Great Gable and Green Gable from Honister Hause –Sunday June 3rd– Week 3

Easy to follow paths – a Lakeland classic

The Wasdale region of the Lake District is quite unfamiliar to me. It generally takes about two and a half hours to get here, more if you choose to take on Hardnott Pass then it’s more like three hours. It’s home to the Scafell massive of course and Great Gable was our first ascent and would be a marker for how we would fare on the next few walks leading upto and attack on Scafell Pike itself in August.

Leading anyone onto fells of such magnitude as Green and Great Gable should and did cause me some concern. Just to acknowledge the responsibility that comes with it and that while anyone who cares to come along does so at their own risk I can’t help feeling a little bit anxious. The weather of course is first to consider and given that summer still hasn’t started properly all eyes were on the forecast for days before. It was looking like a mixed bag weather wise but generally it looked like it would be dry but cloudy.  The mountain forecast alluded to early fog in the south clearing from the north and so figured Skiddaw as a second option. By Sunday morning I decided that Great Gable was still on so we left the grey skies of the north east behind fingers crossed for better in the west.

Very steep path from Honister Hause to Grey Knotts

Today we rustled up a little crew formed from previous companions. Later riser, bed headed Cherry Cheeks/Hip Hop heppers AKA Paul, made the last shout from Abs who leavered him form his pit with a phone call at 8am. Abs of course back from the dead since missing Blencathra was buzzin to be back on the fells again. Lesley was keen to come along but her participation in this event was still hanging in the balance since she was struck down with a bout of sickness that couldn’t be explained, so she came a long for the ride with the small people Jack and Em.

This outing was going to be special because we were all about to S.M.A.S.H our altitude records. I was especially excited for Jack and Emily because they would do so on the same day as me, meaning that we had something to share and remember as a joint achievement. Furthermore Jack would have bagged another 4 Wainwrights taking his total to 30. Not bad for a 9 year old who not that bothered about walking, though with every successful S.M.A.S.H he takes on a greater appreciation for what we do an a Sunday each month.

We arrived at the Slate Mine on Honister Pass familiar to those that made the ground breaking walk of Haystacks and Fleetwith Pike in March. Squashed between Dale Head and Grey Knotts it’s alive now not only for those wanting to take home a special piece of the lakes in the form of some real green slate, but also people looking for thrills outdoors. I’d read about the recent planning applications to establish a 1.2km zip wire here which would run from Black Star on Fleetwith Pike to the car park at the slate mine making it the longest in Europe. The BMC (British Mountaineering Council) formally rejected the development in May 2011 argued it to be inappropriate in an area of such tranquility. What it does have though is a Via Ferreta which is Italian for the iron way. A system of cables and iron rungs attached to the rock face historically used to move soldiers through the Alps. It gives ordinary people the experience of rock climbing without any mountaineering experience to get close to the rock at heights they would never previously thought possible.http://www.honister.com/via_ferrata_at_honister.asp. Of course the plans sparked a huge battle of words between those who believe the Lake District is a national park that should remain an oasis of peace and tranquility and those who want to make it the adventure capital of Britain and develop it into a playground for thrill seekers and extreme activities. It’s a tough one. Personally I can see it from both sides. I tend to object when I imagine the hordes of cars passing through small villages like Seathwaite and Buttermere. The infrastructure to support visitors would be too intrusive and would certainly loose that unspoiled aroma that Buttermere has managed to hold onto unlike it’s Windermere relation. Though like many others that appreciate the outdoors and the lakes as a place to visit then I do want access to it. Wether I’m walking, mountain biking or hanging from a rock by a wire then I don’t want to be told I’m spoiling the tranquility. But I do understand it if Jack is issued with a dispersal order.

After almost heading off in reverse we tracked back and began the steep ascent to Grey Knotts a stepped thigh busting climb among  the crags and crevices that make up this side of Honister’s hause. Jack quickly began to boil up complaining he was too warm. We discovered under his jacket he was layered up to the eye balls thanks to his mother who has a tendency to over dress the small people. Removing a mid shirt Jack was on his way up.

Ascending Grey Knotts

We used the fence line to track a straight line across the contours then out of nowhere a fellow sporting a red sash and running short cross our path and hooked himself over the boundary blowing a horn as he went. This was odd and saw him run aimlessly into the distance. Then just minutes after another guy did the same but he was looking less comfortable and not wearing a red sash, in pursuit of the previous guy. It was evident something was going on and I hadn’t a clue what it was but it sounded familiar if only for the horn that was just like the ones huntsmen use on a fox hunt.

Gaps began to extend between us with Abs setting a healthy pace while I hung back with Jack and Emily. We clambered though the rock formations and arrived at Grey Knotts as a stiff wind gathered strength now we were in the open. Views opened up all around. Behind was Dale head with it’s obvious tall cairn though it was just a tiny pin from here and Haystacks and High Stile on our right and Kirk Fell straight ahead. You could go on spotting peaks all day from here.

Emily’s a spring chicken and she’s having a ball and Paul’s an extra from Oliver.

