Great Gable and Green Gable
It’s quite common to use Green Gable as a mere stepping stone to its more famous neighbour, but almost 50 years after climbing the Great, I found a way to make Green the centrepiece of a fine and varied walk.
Friday 14 June 1974. Great Gable (2949ft) from Styhead Tarn.
This was the last ‘action’ of my introductory Mountain Leadership course. We’d walked up to Styhead Tarn from Seathwaite the night before, for a wild camp. All very delectable, but it didn’t spark the wild camping bug in me, in fact all I can remember of the first night was asking for aspirin from the group leader.
How did we get there? Probably straight up Aaron Slack, rather than the Breast aka Tourist Route. We definitely got down via the Gable Girdle, with its sensational rock scenery. After striking camp, I remember walking very fast, compared to most of the group, back down to Seathwaite, and was told that I had ‘passed’.
It didn’t take me long to decide not to proceed to the final assessment because (a) I’d got lucky on the night navigation and didn’t reckon that would happen again (b) I never expected to master the knot work, and I never planned to be anywhere that I’d need it.
Monday 16 October 2023. Green Gable and its neighbours, ten miles.
There’s a lot going on in the territory bounded by Borrowdale, Honister and Great Gable, and this walk, with its four Hewitts, is a great exploration.
It’s just as well that I took the path beside the Derwent rather than the road as the bridge at Seathwaite Farm was under repair (not that a river crossing would have been difficult today).
But the climb away from the river, with three scrambly sections, a waterslide and a waterfall, is one of those let’s-get-high-quickly paths that puts the best part of 1000ft on very quickly.
Base Brown from the path by the Derwent
There’s a brief easing of gradient before the next difficulty in the ascent of Base Brown (2119ft): one needs to find a way round its northern precipices. The key is an immense resting boulder, the Hanging Stone. Pass beneath it; there are bits of path, though not, from what I could tell, quite in the places that the OS Explorer map puts them.
Base Brown to Green Gable (2628ft) is by contrast a doddle, joining an over-cairned path (the Honister – Great Gable path) soon after the depression and with gentle gradients to the summit. It’s a good viewpoint though, south and west obviously blocked by Great but Ennerdale, separating the Pillar and High Stile ridges, particularly fine.
Next up is Brandreth (2346ft) to the north, back down the over-cairned path for a while but after Gillercomb Head, with its group of little tarns, diverging from it to the top. Two 30ish couples were here, debating the merits of iPhones rather than revelling in the scenery.
Pillar, Ennerdale and High Stile from Green Gable
Kirk Fell and Pillar from Gillercomb Head
From Brandreth things change. The Honister – Gable path is regained as it contours around Warnscale Head, the valley coming up from Buttermere, and you’re heading into slate mining territory – it’s still going on, as will soon become apparent.
Indeed my immediate target was not a hill but a bothy. There are two here: one named Warnscale Head, but a bit lower down than my route was going, and the second Dubs Hut, an old miners’ hut which was to be my lunch stop.
It’s not difficult from here to climb my final hill of the day, Fleetwith Pike (2126ft). It’s renowned for its view of Buttermere, with a sharp ridge falling directly down to the lake head.
Buttermere and Crumnock Water from Fleetwith Pike
I don’t like sharp downhill ridges much though, and anyway Buttermere was the wrong way for me. It seemed from the map straightforward enough to drop down the Pike’s SE ridge but it’s a complex little affair and I kept losing the path.
Eventually I joined the track to the still-working mine, and a short break at Honister Hause. This is a contentious place these days, as the mine owner keeps pushing the boundaries not so much of the mine but the outdoor pursuits he offers. There’s via ferrata – quite fancied a go, tbh – and zip wire, but the zip wire would have been far more intrusive if he’d had half a chance. Plus, there’s a dreadful bit of doggerel extolling his little Englander sentiments.
It’s an easy road walk down from the Hause to Seatoller, but that’s not a fun way to go. There is an old road, now part of the Coast-to-Coast walk, but it heads to Rosthwaite not Seatoller, so after a while I left it to go through a likely-looking gate over the road for a more direct line through rough pasture. It worked, but I had to climb a couple of gates, so I don’t reckon many come this way.
The High Stile Ridge
Sunday 4 August 1974. The High Stile Ridge, 14 miles.
The day after the Grasmoor and its companions, and with the same group of friends.
It’s a deceptively big day out, but we had the energy of youth. We certainly started with Great Borne (2021ft), and as I’m fairly sure we started from Buttermere village, must have taken the Floutern Pass to reach it.
Of this pass, Wainwright says:
Because of the boggy crossing of Mosedale Head this approach is not attractive and cannot be recommended.
From the summit, it’s straightforward enough, up to Starling Dodd (2077ft), then Red Pike (2477ft) and High Stile (2648ft). From here we dropped down to Scarth Gap, where many turn right back to Buttermere, but we continued over Haystacks.
Though at around 1900ft it is not a Hewitt – not a term that had even been coined back then – Haystacks was in many ways the highlight of the day. It’s a beautiful little cameo of a fell, a couple of little tarns, rocky outcrops here and there, and a clever little path to pass between them. No wonder Wainwright chose it for his ashes.
Descent was by way of Warnscale Bottom. It had been a sort of nondescript weather day but now the clouds were lowering oppressively, and I can remember looking at the crag rising above us – it must have been Striddle Crag, on Fleetwith Pike – and being pleased not to be there when the weather broke.