Wasdale from Great Gable

The view of Wasdale from near the summit of Great Gable

Date completed: 2nd May 2017.

Weather conditions: Fine, dry, and warm enough to go the whole day wearing just sweater and T-shirt: the fleece jacket was unnecessary baggage today.  A pleasant spring day in other words.

Summits bagged: Great Gable (2949 feet above sea level and number 100 of my second round).

Seathwaite valley

Spring in the Seathwaite valley, looking up Grains Gill

Gable was previously bagged on walk 60b, on 29/7/12, a day with far less pleasant weather. In fact I will still nominate it my worst single walking day on this project, weather-wise, and the reason why I was determined to return only on a fine day. See the commentary.

Pedantically, I avoided rebagging Green Gable as well but only because I’d already done it twice. It would involve only a few minutes’ more effort to add this summit to the walk.

Start and end points: Started and finished at Mountain View, the row of cottages on the B5289 a few hundred yards east of Seatoller.  #78 buses and, in summer, #77 ones from Keswick stop here. It is better to start and finish the walk here than at Seatoller, for reasons explained shortly.

I started the walk at about 10:45, on the arrival of the 10.20 bus departure from Keswick, and got back to Mountain View about five hours later, in time to catch the 15:50 bus back.

Walker near Styhead Tarn

Walker near Styhead Tarn. The cliffs in the background are the slopes of Scafell Pike.

Distance walked: 9 miles approximately.

Total ascent:  2800 feet approximately.

Pub at end: None. If your OS map still tells you there’s a pub in Seatoller, it’s time to get a more up-to-date one.

Note that at Mountain View, you are only about a mile from the Scafell Hotel at Rosthwaite, so that can probably be reached in about 20 minutes if the bus timetable allows and you’re not too knackered.  The Langstrath Country Inn at Stonethwaite is about the same distance away but has the disadvantage of not being on the bus route (and is closed on Mondays).

Route: With the exception of the Mitchell Gill variation, this is undoubtedly one of the most frequently undertaken walks in the Lake District, to the extent that, in clear weather, route advice is almost completely superfluous. But let’s see how much I can fill here, in order to give space for the usual crop of photos.

Seathwaite

Seathwaite

The reason for getting off the bus at Mountain View rather than Seatoller is that doing the latter condemns you to start the day by trudging down a mile of tarmac to Seathwaite, accompanied by large numbers of frenzied car drivers desperate to get to the fells ten minutes before you do. Starting at Mountain View instead allows you to begin with half an hour’s walking on the much more pleasant path that starts as the lane to Thornythwaite but then branches off through the fields, arriving at the back of Seathwaite farm. The only disadvantage of this is that it can be muddy sometimes, though wasn’t today.

Once in Seathwaite, turn left and head up the valley along with everyone else, and after the cute Stockley Bridge, stick on the main path rather than heading up Grains Gill. This is the Sty Head route.

Windy Gap

Windy Gap. Cliffs of Gable Crag behind.

On page Great Gable 16 , via a cross-reference to the chapter of neighbouring Green Gable, Wainwright notes the existence of a variation ascent up by the side of Mitchell Gill, stating that though it is pathless, it is worth considering, being quiet and on grass all the way to Windy Gap.  Looking at the OS map also suggests that it saves up to a mile on the journey compared to going all the way round via Sty Head itself. So I decided it was worth giving it a try.

Mitchell Gill is visible on the hillside not far after the ravine ends and the path levels out somewhat.  It is identifiable by being a double stream, two gills joining together not far above the main stream (Styhead Gill). The route slants up the left-hand branch of Mitchell Gill as you look up at it, towards the summit above, which is Green Gable.  It is a fairly easy climb, though steep towards the top and requiring some light scrambling.

Ennerdale from Windy Gap

Ennerdale, from Windy Gap. Kirkfell Crags and then Pillar on the left; the back of the High Stile range on the right.

As noted earlier, you can add Green Gable to the day easily enough, but I slanted around the summit to reach Windy Gap, where a superb view suddenly opens up ahead, into Ennerdale (see picture). The path up the scree to Great Gable’s summit is obvious at first, although doesn’t stay that way, fading out as it requires you to negotiate more rocky bits. But it’s not a long climb from here to the top.

it’s worth having a look around the summit plateau as not everything worth seeing can be seen from the summit. This is particularly true of the view of Wasdale (see the picture at the top of the page). To see this you need to descend a little in that direction. Kirk Fell looks rather odd from here too: it’s ‘cake’ shape being very obvious, almost like someone has lopped the top few hundred feet off a much taller, pointier mountain.