A little person taking a rest on a bundle of toothpicks. Great Gable behind with a cloud top.

We picked out our next goal and Brandreth but it’s unimpressive against a backdrop of much mightier mountains. With the wind firmly behind us we set off and cock a leg back over the ruined fence line to follow a wide path strewn with boulders punctuated good cairns. Small pools and tarns meant that the going was easing. The next Wainwright, Brandreth would probably be the easiest peak we’ve Smashed yet as we cruised onto it not entirely sure we were even on it. There are a number of cairns around here so asked sput nick to point us to the correct pile of stones. Brandreth forms a triangular plan that falls away gently to the north to Grey Knotts and Honister. To the west it drops to Ennerdale and east it falls very steeply to Gillcoombe amd Seathwaite. Thus Brandreth is the only fell that feeds the three lakes of Derwent, Buttermere and Ennerdale.  It’s a large plateaux and barely feels like a ridge walk to Green Gable.

From Brandreth – Left to right – Pillar – Ennerdale Water- Haystacks and High Stile – Buttermere and Emily.

Excitement mounted as Green and Great Gable dominated the view ahead. Green Gable

Jack climbs Green Gable from Gillercomb Head. A fine view of Ennerdale Valley and the River Liza

looked like a challenge while Great Gable was daunting since it held it’s cloud cap from the time we could see it. No other peak did, not even those on the Sca Fell range, and this seemed to reinforce it’s height. We took off easily downwards toward Gillercomb Head making up the path as we went through the massive stones that gathered evermore dense. We all agreed to walk as far as the foot of Green Gable and shelter from the growing wind to take out lunch and fuel up for the climbs ahead.  Jack and Emily nested among the stones and passed around a fine platter of chocolate muffins and turkey sandwiches. Abs took a back seat and was quietly breathing the air while Heppers had relieved a passing walker of his lighter for a lunch time tab to complete his Artful Dodger ensemble, all he need now was my accent and the part was his. We filled our cake holes, leave the shelter (and maybe one of Emily’s pink gloves). We make straight for the tidy peak via an equally tidy path that slices through the grass banks of Green Gable.

Gillercomb Head and Green Gable and Great Gable

Green Gable – SMASHed!

Green Gable is an outstanding viewpoint in every direction. The view down to Ennerdale and Buttermere holds much interest. There’s lots to take in. Separated by Haystacks so familiar to us since we were there on sunny Sunday in March. Behind us we could still see Dale Head and Robinson, Maiden More now from this height. Great Gable is so close, so enormous it can just about fits in your eyes.

Gable Crag from Green Gable

To the south east below Great End the tarns of Styhead and above, Sprinkling Tarn. On the horizon, The Langdale Pikes of Harrison Stickle and Pike of Stickle.

The was no doubt about our position as far as Emily could tell. I’d traced her finger over the map on Saturday night stopping at Windy Gap. Today it was worthy of it’s name. Emily smiled and shouted against the power of the wind in the col between Green and Great Gable. “This must be windy Gap!”

Broad Crag, Sca Fell Pike and Sca Fell as seen from the Windy Gap

The fun part started now on the climb or scramble if you wanted too up Great Gable itself. We crossed and zig zagged our way through the loose rock. A wrong foot here could end a walk as sand coloured boulders rolled and slipped under the boots, it felt better to get a hold here and there. The passing places are narrow. Waiting to let other walkers by was safer than trying to pick another line. Jack and Emily always enjoy this kind of climbing, they seem to crawl over the rock but often end up making their own route up simply because they cannot see the path being that bit smaller, they need guiding back to the trail.

The summit is a massive boulder field, a rounded summit with a number of cairns indicating the way up, or the way down. We climb onto the summit behind the memorial plaque set on the summit rock commemorating those members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club who died in the First World War. I hadn’t told Abs about the view from here and just before we arrived I set him for the surprise view which was that over Wasdale and Wast Water. It didn’t fail take your breath away. This view is just stunning and considered a favourite of many walkers that love the fells. So many other peaks can be seen grouped all around. No wonder this place is often chosen to scatter the ashes of loved ones. I point out to my friends that we stand on the summit of the mountain that sits at the centre of Britain’s favourite view if seen from the far end of Wast Water. The silhouette of the Wasdale range made of Yewbarrow, Great Gable and Lingmell is depicted in the emblem of the Lake District National Park.

