The Lake District Guide

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9 Great Gable

Start and finish: Honister Pass (GR 226135).

Distance / Ascent: 8.5km (5 miles), 1700m (2,300ft). Allow 5 hours.
Highest point: Great Gable summit 899m (2,949ft)

Steep-sided and high, the bowler hat shape of Gable is recognisable from almost any other summit. The high sides suggest a toilsome ascent. From Honister, however, there is a route up Great Gable that starts high and undulates. And there is a way back that wanders round the side, and views the cliff scenery from underneath.

From the uphill end of the car park, a path heads steeply uphill to left of the mine buildings. The newly-built pitched path makes the climb fairly easy. The path ends at a stile 200m (220 yards) short of Grey Knotts' summit. But where is that summit, among the knolls and tiny pools?

When you've had enough of looking for it, head southwest along the remains of an iron fence to the cairn on Brandreth. The fence remnant continues to the tarns at Gillercomb Head, and now a wide path with cairns leads up onto Green Gable. Eroded zigzags lead down into Windy Gap. This is a fine pass, with steep nasty-looking screes descending on both sides and crags ahead. The path up Great Gable keeps to left of the crag, but it is steep, with short steps up bare rock. As the ground eases, the path crosses boulders and stones, with many cairns, to the summit outcrop.

Gable's top, when you finally get there, is barely worth it. It's a wide plateau of rocks - and because it's so wide, and high, there almost isn't any view at all. And yet Great Gable remains one of the most frequently trodden spots in all Cumbria. It's even popular with the dead: the fell-runner Joss Naylor has complained in print about the number of people who have their ashes scattered here, and the consequent bony grit in his trainers.

Attached to the summit rocks is the Fell & Rock Clubs brass plate, a relief map of central Lakeland. The actual memorial consists of the mountains themselves: Great Gable, the Scafells, and surrounding bills. These were purchased in memory of Lakeland climbers who died in the two World Wars. A service is held on the summit of Great Gable on Commemoration Day every November.

Although the plateau of Gable hides much of the surrounding ground, there is a truly superb viewpoint just 150 m (160 yards) to the southwest.

For every hundred on the summit, only half a dozen eat their sandwiches around the Westmorland Cairn. But from the Westmorland Cairn, there is a view down onto the sweeping red screes of Great Hell Gate and the spiky ridges that top off the Nape's Buttress almost directly below; then out along the length of Wasdale to the sea. The fields of Wasdale Head, their layout unchanged since the Middle Ages and possibly even prehistoric, are peculiarly satisfying.

Even when it isn't misty, it's difficult to find paths off Great Gable. The stones do not show footprints, the curve of the hill hides the ridges, and in any direction you look there is a cairn. To find the path for Beck Head, head directly away from the memorial plaque - the direction is northwest. At the edge of the plateau the path becomes visible. It's an awkward descent, on bare rock, then jammed stones, then scree.

It isn't necessary to descend all the way to the col: 50m (150ft) vertically above Beckhead the main path turns left to down to that col, but our path turns down right onto the north face of the mountain.

The path was also called "Moses Sledgate", and was used for hauling slate from Honister around the mountain and down into Wasdale for the port at Ravenglass. However, Moses was a smuggler, with an illegal whisky still in a cave on the southern side of Great Gable. The smugglers chose their route cleverly. Starting in Wasdale, the path ends ambiguously in either Borrowdale or Buttermere; but is observed only by watchers in Ennerdate.

The Moses Trod path descends at first before traversing the wide north slopes of Gable. The path passes like a whisper in the night below the crags and screes of Gable, and then of Green Gable. Hill walkers may choose to cross the boulders of Gable's summit but smugglers have more sense!

The path approaches the tarns at Gillercomb Head, passed on the outward journey. But to reach the tarns would be uphill, so instead the path bears away left, contouring around the slope of Brandreth.

On warm sunny days in late June and into July, the mountain ringlet butterfly flutters across the grassy slopes between Grey Knotts and Dubs Bottom. This is England's one truly mountain butterfly, and is found only in the Lake District above the 400m (1,30Oft) contour - it was discovered near Ambleside in 1809.

The Moses Trod path bends gradually left, and descends with large cairns to the highest point of the disused tramway. This was a sort of railway, powered by winch and cable, used to haul slate from the Dubs Quarry to Honister Pass.

Mount the embankment onto the tramway path, and head down it to the right. As the slope steepens, an erosion control path beads off to the left, rejoining the tramway just above the Honister quarry buildings. A stone cairn here is collecting cash for the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team. Heed well its mute appeal! The right of way passes out left onto the road for a few steps to reach the youth hostel and the car park.


10 Helvellyn Edges

Start and finish: Pay-and-display car park in Glenridding (385169)
Distance / ascent: 12.5 km (8 miles) / 1900m (2,953ft). Allow 7 hours.
Highest point: Helvellyn summit 950m (3,116ft)
Striding Edge under snow is a serious proposition, as the path below the crest is lost and the crest itself is trampled hard, even icy. Crampons and ice axes are often advisable. It is also dangerous in strong winds. Ordinary rainfall need not deter an ascent.