The path that descends Great Gable to Sty Head has been re-engineered and is the easiest way off, except for a very few bits near the top it should cause no difficulties.  Distraction comes with the impressive view ahead, the whole Scafell range from Great End round to Lingmell looking monumental.

Sty Head stretcher box

The stretcher box at Sty Head: Great End behind.

At the stretcher box, turn left, rest by Styhead Tarn for a few minutes if you need to chill out, and then just descend down what is a fairly agreeable path all the way back to Seathwaite and — my recommendation — Mountain View.

One final point is that in a few chapters of the Pictorial Guide (e.g. page Base Brown 5) Wainwright does suggest using the path on the other side of Styhead Gill, which goes through the ravine. It’s clearly visible from the main path. You’re quite welcome to try this, but it is obviously a more strenuous proposition and will probably add a good 15-20 minutes to the walk, at least.

Centenary commentary:  The 28th July 2012 saw me walk along the High Stille range and spend the night at the Black Sail Hut, on the first day of what was the third of my proper two-day hikes. A ‘proper’ two-dayer being not just when I walk on two consecutive days, like walk 100 and walk 101 for example, but where the place I spend the intervening night has to be walked to and there is no public transport used between the end of day one and the start of day two. There have been four so far: walk 20; walk 43; walk 60; and walk 117.

Ewe and two lambs

Ewe and two lambs near Thornythwaite farm

On every one of these, the weather on the second day has been much inferior to the first; this is the problem with two-day hikes, to be honest, especially in a region like the Lakes where the weather is so volatile. 29/7/12, walk 60b was a grim day from start to finish, and I continue to declare it the worst I’ve had for all-round foulness. There is a selfie that day, of me at Windy Gap, where I just look completely soaked and pissed off.

And it was on that day that I bagged Great Gable for the first time on this project (I had been up it once before, aged about 16). So poor was the weather that I had the summit plateau all to myself — on a Saturday in the ‘summer holidays’ (not that Britain had a summer in 2012). One of the most popular and famous mountains in Lakeland, an entrant in Wainwright’s ‘Best Half Dozen’ and he admits that if public opinion were to choose it, probably considered the best of all (though he personally goes for Scafell Pike).

View over Green Gable

View back over Green Gable. Bleaberry Fell, Walla Crag in the middle distance, and Blencathra in the background.

So Gable immediately made top place on my list of ‘Fells I Must Return To In Better Weather’. There was no way I was going up it again on anything other than a fine day. I was even prepared to abandon this walk as late as Seathwaite if it looked like there were going to be clouds up there — and it is surprising how often one does see Gable generate its own individual cloud, quite independently of what the weather is doing elsewhere. Then there’s Seathwaite’s status as the rainiest inhabited place in England.

But in the end 2nd May 2017 was a very pleasant day. What clouds there were, were high up and benign. So I made it. Number 100, of the second round. I wanted it to be a significant fell and in the end it was. Perhaps I’ve still not seen the best of Gable but this does seem a fell where you get the better views of it from other peaks, rather than when embarked on an ascent of it. Anyway it exorcised its bad-weather ghosts acceptably: though I do not rank it as personally highly as Bowfell (which is probably my own personal favourite Wainwright at the moment).

Styhead Gill

Styhead Gill, looking back up the valley towards Great End

I did consider extending the walk to Kirk Fell, but calculated this would see me definitely not getting home until after 10pm, and this was not really desirable. Anyway I realised only today that despite all my peregrinations around the Lakes, I had never previously visited Sty Head, one of the major walkers’ crossroads in the District.  And having now done so, I think it is quite a pleasant spot, in a way that Esk Hause, say, is not; Esk Hause is dramatic, but not a relaxing place to hang out, but Sty Head was a nice place to relax before the final descent thanks to the peaceful shore of Styhead Tarn and the awesome cliffs of Great End towering above.

Great Gable summit

The summit of Great Gable

I find myself shockingly disinterested in the election apparently taking place at the moment in the UK, so let’s not mention that, not yet. There’ll be more walks before voting date, June 8th, as I want to take advantage of certain buses which I am convinced are not going to survive another year of Tory rule.  Spring seems definitely to be here, at least, so let’s push on.

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