Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Great Gable from Honister

This Saturday was the first Saturday this year where I didn't have any plans and the weather forecast was good. So I knew I had to get outdoors and I really wanted to get up a proper mountain as I've only climbed to the top of one 'proper' mountain so far this year. Nicky had no university lectures and also wanted to get out of the house and take a break from her constant study. I am really trying to get the walks on the website written up at the moment. For years there have been too many pages unfinished which has always upset me. The only problem is that a lot of the unwritten pages are from walks I did several years ago and never go the time to write up. Remembering these walks can be very difficult and I am not a fan of websites, guide books or any other walk directions written by people who haven't actually done the walk themselves. I've always been proud of knowing every single walk written up on my website I have done myself. I have decided therefore that instead of trying to remember these old walks I will instead re-visit as many of them as possible. One popular mountain I climbed several years ago but haven't since is Great Gable. On a sunny day several years ago me and my friend Woody decided to climb Great Gable from Honister. It was a great day until we got to the final ascent and the cloud came in and covered the mountain plateau of Great Gable. Being foolish and naive I decided to guess the direction of our descent route off the summit . Instead of descending to Windy Gap to return to Honister via Great Gable I accidentally led us down to Styhead Tarn. We walked back via Seathwaite and Seatoller which added several extra miles to the walk. Luckily Woody is the one friend who would just laugh this off and made the best of what was still a great day out. I certainly learned my lesson that day and have since always taken a compass bearing and used the map to get off summits in similar situations. So a return to the popular Great Gable was chosen.

Gable Crag on Great Gable from Green Gable

The north western corner of the Lake District National Park is not the easiest to get to, and Honister is now exception. Working out the fuel price when I got home I realised that with petrol prices as they are at the moment it cost us £45 in fuel to get to Honister and back from South Manchester. Add £5 for parking and you soon see why I smirk when people tell me hill walking is free. I have to say though it is the best way to spend £50. We set off quite late as I had a few things to take to the Post Office. The weather was blue skies and sunshine all the way. Nicky was constantly telling me off and to keep my eye on my speedometer and the road ahead while I was distracted by the usual suspects. Winter Hill rarely in view and usually shrouded in low cloud, today looked like someone had install polarising windows in my car as it looked so defined against a dark blue background. The Howgills, probably my favourite view from a car window outside of Scotland, looked incredible and were dotted with paragliders whose wings looked like huge feathers falling from the sky. Blencathra and its eye catching ridges looked higher than normal as the crisp clear air gave amazing clarity. We drove through Keswick where on a clear day when I can see the mountains from the streets all I can think to myself is "I would love to live here". We drove along the narrow road through Borrowdale in fear of meeting and having to share the narrow road with one of the double decker Borrowdale Rambler buses. When we reached Honister we found the car park was full so had to park on an area just above the car park which was  littered with worryingly sharp slate. We paid our parking in the mine shop and met a friendly shop assistant who told us where the Grey Knotts ascent path starts from as it wasn't too clear. There are the obvious ascent paths to Moses Trod that go up via the old incline and the mine road but I wanted to ascend Grey Knotts first and walk along the ridge to Great Gable passing over Grey Knotts, Brandreth and Green Gable.

Nicky on Great Gable above Beck Head

We walked to the left side of the mine buildings and found the hidden stile over the fence. The path was well laid and ascended the hill following a fence on the right. Skylarks flew above us as we kept stopping to look back over the fascinating Honister Pass and Honister Slate Mine. The path got fairly rough as it approached a crag and a hands on scramble was required at one point and a tight squeeze through a narrow gully. After that the going was fairly easy. Nicky played with tadpoles and frogs in the many pools of water. We crossed the stile over the fence then ascended to the crags on the summit of Grey Knotts. Over to the right hand side was the highest point on Grey Knotts from which there was a great view down into both Ennerdale and Buttermere. We made our way along the ridge to Brandreth where it was impossible to know which of around a dozen rocky knolls was the highest. We descended to Gillercomb and sat behind a rock sheltered from the wind and ate the tasty sandwiches that Nicky made while I was at the Post Office in the morning. The place we chose to stop gave us a great view across Gillercomb and Sour Milk Gill to Borrowdale and beyond. After lunch we ascended Green Gable. The summit of Green Gable gave us an overwhelming view of the huge Gable Crag. We descended the path to Windy Gap which was not easy, the path was very steep with very fine and loose scree. Windy Gap was a great though, the views on either side were awesome. Looking south east down Aaron Slack across Styhead Tarn and beyond, then looking north west over Stone Cove into Ennerdale. We set off up the ascent of Great gable which we knew would be the toughest part of the day. We are both commuter cycling and loosing weight. I feel extremely fit at the moment and it really showed in both of us. We powered our way past everyone else and were soon on the summit plateau of Great Gable and not even out of breath.

Wast Water from Westmorland Cairn on Great Gable

The summit of Great Gable was great to see as the last time I was up there it was shrouded in cloud and  I could see no more than ten metres in front of me. There was a lot of people on the summit as there was a Ten Peaks fell race event taking place and many of the runners were chilling out and chatting on the summit rocks. One thing I really wanted to do was visit the Westmorland Cairn and take a photo of the famous view down the Wasdale Valley. It was as awesome as everyone makes out it is and as described by many it really is a quiet spot. Only four of us were enjoying this fabulous view whilst there was dozens of people on the summit rocks. Unfortunately it was way too hazy to get a decent photo. I walked to the very edge and was shocked by the leg trembling view down into the screes and towers of Little Hell Gate. We walked back up to the summit rocks then made our way to the descent path to Beck Head. I don't think I've ever seen a summit plateau with as many cairns as Great Gable. I'd dare say ever Ben Nevis has less. I don't have anything against cairns, but when there are too many it can be fairly pointless and negates the purpose of cairns. We descended to a point just above Beck Head then Nicky decided she wanted to go off to the right. It took us down a treacherous shortcut path. There were two fellow walkers behind us who had unfortunately followed us like sheep. They didn't seem very confident on the steep scree and twice knocked huge rocks tumbling past us which was quite scary. We soon found ourselves at the bottom of the impressive Stone Cove and staring up at the awesome Gable Crag. An easy walk back to Honister along the Moses Trod path and we were back at the car. A thoroughly enjoyable day out, a proper mountain and with Nicky for company.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...


  1. Gable is a good one mate. You ever done the circular around it? Cracking walk that is! You'd be surprised how much so. You really do feel intimate with the mountain :)

  2. Sounds like a grand day out!