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by Donald Holliday
Wordsworth described the valleys and lakes of Lakeland as diverging like a wheel from a common hub somewhere between Great Gable and Scafell. If you climb Great Gable today you can see exactly what he meant.
Great Gable is my own favourite fell and one of Wainwright’s top six. It is also the birthplace of rock climbing, as depicted in those spectacular monochrome photographs of pioneer rock climbers on Napes Needle taken by the Abraham brothers, using an enormous plate camera perched on precarious rocks.
The finest routes up Great Gable commence in Wasdale and reveal all its intimate details, but my own first climb was from Buttermere, still my favourite as it allows an extended round including both Haystacks and Fleetwith Pike.
The most popular route starts from the Youth Hostel on Honister Hause with a height advantage of 1100ft allowing the summit to be reached in just 2 hours; enough time to add other peaks if the weather is good.
The steep path up the old tramway to the Drum House commences to the west
of the quarry compound and then turns sharp left at the skyline. The path rises more gently but divides and can be confusing in mist. The best choice is always to take the left fork and head for the ridge joining Grey Knotts to Brandreth and Green Gable. A fence follows the ridge over Brandreth and is an excellent guide.
If the weather is good you will have glorious views back into Borrowdale and forward to the imposing length of the Scafell Massif with all its peaks in view.
Sun over Scafell
You might pause on Green Gable to admire Gable Crag and the fine views down Ennerdale before descending to Windy Gap and making the steep onslaught on the summit rocks of Great Gable itself. At the summit, take in the spectacle of
radial valleys and lakes laid out at your feet, making Great Gable, if not the highest, undoubtedly the central hub of the Lakeland fells.
You can continue beyond the summit to the Westmorland Cairn to enjoy the
classic view of Wasdale; one of the finest views in the district.
Looking down in Wasdale from Westmorland Cairn
An alternative way back to the Drum House descends north-westerly to
Beck Head then turns right to contour around the head of Ennerdale on the
old path known as Moses Trod.
Fleetwith Pike from the Brandreth footpath
On reaching the Drum House, and if you have the energy you can choose to ascend the slopes to Fleetwith Pike. The view of Buttermere from the summit of Fleetwith Pike (see opposite) is, in my opinion, as good as the view from Westmorland Cairn. If you have seen both en route, you can judge for yourself!
From Fleetwith Pike and Honister Crag you can descend via one of several paths leading back down to Honister Hause.
All these routes can be found in Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide, Book 7: The Western Fells. W. A. Poucher’s excellent guide ‘The Lakeland Peaks’, which is also still in print, is also highly recommended.
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