Helvellyn is England's most popular mountain, and Striding Edge probably the most popular route up it. And rightly so: it's a splendid rocky ridge, with big drops on either side and easy scrambling along the top. On this route we save Striding Edge for the descent. The scrambling is slightly easier in that direction, the views are even better, and towards the end of the day it becomes a little less crowded.

Glenridding 386169. Turn right out of the car park to cross Glenridding Beck on the main road. A rough track on the right runs beside the stream. After 300m (330 yards), when the track forks, keep right by the stream (signposted Greenside) for another 500m (0.5 mile) to Rattlebeck Bridge.

Rattlebeck Bridge 379168. This bridge was swept away in October 1927, when the dam at Keppelcove Tarn burst, 3km (2 miles) upstream and 500m (nearly 2,000ft) above. A wall of water 2m (6 ft) high hit Glenrdding: furniture was carried right across Ullswater, but most of the inhabitants were in bed on upper floors and no lives were lost.

Do not cross Rattlebeck Bridge, but take a little tapped lane uphill to a gate. A small footpath leads off to the right (signposted Greenside road). It crosses fields with waymarks and narrow gates, to join the track up Glen Ridding (the valley). Turn left, to pass the youth hostel and camping barn, and pass below the spoil heaps of the lower Greenside mines. At the junction of the tracks, keel) to the left (signposted Red Tarn and Helvellyn).

Greenside Mines 365175. During the nineteenth century tarns all along the face of Helvellyn were dammed to provide water and hydro-electric power for mine machinery. Red Tarn was raised by 1m (3 ft), and and tarns were created in Brown Cove and Keppel Cove. In 1890 the mines had electric winding gear and the world's first electric locomotive. Thousands worked here, producing 3,000 tons of lead ore a year and about a ton of silver. The last mine closed in 1962.

A footbridge on the left crosses the Keppelcove Beck, with a well-built path continuing upstream. Steep cones of Birkhouse Moor and Catstye Cam tower over the path. It crosses Redtarn Beck, and runs up to the tarn itself.

Red Tarn 350154. Coleridge called Helvellyn "this prodigious wildness", and a print made in his day shows eagles over Red Tarn. The tarn's head wall rising 300m (1,000 ft) to the summit of Helvellyn, the two bounding aretes and the pointed peak of Catstye Cam, make this a perfect glaciated corrie for geography students and an impressive spot for the rest of us as well.

From the foot of Red Tarn the path heads up to the right, to reach the low point of the ridge between Helvellyn and Catstye Cam. Swirral Edge is ahead, but first a diversion can be made to Catstye Cam. A small path runs along the ridge, which is narrow but not rocky.

Catstye Cam 347157. Catstye Cam (Catstycam) is a fine narrow summit, poised above Glenridding and Keppel Cove. A sandwich break here will allow the densest crowds to finish coming up Striding Edge. The old name is Catechedam. The meaning is as obscure as the spelling. Return down the southwest ridge, and go up Swirral Edge. This is rocky but not difficult, with a choice of routes among projections of splintery stone. It arrives right beside the summit of Helvellyn. Just down to the left is the cross-shaped Shelter where most people stop for lunch. Continue along the plateau edge for 150m (160 yards) to the triangular monument above Striding Edge. The triangular cairn is a memorial to the first recorded person to fall off it, one Gough, in April of 1805. Go straight down over the edge below the monument cairn, on various eroded and scree-covered paths. Soon this unpleasant ground becomes the sound rock of the ridge itself. A path on the left-hand (Red Tarn) side avoids the difficulties. For those taking the crest direct, the crux is the second short ascent. This is taken on large well-worn holds in a shallow groove round on the right.

Striding Edge 349149. Another memorial, set beside a comfortable lunch-nook in the ridge crest, marks where the second person fell over the edge. (One Dixon, following the Patterdale foxhounds in 1858.) At this point the commemoration of accident victims was brought to an end - fortunately, as otherwise the ridge would now be seriously obstructed. On a sunny summer Sunday 500 people ascend Striding Edge, and every few years someone dies in the attempt.

Soon after the second memorial the Edge turns back into an ordinary ridge. A broad path, slightly down on the Red Tarn side, leads northeast for 1 km (0.66 mile) to the corner of a wall. A path to Glenridding goes down through the wall gap, but a nicer path keeps ahead, to left of the wall, towards Birkhouse Moor.

The wall bends right, downhill, and older maps show the right of way as following it down. However, a new path now keeps straight ahead to the summit of Birkhouse Moor, before descending eastwards in well-built zigzags. It joins Mires Beck and goes down beside it towards Glenridding, rejoining the outward route just above the village.


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