Time to bring out the thermos. It’s getting colder now as we shelter behind the cairn out of wind and pass around the binoculars to survey the fells around, notably spending most of the time spotting other walkers ascending Scafell Pike. There appeared to be no one on the Pike. The shelter was easy to make out. But on closer inspection and a slight tweak of focus the shelter was actually mobbed by walkers, changing shape as people bustled about on the summit. Also seen were scores of walkers in single file heading up too. It was like Fawcett Street up there, (or Piccadilly Circus depending on your upbringing). Abs avoided the offer of tea, not wanting to foment a toilet break. Jack messed on with the GPS forcing a new altitude record beyond the official 899 metres by standing high on the cairn with his arm stretched high it clocked 900 meters. I fear he’ll be bringing a set of steps on the next outing. He was highly amused. We polished off the remains of our bait and sat back and watched the cloud roll in behind us. The view began to fade and signaled the best time to descend but not without a SMASH peak photo, though it was devoid of any scenery, replaced with the grey cap we’d seen Great Gable wear all day. Jack offered to do the honours as we stood battered against the moist wind. Just before leaving though the cloud lifted ever so slightly and grabbed this shot of the small people who I have to say am so incredibly proud of. They really have made this day so fun. I now marvel at how at ease they are outdoor in such openness. They entertain us by entertaining themselves. It’s great to share their effort with them and listen to them pointing out the next peaks they want to climb. Scafell Pike for them now looks very achievable with Skiddaw and Helvellyn to SMASH in July they should be set for a successful assault on England’s highest.  So big up the small people!

Brother and Sister – Jack 9 and Emily 8 years on a very windy Great Gable summit.

Descending Great Gable. Yewbarrow and Wastwater make the backdrop.

We set away down the north west face of this pyramidical fell into a bombed maze of rock and car sized boulders overlooking Kirk Fell. Steeply down, holding the stone and checking our feet. It’s tricky. Lead by Jack and Emily we descend below the cloud line the view begins to open up again for a sharper look at Wasdale. Jack and Em begin their usual teasing of the older members of the crew by wondering out loud about what was holding us up.

I don’t mind being teased far taking it easy but there’s a time and place for speed and this particular descent needed a little patience as Jack soon found when he wrong footed tumbled off the narrow path. He rolled over lengthways a couple of times fortunately the sides were stable enough that he went no further. We all gasped. At first we thought he would keep going. He was ok but a bit shaken. Shocked I think from the idea he had just fallen off a mountain. His leg hurt near and his hip, apart from that he was ok. It could have been worse if he’d knocked his head or something. I checked him over and  he began to cry, he knew he had been a little too excited, sliding down on his backside as sometimes he and Emily do when it turns steep. I think his back pack served as some protection too cause I’m sure he fell onto some rock embedded into the ground. I was a little cross with him but it wasn’t a time for being cross, he needed a quiet word of warning about taking his time and not to get over excited. A reality check for Jack and reminder of what can happen when you loose concentration for moment. I explained that when accidents happen it’s the cold that is the real danger if you cannot move you get cold quickly out here and it can take a long time to get you off the mountain. We had a hug and held hands for while until the trail eased a little and made down to Mosses trod which we would follow to Drum House.

Paul in Stone Cove

We got caught up in the game of Hare and Hounds and this time we quizzed a guy about what was going on. In essence he was just playing tig. He was a senior looking fellow with stork like legs. He surveyed the fell all around but set sights on a man with a red sash. He was the hare and this old “hound” we were with pretended to be with us doing his best to disguised himself as a fell walker so he could get closer the hare. We carried on walking and he backed up the fell. We talked to another younger couple of hounds and they explained there are four hares and twenty hounds. The hares are generally made up of professional runners, cross country runners, tri-athletes, people of that persuasion. The game is a tradition that takes place every Whitsun and has done since 1898 and is essentially a manhunt that history tells was really a woman hunt. She was known as Black Sall, she was a notorious smuggler in the 17th century, so the story goes, who was torn to pieces by dogs. They had chased her over the fell as she tried to escape with her booty. She had been smuggling plumbago (graphite) from Seathwaite mines – a then precious commodity used in the manufacture of cannonballs. Today there’s a bothy called Black Sail Hut just below Haystacks.

Mosses trod named after another smuggler.

Leaving Great Gable along Mosses Trod

The trail dips into Ennerdale slightly to give good views of Haystacks and Black Tarn before turning right to Drum House. Whilst Paul pondered the merits of running a calculated probability model in order to increase one chances of winning the lottery, he let out a yelp of excruciating pain. He went over and hit the deck grabbing his ankle. What a fright! But he’d just twisted it and got up and carried on almost as if nothing had happened. 20 minutes later he did it again. This time we weren’t nearly as concerned despite the same cries of pain.

Black Tarn and Buttermere

The walk was a gentle stroll from now on and the mood was ever relaxed but for Abs and Jack quizzing each other on the worlds geology and national flags. Anything to pass away the slow descent to Honister knowing full well a big mug of tea was waiting at the slate mine tea shop. Abs lead the way down with Emily then Jack and Paul and myself holding back and holding my bladder. I should have taken heed to Abs’s advise on Great Gable.

Chatting about small matters.

Honister Slate Mine in miniature


Walk Route Summary:– Honister Pass, Honister Hause, Grey Knotts, Brandreth, Green Gable, Windy Gap, Great Gable, Westmorland Cairn, Beck Head, Beckhead Tarn, Moses’ Trod, Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk, Honister Pass.Vital Statistics for this Walk

  • Length/Distance: 9.00km (5.75 miles)
  • Total Ascent: 731m (2340ft)
  • Allow at least: 4.50hrs
  • Walk Grade: 


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