The easiest route to Great Gable's summit
The bird floated on the air seemingly without effort as it surveyed the rough empty fellside beneath. Dad was sure it was a buzzard and we both watched it for some time until, with the late afternoon sun catching its brownish feathers it drifted slowly off over Styhead Tarn's still waters in the direction of Borrowdale.
It was on one of those seemingly endless summer days that we'd stood just above Sty head after a long day in the hills. Having been up Scafell Pike and Lingmell, we'd descended the Corridor Route to be faced with the choice of either returning to Langdale or following the path up to Great Gable. This being a summit that had so far eluded us, we ignored the vast distance to the car and wordlessly set off.
The shadows were lengthening in the valleys and the Sun was approaching the glittering Irish sea as we reached the summit, to be treated to a panorama of lakes and fells bathed in a quality of light not often seen...
The route described here is far shorter and easier than that from Langdale via the Pike and doesn't involve a dusk descent of Rossett Gill either - this being an experience that I cannot highly recommend.
Following the clear path from Honister slate Mine signposted to Great Gable and Haystacks, I headed firstly up steep steps and then more gradually up a long straight section, leaving the deep defile of Honister below and crossing more open fellsides. Soon I came to a section of path that was raised up like causeway for a short distance over some boggy looking ground. Here, the left hand path should be taken, unless of course Haystacks is the objective, in which case, carry straight on.
This track led across very easy, grassy slopes below Grey Knotts and offered spectacular views down the Buttermere valley towards the sea and over the knobbly tops of Haystacks to the rugged slopes of Pillar which rose massively ahead. Along this stretch, I got chatting to a couple who'd stopped to take a photo at the same spot. They turned out to be Roger and Jane from Lincoln who shared my enthusiasm for the Lake District and we decided to team up for the walk up Great Gable.
For most of this section a distant post is visible on the skyline away ahead as if to guide the way and it is upon reaching this that you first see the day's objective. Great Gable appears suddenly ahead as a great stone sentinel guarding the western approaches of Lakeland. This is Gable Grag and its appearance is one of impregnability from this angle. Roger scarcely believes me that our route involves no rock climbing!
From this point we crossed a stile and headed towards where the distant path could be seen ascending the ridge of Green Gable. My companions had been up nearby High Crag a couple of days before in mist and rain and could hardly believe the change in the weather. There was a cold wind blowing but it was very clear. This part here would need some care in mist though - there were marker cairns and the odd iron post but the path faded away for large parts of the walk to Gillercombe Head which separates Green Gable from Brandreth.
Passing a couple of small tarns on our right we began the ascent of Green Gable. The path was once again clear and expansive views had appeared on the far side of the ridge. Below was the head of Borrowdale while Glaramara and the Langdale Pikes appeared across the valley. Further round was the dark and rugged Scafell Range.
As we followed the ridge steadily up, we were joined by the path from Borrowdale bringing quite a few more people - the route so far from Honister had been relatively quiet.
The small summit of Green Gable at 2603 feet, is marked by a stone shelter, a cairn on the highest point and some breathtaking views. The panorama from here is, I think, as good as that from its higher neighbour with the exception of course that Wastwater cannot be seen from here. Instead the imposing crags of Great Gable fill the view in that direction.
The vista from Pillar and across the head of Ennerdale to the Buttermere Fells is especially beautiful and in the other direction can be seen the mirror like Sty Head and Sprinkling Tarns beneath Great End's northern crags.
Now we set off down a small descent to the very well named Windy Gap - it was a bit blowy to say the least - and we all put away our walking poles for the final steep climb. I find using poles a help on long uphill stretches but they can get in the way if scrambling is on the cards. The path here led around to the left a little way before going straight up the stony slope above. It was as I remembered it - steep, loose and very stony. The way here is easier if you stick to the straightforward scrambles on the bigger rocks rather than trying to claw one's way up all the loose stuff.
And so to the summit which we reached surprisingly quickly from Windy Gap. Great Gable is one of the most sought after summits in the Lake District and it is worth the effort. This was especially so today in near perfect weather. The Irish Sea and the Isle of Man made up the western view with the Galloway Hills in Scotland clearly seen beyond the ridges of High Stile and Grasmoor. So often the view from Lakeland summits is the same regardless of which fell you're on - a 10 metre circle of wet grass or stones surrounded by a damp empty nothingness of grey mist - but not today!
For the best views of Wasdale one needs to go a short way roughly south west of the main cairn to the Westmorland Cairn where the patchworked fields of Wasdale Head appear a vertical half mile below. The lake of Wastwater - England's deepest - sparkles between The Screes and Yewbarrow, leading the eye to the ever present sea beyond the West Cumbrian Plain.
It was cold up here exposed to the North Wind that had brought these clear conditions, so after a snack we returned the way we'd come up. This is a route I would recommend for ease of ascent. The steep and rough section is interesting without beinglong as in the other routes and it was pleasantly quiet considering it was still late September.
There is ample parking at Honister Slate Mine but it's only free all day if you're doing the via ferrata or mine tour, which do look good but if you're going walking it is expensive - £5 for the day. When it was free I would always go in and buy something but there you go. There are places lower down the pass to pull in.