rather nice B&B at Irton Hall. This choice of accommodation, unbeknown to us at the time of booking, made all the difference to the enjoyment of the weekend, thanks to the inclusion of a handy set of radiators and towel rails. More on that later.

We had a couple of walks planned for the weekend including the epic Mosedale Horseshoe but as a warm-up the idyllic peaked summit of Great Gable was calling from its commanding position at the head of Wastwater. The route we had chosen was a simple circular from the Wasdale Head car park to Great Gable via Sty Head and back. No frills with this one.
Great Gable hides in the clouds
Having made the short drive from Irton Hall, we parked in Wasdale Head car park, one of the rare car parks in the Lakes that is still free to park in which is probably one of the reasons it was filling up nicely by the time we arrived mid-morning. After the inevitable faffing around getting boots and bags ready, we set off along the track towards Burnthwaite Farm, stopping off at the small church on the way.
Getting the equipment in order
The church of St. Olaf is one of the smallest churches in England. The earliest record of the church is from 1550, though it could predate this. The beams in the roof are said to come from a Viking longship which would make it very old indeed. The reason we stopped by for a visit is to see the small inscription on one of the window panes, a memorial to members of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club who lost their lives in the First World War. The words 'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my strength' are especially fitting for an area long associated with British rock climbing.
The Church of St. Olaf
The prominent message etched onto one of the window panes
After stopping at the Church of St. Olaf, we continued on past Burnthwaite Farm and along the path called Moses' Trod that would start the climb up alongside Lingmell Beck to Sty Head. The path is very straight forward comprising of a steady climb over a well trodden scree path that has seen the imprints of millions of boots over the years. An alternative route to this highway would be to stay in the valley alongside Lingmell Beck and make a steep climb out at the end. Much quieter but a stiffer challenge at the end. Both however, would reach the same destination at Sty Head Tarn.
Following the path towards Burnthwaite Farm
Moses' Trod runs alongside Lingmell Beck
The path steepens towards Bursting Knott
A view back down towards Wasdale head
Sty Head tarn
Sty Head is a very popular mountain pass, surrounded by paths that access many of the most famous fells of the western Lakes. Great Gable, Great End, Lingmell, Esk Pike, Scafell and Scafell Pike are all readily accessible from this high level meeting point. Paths from Wasdale, Eskdale, Borrowdale and Langdale all converge at Sty Head Tarn bringing with them a multitude of mountain walkers and runners. Such is its strategic importance amongst probably the most popular mountains in the Lakes, the local Mountain Rescue team have a stretcher box based there ready and waiting for the next unfortunate passenger. More information about the old Mountain Rescue Stretcher Boxes can be found here.
Heading towards Aaron Slack
Taking a quick break, we quickly spied the weather starting to close in so we donned the waterproof jackets for the next part of the walk, a steep climb up the rocky confines of Aaron Slack to Windy Gap. This climb was the most tiring of the day, Aaron Slack climbing 300m in almost exactly half a kilometre. By my reckoning, that makes for a gradient of 60%. Mean. We were pretty tired by the time we sought shelter in order to eat our sandwiches but this respite also gave us the opportunity to get the rest of the waterproofs out, especially those items that covered the legs. The skies began to look more and more ominous and the cloud started to swirl lower and lower.
The clouds descend as we climb Aaron Slack
Reaching Windy Gap, perhaps the most aptly named place in the Lake District, the clouds could not longer contain the weight of water they were carrying and the rain arrived, blocking out the views for the rest of the walk. Determined though, having had a decent blasting on Windy Gap, we ploughed on up the path adjacent to Gable Crag and towards the summit. As with many of the paths on this walk, this one is easy to follow, even when the visibility is reduced. After several minutes of climbing, the steepness lessens as you reach the domed summit of Great Gable.
Family gathering at Windy Gap
Climbing the narrow path towards the summit
A short scramble is required to get to the summit plateau

Sara enjoying the rain
Sara makes her way to the summit
A windy, wet summit 
Named after its idyllic mountain shaped (resembling a perfect triangle from Wasdale), Great Gable is a favourite amongst many walkers and is a very popular fell, thanks to a combination of its grand name, its grand shape or its connections to the early days of rock climbing as a sport (rather than a necessary evil). In fact, the fell is so well regarded amongst the rock climbing community that there is a prominent plaque set on the summit rock commemorating the 20 members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club who died during the First World War. A large area of land, including Great Gable, was bought by the club and subsequently donated to the National Trust as a memorial to these members. The plaque was dedicated in 1924 by Geoffrey Winthrop Young (a notable British climber and author) in front of around 500 people. Hundreds of people still attend a memorial service on Great Gable on Remembrance Sunday and I think that my next visit will be to take part.

With the rain falling and the wind getting in on the act as well, we didn't hang around on the summit for very long, groping our way down to find the path that runs between Great Napes and White Napes before heading down the nose of Gavel Neese. A combination of the rain and the steep, slippery scree-like path made for some arduous walking though we managed to reach the bottom intact and all accounted for. The fact that the pub at the Wasdale Head Inn was a mere couple of miles away spurred us on and before long we were huddled around their grand wood burning stove, sharing knowing glances with everyone else whose waterproof kit was draped or hung off of every available bit of space.
Picking our way down the mountainside
Descending Gavel Neese
I mentioned at the start of this post the B&B in which we were staying, by the time we returned we were thankful that we could get all of our kit scattered around the two rooms to get it all dry for another days walking. Without it I'm not sure the though of damp kit in damp bags would really have spurred us on up around Mosedale. It's not the sort of luxury you receive when camping. Most tents don't include radiators. Or baths for that matter (though some do have drying rooms). Maybe I should try B&Bs more often? Still, despite the rain, Great Gable's a great walk up a great mountain. Revered by visitors from around the world, its place in the hearts of everyone associated with the Lake District is assured, thanks to its historic links to the birth of rock climbing and its long association with Remembrance Day. The fact that it is the symbol of the National Park is a testament to its almost perfect mountain qualities.